That’s Krauthammer’s astute characterization of Obama’s projected two stages of health care reform. Charles is perfectly right that only real alternative would have a subsidized transition to portable private insurance, and we remember that McCain and the Republicans chose not to do battle over this issue during the campaign.
Literature, Poetry, and Books
April 24, 2009
As I was telling the Customs lad the other day, who was more hungry for lunch than for literary history, America has in some ways shown Shakespeare more regard over the years than has the land of his birth and life and work and death, the land he immortalized, where I now sojourn:
This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world...
As old dying Gaunt says in Richard II. And says so gloriously as to make generations of readers forget Gaunt's pitiful lament and condemnation of Richard, that this dear, dear land
Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it,
Like to a tenement or pelting farm:
England, bound in with the triumphant sea
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
Ah, would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my ensuing death!
Speaking of which, I arrived in this dear land at the very moment when the Labour government seemed to be announcing that England was leasing itself--to the next generation or to world creditors, I'm not sure which--like to a tenement or pelting farm, taking on more debt than at any time since World War II. But as you know, such matters are beyond me, and I digress.
When you and I were here, "a lifetime ago" as you say, there was no Globe Theatre in London. That there is one now is due mainly to the efforts of that American I mentioned yesterday, Sam Wanamaker. And the story of his interest in such matters is an American story that Sam Clemens would have loved. It originated near your neck of the Heartland woods, in Chicago:
Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders.
It was in the Chicago World's Fair of 1933 that the fifteen-year-old Wanamaker encountered the "first reconstruction of a Shakespearean 'Globe style' theatre" in America. He said "he was struck by 'the avoidance of the sort of hushed quality you had to have when you went to the theater'" (NYT, July 9, 1987). This boyhood experience awakened a dream in Wanamaker that he didn't begin to fulfill until the last couple of decades of his life, the dream of rebuilding Shakespeare's original Globe Theatre. And here's the part Sam Clemens would have loved:
Following the close of the Chicago fair, the complete 'Globe' theatre building was moved to Dallas, Texas, and in June 1936, as part of that state's official centennial celebrations, a quasi-religious ceremony 'consecrated' the newly re-erected stage for the citizens of the Southwest. Earlier that year the American vice consul to the UK and a party of local dignitaries in Stratford-upon-Avon had gathered to collect soil from the garden at Shakespeare's Birthplace and river water from the Avon, in preparation for the Dallas ceremony. The soil was placed in a box made from charred wood saved from the recently destroyed Stratford-upon-Avon theatre and the water secured in a pristine aluminium bottle, ready for shipping across the Atlantic by Cunard liner. On its arrival in New York, a member of the British consulate met the package prior to its final onward journey to Dallas.
The Dallas Morning News of 3 June 1936 reported the previous day's 'rites' of sprinkling the earth and water on the replica Globe stage before an audience of six hundred, transmitted via a live radio broadcast to the many listeners of station WFAA. With the stage symbolically consecrated the citizens of Texas were invited to the Globe to watch a Shakespeare play performed 'every hour on the hour' for the next 177 days.
What an orgy! Shakespeare, Texas style! Apparently, since the Chicago example, at least nine other Globe theatres popped up in America, while England continued to have none until 1997--and that one only because of the reverence and determination of Sam Wanamaker.
I know some of these things because of the book you called to my attention, Shakespeare and the American Nation (Cambridge, 2004), by Kim Sturgess, which is where all the quotations come from unless otherwise noted. It is an informative book, as books of that sort can be, concerning itself not with anything intrinsic to Shakespeare's plays or poetry but with a certain aspect of the reception of Shakespeare over the centuries. And it is also a typical academic book in that it can't help sneering at its subject gratuitously with a little intellectual contempt. Somehow the American "appropriation" of Shakespeare can only be explained by some kind of "nationalism" that seems to leave one's hands dirty to touch--the "establishment," for the usual unsavory variety of alleged or implied reasons, fearful of losing its advantages, conscripts the Bard to defend itself against foreign influences, etc. In any case, how déclassé for a country or a people to consider itself heroic or to consider a poet as something possibly even greater than a hero. But these sentiments are really unnecessary for Mr. Sturgess's book, and one feels reading it as if they are there because they are expected, almost required, by the Guild for which he labors. So one overlooks them. But I further digress...
