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Christopher Columbus, Ray Charles, and the Way It Turned Out

Today is Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day, depending on your preference as a freeborn American. We have nothing against indigenous peoples, and count some among our ancestors, but we’ll spend the day playing old records by Ray Charles in celebration of the fellow who set off from the Old World and inadvertently found a new one.
To the more progressive way of thinking, ironically enough, Columbus is one of history’s greatest villains and his voyage one of history’s greatest catastrophes. If only Columbus had suppressed that dangerous human instinct to discover what is beyond the horizon, according to this progressive line of thought, the indigenous people would have been spared all the subsequent unpleasantness and the rest of the world would been spared the annoyance of modern America. This alternative history has a certain appeal, what with everyone living in perfect harmony with nature and bare-breasted women cavorting on the sandy beaches and all that, but it’s always struck us as rather hopefully speculative. One must ignore the likelihood that the indigenous people would have inflicted all sorts of unpleasantness on themselves over the past many centuries, as all people tend to do, and forgo all the life-enhancing discoveries that have resulted from that dangerous human instinct to discover what is beyond the horizon. One must also deny that America, for all its past sins and remaining faults, is one of the greatest things that has happened to humankind over the past five centuries and perhaps far greater than what might happened if everyone had just stayed put in their diversity-lacking homelands.
The late Flip Wilson had a very funny bit about Christopher Columbus in which the great explorer explains to Queen Isabella that “If I don’t discover America there’s not going to be a Benjamin Franklin, or a star-spangled banner or a land of the free and the home of the brave, and no Ray Charles.” In Wilson’s telling the queen panics at the thought of no Ray Charles, and immediately agrees to finance Columbus’ journey to America when he explains “That’s where all those records come from.” It’s a shrewd bit of anachronistic humor, but it also seems a profound rebuttal to all the Columbus-bashers who would rather celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Living in perfect harmony with nature would be cold in the winter and hot in the summer, the beaches where the bare-breasted women cavort will always be far away, the rest of the progressive vision of history’s perfect conclusion sounds quite dull and lacking in adventure, and the part about no Ray Charles is too horrible to contemplate.

We’ll do what we can for the indigenous peoples, which will probably involve modern medical discoveries and a technological economy, but we’ll also take some time out today to be grateful that Christopher Columbus brought the Old World’s know-how to this hemisphere. Christopher Columbus was one of those rare men who refused to stay put and dared to find out what was beyond the horizon, and he discovered the land where the Ray Charles records came from, and that’s worth a day of celebration.

— Bud Norman

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When the Story Goes Awry

That swap of five high-ranking terrorists for a sergeant isn’t proving the public relations bonanza that President Barack Obama expected. We must confess our surprise that it’s even turning out to be a public relations debacle, as we’d predicted the media would play along with the heartwarming tale of an American boy returned to the warm embrace of his family and small Idaho town, and we can only imagine very taken aback Obama must be.
The heartwarming tale seemed promising when Obama trotted it out on Sunday at the White House with the soldier’s grateful parents by his side, with the photo opportunities of a mother and child reunion and the hero’s homecoming in the Frank Capraesque small Idaho town scheduled to overcome any coldhearted calculations about the wisdom of dealing with terrorists and releasing dangerous war criminals and flouting a law the president had signed in the process, but it all started to fall apart as soon as the anti-American crazy-pants dad with the Taliban beard started took to the podium with the presidential seal and started reciting Koranic verses in Arabic and Pashto. Within hours even such usually reliable media as CNN, CBS, National Public Radio, and the American Broadcasting System were reporting that the rescued son had also expressed similarly anti-American crazy-pants opinions before wandering off base in his civvies, complete with quotes from just about everyone in the son’s platoon that the son was a “deserter at best and traitor at worst.” Other media soon reported at at least six men died in the resulting search, all of whom also had mothers who could provide compelling quotes to the Fox Network and other of the more aggressive outlets, and some suggested that the son even aided the enemy while he was what his father described as a “guest” of the enemy combatants. There were also stories about the terrorists being released, one of them wanted for war crimes by the same World Court that the lefties always want to hand Dick Cheney, and some unhelpful photos of them being welcomed as heroes by the terror networks that were claiming great victory. The Washington Post did its best to cast the anti-American crazy-pants dad in a sympathetic light, and a plucky columnist for The Daily Beast tried mightily to be offended by all the hubbub, and the same National Security Advisor Susan Rice who’d peddled the bogus Benghazi story while United Ambassador was going on the record that the son had served “with honor and distinction,” but for the most part the press was awful.
By Tuesday the conventionally wise The Hill was declaring that “Prisoner swap blows up on White House,” the same Time Magazine that once portrayed Obama as Franklin Roosevelt was reporting that the highest-ups at the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies were washing their hands and covering their behinds over the matter, the small town parade and its promising optics had been cancelled, and Democratic Senators facing re-election were going far off-script. Things got so bad that administration officials were apologizing to California Sen. Diane Feinstein for not giving her early notice of the deal, although they didn’t go so far as to apologize for breaking the law by not seeking Senate approval, probably because they knew that even the likes of Sen. Diane Feinstein would have balked at such a lopsided swap of five high-ranking terrorists for a deserter, and the apologists were working on a new narrative.
The best argument they’re likely to come up with is that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl might well by an anti-American crazy-pants deserter at best and traitor at worst, but that he’s ours and must be brought home to whatever fate awaits here even at the high cost of releasing dangerous terrorists. There might even be some merit to it, but it’s a hard to settle for after the high hopes of that story about the American hero being returned to the loving arms of his parents and proud hometown, especially after inviting an anti-American crazy-pants dad to recite Koranic verse at the podium with the presidential seal. Obama seemed pleased to be in Poland on Tuesday, where he looked very tough posing next to some F-16s that were intended as a stern warning to Russia’s Vladimir Putin or any other anti-American crazy-pants leaders looking to expand their territories. That’s a promising narrative, too, and the press might well get back on board for it, but Putin and the rest of them are probably more convinced by the sad story about the prisoner swap.

— Bud Norman