[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! Yes, this is your peripatetically genial host John Derbyshire with all the week's news. A busy, busy week with lots of politics going on, so lets's get right down to it.
02 — GOP debate: Social Security. Another GOP candidate debate this week, interesting mainly because it gave us a good look at Rick Perry unrehearsed.
The Governor came out of it pretty well. He certainly got the sound bite of the evening when he called Social Security a, quote, "monstrous lie." That drew predictable responses: From the left, it's not true; from the genteel right, it's true but not smart to say so; from the fed-up right, it's true and thank goodness someone's brave enough to say it.
I'm in the third category there. In the first place Social Security is a lie, in the plain sense that the promises implicit in it can't possibly be kept as the thing is currently structured. I think "monstrous" is a bit over the top, but a bit of rhetorical vigor is acceptable in these events, pulled as they always are in the direction of careful blandness.
Not that the genteel right doesn't have a point. There are lots of true things that don't need saying out loud — that's the foundation of good manners. It also has application in politics. There are a lot of old people on Social Security, and they're keen voters. If you want to do something about Social Security, you first need to get elected; and that won't happen if the geezers are all voting for the other guy.
That aside, what can anybody actually do? Well, there are plausible plans to restructure Social Security to keep it going for a few more decades. And then there's the idea to just get rid of it and make it easier for people to rely on their own resources. The first idea appeals to the cautious reformist type of Republican, like, say, … oh, Mitt Romney. The second idea appeals more to the slash'n'burn libertarian type, like, say, me. Or Ron Paul. Or hey, maybe Rick Perry. He didn't commit in so many words to just scrapping the whole shebang, but it looks as though he's at least open to the idea.
There remains the issue of electability, though. I don't personally believe that anyone pushing radical reform of Social Security can get elected President. There are just too many people enjoying too many government benefits. What will actually happen, as Radio Derb keeps telling you, is that nothing much will get done until we find ourselves in a deep systemic crisis and absolutely have to do something. Then we'll act. Until then we'll jog along blissfully through our virtual reality world of infinite wealth and untouchable entitlements.
Since Rick Perry wants to get elected and has a track record of knowing how to do it, if I'm right about electability I'd guess he'll back off from his Wednesday position. It's encouraging to know that he understands reality, though, and that if he's Chief Executive when the poop hits the propellor, at least he won't be astonished.
03 — GOP debate: The field. The rest of the debate didn't rise to much in telling us things we didn't know before. I thought the candidates were mostly on excellent form, but they just didn't have much new to say. I did like Ron Paul's free silver pitch — telling us how to buy a gallon of gas for one dime. You just have to make the dime from silver, see? A silver dime is worth $3.50. Nice one, Doc. He's probably right: but we've gone so far down the opposite path, we can't get there from here.
Yes, they were all good. Even Newt Gingrich was almost likeable. Mrs. Bachmann was a bit over-restrained — so determined not to play into the Newsweek image of her as a snake-fondling kook that she blended into the scenery and ended up near-invisible. It's a tough position she's in. You hate the media for doing what they're doing to her, but the awful thing is, a lot of it works, and it's not clear how she can fight back without loss of dignity. I'd be glad to vote for Mrs. Bachmann myself, but let's face it: The leftist media has a big say in who gets to be the GOP nominee, by shaping public perceptions. That's terrible, but it's just a fact of political life.
Mitt Romney was smooth as silk, as well he should be for all the time he's spent campaigning these past, what?, hundred years. Perry didn't lay a glove on him. The routine complaint about Mitt is that he comes up short in the charisma department — reminds everyone of their bank manager, and so on. I see it but I don't care: Mitt's a decent guy and would make as good a president as anyone.
My take-away from the debate, in fact, was that this is an exceptionally strong GOP field, and I'll gladly take any of them over Obama. Not that I don't have preferences. Herman Cain talks a lot of sense, but I fear he'd be buffaloed by the bureaucracy and end up getting nothing much done. Huntsman's sounder on the issues than I thought when he first showed up, but charisma-wise he makes Mitt Romney look like Julius Caesar. I can't shake off my aversion to Gingrich, whom I wouldn't trust to mail a letter. I've never heard Rick Santorum say anything that was both intelligent and interesting. Still, I say again, I'll take any of these candidates over Obama.