It is natural for people to puzzle, at least for a moment, over how America, who owes its existence and its essence to radical revolution against England, can with any consistency treasure England's greatest poet. But America, of course, never ceased cherishing or revering or respecting and being grateful for many things British. The essential thing we threw off was the tyrannical idea of feudal monarchy and aristocracy--that some men were born with saddles on their backs and others booted and spurred to ride them by the grace of God. Where did Shakespeare stand on this? Well, that's a long story about which Walt Whitman, among others, has some entertaining things to say, but John Adams, I believe as early as 1765, likened British tyranny to Lady Macbeth.
There are many examples of America's incorporation of--and dependence upon--good old things in its Novus Ordo Seclorum. For an example of America interweaving its newness with old English threads, consider the patriotic song, America, popularly known as My Country Tis of Thee.
My country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims' pride,
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring!
My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills,
Like that above.
Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet freedom's song;
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.
Our father's God to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright,
With freedom's holy light,
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God our King.
Not exactly Shakespeare. But I've always loved it, including the melody, taken without blushing from the English national anthem, God Save the Queen: American words sung to British music. What could be more American! Shakespeare in America seems to me like English words set to American music. Al Pacino's Looking for Richard is an amusing, if unnecessarily foul-mouthed, short film on Americans trying to "do" Shakespeare.
Financial support for the Globe Theatre effort--and for many other similar efforts to preserve British culture--came mainly from Americans. "That," said Mr. Wanamaker [twenty-some years ago], "is in the nature of the American character. The British are much more cynical and regard the idea of a Globe reconstruction as an Elizabethan Disneyland. But the Americans have a real hunger for what they see as their history, their culture and their Shakespeare." (NYT July 9, 1987)
So Sam Wanamaker gets a memorial plaque next to the Shakespeare monument and window on the south side of the nave in Southwark Cathedral. I visited it yesterday, while waiting for a counter-tenor to sing Dryden lyrics to music by Purcell in honor of Shakespeare's 445th birthday and St. George's Day. "In Thanksgiving for Sam Wanamaker whose vision rebuilt Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in this parish," it says, while a full-size statue of Shakespeare reclines on its elbow just to the left of it. But what about such memorials and such monuments, what about the Globe itself, what about the Lincoln statue I have hardly begun to talk about? Do they remind one of Crito's touching concern about how Socrates will be buried, forgetting what Socrates had been telling him for so many years--that Socrates' foot is not Socrates?
They could. But I am inclined to think of them more as an important kind of secular sacrament: outward and visible signs of an inward and elusive beauty and truth.
So, more to follow, on Shakespeare, young hearts, Juliet and Shakespeare's younger brother, Southwark Cathedral (if I have not exhausted it), Walt Whitman (and Shakespeare's esoterics and exoterics), the Special Relationship, Lincoln in London, etc.
The POSTMODERN CONSERVATIVE blog has been revived at the FIRST THINGS site. There’s already lots of good stuff there, including Ralph Hancock’s reflections on watching the Miss USA Pageant (initially to humor the lovely Mrs. Hancock). Here are my reflections on why Tocqueville talks up the Puritans, which are meant to be in response to Jim Ceaser’s great talk at Berry College last night. The Puritans, at their best, were all about an aristocracy of everyone.
I got a note from Chris Flannery, who just arrived in London. I will post it as sent, and will post future ones as they come in (assuming the Muse honors him):
April 22, Heathrow International, Customs Desk:
"What is the purpose of your visit?" asked a sallow young man with a badge who had just glommed our passports. And he didn’t speak in contractions. I was prepared.
