I have to say that the most impressive act of President Bush’s young presidency occurred, in my opinion, this weekend. It was his refusal to greet the home-coming “detainees” from Hainan Island. He let them see their families again unmolested by politics – a classy, quiet move. Can you imagine Clinton staying away? He would have hugged every offspring and probably the sidewalk as well. Part of the slow process of restoring the dignity of the presidency after Clinton’s two terms will lie in gestures exactly like this. Less is so much more.
EASTER IN SAN FRANCISCO: Attended mass at Old Saint Mary’s yesterday, the oldest cathedral in California. One of the great joys of being a Catholic is that you can go anywhere in the world and celebrate the same Eucharist in any language and any style. I remember how comforting that was when I first came to the United States and discovered the sheer exuberance of Catholic life here – Irish, Italian, Polish, Anglo-catholic, Latino and on and on. It was so much more vibrant than the rather dour and defensive English variety I had grown up in. This Easter mass was a modern and simple ceremony. Almost every job – apart from presiding – was done by women, in the choir, as readers, ushers, and so on, which is how most parishes seem to cope with the Vatican’s dismaying refusal to let women be priests. It’s also refreshing to see Asian-American faces in Catholic churches – a rarer sight out East. Here, Asian faces read the Gospel and sang the responses. I went with one of my oldest and dearest friends, Doug Robson, a journalist whose father, John, has been nominated to head up the Ex-Im Bank in Washington. The Robsons, like the Cheneys, are Republicans with gay children, and, as such, are surely a deep reason for that party’s slow progress toward treating homosexuals with respect. Later, Doug dropped me off in the Castro, a neighborhood that never fails to amuse. It being Easter, the streets were dotted with the usual hairy-backed homos – this time in large, floral Easter bonnets. I saw one hirsute fellow dressed from head to toe in flamingo motifs. And they say it’s not a culture. The afternoon beer-bust at the Eagle, a San Francisco ritual, was, however, a bust. Rarely have I seen such a scary crowd – and in the full glare of the afternoon sun. At times, it seems that San Francisco is almost frozen in time – roughly 1977. Gay life in the rest of the U.S. is increasingly suburban, mainstream, assimilable. Here in the belly of the beast, Village People look-alikes predominate; and sex is still central to the culture. This can be fun for a tourist, but I’d go nuts if I had to live here full-time. My other complaint is everybody else’s. There are virtually no cabs. I’m sure some benevolent busy-body is responsible but I haven’t yet figured out exactly how.
NOT THE SOVIET UNION: Fareed Zakaria, an old classmate of mine in Harvard’s Government Department, has a strong piece on China in the Washington Post today. He makes a few of the usual obvious points – rebutting the increasingly isolated Kristol-Kagan containment policy. But one I hadn’t really thought about till reading his piece, was the ambivalence of China’s neighbors toward such a policy. “While all of Western Europe wanted the United States to help contain the Soviet Union,” Fareed argues, “no country in East Asia, other than Vietnam, would support such a policy against China. It would have been like trying to contain the Soviet Union with Belgium as your only ally.” Maybe not Belgium, though. Britain would be a less comforting and perhaps more accurate analogy. But the argument, I think, still holds.
LET THEM CUT PORK: “Giving the Washington Post and New York Times front-page ammunition on children, health care, and safety is totally counterproductive,” argues Larry Kudlow in National Review Online. He wants W to focus less on the spending side of government and more on the revenue side. Yes and no. In restraining government’s relative size, it’s obviously important to keep your eyes on lower marginal tax rates and incentives for investment and growth. But simply acquiescing in high domestic spending at the same time is clearly foolish. Bush’s attempt to keep the growth of government spending at 4 percent a year and then even lower in later years is precisely what sets his program apart from the worst part of Reaganomics. Targeting pork and corporate welfare is critical to these efforts. Yes, liberal media outlets will shriek about cuts. But they’ll shriek whatever you’re proposing. Why not give them something to really squeal about and go on the offense on things like archaic agricultural subsidies, corporate tax loop-holes, and the impossibility of truly ending almost any government program? These themes are popular if they can be presented cogently. Remember the appeal of Ross Perot? Bush’s deepest problem right now is not his budget itself, but his seeming inability to make a persuasive, coherent and constant public defense of it.