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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air — this last day of September in Year 3 of the Obama Era: Anno Obamae tres for all you Latin buffs.
Yes, this is your classically genial host John Derbyshire reporting the week's news to you from the hushed, deep-carpeted, oak-paneled halls of Buckley Towers in the heart of Manhattan, last redoubt of the majestic traditions of conservative restraint, elegance, learning, and high culture. [Party sounds.] Would someone shut that door, please? Thank you.
OK, on with the motley! [Caruso: "Vesti la giubba …"]
02 — GOP candidates: roundup. The other day Mrs Derbyshire asked me: "How do you guys keep coming up with things to say about politics? Is there really that much new going on from week to week?"
I told her that, yes, we sometimes find ourselves becalmed, struggling to find anything interesting to report. There are times when nothing much is going on.
These, however, are not those times. The main reason they are not is the wonderfully various group of candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination, and the way their stock rises and falls with the tides of political fortune and public opinion. It's like a firework display, if you'll permit me to switch metaphors. A new candidate explodes on the scene, dazzling us with his or her freshness and style. Then he-she fades and another, different one lights up the sky over there. We go "Ooh!" and "Aah!" and point and cheer. For a few months, politics is fun.
Well, who's lighting up the sky this week? Herman Cain, that's who. Couple of weeks ago it was Rick Perry sending tingles up our legs. Now Perry's gone into something of a decline — no offense to Rick Perry fans — and the talk is all of Cain.
Tuesday night on Greta Van Susteren's Fox News show, Sarah Palin actually called Herman Cain, quote, "flavor of the week." [Palin clip.] I'm giving the lady the benefit of the doubt here, assuming she means Herman Cain … although there's been so much coming and going in the GOP field, they might have snuck a candidate named Herb Cain in there when I wasn't looking. But no, I'm pretty sure she means Herman. Flavor of the week. Well, that gets Herb, Herm, Hervey, whatever his name is, that gets Mr. Cain a segment all to himself in this week's Radio Derb. That'll be the next segment, so right now I'll just continue with our general survey.
Time for a poll. The latest one I have is a Fox News poll from Thursday afternoon. It shows Mitt Romney back with a healthy lead. The poll was taken last weekend, Republican Primary Voters only. Respondents were given a randomized list of the names of GOP candidates and asked to say which one they'd like to see as nominee. Romney came out ahead with 23 percent, Perry 19, Cain nipping at Perry's heels with 17. The only other candidate in double digits was Newt Gingrich, 11 percent.
So that debate the other day really did take some shine off Perry, and not just for me. In fact I think we can definitely downgrade Perry's last debate performance from a botch-up to a disaster. Since the thing that most people were talking about was Perry's immigration two-step, it may be that Perry's sudden drop in the polls signals that voters, at any rate Republican voters, are no longer willing to be fobbed off with glib appeals to sentiment and nostalgia on the immigration front. They want real answers as to why, in a hard and prolonged recession, we tolerate the presence of several million trespassers; and why, in those same circumstances, we are admitting a million people a year for permanent legal settlement.
If that's right, if people really are looking for hard answers here, and are no longer content with emotional appeals and shallow catch-phrases from the cheap labor and Hispanic ethnic lobbies — well, that's good news for us immigration restrictionists.
And while I'm surveying the field in its generality, I should note that we lost Thad McCotter, actually last week. So there is some attrition as well as some new candidates coming in, and we may reasonably hope that come caucus time in January, the hogs in Iowa will after all outnumber the Republican presidential candidates. Sorry to see Thad go, though. He was an American original, an honest and earnest man of character. Good luck with whatever you're doing instead, Thad.
03 — GOP candidates: Herman Cain. OK, Herb Cain. Sorry: Herman, Herman Cain. Whadda we got here?
Those of you who read the posts by our excellent bench of commentators here on NRO will probably have seen the one Thursday afternoon by my colleague Kevin Williamson. It's about Herman Cain, and its title is Nein! Nein! Nein!, with the German spelling.
That tells you Kevin is anti-Cain. Cain has proposed a plan he calls "9-9-9" (and we're talking English here, those are the numeral "nine" not the German word for "No"). The idea is to replace all current federal taxes with a 9 percent personal-income tax, a 9 percent corporate-income tax, and a 9 percent federal sales tax.
Well, Kevin tossed and gored the 9-9-9 proposal. Then he doubted that Herb is keen enough on spending cuts as opposed to this revenue fiddling. Then he put the boot in to Hervey himself. Quote: "Based on my single encounter with Mr. Cain, at a meeting with National Review's editors, I would have hesitated to hire him to run a pizza company, much less the country." End quote.