"My much better half and I," I said, "have come to stimulate the global economy and strengthen the Special Relationship. Tomorrow is Shakespeare’s birthday-his 445th-and it’s also the opening day of the new season (the twelfth, I think) at the Globe Theatre. Did you know that the man who is called in some of the literature the founder of the New Globe was an American? Uh, huh. Sam Wanamaker.
But he is just a recent example of a long line of Americans who have revered Shakespeare so much and done so much to preserve his memory that the Bard has become by his own kind of magic America’s greatest poet. This doesn’t mean, of course, that he can’t still be England’s greatest poet. Unlike cake, but like the truth, Shakespeare seems only to grow as you give him away. By the way, the theme of the Globe season this year is ’Young Hearts,’ and the first play will be Romeo and Juliet. Did you know that Shakespeare’s younger brother . . ."
"How long will you be staying?" he said. And he said it like someone whose lunch break was long overdue. So we took back our passports and made our way to Baggage Claim.
Jennifer Roback Morse posts an informative discussion of the methods employed by advocates of same sex marriage (advocates from within and from without the courts, I’d add) to get Iowa’s laws about marriage overturned. One especially disturbing thing (which, I confess, I had naively not considered prior to reading this) is the behemoth sized financial and legal firepower same-sex advocates (especially Lambda Legal with a budget that vastly over-shadows that of the entire court system in Polk County, Iowa) brought to bear on this case. More telling, however, was the way in which the courts in Iowa (beginning with the trial court) simply refused to listen to the evidence provided by marriage defenders and, instead, declared the presentation of relevant facts as dictated by same-sex advocates to be "undisputed." When cries of objection were raised as the case proceeded to the Supreme Court, the Court simply remarked that the relevant facts would be reviewed by them and so the oversight in the lower court did not amount to a real concern. Yet, the "review" of the evidence in the Supreme Court (evidence that has been found to be persuasive in other states, including New York) amounted to its dismissal as consisting of nothing more than "stereotypes"--all of this without citation or supporting evidence, of course.
Roback Morse is insightful in noting: "The debate over marriage hinges in large part on what people think is the subject: Advocates of genderless marriage believe it is about fairness and equality. Advocates of conjugal marriage believe it is about the role of marriage. By dismissing testimony so obviously germane to the functions of marriage in society, the Iowa courts prejudged the case and tacitly declared equality to be the only issue." It seems to me that this is exactly what has happened in the Iowa case and, while it highlights exactly why same-sex and traditional marriage advocates seem to be talking past each other, this shift in the focus of the argument is an especially bad development. It is bad not only because it means that marriage is likely to be undermined in a growing number of states, but also because it means that we are getting ever more distant from an ability to think clearly about the meaning and importance of equality.
If equality before the law boils down to a demand that the law be required to accord equal respect and privileges to the innate desires of every human being and not simply that the law (because of our natural human dignity) should be applied with equality to all regardless of each person’s peculiar idiosyncrasies--then we are turning the foundation of our regime and the legal system born of its principles on its head. We are saying that differences justify the granting of additional privileges to some citizens. In other words, we are trying to argue that inequality is equality. Some citizens may chose a male or a female spouse as they prefer. It is neither here nor there that the "privilege" or "right" of same sex marriage must now be open to all citizens in theory, because the foundation of the thing comes from an argument about equality that is rooted in our differences rather than in our common nature. Intellectually, it opens the door to any number of arguments that could gradually chip away at the cornerstone of American civilization.
