»  Radio Derb — Transcript

        Friday, January 16, 2009

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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]

01 — Intro.     Greetings from Radio Derb this pre-inaugural weekend. This is your irrepressibly genial host John Derbyshire with the news of the hour. I shall have things to say about the coronation ceremonies — oops, sorry, I mean of course inauguration ceremonies — I shall have things to say about all that a bit later. First, some mean-spirited, foam-flecked attacks on the Clintons. I haven't savaged Bill and his brood for, oh, two weeks now, and I've got my reputation in the Vast Right-Wing conspiracy to keep up.

02 — Hillary's confirmation.     So here came Hillary Clinton, looking for the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this week, in regard to her appointment as U.S. Secretary of State. Radio Derb listeners will recall that a couple of weeks ago I raised the issue of Bill Clinton's library and foundation, and the numerous large gifts of cash Bubba received from Saudi princes, Central Asian dictators, and shady businessmen. You'd think that would be an issue in Hillary's confirmation hearings. Not a bit of it. The subject was barely mentioned. Dick Lugar, the ranking Republican on the committee, mentioned it in a whisper, then hastened to add that he supported Mrs. Clinton's nomination because, quote, "your qualifications are so remarkable." Yes, there have rarely been qualifications as remarkable as Mrs. Clinton's. Why, in her eight years as junior Senator from my state, she has transformed the lives of New Yorkers and accomplished Herculean tasks on our behalf. For example, she has [crickets chirping], and then she has [crickets chirping], and let's not forget [crickets chirping]. Sensational qualifications! Faced with such a brilliant and accomplished candidate, you have to wonder at the nerve of Senator Lugar in even mentioning Bubba's picking the pockets of foreign despots. Nor was Lugar the only one subjecting Mrs. Clinton to these shameful humiliations. David Vitter of Louisiana — another Republican, wouldn't you know it! — mumbled that, quote, "I have some concerns about these conflict issues." Fortunately Mrs. Clinton controlled her well-justified fury at these outrageous impertinences; and they were the only uncomfortable moments in an otherwise festive occasion. The main topic of the day was, quite rightly, the utter ineffable wonderfulness of Mrs. Clinton. John Kerry said that the lady is, quote, "extraordinarily capable and smart." Barbara Boxer told her, quote: "You're a dedicated public servant." Chuck Schumer congratulated her on her, quote, "tireless efforts to better the world." It wasn't just Democrats gushing, either. Republican Senators gleefully joined in. "I have no questions about your integrity," Jim DeMint assured the lady whom Bill Safire once called, with perfect accuracy, a congenital liar. Lisa Murkowski slobbered that, quote: "I truly appreciate all that you are poised to do and what you have done in the past." Things even got physical, with Chuck Schumer hugging and patting the candidate. Fortunately the hearing was adjourned before any other male committee members, overcome by Mrs. Clinton's dazzling personality and stunning résumé, totally lost control of themselves. The Senators needed a break anyway, because their tongues were so sore.

03 — The coming Clinton dynasty.     In a postscript to the previous item, I note the presence of Mrs. Clinton's daughter Chelsea at the confirmation hearing. Plainly Mr. and Mrs. Clinton have been schooling their daughter in the fact, which undoubtedly is a fact, that the surest path to great wealth and lifetime security in the republic today is through what Barbara Boxer modestly called "public service" — which means, getting your snout in the government trough. Forget about doing anything useful for a living, the Clintons have undoubtedly been telling their daughter, get yourself on the political gravy train. Just look how well we've done! Thus yet another baronial dynasty is born. All that's needed now is a suitable dynastic marriage for Chelsea, a safe congressional seat somewhere, and there'll be Clintons looting the public fisc, shaking down Arab princes, and getting lube jobs in Senatorial committees, until the end of time. Or at least until the point where the remnants of this once sturdy, minimally-governed republic are auctioned off in bankruptcy sales to Chinese industrialists and Mexican drug lords. Around 2020 would be my guess.

