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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches, piano version]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air. Greetings, listeners, from your eternally recurring host John Derbyshire, this frosty February morning.
The reason I'm hoping that is, that this week's Radio Derb podcast has a kind of Groundhog Day theme to it — the movie, not the critter or the tradition. In that movie — it was released in 1993 — Bill Murray lives the same day, which happens to be Groundhog Day, over and over, getting a little wiser each time.
If you do social and political commentary for a living, you really relate to that movie. Time and again you find yourself obliged to cook up commentary on things you've commented on a dozen times before. All those previous times you read a few thousand words of background material to instruct yourself on the issue, cogitated deeply, then put forth brilliant, insightful analysis and suggestions as to how whatever-it-was might be fixed, or avoided, or reconciled to.
Then, five years later, the damn thing's in the news again; fresh as a daisy, absolutely unchanged, back upright like a Mr Wobbly Man toy. For some reason the world paid no attention whatever to your sage recommendations. It just sailed on indifferently until the issue, or problem, or crisis, came round again, looking just the same as before. Groundhog Day.
Richard Nixon said, quote: "About the time you are writing a line that you have written so often that you want to throw up, that is the first time the American people will hear it," end quote.
In that, as in so much else, Nixon was right. If you're a serious student of public affairs, every day is Groundhog Day. No, wait, that's not quite right. Groundhog Day is every day, I should have said. No, still not right. Groundhog Day is the only day … Whatever.
Here then, with the spirit of our 37th President smiling down from above, is your Radio Derb host dragging himself wearily to the microphone to state, yet again, on this Groundhog Day 2018, what the immortal Basil Fawlty referred to as "the bleeding obvious."
02 — SOTU. The State of the Union address fits that bill all right. I wrote the comprehensive takedown of what I called "this Stalinesque extravaganza" ten years ago in We Are Doomed. Why don't they listen?
I noted how disgracefully inappropriate this spectacle is to a commercial republic. I pointed out that for most of our history there was no speech, only an "annual message" delivered to Congress in writing. That was done as late as Richard Nixon's fourth State of the Union in 1973. It's a sensible and honorable tradition, to which we should revert.
Plainly we're not going to, certainly not under this president. And I'm bound to say, much as I deplore the whole preposterous, un-republican performance, if we must have the damn fool disgusting thing acted out like this, President Trump did it very well.
His strategy is clearly to position his party as the party of Americans, while the opposition is the party of foreign scofflaws and unpatriotic, disgruntled minorities.
This isn't quite congruent with reality, of course. Quite a lot of Congressional Republicans don't give a hoot for Americans and will move heaven, earth, and the Constitution to appease foreign scofflaws, and the party donors who profit from their cheap labor. One such was sitting right behind the President on Tuesday. Uncharitable souls might want to amend that to "at least one such …" but I'm going to be nice to the Veep here.
Conversely, there are probably still a few patriots in the Democratic Party, if you look hard enough. Jim Webb was still a Democrat last time I checked, although not alas in Congress. Certainly among Democrat voters there are many who still quaintly regard the Democrats as the party of the little guy, while Republicans represent the heartless rich. I know some of those innocents, and I'm sure you do too.
The President's strategy is none the less a good one, and probably a good enough fit to reality to preserve his party's House and Senate majorities this coming November, if he doesn't do something dumb in the meantime.
I did my due diligence, anyway; sat through the whole thing. Dr Johnson's remark about Paradise Lost is of course apt, quote: "None ever wished it longer," end quote. I've probably raised that quote in regard to previous State of the Union addresses; but what the hell, this is Groundhog Day, not a day when one should be bothered about repeating oneself.
The Lenny Skutnik business is now totally out of control, I see. For the benefit of younger listeners I should explain that Lenny Skutnik was the first model citizen brought to the State of the Union speech for us to admire and emulate. He had performed a heroic rescue in January 1982 so Ronald Reagan invited him to the SOTU speech that year. His name thereafter became a generic tag for any citizen so honored. I've even seen it used as a verb: "So-and-so's going to be Lenny Skutniked this year."