Good knock-about stuff. That's what you go to NRO for, and Kevin does it supremely well. And I can assure you, contrary to rumors you may have heard, that Kevin does not have a life-size cardboard cut-out of Rick Perry in his office. That's cheap slander. However…
I was in that same meeting with Herman Cain. When conservative politicians are in town, they drop in at Buckley Towers to give us some face time — give us an opportunity to get a look at them and ask them some questions. It's a nice courtesy on their part, and it adds some substance to the stuff we tell you here on the website, which mostly comes to us second-hand.
So there was Herman Cain back in June, sitting at the big old table in our library, with me and Kevin and half a dozen other editors round the table. We asked him questions, he fielded the questions. It ran about an hour, hour and a quarter, something like that.
The thing you have to do at events like that is to balance off your one-on-one impressions of the guy with your judgment as to how much meat there was behind his answers to the questions. Your man might be charming as all get-out but a completely empty suit; or he might be a fountainhead of policy wisdom and imagination yet have the personality of a loofah. You have to try to distinguish the two things, the shadow and the substance; and the way Mother Nature wired up the human brain, it's not easy for us to do that.
"Charming" isn't quite the right word for Herman Cain up close. It's charm with a sort of briskness to it: I was charmed by him, but the charm came with a frisson of fear that he might pull out a spreadsheet to show me. In his life, Cain's been a busy working executive, and that's exactly how he comes across.
When I was growing up in England, America was still the can-do nation. Americans were the no-nonsense guys with cropped hair and short-sleeve military shirts who breezed in with a pack of Luckies in the shirt pocket, straightened out your problems with gum-snapping efficiency, then breezed on out calling behind them, "Hey, pay us when you can!" and leaving everyone feeling good. Americans were Superman.
I got a whiff of that old magic from Cain, who was born the same year as myself. No, he's not Superman. There isn't a Superman. Superman is a comic-book fiction. Cain has some of that old cocky can-do American spirit, though, and I can't help but like him for it.
He can do, too — has done, turning round struggling businesses. As a qualification for running the country that's somewhat limited, but it's not nothing. The business of America is, after all, business.
As to the meat of his ideas, the aspect that Kevin came down on: Well, yes, the 9-9-9 business is kind of gimmicky, and like the proverbial battle plan, it wouldn't survive contact with the enemy. But then, you can say the same of most policy proposals that most candidates put out when they're running for election. The real point of these things is to mark one candidate off from the others, to give him something to fall back on when questioned, and to get ideas out. At least Cain's talking about a national sales tax, which is almost certainly in our future one way or another, and giving people a chance to get acquainted with the idea.
On the spending issue, Herb's been munching a lot of rubber chicken with the Tea Partiers, and he must have heard all about that. You can't get far in business if you're unwilling to cut, and Herm has got pretty far in business. This doesn't worry me.
Nor does the foreign policy stuff. Screw foreign policy. Our big problems over the next president's term are domestic. Let foreign countries go hang.
Another colleague of mine, Mona Charen, raised the issue of Cain's utter lack of government experience, here on the site on Tuesday. Yeah, it's an issue. You can be a big star on the football field but totally flunk out on the basketball court. Management is management, of course, and there's a big overlap in skill sets between a CEO and a President. Still, Herb's going to need help finding his way round the bureacracy, and really good judgment in picking advisers. It's a downside, no doubt about it, though not a fatal one.
My own encounter with Cain left me in no doubt that he's very smart. Like me, he was a math major. We had some brief exchanges about that, and I could see he got the main thing you should get from a mathematical education: the ability to think hard for minutes at a stretch, to follow chains of deductive reasoning, to do what one of my professors used to call "joined-up thinking." That's pretty rare, for sure among politicians.
I'll happily vote for Herman Cain if he's our candidate, and I wish him luck.
04 — GOP candidates: teasers. Meanwhile, out at the periphery of the GOP candidate field, we have the teasers. [Clip: "Day Tripper"]
Sarah Palin is of course teaser-in-chief. I don't know anybody who thinks she's going to run now, but who knows? Perhaps she'll try to get on a ticket with Herb.
The new teaser is Chris Christie, New Jersey governor. Christie is another pol who came to Buckley Towers to give us some face time a few months ago. I got the chance to ask him about two issues where I thought he was weak: Second Amendment rights and immigration. His answers left me more than ever thinking he's weak. All I got from him on the Second Amendment was that as a former prosecutor — I think he actually said "from my experience in law enforcement" — he's seen the havoc of gun crime. That really doesn't engage with the issue, which is gun non-crime, of law-abiding citizens with guns keeping crime down. On immigration he was frankly clueless, just a mouthful of the most threadbare clichés from the open-borders and cheap-labor lobbies.