04 — Geithner's taxes.     Who else is coming up for confirmation? Why, here's Tim Geithner, preppy and career public servant, up for the post of Treasury Secretary. You may have heard some mean-spirited people on TV and in the newspapers trying to make a big thing out of Geithner not paying taxes for four years, and employing an illegal immigrant as a household servant. For heaven's sake! Don't people understand the privileges public servants are entitled to, in return for all that grueling service they perform to the public? Do you want a chap like Geithner, who was serving us on the International Monetary Fund and the Federal Reserve — do you want him distracted by petty concerns about tax returns and immigration papers? Of course you don't. These overclass types, especially the ones toiling away so selflessly at "public service," shouldn't have to follow the same rules as us peasants. What kind of country would that be? Barack Obama has assured us that Geithner's failure to pay taxes was, quote, "An innocent mistake. It has been corrected," the President-elect further assured us, "he paid the penalties." Indeed, we learn that Geithner paid $26,000 in taxes and interest the week before Obama announced his nomination for the Treasury job. Are you quietly wondering whether Geithner would ever have paid that $26,000 had he not been nominated for a cabinet position? Well, shame on you. This is a public servant we're talking about here — a fellow who has forsaken the easy life of a private-sector employee to devote himself to the bitter, back-breaking labor of serving us, the public. People like that don't cheat on their taxes, they just make "honest mistakes." It's like, oh, you know, accidentally shredding billing records from your time at a law firm, or spending twenty years attending a church whose pastor, completely unknown to you, was a radical anti-American racial demagogue. Honest mistakes! Could happen to anyone! These public servants of ours are pure as the driven snow. Their very occasional mistakes positively glow with honesty. And if you say otherwise, they'll sic the IRS on you.

05 — Michelle's job axed.     Here's another fine, selfless, dedicated public servant: Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama has been laboring away for years in the vineyards of public service, actually as Vice President for Community Relations at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Now you may object that a teaching hospital attached to a private university is not really a part of the public sector. That's correct in theory: but when you factor in the amount of money a place like that pulls in from Medicare, Medicaid, student loans and federal grants, trust me, Mrs. Obama has been doing public service. She wouldn't do anything else, because she is a lady of principle, and her principles wouldn't let her. Did not Mrs. Obama say back in February, in Zanesville Ohio, that, quote, "We left corporate America, which is a lot of what we're asking young people to do … Don't go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we're encouraging our young people to do that." End quote. Didn't she say that? Yes, she did. So there was Mrs. Obama, sweating away at public service, advising the University of Chicago hospital for a paltry $122,000 a year, while her husband was chairman of … let's see … oh yes, the Health and Human Services committee of the Illinois state senate. Then her husband got elected to the U.S. Senate, and Mrs. Obama's salary suddenly increased to $317,000 a year. Remember how excited you were that time your salary increased a hundred and sixty percent overnight? Well, that's how excited Michelle must have been. Why did her salary suddenly go up $200,000 just because her husband changed his job? Why, because the hospital suddenly realised they'd been under-paying Mrs. Obama for the incredibly valuable work she was doing, that's why. The timing was pure coincidence. Are you suggesting that Mrs. Obama's work was not worth $317,000 to her employers? Shame on you! But now here's a funny thing: With Mrs. Obama's move to the White House, the incredibly important job she'd been doing for the hospital, worth a salary of $317,000 a year, will now be done by … nobody. The University of Chicago Hospitals have announced that Mrs. Obama's position has been eliminated. How on earth will the hospital cope without a Vice President for Community Relations? Perhaps the same way they've been coping for the past year or so, when Mrs. Obama hasn't been showing up to work much. The thing I want to know is: How do I get one of these jobs? I'd really, really like to be a "public servant."