It really is not my intention to come across as an alarmist on this front. Personally, I do not harbor any ill will or anxiety about my homosexual friends and neighbors. I think they should live and be well--and enjoy the same rights and privileges as every other American. I wish them the best of luck and happiness in all of their endeavors and I am even open to legal arrangements that ensure their protection in most domestic arrangements--including, in some cases, adoption. But words mean things. Marriage, for example, means the coming together of opposites for a common and civilizing purpose. It’s how we come to accommodate (and, one hopes, appreciate) our important sexual differences. This can be tough work and, obviously, not everyone is cut out for it. It’s failure rate is a testament to that (and perhaps not unrelated to the push to change its terms). But equal treatment before the law does not mean that each individual can come before the law (or before the court of logic) and tweak it in order best to suit his own preferences--however hard-wired those preferences may be. If that is the case, then marriage means nothing because it can change with your preferences. Moreover, equality does not mean inequality. And the foundation for the respect of equality in the American regime is not to be found in what makes us different but, rather, it is to be found in what we all as human beings share in our common human nature. Human dignity requires equal treatment before the law, certainly. But human dignity cannot be respected if we shift our focus to individual differences rather than common nature.
NRO’s Shakespeare symposium contains some clever comments by contributors on their favorite plays--see Charlotte Allen, Rick Brookhiser, Joe Queenan, et al. No one mentioned Merchant of Venice, so let me propose that oddest of comedies. The often prescient George Anastaplo expressed his disgust at the play, but (following Brookhiser’s take on the boldness of The Winter’s Tale) that is one of its beauties, as it drags us in and out of the muck. The Merchant is in many ways a tale about America--commercial and diverse, with an underpinning of slavery.
A former colleague told this insightful joke: A man takes his mother to her first Shakespeare play, a performance of Hamlet. Afterward, she remarks on how much she enjoyed the play but hadn’t realized Shakespeare was so full of cliches.
Please do yourself and your friends and family a favor and go read Tony Woodlief on one of the many abuses of the English language. It would be a small step to ending a very real (though not literal) torture if everyone absorbed this teaching. Moreover, if you really want to do yourself a favor, you should check in on Tony’s blog with regularity. He’s delightful. Literally . . .
First Hugo Chavez uses him to promote some 10 year-old anti-American screed and now the Castro boys use him for a good old-fashioned game of dodgeball. How’s that meeting tyrants with no preconditions working out for you, Barack?
I know I’m really, really late to comment on this . . . but I never get to movies these days and almost always have to wait until things come out on DVD. I suspect many of you are floating in my boat, so here goes: Did anyone else think that Angelina Jolie’s movie Changeling (directed by Clint Eastwood and co-starring John Malkovich) was a perfect argument against big, intrusive, and especially "expert" driven government? Perhaps it did not intend to be that . . . but it was based on a true story and the truth will out, as they say. Anyway, I thought it was a terrific and gripping movie.
This may be my favorite tidbit from this year's edition:
Elizabeth Rosenthal reported in the New York Times of a recent estimate from the Smithsonian Institution research in Central America suggesting that "for every acre of rain forest cut down each year, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in the tropics on land that was once farmed, logged or ravaged by natural disaster. . . The new forests, the scientists argue, could blunt the effects of rain forest destruction by absorbing carbon dioxide, the leading heat-trapping gas linked to global warming, one crucial role that rain forests play. They could also, to a lesser extent, provide habitat for endangered species." The next sentence, however, has a drearily predictable beginning: "The idea has stirred outrage among environmentalists," not because it might be untrue, but because it might blunt support for "vigorous efforts to protect native rain forests."
Imagine that: Environmentalists outraged by potentially good news.
Stay tuned to this space: Late today I'm scheduled to testify to the House Energy and Commerce Committee's marathon hearings that I'm calling "climatepalooza."
The Investor’s Business Daily praises Obama for getting it right with Columbia’s president Alvaro Uribe. Obama now supports the free trade agreement, and invited Uribe to Washington. "The media made much of Obama’s polite gestures to dictators, but he gave them nothing resembling what he gave to Uribe. Name one dictator Obama sat with for lunch. Which troublemaker got a White House invitation? Which tinhorn got a promise to visit?" I mention this not only because it is a good thing, but because in all the TV "news" about the Trinidad meeting (shaking hands with what’s his name, etc.), this serious policy change was never mentioned. This is the first I heard of it.