04 — GOP debate: The National Question. The National Question came up, and they wheeled in a chap named Jose Diaz-Balart to pose some of the questions.
I found that annoying. What, is immigration a Hispanic fief now? I'm an immigrant, and my wife's an immigrant, and we come from two different countries, neither of which has Spanish as its language. Immigration's a big issue with many important sub-issues: legal immigration, illegal immigration, refugee resettlement, birthright citizenship, Muslim immigration, the Green Card lottery, assimilation versus multiculturalism, and so on. How did it get to be all about Hispanics? How did Hispanics get to "own" the immigration issue? It's like blacks "owning" the poverty issue, as if there were no poor white people.
In fact the immigration issue seems to be mostly about Mexicans. Among liberal commentators, the kind of folk who work at MSNBC (which was hosting the debate), the word "immigrant" is wellnigh a synonym for "illegal immigrant from Mexico." That's ridiculous, and leaves out far too many important issues. That's why I'm annoyed.
Anyway, there was Mr. Diaz-Balart — who, by the way, is not Mexican: he's American-born, of Cuban parentage — there he was asking the candidates about immigration issues, as if this was one of those jobs non-Hispanic American's won't do.
The candidates were for the most part depressingly clueless about the issue. Newt Gingrich said he thought we should have a legal guest-worker program. As I once pointed out to him, we already have twelve guest-worker programs covering every line of work from fruit picking to orchestra conducting. Why would we need another one? But Newt just likes the sound of that phrase "guest-worker program," and doesn't want to be confused with facts.
Rick Santorum said, quote, "we should not have a debate talking about how we don't want people to come to this country." Wrong: That's exactly the debate we should have, Rick. Does the U.S.A. have all the people it needs, or does it need more? You may reasonably take this side or that on the question, but you may not reasonably say that, quote, "we should not have a debate." Our immigration laws were very restrictive from 1945 to 1965, and the nation prospered mightily. That low levels of immigration are a bad thing is, therefore, not obvious. Contra Rick Santorum, it's debatable, and it should be debated.
I did perk up a bit when Rick Perry talked about having Predator drones patrolling the Mexican border. Then my spirits sagged again when it was clear he just wanted them to do passive surveillance. I had something else in mind, but … Oh, well.
Mitt Romney did an awkward straddle. He started off saying we need a total border fence, which is right; but then he pulled out the line about, quote, "they can always get a ladder to go over the fence." So what's the point of the fence, Mitt? And how come the fence the Israelis built along their border works fine? Arabs didn't invent the ladder yet? Mitt came back with a glimmer of sense at the end, though, quote: "We've got 4.7 million people waiting in line legally. Let those people come in first, and those that are here illegally, they shouldn't have a special deal." If any of the questioners had half a clue, that might have led into some discussion of legal immigration; but as Rick Santorum pointed out, legal immigration is not a fit subject for debate among right-thinking people.
Ron Paul fumbled the issue. Quote: "I think this fence business is designed and may well be used against us and keep us in," end quote. You really think that, Congressman? You think it'd be like the Berlin Wall, with brave Americans struggling to climb over the fence to freedom in Mexico while Border Patrol takes shots at them? I yield to no-one in my suspicion of federal power, but that's too much even for me. I liked the silver dime idea, though.
05 — Obama jobs speech. The other big political event of the week was, the President made a speech about unemployment.
Correction: That was billed as a big political event. It actually went over like a lead balloon. Not surprising: The President's plan was deeply un-original, and only came anywhere near to being specific — and even then, not very near — when he was talking about the Keynesian pump-priming that is dear to his liberal heart: federal job-training programs, infrastructure spending, extending unemployment insurance for yet another year, and tax loopholes for companies that hire people.