06 — Obama's letter to his daughters.     Here's the President-elect writing an open letter to his daughters, Malia and Sasha. Now, I'll admit I'm in two minds about even doing this segment. This is one of those things where I'm just totally out of tune with a huge segment of public taste here. My guess is that Obama's letter is a brilliant political move. My guess is, in fact, that tens of millions of Americans, though practically all of them women, will be swooning and weeping all over the country when they read this stuff in their Sunday Parade magazine. The text of the letter is pure Oprah Winfrey-style molasses, touchy-feelyness raised to the seventeenth power. If it really were a private letter to his kids, Obama might be forgiven, but remember this is public — to be blunt about it, it's a political document, written by a clever politician for political purposes. My reason for being out of tune is in part a difference in parenting style, and in part due to certain convictions I hold about the reality of human emotions. Of course, any normal person wants to see his kids do well, and hopes constantly that nothing bad will happen to them. That's not necessarily the same as wanting to be around your kids, though. The way I was raised, adults regarded kids as a sort of necessary nuisance. You ship them off to boarding school if you can afford to. If you can't afford that, you shove them out of the house after breakfast, with instructions to make sure they're home before supper. So when Obama writes that, quote: "I know how much I've missed this past two years," and, quote, "the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours," and, quote, "that's why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation," well, when I read that stuff, I'm saying to myself: Uh-huh … while quietly suspecting that the greatest joy in young Barry's life has been getting elected President, and that the reason he ran did not actually have much to do with his kids, and had even less to do with your kids and mine. Well, well, perhaps I'm being unnecessarily sour here. As an acquaintance of Obama's once said, politicians do what they have to do. Still, if you have an ounce of realism about politics or politicians in you, gentle listener, or even just about human beings and normal human emotions, I challenge you to read all the way through Obama's letter without experiencing the gag reflex at least once. Quote: "I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential." Yet it's one of the best-established facts in sociology that, above a certain very low minimum, school quality has almost no effect on educational outcomes. Quote: "Sometimes we have to send our young men and women into war." Well, not exactly our young men and women, Barry, since liberal yuppies like yourself with political ambitions take care to keep as far away from the military as possible. All right, all right, I know: this letter of Obama's is just rhetorical fluff for the Oprah set. I'm tilting at windmills here — windmills made of cotton candy. I'd just feel a little more confident that the executive is in good hands if Obama had had the good sense and good taste to keep his communications with family members private, and to leave Oprah's work to Oprah.

07 — Seduction of journalists.     Ah, the fine old art of seduction.

[Flanders & Swann clip]

She was young, she was pure, she was new, she was nice,
She was fair, she was sweet seventeen.
He was old, he was vile, and no stranger to vice.
He was base, he was bad, he was mean.
He had slyly inviegled her up to his flat
To view his collection of stamps.
And he said, as he hastened to put out the cat, the wine, his cigar, and the lamps:
"Have some madeira, M'dear.
You really have nothing to fear …"

"No one could ever bribe or twist —/ Thank God! — the British journalist. / But seeing what the man will do / Un-bribed, there's no good reason to." So goes the old ditty, and it applies just as well to the journalists of America. I can't think of a delicate way to describe the relations between most politicians and most journalists, so I'll fall back on a slightly in-delicate expression current at the time I was hanging around in singles bars many years ago. From the point of view of politicians, journalists are … easy meat. Give your average journalist a bit of face time, whisper a confidence in his ear, murmur a few words of admiration for his work, and he's putty in your hands. I therefore view with alarm the recent dinner held for the President-elect at the home of George Will, and attended by various luminaries of conservative journalism, including our Supreme Leader here at National Review. If I'd known about this dinner in advance, Radio Derb would have issued some spine-stiffening warnings about the danger of innocent young hacks being seduced over a bottle of madeira by wily politicos.