Mighty oaks from little acorns grow. No State of the Union speech is considered complete nowadays until we've been shown half a dozen of these people at least. God bless them all, but there's a right time and place for everything. The celebrating of our nation's heroes — a category that, this being the 21st century, of course includes victims — does not belong in a merely political event.
The tradition of Lenny Skutniking cynically enlists normal human emotions of admiration and sympathy in a nakedly political cause. We didn't do this before 1982. I wish we'd stop doing it. Our political life is already over-emotionalized.
I don't say that feelings, wo wo wo feelings, have no place in our public life. Of course they do. The emotional appeals are getting out of control, though. We're losing the point of balance. Could our public servants please address themselves to my prefrontal cortex more and to my reptilian brain stem less? Thank you.
I'm sure I can't be the only person who finds the Lenny Skutnik episodes in the State of the Union speech acutely embarrassing. I'm happy to see these people held up for our admiration, just not at this event. If we can't get back to a written State of the Union message, can we at least drop the Lenny Skutniking?
Still in a due diligence frame of mind, I did my best to watch the Democrats' response speech, which was given by some 14-year-old Kennedy princeling. I hung in there for a few minutes in hopes he might offer something that made sense; but when he said, "This is not who we are," I gave up and went and went back to my jigsaw puzzle, which had been calling to me all evening from the next room.
03 — Art of the possible. Bill Buckley once scoffed at some public figure for saying that politics is the art of the possible. Was there, Bill asked, any more hackneyed cliché in the political lexicon?
Well, no, there isn't. The thing about clichés, however, is that they're true. Our human nature is so easily distracted away from truth that anything, no matter how shop-worn, anything that draws us back to the contemplation of truth, should be smiled at, not scoffed at.
Politics is the art of the possible. Our President seems to know that.
I'm not sure that "know" is the right word there. The President doesn't strike me as a person who sits down in a quiet room and carefully thinks things through, after reading up on the relevant topics. He's more of a person with superbly good instincts for dealing with people — a master social tactician. By instinct, honed through decades of competitive dealings in the major-league construction business, he has become expert in putting opponents on the wrong foot and getting what he wants.
One area of human activity in which those kinds of honed instincts really pay off is gambling. The problem with gambling of course is, that sometimes even the best gamblers lose.
That all comes to mind in regard to the President's January 29th immigration proposals, and their probable fate. January 29th, I should say, was the official release date of the proposals; we knew what they were, and were commenting on them, some days before.
The proposals, as we've been saying, are nothing to make nationalists stand up and cheer. With a bit of congressional tinkering — and presidential proposals don't get to be federal laws without some of that — they could easily morph into another 1986-style bait-and-switch: mass amnesty of millions of illegals up front, with lots of promises for enforcement and reform. The promises then get forgotten when enough donors have harassed their Republican congresscritters, or when Democrats get control of Congress again. Then we're back where we were before, but with a few million more Democrat voters heading to the polling stations each Election Day.
The President's proposals say nothing about E-Verify or birthright citizenship. They do curtail chain migration, but only effectively after twenty years because they permit the current backlog to clear.
They do end the diversity visa lottery, but only sort-of: they actually "re-purpose" it. I guess that means those fifty thousand green cards will no longer be gained by sheer luck, but instead will go to more bogus refugees and software coolies from Bangalore.
They do fund a border wall; but from the public fisc, not — as should be done — by taxing remittances.
So for immigration restrictionists, the President's proposals are thin gruel. They have been enough, though, to get the Democrats screeching and fainting and sitting motionless through the State of the Union speech with their angry faces on above their Kente cloth shawls.
Probably that was the point of the proposals. As I said, the strategy here is to out the Democrats as sternly, resolutely determined to favor illegal aliens over Americans and outhouse countries over our beautiful own.
To judge from opinion polls, Americans at large aren't too ill-disposed to the illegals. Sure: Lots of us would like to see them loaded into commandeered school buses and shipped to the border. There's a big good-natured soft center, though, that says: "Hey, give them a break … but could you then please solve the problem, stop any more coming in? And speaking of problems, could you please address this one and this one and this one …"
That good-natured soft center, as good-natured and soft-hearted as it may be, isn't going to turn out to vote enthusiastically for a party that sees amnesty for the illegals as the be-all and end-all of national policy-making, prior to anything that advances the interests of Americans. There you see Donald Trump's art: he's fixing the Democrats in voters' minds as exactly that party.