The Washington Post reports that Europeans, under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, are thinking of trying US officials for torture, a violation of international law, if these officials are not tried in the US for. According to the article, the release of memos by the Obama administration has made this easier to do and built political support for it.
I think this could be fun. If the Europeans go ahead, the US should indict every Spanish official in the chain of command for Spain’s extra-judicial program of killing ETA terrorists. We could go after the Germans for the Red Army terrorist shot on the train platform. Then there are all those French officials we could indict for the surreptitious sinking of the Green Peace ship in the 1980s, which unfortunately killed a Green Peace activist. And what about discrimination against Turks, North Africans, etc?
By the way, the New York Times reports that before the interrogation techniques that everyone now objects to were put to use, Nancy Pelosi was one of four Congressional leaders briefed on them. She says she can’t remember exactly what was in the brief.
Dennis Prager today writes an exceptional essay in which he accounts for the astonishing success of the English-speaking world by noting the use in our language of the word "earn”; as in "earn a living." Other languages do not have an exact translation. For example, if you want to speak of getting your wages in Spanish, you employ the verb "ganar" which means "to win." German uses a variation on the theme with "verdient" which means "to deserve,” and Hebrew draws on a verb that means "to profit." One needn’t reflect long on the moral implications suggested by these various conceptualizations of work and wages in order to consider how these different orientations might play out—not only with respect to economics but also with respect to morality and politics.
The moral outlook for a person who considers that he must “earn” a living, “earn” respect, “earn” love, and “earn” forgiveness is going to be considerably different from that of a person who judges that money, respect, love and forgiveness are his by dint of pure good fortune. Similarly, the person who strives for earning things is going to comport himself in ways that are vastly different from those of the soul who imagines that life’s riches should be his as a matter of entitlement or will (that is, if he can but cleverly manage the accounting).
Prager notes that America is in danger of forgetting this verbiage as well as the habits of mind and of heart that accompany it. We now talk freely (nay, proudly) of “unconditional love,” for example, and we demand it along with instant forgiveness for all of our faults. In school (and, sadly, very often at home) our children “earn” very little these days and are given a great deal more as a result. Trophies, accolades, admiration, affection—all these things are theirs for the mere price of breathing. And love? Well, we claim it as a birthright but—not being intellectual as well as moral idiots—we are very often disappointed in its quality. Perhaps there is little wonder in this. We bought our love from the clearance table after all.
A good friend of mine recently noted that Obama’s demand of his cabinet that they seek to trim the federal budget by $100 million will work for him as a conspicuous demonstration of republican virtue working to do him the Machiavellian service of covering up his otherwise imperial lavishness. I suppose he has a point. But I cannot help but take some comfort, anyway, in Obama’s feeling the necessity to use this particular fan for his obscene little dance. It’s fair to note his cynicism in it and to call it a cheap kind of stunt, but it’s also true that it does denote a kind of nascent republican virtue in the American soul. We still think—though we’ve done a poor job of demonstrating it in many respects—that people ought to “earn” a living. We still think that there is a mean between extravagance and stinginess. We still hold fast to the notion that it is wrong for a people to live beyond their means. And Obama still feels like he needs to (or at least he seems to need to pretend to) “earn” our forgiveness.
Critics will say that’s a thin reed to hang my hopes on. But I don’t yet think America is a nation of suckers and tyrants.
Ask Northerners the cause of the war, and the answer often is a single word: slavery. In many places in the South, the answers can vary: states' rights, freedom, political and economic power.
As students across the region begin springtime Civil War lessons, historians say the election of Barack Obama as the first African American president offers an unprecedented opportunity to break through stereotypes and view the era in broader ways....