[Flanders & Swann]

"Have some madeira, M'dear.
I've got a small cask of it here.
And once it's been opened, you know, it won't keep.
Do finish it up — it will help you to sleep …"

As it is, after the event, I can only hope that the champions of American conservatism, what's left of it, kept their legs together and refused that second glass of madeira. "Reaching out" is all very well; but when the hand reaching out is aiming to unbutton your blouse, it's time to run for the door.

[Flanders & Swann]

Then there flashed through her mind what her mother had said
With her antepenultimate breath:
"O my child, should you look on the wine when 'tis red
Be prepared for a fate worse than death."
She let go her glass with a shrill little cry —
Crash! Tinkle! It fell to the floor.
When he asked: "What in heaven …?" she made no reply,
Up her mind, and a dash for the door.
"Have some madeira, M'dear …"

08 — Coronation extravaganza.     The inauguration of our 44th president is apparently going to cost around $150 million. Obama has raised about a quarter of the cost himself, with appeals to his Hollywood friends and others, but the biggest part will come from us taxpayers. Why do we need to spend so much money celebrating federal power, when ten thousand Americans are losing their jobs every day? We don't, of course; and this imperial extravaganza is, in my opinion, a disgrace to a republic of free people. Government is a necessary evil, not something to be glorified in this shameful way. One of the three branches of the federal government just got a new boss, that's all. This is not a coronation. Even if it were, scaling up for inflation, this has to be costing several times as much as the coronation of the current Queen of England in 1953. The authorities are expecting two million people in D.C., and President Bush has declared a state of emergency in the capital. Quote — I'm reading here from the London Daily Mail — quote: "The bulk of the cost for the event will be on security with more than 10,000 police and troops forming a ring of steel around Washington D.C." End quote. These are the same people who've been telling us that our nation's southern border can't possibly be secured. How about a band of steel along our border, Mister President? I know, I'm dreaming. I'm dreaming, in fact, of a quiet and busy commercial republic, whose free citizens work hard at useful occupations and raise their kids to do the same, that expels unlawful intruders but otherwise deals politely with the rest of the world, whose citizens have to stop and think for a minute when asked to name their current president, whose government is modest in size and expenditures, and leaves as much of the governing as possible to states and localities, concentrating on secure borders, a stable currency, a healthy business climate, and a few necessary public works, and whose president appears in public no more than twice a year, and keeps his private thoughts to himself. Hmm — maybe I should have emigrated to Switzerland.

09 — Miscellany.     Here's our closing miscellany of brief items.

Item:  Having watched Israelis and Arabs fight each other for my entire life, I'm confident that the same spectacle will be available to my children and grandchildren for their entire lives, so I don't normally give much thought to it. It's just a permanent natural feature of the world, like tides or congressional ethics scandals. I did raise a cheer this week, though, when the Israelis shelled the United Nations compound in Gaza City. Now that's what I call getting to the root of the problem. If the IDF could spare an artillery unit to come and shell the U.N. headquarters here in New York City, that would really make my day.

Item:  Heroes of the week are indisputably Chesley Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles. pilot and co-pilot of that U.S. Airways jet that ditched in the Hudson River alongside midtown Manhattan Thursday. The plane sank, but not until all 155 people aboard had been safely evacuated. You want to talk about "public service"? Well, there's 155 members of the public — not to mention the people of New York City — who were superbly well served by these two pilots. I am sure that of course these two heroes enjoy compensation packages at least as generous as those available to U.S. Senators and hospital Vice Presidents for Community Affairs.

Item:  New Jersey just announced it's facing a budget gap of five billion this next twelve months. New York: 16 billion. California: 42 billion. What do all these states have in common? Let's see: Liberal, powerful public sector unions, high tolerance for mass illegal immigration. Well, our new president had the most liberal voting record in the U.S. Senate, his campaign was enthusiastically backed by every public-sector union in the land, and he favors full citizens' rights, including driver licenses, for illegal immigrants. So … if you want to know what the U.S.A. will look like four years from now, check out New Jersey, New York, and California. Of course, if you live in one of those states, you don't need to check them out. You need to check out from them, a.s.a.p.