On the upside, Christie is fully engaged with the most pressing issue facing our nation, which is runaway government spending. He's focused on that in his own state with considerable success. A lot of conservatives can forgive him his blue-state sins, just as we did Rudy Giuliani four years ago. It's all trade-offs with these guys — swings and roundabouts.
Well, Christie made a real stemwinder of a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Tuesday, and now the talk is all Christie, Christie. If Herb Cain wasn't flavor of the week, Chris Christie would be. I guess Christie will be flavor of the week next week. You can't have two flavors in one week.
The northeast RINOs are of course most fired up of all. Here was George Pataki on Thursday, quote: "This country needs a straight shooter and a proven leader. I urge Chris Christie to run for president to fill the void and lead America forward." End quote. That was George Pataki. You know who George Pataki is, right? If you don't know, you're better off not knowing.
The RINO factor notwithstanding, I'm all for a Christie run. The more the merrier. Christie's not my dream candidate by a long shot, but as I said it's swings and roundabouts. The guy has a real personality, no doubt about that, and he'll make a big impression nationwide, as indeed he did on Tuesday.
So yeah: run, Chris, run. I just hope if he makes it to the White House they still have William Howard Taft's supersize bathtub stashed away in the basement there somewhere.
05 — Pakistan's brain, and ours. It looks as though the relationship between the U.S.A. and Pakistan is on its last legs.
Color me happy. Cutting the Pakis loose would save us a ton of money, to start with. We've given them more than twenty billion dollars just in military aid since 2001, according to the Congressional Research Service. Throw in development assistance, refugee relief, food and health aid, and debt forgiveness, you can easily double that. And all that while Osama bin Laden was living in a nice little house in Abbotabad, doing his Target store shopping with Pakistani military officers.
The thing about dealing with foreign countries is, we tend to think that our preoccupations are also theirs. This isn't the case. You know those drawings you get in books about brain science, where the part of the brain concerned with body sensations is shown as a little man, all his parts scaled in proportion to how much brain matter they demand? So his tongue is enormous but his feet are tiny — you must have seen that thing.
The mentality of a nation works much the same way. We think of Pakistan in terms of Afghanistan, terror, Islam, and so on. When Pakistanis think about the outside world, you know what they think about? INDIA.
Since the British decamped in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought four wars, the most recent one just twelve years ago. India dominates Pakistani thinking. Among educated Pakistanis, that goes with an inferiority complex vis-a-vis India — the belief that India is the big sophisticated power and Pakistan the country cousin. Not that exactly, but the belief that other countries think that.
Here's a guy who knows a thing or two about Pakistan: Pervez Musharraf, who was actually President of that country until three years ago, and a four-star general to boot. He gave an interview to the London Daily Telegraph last week in which he said the following, quote: "The United States doesn't understand the sensitivities of Pakistan — that the United States is in league with India, that Indians are allowed to do whatever they are doing in Afghanistan." End quote.
Sure, Musharraf has an agenda. He's currently exiled in London as part of a complicated power play by his political enemies. Still, you see the India obsession shining through there. To us, Afghanistan is a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalist terror. To Pakistan, it's a pawn in the power game with India.
That's some of what's going on with the September 12 bombing of our embassy in Kabul. The bombing was carried out by the Haqqani group, a militant outfit allied with the Taliban. Maulvi Haqqani, the group's chief, had a cabinet post in the Taliban government before 2001.
Now here's Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, telling the United States Senate that the Haqqani's are, quote, a "veritable arm" of the Pakistan intelligence service.
So here's what they're saying to each other in Pakistan Intelligence HQ, imaginary quote: "Ah, screw the Americans. They'll keep the stuff coming because they're afraid if they don't, we might hand off a nuke to someone, or get into bed with China. We can do what we like, they'll keep paying — don't worry about it. Meanwhile, these scumbags in Kabul, they're just fronting for India. Let's teach the buggers a lesson …"
In an election season here, with huge problems of debt and spending, candidates better get ready to be asked what there is to show for ten years' chasing Islamists around back-country Afghanistan, and tens of billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan. If this is a new version of the Great Game, what are the stakes? A lot of us out here in voter land would like to see some quid pro quo out of the Pakistanis: say, for the next billion in military aid, how about Maulvi Haqqani's head in a bag?
And then maybe some strategic rethinking. Start with this thought: If we really do need allies in that neck of the woods, what would be wrong with India?
