Three cheers for an entrepreneur, &c.

·10 min read

David Letterman used to do a segment called “Brush with Greatness.” Well, I had a brush with Trader Joe, some years ago.

He was Joe Coulombe, the founder of the Trader Joe’s grocery-store chain. There are more than 500 of these stores in the country. Joe Coulombe died on February 28, and the New York Times published an obit, here.

He was born in 1930, in San Diego. Went to San Diego High. Then he went to Stanford, where he studied economics. In the 1960s, he owned a small chain of convenience stores in the L.A. area. But when 7-Eleven moved in — uh-oh. Joe was swamped. He figured he needed to come up with something else.

What he came up with was Trader Joe’s: a store catering to offbeat tastes — imported foods, for example — and having a laidback vibe. As Coulombe put it in 2011, he wanted a store for the “overeducated and underpaid.” He specifically named these examples: classical musicians, museum curators, and journalists.

My brush with Trader Joe was in Austria, of all places. I spoke to a group of Los Angelenos (or just “Angelenos,” if you like) on Anton Bruckner. In fact, we went to St. Florian, the monastery where Bruckner studied and worked.

Trader Joe was part of the group, with Mrs. Coulombe. It was a treat just to glimpse the guy, you know? (And her.)

We need our entrepreneurs. Our country can’t be all politicians, pundits, and central planners. We need people who have new ideas, take risks, and light a spark. Who provide goods and services, and employ people, and make our economy hum.

These days, it seems to me, not many people are defending the entrepreneur. We would miss them if they were gone, or stifled. Three cheers for Trader Joe Coulombe.

• Chris Matthews is gone — kicked off his show, Hardball, over which he presided for more than 20 years. We are all “dunking” on him, of course. That’s what we do: dunk. But I’m not in a dunking mood just now. I’d like to recall my favorite Matthews moment ever. It involved my friend Bill Kristol. I’ll have to go from memory, but it’ll be pretty close.

This was in 1999 or 2000, during the Elián González affair. (He was the Cuban boy who had arrived on these shores and would soon be sent back to Cuba. If you want to learn about the story — or be refreshed on it — try a Wikipedia entry.) Bill was saying that Congress should do something to intervene — something to keep Elián from being sent back. He was really agitated about the matter, as was I. Matthews said, “Like what? What should Congress do?” Bill said, “I don’t know, pass a goddam law!” Matthews grinned and said, “Hey, you think you can swear, just because we’re on cable?”

I loved that.

• Chances are, Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee. A few thoughts.

When I was in college, Pat Caddell, a Carter guru, very much wanted Biden to run for the Democratic nomination. (This was in the Reagan reelection year.) Biden took a pass.

He tried for president thereafter — and flopped. Indeed, he was humiliated.

In 2008, Barack Obama did Biden a spectacular favor.

I once heard a story — a theory — and it goes like this: Obama wanted Tim Kaine to be his running mate. (Kaine is the senator from Virginia, you recall, who, in 2016, would become Hillary Clinton’s running mate.) But, shortly before the convention, the Russo-Georgian War broke out.

Obama was thought to have blundered in his reaction to it — particularly in contrast with the seasoned Republican, John McCain. So, he turned to the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden.

Who became vice president.

Biden passed on a run for president in 2016, deferring to Hillary. (His son Beau died in May 2015.)

This year, 2020 — at the age of 77, more than 35 years after he passed up that run in 1984 — he is poised to win the gol’-darn nomination.

What a strange ride, I think.

• He has been very, very shaky on the trail (despite his victories). He has looked infirm, frankly. If Biden is the nominee and I were the Dems, I would hide him for the duration. I would limit him to carefully written short speeches. And prep the blazes out of him for the debates.

And that’s it.

• In recent columns and other writings, I have referred to Mitt Romney as the new “Emmanuel Goldstein of the Republican party and the conservative movement.” Goldstein, you remember, is the villain — the all-purpose bogeyman — in 1984. (He is a stand-in for Trotsky, the Stalinists’ bête noire.)

I’ve been reading about CPAC, which is kind of the Super Bowl on the conservative calendar. For a report in the Salt Lake Tribune, by Thomas Burr, go here.

After the impeachment vote, CPAC’s chairman, Matt Schlapp, tweeted that “@SenatorRomney is formally NOT invited to #CPAC2020.” He was later interviewed by Greta Van Susteren on television.

“We won’t credential him as a conservative,” said Schlapp. (Did you know that CPAC is the credentialer of conservatives?) “I suppose if he wants to come as a non-conservative and debate an issue with us, maybe in the future we would have him come.”

But: “This year, I would actually be afraid for his physical safety, people are so mad at him.”

I wonder how CPAC attendees felt about that. Insulted? Or in agreement?

During the conference, Charlie Kirk, the young Republican leader, mentioned Romney, whereupon the crowd booed. “Correct answer,” he told them. “Every time his name is mentioned, you should respond that way.”