You might say that as a strategic rhetorical ploy, that's all very well; but if he just wanted to get a big negative reaction from the Democrats, why didn't he give it them with both barrels: E-Verify, birthright citizenship, tax on remittances, full and immediate annulling of chain migration, unconditional end to the diversity green card lottery?
I'm guessing the calculation here was twofold: First, to not alienate too many of the cucks in his own party, and second, to be able to present himself as a compassionate moderate to that good-natured soft center of the voting public, so they'll see Democrats in the worst possible light.
The President's gamble here is that the Democrats will keep up their angry-face resistance for nine months, and go into the midterms as the party obstructing reasonable reform on behalf of foreign scofflaws.
I hope he wins that bet. As noted, the problem with gambling is that sometimes you lose.
Losing would in this case mean the Democrats saying: "Okay, we'll buy your proposals. Bring them to Congress, allow us to tweak things a little here and there as we customarily do, and we'll vote them through — no prob!" That would be a disaster for patriotic immigration reform.
Yes, it's a gamble. A set of proposals more Radio Derb-compliant would have been less likely to be accepted by the opposition, but more easy for the Democrats and their media shills to portray as crazy extremism, alienating the soft center from them.
I think Trump played a good hand here, doing what he could. If it works, his party will have two more years in control of Congress, with a possibility of real immigration reform and a GOP in awe of his tactical skills and so more inclined to go along with his program.
There is real possibility here. Not certainty: You don't get certainty in politics. It's the art of the possible, the art of the possible.
04 — The forever war. That Groundhog Day feeling never lies so heavy on my heart as when reading news stories about Afghanistan, of which there has been a small flurry recently.
This is Year Eighteen of our Afghanistan effort. True, we're not actually engaged in combat there now, except I suppose covertly; but we have guys out there doing training and support, and we've had a fatality from hostile fire already this year: Sergeant Mihail Golin of Fort Lee, New Jersey, killed January 1st in Nangarhar Province. Sincere condolences from Radio Derb to Sgt. Golin's family and friends.
That follows fifteen American fatalities in 2017, eleven of them from hostile fire, three of them "green on blue" — that is, our guys were killed by the Afghan Army troops they were training and supporting.
The number of Americans being killed in Afghanistan in a year should be zero. We have no business being there. We have no strategic interest in the filthy place, and are doing nothing useful there. Following Afghanistan's assistance to the 9/11 plotters, we should have killed lots of their leaders, broken lots of their stuff, and warned them to keep their hairy, pock-marked noses clean in future, or else.
That could have been done in a month. Eighteen years? This is a national disgrace.
Afghanistan got a two-sentence mention in the State of the Union speech, with a tribute to our, quote, "heroic Afghan partners" — that would be the ones who murdered three of our guys last June 10th.
I mentioned there's been a small flurry of Afghanistan stories in the press. Here's a couple of the headlines, which just by themselves give you the general flavor of the coverage.
First headline, from the New York Times, February 1st, headline: In Afghanistan's Unwinnable War, What's the Best Loss to Hope For?.
Second headline, from BBC News, January 31st, headline: Taliban threaten 70 percent of Afghanistan.
Our eighteenth year; and the enemy we went there to defeat now control, or threaten to control, seventy percent of the territory. Good job there, Presidents George W. Bush, Barack H. Obama, and — I hate to say it, but there are sixteen dead American servicemen prompting me — Donald J. Trump.
Just going back to that first headline, what is the best loss to hope for? The Times gathered an impressive bench of Afghanistan experts from universities and think tanks. They came up with six options under six headings. Each option is described in detail, but again just the headings give you the main idea.
Here are the six headings.
The eggheads don't really tell us which of these ways of losing is the best to hope for, as per the article's main headline. Their closing summary, quote:
Few modern wars have raged this long, this destructively and with this much outside intervention. If there is an obvious way out, history does not provide it.
There's my Afghanistan commentary. Scanning back through the Radio Derb archives, I see I've passed comment on our Afghanistan involvement 35 times since 2008, which is as far back as my archives are searchable.