It would all cost a ton of money, of course — $450 billion, the analysts tell us. Where will that money come from? [Crickets]
Well, in fact we could borrow it. We really could: incredibly, there are still people willing to buy our bonds. Of course, that would add to the national debt … Wait a minute: don't we have a congressional committee struggling to figure ways to reduce the debt? Yes, we do — the so-called "super-committee," which coincidentally began its deliberations yesterday morning.
Members of the super-committee, though mostly trying to sound tactful, were not very happy with the President's speech. "It adds to our challenge," murmured Senator Max Baucus, who is a Democrat. Republican members were more forthright. Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling said that the President's plan, quote, "makes the already arduous challenge of finding bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction nearly impossible."
The super-committee, please remember, was originally charged with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts to the deficit by Thanksgiving. The President's plan bumps that up to $1.7 trillion. And we're told that Obama is working on additional measures to be presented in a couple of weeks. Maybe those will push the super-committee's remit to over two trillion dollars.
Can we get Obama back to playing golf on Martha's Vineyard? Seems like every time he turns his attention to policy, the numbers on the debt clock spin a little faster.
06 — 9/11 anniversary. This Sunday is the tenth anniversary of the terrible attacks on our country by fanatical Muslims … [klaxon] I beg your pardon: I mean by persons of the Islamic confession … [klaxon] Sorry, sorry, I mean by Middle Easterners … [klaxon] By Arabs … [klaxon] Oh for heaven's sake, what am I supposed to say? [Aside] No, really, what am I supposed to say? What? You're kidding. No? Hey, okay. [Full voice] This Sunday is the tenth anniversary of the terrible attacks on our country by youths. The youths flew planes into three of our buildings and a fourth plane into the ground. These attacks killed 2,977 innocent people, including 55 military.
Various commemorations are to be held around the country, but Radio Derb does not approve. I was raised among adults who'd been through the Blitz, where the proudest slogan was the one you saw written on cards posted on the shattered, boarded-up windows of stores: WE NEVER CLOSED! Defiant normality is the watch-phrase.
We should of course go after the youths who did those terrible things and the governments that aided them, killing their people and smashing their stuff. In our own everyday lives, though, we should act defiantly normal. In 1983, on a Saturday just before Christmas, Irish terrorists set off a car bomb outside Harrods department store in London, killing six people, one of them an American citizen. As soon as the mess had been cleared and the store re-opened, the father of one of the victims went and did his Christmas shopping at the store. Denis Thatcher, the Prime Minister's husband, went with him. That's defiant normality.
By all means grieve in private; remember and honor those who have gone. In the public square, though, stand up straight, keep a stiff upper lip, and stare down the vermin who think they can destroy our civilization. Quite apart from other benefits, doing so will drive them crazy. Crazier, I mean, than they are already.
Oh, and here in New York we're hearing that there's the threat of an anniversary bombing, involving, quote from the wire service, "three men who entered the country last month from Pakistan." Ten years on, knowing all that we now know, why are we admitting anyone from Pakistan? All right, if you insist: anyone not an accredited diplomat, university professor in some scientific or technological discipline, or spouse or dependent minor child of a U.S. citizen? Why? I guess because our government agrees with Rick Santorum that, quote, "we should not have a debate" about legal immigration. Not even from Pakistan.
07 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Item: Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters is demanding that President Obama prove he cares as much about unemployed blacks as he does about Iowa's swing voters. Quote from her: "There are roughly 3 million African Americans out of work today, a number nearly equal to the entire population of Iowa … So, one question to be answered this evening is, are the unemployed in the African-American community … as important as the people of Iowa?" End quote. Be glad to answer that one for you, Congresswoman. No, unemployed black Americans are not as important politically to the President as the people of Iowa, because he knows that ninety-something percent of them will vote for him regardless of anything he says or does. Iowa's swing voters need persuading and cajoling to vote for him: black Americans don't. Clear on that, Congresswoman? Any more questions puzzling you, I'll be glad to help. You can reach me care of National Review.
