The Long View 2006-06-02: Parties, Calumny, Spelling

Pierre TrudeauBy Pierre_Elliot_Trudeau.jpg: Chiloaderivative work: Jbarta (talk) - Pierre_Elliot_Trudeau.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Pierre Trudeau

By Pierre_Elliot_Trudeau.jpg: Chiloaderivative work: Jbarta (talk) - Pierre_Elliot_Trudeau.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister of Canada when I was very young, and perhaps as a consequence, is the the first Canadian politician I am likely to think of. Currently, his eldest son is also Prime Minister.

Parties, Calumny, Spelling

"America may be ready for a new political party," said Peggy Noonan in her Opinion Journal column yesterday: a sentiment that readers will know I share. Nonetheless, I can only repeat that the existing third parties have little to recommend them, as a glance at Third Party Watch will confirm. The problem is not just their platforms, but their names. The Green Party; the Constitutional Party; the Peace & Freedom Party: none invites a second look. In contrast, consider the vibrant political culture of Golden Astrobe that R. A. Lafferty described in Past Master:

But the Parties -- who could ever make sense out of their jungle? The Center Party, of course, was Thomas' own, and that of his three big sponsors. There was the First Compromise Party, the Second Compromise Party, the Third Compromise Party; there was the Hatrack (or Conglomerate) Party, and the Solidarity Labor Party; there was Demos and the Programmed Liberal Party; there were Mechanicus and Censor and the Pyramid; there was the New Salt Party and the Kiss of Death Party; there was the Intransigents and the Reformed Intransigents and there was the Hive; there were the Golden Drones, and the Penultimate and the Ultimate parties. It sometimes seemed that there were too many of them, but they all had their programs and their platforms. There were the Obstructionists and the New Obstructionists. There were the Esthetics, and the Anesthetics, and a splinter group called the Local Anesthetics; these latter were jokesters and so automatically their opinions counted for nothing on Astrobe, though the party was allowed to register. There was Ochlos, which carried the special blessings of Ouden. Several of these parties were for Programmed Persons only; one, the Unreconstructeds, was for humans only; but most had a varied membership

Actually, the online party that has caused so much discussion this week, Unity 08, has a better name than most, and there is something to be said for its self-definition as a sort of rally rather than a permanent party structure. It's only deficit is the absolute lack of reasons to vote for it.

My preference for the name of a new party would be something like:

The Party of Public Safety

I will spare readers a description of its platform, at least for now.

* * *

And what of John McCain? At The American Scene, Ross Douthat has enunciated some thoughts that have troubled many of the senator's admirers:

[F]or the first time in a long while I think that John McCain might not be the Republican nominee in 2008 - and the reason is immigration.

No one in Congress is going to emerge looking well after work on the current immigration reform bill is completed (and the completion may take the form of just letting the matter die for now), so at least McCain won't be damaged more than any other of the usual suspects for 2008. There is time enough for him to recoup his position, but he better get the memo sometime this year.

* * *

Pierre Trudeau was a fascist in his youth, according to that shameless calumniator Mark Steyn in a meditation on some recent biographies of the late Canadian premier. Not everything that Steyn has to say about Trudeau is so damning, however:

"I always found him a delightful conversationalist and a gracious host, though perhaps slow to reach for the bill in a restaurant, even when we were there on his invitation."

Steyn is an immigrant, by the way, and he better be sure his papers are in perfect order: he is one alien whose residence status the Democrats may regard with great skepticism should they come to power.

* * *

Perhaps it's the measure of television these days that ABC's broadcast last night of the Scripps National Spelling Bee was the most interesting thing to be broadcast in a very long time. Still, speaking as a spelling reformer, I tell you that the whole exercise is an indictment of English orthography. The absurdity of competitive spelling is illustrated by the word that decided the match: "Ursprache." Ursprache is a moderately obscure German term meaning "source language," but the spelling is as transparent as "cat." If you know German spelling (which you can learn in an afternoon) you would have no trouble spelling Ursprache even if you had no idea what it meant. The grotesque thing about last night's contest was that the kids were struggling with loan words whose spellings are regular and simple in their languages of origin.

It would be a fine thing if the contestants were studying Latin and Greek and German and French and Italian. Certainly that would be better than memorizing the undigested fragments of those languages in English dictionaries.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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