We occasionally devote this space to our tiresome grousing about the ongoing and apparently inexorable dumbing-down of our native land. It’s one of our “themes,” so to speak, yet every once in a while we are reminded, with a piledriver-to-the-forehead vengeance, that it’s actually much worse than we let on.
Such was the case last weekend when we happened upon Bill Maher’s Real Time on HBO, which we lay prone to watch after Maher announced that one of his guest panelists would be Sheila Jackson Lee (although we believe Maher mangled SJL’s name on first pronunciation). To our mild surprise, The Ubiquitous Congresswoman from Texas’s 18th Congressional District, as she’s formally known, came off well, within the narrow confines of her reflexive partisan predictability (the heathen Maher managed to elicit a grudging admission from the voluble congress gal that she “believes” in evolution, a view we suspect is not shared by many pastors in the 18th District). She did, however, manage to hog most of the dialogue---no mean feat, considering one of the other two panelists was Chris Matthews---and her appearance moved us to wonder what it must be like to be married to SJL, or to be one of her offspring, or to be even a four-legged pet in the SJL household, when no occasion is undeserving of a Major SJL Pronouncement: “Well, Bill, let me say this about [that] …” (which is how she actually seemed to preface every answer she gave Maher).
But we did not come here this evening to take a cheap and easy shot at Shelia Jackson Lee, which would be just too cheap (and easy). What really grabbed our attention on Maher’s show was the pot-puffing host’s interview with Garry Kasparov, the former World Chess Champion and candidate for the Russian presidency next year (he also has new book to sell). Kasparov was trenchant and funny (as in funny-dead serious) and demonstrated a notable ability to think on his feet while directly answering a question---notable, at least, when compared to the 18 or 20 or however many supplicants are still seeking the presidency of the United States, where SOP for candidates is to open the can and pour out the market-tested horseshit.* We especially enjoyed his cogent explanation of rival Vladimir Putin’s cozying up to Ahmadinejad (had something to do with the price of oil---can ya believe it?)
Kasparov wowed his audience: “He’s something, huh?” enthused Maher after the by-satellite interview ended. “Why can’t run in the Iowa caucus?” A lathered-up Matthews declared himself especially impressed by Kasparov’s ESL ability: “Do you ever get the feeling we’re playing checkers and they’re playing chess? That was sophisticated …our guys never get to that level of sophistication! They talk down to us … And he’s thinking in Russian!”
It was indeed quite a performance, as it apparently stunned Shelia Jackson Lee into an unprecedented silence.
This is the Kasparov-Maher interview.
*For the time being we must exempt the callow Obama from this gross generalization, because like our podnah Peggy Noonan we’ve begun to notice that the Illinois senator actually seems to consider questions and think before he speaks. Sometimes he even appears to be talking with people, rather than at them, and mildly embarrassed when he has to resort to pre-packaged blather. There’s no way in hell he could be president!