There is little disagreement among professional historians that the South's effort to maintain the institution of slavery was the central reason that 11 Southern states seceded from the Union and civil war erupted. Today's textbooks have largely caught up with this view. But that doesn't necessarily translate to the classroom.
Even from this journalistic account, it seems pretty clear that the misleading equation of slavery with race or racism is behind the "stereotypes." It's also clear that no one seems to take seriously that slavery violates the central American founding principle of equality. Affirming human equality is the common cause behind a war to prevent secession that became a war to free the slaves. That was Lincoln's explanation, from the First Inaugural through his Second Inaugural. Equality is a principle of limited government, whose protection of liberty allows the fulfillment of human happiness. Ending slavery is the minimal condition for self-government.
While the journalist recounts a clever Simpsons episode, no where does she see fit to quote the 16th president of the United States in the year of the Bicentennial of his birth. But that can be a story for another time.
Alex Ross celebrates the life and music (and inevitably the symbol she became) of Marian Anderson, and
"the unfurling of her voice—that gently majestic instrument, vast in range and warm in tone. In her early years, Anderson was known as ’the colored contralto,’ but, by the late thirties, she was the contralto, the supreme representative of her voice category."
We're very sorry that we couldn't extend a more general invitation to our friends to attend. We have no money in these tough times, and some of our regular sources of funding weren't available this year. There's hope for more next year, though. This is a more student-run event than ever this year, and thanks to Jacque Smith, Laura Lieberman and our award-winning professor Eric Sands (firstname.lastname@example.org) for working so hard to keep hope alive this year.
Let me also thank IVAN the K for hosting a great conference on CHANTAL DELSOL. I'll say a bit more about what I learned in THE COUGAR CAPITAL OF THE WORLD later. But here's one exchange that links together the two conferences: SEAN SUTTON (a great guy and superb teacher) and I had a mild disagreement about how much the Declaration of Independence can be the foundation of judicial review. I talked up the importance of LEGISLATIVE COMPROMISE, saying that even the great Declaration was the product of legislative compromise. Sean exlaimed, correctly, that that made the Declaration better. And of course I agreed.
So my question to Jim might be whether our Puritan and Declaration foundings are as opposed as some say. Let me quote a few words from R.L. Bruckberger's IMAGES OF AMERICA (Bruckberger was French vistor to our country who's been called, with a little justice at least, the Tocqueville of the 1950s): "The greatest luck of all for the Declaration was precisely the divergence and the compromise between the Puritan tradition and what Jefferson wrote. Had the Declaration been written in the strictly Puritan tradition, it would probably not have managed to avoid an aftertaste of theocracy and religious fanaticism. Had it been written [simply] from the standpoint of the...philosophy of the day, it would be have been areligious, if not actually offensive to Christians." And so the Declaration of Jefferson, as changed by Congress, can't be simply explained or justified by "the philosophical context of its time; it must be viewed as a more profound accomplishment."
This is not change we can believe in, and it is the most fundamental cause of economic woes. Obama, of course, has no policy to provide the (erotic, familial) stimulus we need, and the inevitable failure of his reactionary Keynesianism might allow Republican statespersons to turn our attention to the genuinely foundational issues--issues neglected during the Republicans’ recent time in power. These issues might have considerable appeal to the young, who might reasonably rebel against the moral emptiness of the world they’ve inherited. This pathbreaking article is the self-outing of the legendary Spengler, who turns out to be one Mr. Goldman.
Three not so young folk will travel from Beijing to London on a couple of "nice horses", says Megan Lewis, a former geography teacher in England (age 60). Another rider, Chinese-Russian Li Jing, greatly admires "Genghis Khan, whose spirit has been a big encouragement for me." The third rider is Peng Wenchao, a former cab driver from Beijing. They started yesterday. Here is another story, with better pictures. Of the many great things in the world surely among the best is a horse. This is a great way to spend four years.