Here I was in July 2008, quote: "Can anyone please tell me what the heck we are doing in Afghanistan? Or what we hope to do?" End quote.
All my Afghanistan commentary has been slight variations on that, for years and years and years. This segment was just another slight variation on that same theme. Whaddya want? It's Groundhog Day.
President Zeman is a proud nationalist, anti-EU, anti-NATO, strong on border control, critical of Islam. Dedicated Radio Derb listeners will recall my swooning over his Christmas message to the Czechs back in 2015, sample re-quote:
To close my Christmas message, I would like to tell you two clear sentences:
With a current world population of seven and a half billion and rising fast, of whom at least five billion live in what Americans, and also Czechs, would consider to be dire poverty, that second sentence states what is bleeding obvious to anyone whose mind has not been addled by open-borders fantasies.
All credit to President Zeman for stating it anyway; and congratulations to him from Radio Derb for winning his election.
Winston Smith, the hero of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, told his diary that, quote: "If there is hope it lies in the proles," end quote. If there is hope for European civilization, it lies with the peoples of ex-communist Eastern Europe. All strength to them!
That news report from the London Guardian tells us that, quote:
Zeman's victory confounded widespread concerns about his health and the effects of his reported heavy drinking and smoking. The president has turned the latter issue around to cast himself as folksy and authentic. His electoral triumph appeared to be due to strong support in the provinces and far-flung areas, while his opponent scored heavily in the major cities, particularly Prague.
End quote. So there's a blue-red divide in Czechia, too. Damn those major cities! I suppose Czechia's major cities are full of yuppies, bankers, and homosexuals, like ours.
As to President Zeman's "heavy drinking and smoking"; should the Czechs ever decide they've had enough of him, he could come over here and run for Mayor of my town. He's got one vote right here.
Mentioning Winston Smith there put me in mind of another Winston: Churchill, of course, not the cigarette. I gave over a segment of my January Diary to this new Churchill movie, Darkest Hour.
Czechia is of course the western half of what used to be called Czechoslovakia, the nation that lost pieces of its territory to Hitler's Germany in the 1938 Munich agreement. Excusing his part in negotiating that agreement, the British Prime Minister of the time, Neville Chamberlain, told Britain that the issue of those territories had been, quote: "a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing," end quote.
Poor old Neville has lived in infamy ever since. Darkest Hour portrays him as dimwitted, ineffectual, and meek. In fact he wasn't a bad man in any way, and Winston Churchill, political rivalry aside, quite liked him.
Chamberlain died of cancer just a few months after the events portrayed in the movie. The obituary speech that Churchill gave to the House of Commons is well worth reading. Brief sample, quote:
Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned.
Eighty years on from the Munich agreement, Czechia is still a far-away country we don't know much about. Well, I don't. I wish them luck none the less in thwarting the evil designs of Germany's sinister Angela Merkel and the EU's vulpine Jean-Claude Juncker, and once again offer my congratulations to President Zeman.
06 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
It also, however, boasts the Blighty Café, a Winston-Churchill-themed eatery where you can drink from Churchill mugs while admiring model Spitfires and chowing down on the establishment's signature menu item: The Winston, a traditional full English breakfast with British bacon, 2 fried eggs, Cumberland sausage, Yorkshire black pudding, bone marrow, tomatoes, mushrooms, red onion, thyme, homemade baked beans, and sourdough toast. Be still, my heart!
Last Saturday the Blighty Café was stormed and vandalized by a gang of protestors. They were the usual Social Justice mob: pale young guys with neckbeards, blubbery cat ladies, hijabs and sandals.
Their leader was a young Somali woman named Halimo Hussein, billed as a politics student at London University. She gave it as her opinion that Churchill was racist and imperialist.
Churchill was indeed both things, as were practically all Englishmen of his time. So what? The guy saved his country from foreign occupation. The proprietors of the Blighty Café are right to honor him for that.
There's not much chance that any leader of Ms Hussein's home country, Somalia, will ever have to take a stand against a foreign invader. Who on earth would think Somalia worth invading? The place is a … what? Our President had a word for it, but I can't quite remember the word.
Perhaps Ms Hussein should go back to Somalia and try to fix it, once she has learned enough politics at London University. Her departure would be cheered to the echo by millions of English people, I can promise her that.