Item: Children nationwide went back to school this week, and in New Jersey they went back to schools now subject to anti-bullying legislation recently signed into law by Governor Chris Christie. This law, named the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, is the strictest of its kind in the nation. Every New Jersey school has to employ an anti-bullying specialist, every incident of bullying has to be investigated and reported to the state government in Trenton, and the actual offense of bullying has been redefined to include, quote, "any gesture or written, verbal or physical act directed at any distinguishing characteristic" of a student. So if your 14-year-old calls my 14-year-old "Fatso," your kid will get a file opened on him in Trenton. It gets worse: schools are required to investigate and report every such petty insult and catcall whether or not it occurs on school premises. Basically, New Jersey just outlawed childhood. This nonsense has of course all been driven by the homosexualist lobbies, who don't just want our kids to know that gay is just as good as straight, they want anyone who says otherwise to have an arrest record. Shame on Governor Christie for signing this outrage into law.
Item: I was a bit surprised to see Jimmy Hoffa in the news. Wasn't that the guy who fell out with the mob and ended up six feet under the end zone at Giants Stadium? Ah, no: I see that the one in the news this week is Jimmy Hoffa Jr., son of the aforementioned. Junior has followed his Dad into the union business. Now he's dabbling in politics, and at a Labor Day rally in Detroit — that bustling hive of industrial activity, Detroit, that paradise of well-paid jobs for union members — at this rally he made plain his opinion of the Tea Party movement. Quote: "let's take these son-of-a-bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong," end quote. Hoffa was actually warming up the crowd for the following speaker, none other than Barack Obama, our leg-tingler in chief. Why a guy who claims to be fighting for American workers supports a President who just handed out work permits to 300,000 illegal immigrants, I do not understand; but then, labor policy was never my strong point. Still, at least Hoffa's shown his hand. If Tea Party politicians start vanishing off our streets, and unsightly mounds start appearing in the end-zones of our football fields, we'll know what's happening.
Item: The U.S. Postal Service is so hard up it may default on retiree benefits before this month is out. People are cracking jokes about this, but if you look at the details, the Service has been doing its best to trim down and rationalize — they've laid off 200,000 workers the past ten years — but it labors under the colossal disadvantage of being micromanaged by the United States Congress. Imagine a business run by Barney Frank, Maxine Waters, and Orrin Hatch, and you can see the problem. Speaking as a freelancer who depends on the Postal Service for delivery of the checks that feed my family, I have nothing but admiration and respect for the men in blue, and of course the ladies too. Wonderful people, all of them.
08 — Signoff. That's it, folks. Among this week's news stories there was one real tear-jerker. It was, in fact, such a tear-jerker, I suspect some manipulation — some monkey business, as it were. Yes, this was the video clip of 38 chimps released from the lab cages in which they'd spent most, in some cases all, of their lives.
This happened in Austria. The chimps had been kept in isolation from each other, one cage per chimp, for all those years while researchers trying to find an AIDS vaccine used them as test subjects. They never did find the vaccine, so now they've given up and let the chimps go, releasing them into an open chimp sanctuary. The video clip shows the chimps emerging from the lab building into the sunlight, grinning and hugging each other.
Chimps are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. The homo group of species and the chimp group split off from a common ancestor group around five million years ago — the blink of an eye in the history of living things. They share a lot of our behaviors, both individual and social. There is indirect evidence that they have some kind of imaginative inner life. On the downside, they're not as cuddly as some of the animal-rights folk would have you believe, and can in fact be savagely aggressive, both among themselves and towards other species. Just like us, in fact.
Downside notwithstanding, it's hard not to smile at this video clip out of Austria. The media company EMI owns it and is trying to block it from the internet, but if you Google around you can see it. Try YouTube with search argument "Endlich Affen," that's German for "Finally apes." That clip has some sappy pop song as background, but for we opera buffs what comes irresistibly to mind is the prisoners' chorus in Act 1 of Fidelio, where the prisoners come up out of the dungeons into the garden, gradually filling the stage, singing "O welche Lust, in freier Luft / Den Atem leicht zu heben!" — "Oh what joy! In free air / To draw breath with ease!" I can't find a decent-quality sound clip, but this one is at least American: it's the New York Met conducted by Bruno Walter. Freedom — it's wonderful.
[Music clip: From Beethoven's Fidelio]