Item:  If you think my attitude to parenting is hard-hearted, consider Marcelino Martinez of Greenfield, California. Mr. Martinez, feeling thirsty, sold his 14-year-old daughter into marriage for 150 cases of beer. Mexican consular officials, joined after a moment of stunned silence by local media and government spokespeople, have rallied to Mr. Martinez' defense, arguing that this is just a quaint Mexican custom that should be tolerated in a spirit of multicultural inclusion. Alas, it turns out that Mr. Martinez is a follower of that other quaint old Mexican custom of crossing the border illegally. He is now being held by ICE, awaiting deportation. So is the counterparty in this transaction, the gentleman hoping to become Mr. Martinez' son-in-law — well, who wouldn't want to be related to such an exemplar of family values? The disposition of the beer is not known to me. And if the ACLU hasn't also leapt to Mr. Martinez' defense by the time you hear this, arguing that deportation would inflict cruel and unusual punishment on him by separating him from his daughter, I'll turn in my membership card for NARC, the National Association of Reactionary Cynics.

Item:  A British newspaper published, on its website, some video clips of Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, horsing around with his comrades when he was an army officer cadet three years ago. Harry cheerfully addressed one comrade, Pakistani by origin, as "our little Paki friend." Then, encountering a different comrade with camouflage netting over his head, the Prince remarked: "You look like a raghead." This caused a huge fuss in Britain, where Pakistanis and Arabs are protected minorities with a constitutional right not to have their feelings hurt. Let me just tell the fussers: I have spent some brief time among personnel of Her Majesty's Armed Forces, and I can assure you that so far as incorrect language goes, the prince wasn't even breaking a sweat here. If the Prince owns any other records of his exchanges with fellow squaddies, my advice would be to destroy them immediately.

Item:  Just an item of foreign news. I know Radio Derb listeners don't care about foreigners and their filthy, bizarre folkways, and of course I don't care about foreigners either, but the proprieties must be observed. So here's one from Somalia. Islamists in that country recently took control of a city that had been held by Ethiopian troops. Ethiopians are mostly Coptic Christians. Well, the lead Somali politician in the city, a Muslim, had been working with the Ethiopians. That was too much for the Islamists. They gave the guy a speedy trial, then shot him for the crime of apostasy. Since he'd been friendly with the Christians, they reasoned, he must have changed his faith. That'll get you shot in Somalia. Another serious crime over there is the crime of being raped. A twelve-year-old girl in that same city was stoned to death last November for adultery, though her relatives said it was rape. This is how it goes with foreigners, Radio Derb listeners. We should have nothing to do with them.

Item:  George W. Bush gave a farewell speech to the nation. Did you listen to it? No, me neither. Those strangled screaming and groaning sounds I hear from behind the closed doors of my colleagues' offices are the sounds of Republican journalists straining to find one more way to say that, yes, the Bush presidency looks like a train wreck right now, but twenty years on the man's greatness will be understood and appreciated. Well, here's my five cents:  No, it won't. The Bush presidency has been a train wreck. Twenty years on, it'll still look like a train wreck. And conservatism will still be where George W. Bush left it: stiff and cold, twisting slowly in the wind.

10 — Signoff.     So it goes, gentle listeners. As strongly as I disapprove of all the extravagance and expense being lavished on the swearing-in of our chief "public servant," and as little as I expect from a Chief Executive whose head is filled with wrong beliefs, and whose experience of the real world is about as deep as an oil slick, and whose friendships and alliances have been so deplorable, I wish good luck to the republic under his presidency, and hope he'll acquire some wisdom in the office. That's all Barack Obama will get from me … Although, if invited to a private chat over a bottle of madeira in the Oval Office, I might just possibly be persuaded to see the other side of an Obama presidency …

[Music clip: More from Flanders & Swann]