Item: I keep meaning to give a shout-out to bloggers I consult regularly for their insights and opinions, which I then of course plagiarize shamelessly; but I keep forgetting.
That item about President Zeman of Czechia put me in mind of the blogger who calls himself The Z-man. He's one of the best, and wonderfully prolific. I commend him to your attention.
Try for starters his January 16th post, "An Immoderate Age," which I think enlarges nicely on a theme Bob Weissberg and I have chewed over in our posts: The inability of Progressives to allow any feelings about any issue between total loving acceptance and utter hateful rejection. We're not allowed to be indifferent; we're not permitted to have feelings like mild disapproval or resigned acceptance.
Progressives like to say that their enemy is "hate"; their real enemy is thoughtful moderation. Or just … thought.
Check out The Z-man. You won't agree with everything he writes: He wouldn't be much of an opinionator if you did. He puts forth more good insights per week than an average New York Times bloviator — David Brooks, say — does in a year, that's all.
Item: I boxed a couple of rounds with Williams College in northwest Massachusetts a couple of years ago. A student group had invited me to speak. The college President, a girl named Adam Falk, found out about the invitation and, when she had come round from her fainting spell, forced the students to cancel it.
I've kept up a mild interest in Williams College ever since; so my eye was caught by this item at CampusReform.org. Headline: Dem[ocrat]s took 100 percent of donations from Williams College in 2017.
That's right: Employees of Williams College donated $25,000 to Democrat politicians in 2017, but not one red cent to Republicans. Since 2009, the total number of Williams College employees who have donated to Republicans is two.
Adam Falk left the Presidency of Williams at the end of last year to serve as President of the Sloan Foundation, whatever that is. It's a good thing she's gone. If she were still there, she'd be tracking down the names of those two fascists and exposing them for all the world to hiss at.
Item: January 28th in North Carolina there was a tennis match between two college teams, Appalachian State University playing against historically black North Carolina A&T State University.
It the course of the match, a white ASU player, name of Spencer Brown, taunted A&T player John Wilson, who is black, thus, quote: "At least I know my dad."
Wilson tweeted indignantly about this; the tweet was widely retweeted, and Brown — that's the white guy — has been suspended indefinitely from the ASU team.
I'm a bit baffled by this story. Isn't trash-talking a black thing? Did not blacks, in point of fact, invent trash-talking? What happened to "Yo momma …"? Yo momma like a railroad track, gettin' laid all over the country, and so on. What happened to that?
I guess the temptation to exercise his black privilege was just too strong for John Wilson to resist.
Item: A few weeks ago on Radio Derb I awarded some points to TV astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, concerning whom I said, quote: "I'd better confess that I've always taken Tyson for an affirmative action lightweight," end quote.
I think I may subtract those points. I got it right the first time: Tyson is a lazy nitwit.
January 29th Tyson tweeted the following thing, tweet:
Not that anybody asked, but one-third (95 out of 289) of all American Nobel Prizes in the Sciences have been earned by Immigrants to the United States.
End tweet. How sloppily incurious is that? A person of any active intelligence would wonder which nations those immigrants immigrated from. Somalia? Haiti? El Salvador? [Laugh.]
A different tweeter, Matt Semite, did the legwork for Tyson. Ninety-six percent of those immigrant Nobelists were from Europe or Asia. Over 25 percent were Jewish. One was mestizo. None were black.
This was doubly irritating to me as I did similar arithmetic on immigrant Nobel Prize winners ten years ago in Chapter Ten of We Are Doomed. Why don't they listen? Groundhog Day, Groundhog Day.
How does a TV star like Tyson get away with lazy sloppiness like this when humble drudges like myself and Matt can dig up the data in half an hour? How does he get away with it? Oh, right.
07 — Signoff. That's all I have for this week, ladies and gents. Thank you for listening: and note please that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning. That means another six weeks of winter, so keep your woollies on and something warming in the liquor cabinet.
To see us out, here's Hayes Carll with a song that will return an echo from the bosom of any older listener with Millennials in the house, and very likely from some college teachers and administrators, too.
There will be more from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: Hayes Carll, "I don't wanna grow up."]