Saturday, January 22


Way back in geologic time (I mean way back), when I was a student at Claremont Men's College (since re-named Claremont McKenna College) in Claremont, CA, I took a course in international relations from the renowned, and some thought imperious, Professor Harold Rood. Because I had not at the time of the first day of his class been disabused yet of certain high school notions of academic protocol, I figured he would open the hour with a professorial introduction to the subject matter we would cover during the course of the semester and hand out and review the course syllabus. Instead, he walked to the board ("chalk" in those days), wrote an essay topic, distributed "Blue Books" to the class, and advised us we had an hour to do our best writing.

When the class next met, Dr. Rood handed back the graded essays. When I opened my Blue Book I about had a heart attack (unusual in 18 year olds). There was more red on and about the blue ink of my handwriting than I had ever seen in any of the "advanced" college preparatory English classes I had taken in high school, the purpose of which for taking them, I suppose, was to avoid just such a moment when your ego has a brutal, head-on collision with a brilliant mind (not yours, of course) that cares not a lick for your vulnerabilities, naivete, or garish syntactical inelegancies. Indeed, that Blue Book looked as though it had been used to wipe up blood on a slaughterhouse floor and I was devastated.

That particular memory of Harold Rood came to mind this morning as I read the most recent column from NRO of one of my heroes, William F. Buckley Jr. Still annoyed from yesterday with Peggy Noonan over her review of President Bush's inauguration speech, I felt my systolic pressure climb, as I worked my way through the hedgerow country of Buckley's picayune parsing of the president's Inaugural Address. After all, this was not a State of the Union message lacking the obligatory details of a president's agenda. This was an Inaugural Address and I challenge Buckley or anyone to go back through all of these from all of the presidents who have served before to find any that back up the inspirational, broad-stroke themes indicative of such an address with the supportive details and nuances of just how they're going to be realized. If my readers will permit a sports analogy, the Inaugural Address is the equivalent of a head football coach's pre-grame address, not the Game Plan or the Play Book.

I suspect Buckley's concern mirrors the traditional concern of conservatives for expansive foreign policies. That's a fair-minded concern. But too much of the academic -- the English professor -- came out in his column. It was pretentious and unnecessary. Harold Rood helped me years ago. But Bill Buckley didn't do the president a bit of good this week.