On the champ, The Weekly Standard, Moses, and more
Well, blow me down. I have a cousin who works at a vegan restaurant in New York City. In came Anthony Joshua, causing a lot of hubbub. Big deal, another celebrity vegan in New York, right? But get this: Anthony Joshua is heavyweight boxing champion of the world. And vegan-friendly (if not an outright one).
The head of the theater department at Bennington, I might have guessed. (On Twitter, they would say, “Stereotype much?”) The heavyweight boxing champion of the world — I would not have guessed.
Would not even have guessed it about the featherweight champ …
• I asked my cousin, “Are there fat vegans?” Yup, there are. They tend to eat “vegan comfort food,” she said. That’s the kind of vegan I would be, for sure …
• Let me recommend this column by Bret Stephens (as I would many another by him). It has an arresting title: “When Anti-Zionism Tunnels Under Your House.” The column is about anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, essentially.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: If I could give Bret a second Pulitzer Prize, I would.
His column reminded me of something Paul Johnson once said to me, in a public forum. (Johnson, as you know, is the great British historian and journalist.) I said, “Some people protest that they are not anti-Semitic, at all, but merely anti-Zionist.” He said, “That might be true, in some cases. But as a rule: Scratch an anti-Zionist, and you won’t have to dig very far before you reach the anti-Semite within.”
That has been my observation in life too.
• WFB welcomed The Weekly Standard, when it was born in 1995. (“WFB” is how we at National Review traditionally refer to Bill Buckley, William F. Buckley Jr., in print.) (In our own pages, that is!) He spoke warmly about this birth, both in public and in private. I remember his words at an American Spectator dinner in particular. WFB wanted to see conservatism proliferate in America and the world. He did not want to be the only game in town. He had a big vision, and he himself was big, very big.
William Kristol, the founder of the Standard, said, “We are all just bobbing along in his wake,” meaning WFB’s.
WFB contributed to one of the first issues of the Standard. He reviewed a book by Irving Kristol, father of Bill. About that time, he visited the offices of the Standard, making the rounds. Great, thousand-watt smile, the charisma turned on high. We younger people were dazzled; maybe some of the older ones were, too.
I worked at the Standard for its first three years: 1995 to 1998. My first piece was published in our second month, a piece touching on nationalism and patriotism in the context of golf. (Yes.) I quoted WFB, as I would in many pieces — too many pieces, surely — thereafter.
Honestly, I sometimes think I should pay the guy royalties.
Here at National Review, my blessed home for 20 years, I have always thought of Weekly Standard people as allies and comrades, not rivals and competitors. We should wish for conservative outlets “from sea to shining sea,” as WFB liked to say. Even better would be mainstreaming. I regard the death of The Weekly Standard — more like its murder — as a terrible loss.
President Trump has weighed in, of course: “The pathetic and dishonest Weekly Standard,” etc. Many others have weighed in too, including fans of mine on Twitter. (Please think of “fans” in quotation marks.)
“Dumb sh**s went against the will of the people and paid the price.” (Asterisks not in the original.) Well, it is often right and necessary to go against “the will of the people.” Some of the most admirable figures in history have done so. Also, beware people who speak of “the will of the people.” They usually mean their own cohort, only.
Another tweeter said that the Standard had “turned on its base.” Not at all. Moreover, a magazine is not a politician. Journalists are not politicians, although they are often treated as such — and it tends to be their own fault. Why? Because journalists act like politicians, catering to constituencies, delivering applause lines, and so on. I’ll sometimes say, “Are you running for office?”
(I myself have occasionally fantasized about running for office, with no realization, as with most fantasies. You know the expression “nowhere to hide”? My problem is nowhere to run.)
A journalist’s job is to find out the truth, as best he can, and tell it. If it’s popular, great. If it’s not — so be it.
Last month, Steve King, the Iowa Republican, clashed with the Standard. He said, “No question that now their purpose is to write willful lies to advance a Leftist agenda.” It was not the Standard that was lying. In any event, I thought of WFB, who said of Gore Vidal, “Anyone who lies about him is doing him a favor.”
Steve King’s brand of conservatism is not The Weekly Standard’s brand. These things are in fashion one day (or era) and not the next. I think of the words of a well-loved spiritual: “Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down. Oh, yes, Lord. Sometimes I’m almost to the ground.”
