Tolstoys famous words,
Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is
unhappy in its own way. A guest commentator on National Public
Radio (where else?) has found a way even Tolstoy never imagined. It
seems her father has had a sex-change operation, and the family is split
over the appropriate pronoun: Should they refer to the paterfamilias as
he or she?
Americans talk about politics
constantly but seldom reflect on it. This melancholy truth
occurred to me again as I listened to the speakers at the Democratic
convention in Boston.
nominations are settled well before the delegates actually convene, so the
problem is to create a sense of excitement about foregone conclusions.
The principal oratorical device used for achieving this end is shouting.
The speakers shout
unexamined cliches, and the delegates shout back. Its so dull that
the TV networks, despairing of ratings, have sharply cut back their
coverage. I remember the days when there were three major networks, all
of them showing all the proceedings for days, depriving good Americans
like me of The Lone Ranger
most touted speaker was Barack Obama of Illinois, who is running for the
U.S. Senate, unopposed (his Republican rival having dropped out because of
a sex scandal). He is a genuine African-American, with a genuine African
name; his father, whom he hardly knew, came from Kenya, his mother was
a white American who raised him alone after his father left. He grew up in
Hawaii and went to Harvard.
Obama is already
being discussed as a possible future president. He laughs off such talk
with gracious modesty. In an interview on National Public Radio the day of
his scheduled speech, he was frank, charming, and well-spoken. I looked
forward to hearing him that night, the second night of the convention.
Alas, his speech proved nearly as stentorian as the others, though less
The surprise of the
night was Ron Reagan, son of the late president. He spoke with
conversational ease, as if addressing rational beings rather than fanatics.
Unfortunately, he was urging stem-cell research, something his father
opposed; and, in fact, he inadvertently made a case against abortion. He
noted that stem cells dont have fingers, heartbeats, and other
attributes of developing human beings. It was a strange argument to make
to people who dont mind destroying fetuses that do have all these
attributes! Not noticing the logic of this line of thought, they cheered him
The climax of the
evening was Teresa Heinz Kerry, the presumptive nominees wife.
Like young Reagan but unlike her husband, she didnt bellow at the
audience. She spoke softly, almost intimately, as if she were among close
friends, making the party ideology sound more reasonable than
revolutionary. She also greeted the audience in five languages, reminding
us that she would be our first foreign-born first lady.
shouldnt underestimate this woman. Shes no Hillary
Clinton, stridently making enemies. Hillary reminds me of de
Tocquevilles observation that American women are intelligent,
capable, self-reliant, admirable in many ways but not feminine.
The difference between American and European women can be heard in
their voices. Even the most beautiful American women (outside the South)
often break the spell they cast as soon as they open their mouths;
European women often speak with an enchanting music.
This is what Teresa
Kerry does. She is a thing unheard of on these shores, a feminist with
femininity. If, on the eve of the convention, she showed a bit of a temper
at a reporter who provoked her, it was the spontaneous temper of a human
being, not the rancor of a political doctrinaire. Her speech displayed
exactly what her husband sorely lacks, the perfect emotional pitch that
seems to reach an audience without effort. If John Kerry could talk like
his wife, hed win by a landslide.
The funny part of
this is that the Kerry campaign has been fearful of Teresas
spontaneity. Given that their candidate is a monumental stiff, with all the
human warmth of something revivified by Doc Frankenstein during a
violent storm, they should be worried about him, not her. One of the marks
of a spontaneous personality is that it responds, sometimes immediately
and unguardedly, to other people. John Kerry seems never to listen to
anyone but himself.
After all, there are
higher stakes in this election than charm. It may be just as well that
Kerry doesnt have any. The Democrats still havent learned
to present liberalism with a human face, despite all their mechanical
rhetoric about compassion and diversity and the rest of it.
I was amused to learn
American Communist Party has endorsed Kerry for president. I guess the
Reds are willing to overlook his passionate Catholic faith and his deep
personal opposition to abortion. The poor Commies have been rudderless
since their own perennial presidential candidate, Gus Hall, died a few
years ago; but its good to know that they see Kerry as the man
most likely to lead us toward the socialist paradise.
struck me as funny, because the Democrats have been trying so hard to
play down Kerrys liberal record, even though both The
and the hyperliberal Americans for Democratic
Action rate him the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate. Nevertheless,
his supporters insist that hes not a liberal, hes a moderate!
A moderate Marxist-Leninist, perhaps.
The Communists may
seem like a somewhat comic relic of another age, but they have always
known their business, and it may help us get our bearings that they
perceive Kerry as the most objectively progressive
candidate at least progressive enough to warrant
their support. Ralph Nader might seem more to their liking, but they
probably dont view him as a serious contender.
Maybe this is the
real Reagan legacy that as the government keeps
moving leftward, even under Republican control, politicians feel
compelled to camouflage their leftism. The Republicans call themselves
conservatives, the Democrats resent being called liberals, and everyone
pays lip service to conservative values patriotism,
the family, the free market. At least, amid all this confusing verbiage, we
can turn to the Communists for some straight talk!
Michael Moore says
we cant trust the government. Agreed. But, asks SOBRANS,
can we trust Michael Moore? If you have
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