06 — Miscellany. Now, listeners, I'm afraid this is a truncated broadcast this week. I went a little over the top last week — almost an hour of broadcast — and the suits are frowning. So I'm just going to wrap up here with, yes, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Item: Last week's broadcast included some comments on the report out of Mark Krikorian's Center for Immigration Studies. In fair'n'balanced Radio Derb style I noted that, quote, "The methodology of the study has come in for some criticism," and I referred listeners to an article on DallasNews.com datelined September 22. Well, I was chatting with Mark Krikorian on Tuesday this week and he told me that Steven Camarota, who did the original report, has a point-by-point rebuttal of those criticisms up on the website. If you go to Steven's blog at cis.org, it's all there. From my reading, Steve Camarota has much the better of the argument, and Perry's claims of job creation in Texas look pretty wet … but please judge for yourselves.
Item: Framingham, Massachusetts seems to be generating more news than they can consume locally. Back in our September 2nd broadcast we covered the case of Obama Onyango, the president's illegal-immigrant uncle, being arrested for DUI up there. This week it's 26-year-old Rezwan Ferdaus, an American-born Muslim of Bangladeshi parentage, with a plot to attack government buildings with model planes. Ferdaus is a real jihadist: his local mosque, to their credit, threw him out for his extremist opinions. Ferdaus illustrates a phenomenon I wrote about in We Are Doomed, where I called it "absimilation." The first immigrant generation is industrious and law-abiding. In the second, a big cohort breaks off and separates themseves as much as they can from the society they were born into, becoming antisocial and often, like Ferdaus, dangerous. We saw it in England in the sixties with West Indian immigrants. That first generation were well-liked: hard-working church-going types. Then, twenty years later, we were looking at ganja dens and mass illegitimacy. I don't know if sociologists are studying this, but they should be. I've patented the word, though: "absimilation," the opposite of "assimilation." This weeks' poster boy for absimilation: Rezwan Ferdaus.
Item: Another burqa ban in Europe, this time in Switzerland. The lower house of the Swiss legislature approved a ban on face coverings in most public places. The vote was 101 to 77. It has to pass the upper house, but the Swiss are showing the right spirit here, as they did with the ban on minarets two years ago. In Europe, of course, as here, everything has to be litigated to death, and the minaret ban is headed to the European Court of Human Rights, which if I were running things would be a prime candidate for inclusion on the Pentagon's drone target list. It all seems pretty simple to me. If your burqa means everything to you, don't go live in a Western country, where people don't like it. But I guess my understanding of Human Rights is pathetically deficient. I shoulda gone to law school.
Item: Bookstores. As a writer, I have a natural affection for bookstores; though I have never completely recovered from reading George Orwell's essay on his own experiences as a bookstore clerk. Quote from memory: "The top of a shelved second-hand book is every fly's favorite place to die." End quote. Well, here's a couple of bookstore stories. One: The London Evening Standard reports that during last month's rioting in the Clapham Junction district of London, every store was looted except one: Waterstone's bookstore. Two: This one's from the Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Amazon.com has a huge warehouse nearby. The warehouse is not air-conditioned, and in summer heat conditions inside are brutal. Not that Amazon's completely indifferent. Quote from the Morning Call, quote: "During summer heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress." End quote. Why don't they just keep the warehouse doors open? Quote: "When Amazon workers asked in meetings why this wasn't done at the Amazon warehouse, managers said the company was worried about theft." I guess Amazon managers don't read the London Evening Standard.
Item: This is not Framingham, Massachusetts, but it's close: North Attleboro, about fifteen miles away. Robert E. Bailey of that jurisdiction pleaded guilty in Attleboro District Court to washing his pickup truck in the nude. At a car wash. I guess Mr. Bailey felt that while all that soapy water was raining down, he might as well give himself the once-over. The court ordered him to stay away from the car wash and to register as a sex offender. I don't quite get that. Is that a sex offense, being naked in a car wash? I mean, I know those Puritans have peculiar ideas, but what exactly is going on up there in Massachusetts? Someone should investigate the place.
07 — Signoff. And that is your Radio Derb for this week, gentle listener. It's a perfect early-autumn day here in the Big Apple: limpid blue sky, cooling breezes, winos dozing in the doorways. I'm off up to the grotto to celebrate with some of Jonah's paté and Veuve Cliquot. I'm not sure what we'll be celebrating, but I'm confident we shall think of something.
It was nice to hear a little bit of the Beatles there, wasn't it? Here to see us out is some more, from what I myself think is melodically and lyrically one of their best: "Yes It Is." That's the name of the song, I mean: "Yes It Is," from 1965. More from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: The Beatles, "Yes It Is."]