The Standard has been a great good thing in the world. I am grateful for it, and NR, and every other thrust of good, from sea to shining sea and beyond.
• Class is all the rage on the right these days, as it was on the left when I was growing up. Is it still? Probably. But I think they are more interested in race, ethnicity, and sexuality. Also, identity politics is big, on both left and right. This is bad news bears, as far as I’m concerned.
I was struck by an exchange on Twitter, between Charlie Sykes, the conservative journalist in Wisconsin, and a Wisconsin state senator, a Republican. The senator said, “I’m not paid to go on leftwing talk shows and evolve my opinions to conform to coastal elites.” Charlie said, “Senator, I’m a Wisconsin voter and taxpayer. I live down the road from you. We’ve had beers. I have friends on your staff. You can call me anytime and we can talk about this. Or you can tweet about ‘coastal elites’ if that’s how you want to roll.”
This is how it’s rolling, nowadays. Words and terms such as “coastal elites” are used in place of arguments — indeed, of thoughts.
• The world is full of pain, bitterness, grievance. It has ever been thus. But now these things are manifested in a new forum, namely Twitter, the world’s town square (?). On December 16, I tweeted, “Today is Beethoven’s birthday. Rarely has one man contributed so much to the world. As Lorin Maazel said, he is your best friend, with you through thick and thin. A great, great gift to mankind. ‘Simply a gift from God,’ as a teacher of mine used to say.”
Can you think of anything less controversial? Most people responded with their own gratitude for Beethoven, or for music at large. Others joked about the dog, Beethoven, who starred in movie comedies. Then there were others.
“We get it, you’re highbrow,” said one. “I, too, am very smart,” said another.
The world is full of so much pain, bitterness, and grievance. You know one person who antidotes that kind of thing, and who suffered from it himself? Beethoven! What a gift he is to us.
• Long ago, I wrote a little piece about Colin Powell. I was ticked. This was in April 2001 (here). The secretary had said, “He’s done some good things for his people.” Powell meant Fidel Castro — and Cubans.
There were two things wrong with his statement: the “good things” and the “his people.” The first wrong was egregious, and I went to town on it. The second wrong was more like “creepy,” as Bill Kristol said. (We discussed it at the time.) The “his people.” I have written about this formulation a lot over the years.
And I’m about to do so again. In the course of tweeting about North Korea, President Trump said, “Kim Jong Un sees it better than anyone and will fully take advantage of it for his people.”
Kim thinks of North Koreans as his people, as his father and grandfather did before him. That doesn’t mean we do — or that the U.S. president has to. North Koreans are more like the Kims’ slaves, and we should help them in any way possible, including in our words — especially if we are president.
• I’ve been reading defenses of Michael Flynn lately. (I mean, of course, Trump’s first national security adviser, short-lived.) And may I note that his defenders, and apologists, are more pro-Flynn than Flynn is? He pled guilty to lying to the FBI. And, after he entered his plea, he was manful: “I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right.”
I admired that.
• A little music? For a review of Verdi’s Otello at the Metropolitan Opera, go here.
• Some names? I got two for you. The first is “Moses,” one of the most perfect names ever. I will quote the Bible, Exodus 2:10: “And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. And she named him Moses, and said, ‘Because I drew him out of the water.’”
I have quoted the Amplified Bible. And here is a footnote: “The name Moses is a wonderful choice. It means ‘drawing out’ in Hebrew, but in Egyptian, a similar word means ‘man of royalty’ …”
The other name, I got from Rick Brookhiser: “Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer.” He was a Founding Father. You can read about him on Wikipedia, here. Several men in his family were named “Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer” and just plain “Daniel Jenifer.” (This is detailed in Footnote 1 of the Wikipedia entry.)
I always wondered why the street in Washington, D.C., was named “Jenifer,” one “n.” Now I know.
• Let’s end on a little Christmas, shall we? And a little punctuation. The placement of a comma is very important. Note the comma in “God rest ye merry, gentlemen.” And note it in this: “… where meekness will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.” The natural phrasing of the music clashes with the correct phrasing of the words. But I breathe after “him” (and before “still”).