Something tells me they did not really need to be told.

Later, Kirk said in an interview, “They should have booed louder.”

Also getting in on the act was Alex Jones, the InfoWars man. “He’s a Republican in name only, a RINO,” Jones said of Romney. “And I’m proud of CPAC telling him not to come here.”

If you were CPAC, would you be proud of that pride?

About Romney, Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas said, “I’d heard a rumor — and it was just a rumor — that the president called him over and said, ‘Look, you know, you may not get elected to anything, but I can make you an ambassador. [Romney is a senator from Utah, by the way.] Go to the Hubei Province. You may know the capital, Wuhan.’ But that was just a rumor. Look, the ambassadorship to Wuhan may have been offered, but who knows?”

Ah, the wit and wisdom of today’s Right.

Speaking of wit and wisdom, President Trump himself was at CPAC, hugging the flag — literally — as is now his tradition. He also called Romney a “low-life,” twice.

I think everyone can agree: Mitt Romney and today’s Right have nothing whatsoever in common. In 2012, the Obama-Biden campaign ran an ad that said, “Mitt Romney. Not one of us.” CPAC et al. can now run the same ad.

Where does that leave Romney? Well, it leaves him an American, an individual, and a man, which is not all bad.

• As you may have read, Jimmy Lai was arrested in Hong Kong. He is perhaps the most famous citizen of Hong Kong: an entrepreneur, a businessman, and a media magnate. He is also one of the foremost democracy advocates in East Asia. He was arrested along with two of his fellow democrats, Lee Cheuk-yan and Yeung Sum, both of whom are veteran politicians.

The reason — official reason — for their arrest? Participation in an unauthorized protest (a half a year ago). The real reason? Well, they cause trouble, like many democrats in undemocratic or anti-democratic societies.

Prior to arresting Lai and the others, Hong Kong authorities had arrested about 7,000 — 7,000 democracy protesters. But the arrest of Lai signals an intensification of the crackdown. I think of it this way: If you can touch Jimmy Lai, of all people, you can touch anyone.

In Hong Kong, Lai publishes Apple Daily, and he publishes a different version of that newspaper in Taipei. In 2012, I dropped by the Taipei offices. In the lobby, I was startled to see a bust of Friedrich Hayek. Underneath, there was an inscription from the great economist’s Nobel lecture:

“The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society.”

• Want to know something interesting? In Venezuela, the dictator, Maduro, has made the Cuban ambassador, Dagoberto Rodríguez, an official member of his cabinet. Cuban agents are rife in the Venezuelan government, of course. But the ambassador at the cabinet level? That is frank, if nothing else. I almost appreciate it, you know?

• Here is a headline from the Associated Press: “Venezuela’s Maduro taps D.C. firm to fight U.S. sanctions.” (Article here.) There will always be such firms — such accomplices — in the Free World, will there not?

• I wish to salute Rear Admiral Collin Green, who’s the commander of our Navy SEALs. He will step down a year before his tenure was up. In so doing, he is declining a third star. I can’t imagine that this is all that common.

During his command, Green has been a reformer, holding wayward SEALs to account. In the case of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, President Trump repeatedly interfered. Gallagher has since been a guest at Mar-a-Lago, started a clothing line, and hit the conservative circuit.

From what I can tell, Collin Green has upheld honor in the military, or tried to. “Thank you for your service” is a controversial line. (I have addressed it before, and discussed it with some interesting sources, including Ash Carter, the former Pentagon chief.) Regardless, I feel like thanking Green for his service.

• I would also like to salute Rory McIlroy, the golf star. What’s he done? Won another tournament? No, he has weighed in to oppose a new golf tour, the Premier Golf League. For one thing, he doesn’t like where the money’s coming from — Saudi Arabia. (For an article, go here.)

Right with you, Rory.

• Care for a little language? Okay, here’s a note from a reader:

Dear Jay,

Gas Station TV gives you news video at the pump. Also a word of the day. Yesterday’s was “sockdolager.” I had forgotten the word even existed. I don’t recall ever using it.

Should be seeing a resurgence in usage any day now.

Ha, I’ll say! (One dictionary defines sockdolager as “something that settles a matter: a decisive blow or answer.” Also as “something outstanding or exceptional.” Nice.)

• A little music? For a review of Yuja Wang, the Chinese pianist, in recital at Carnegie Hall, go here. For a review of the New York Philharmonic, under Louis Langrée, with Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano soloist, go here. And for a review of The Flying Dutchman (Wagner) at the Metropolitan Opera, go here.

My friend and colleague Fred Kirshnit sent me the following note:

Once years ago I was sitting in a box at the Met and the piece was the Dutchman. When the overture was concluded, my uncle Sydny turned around to me and said, “It’s all downhill from here!”


• Readers may remember a two-parter I did in 2013: here and here. I was writing about Marko Feingold, whom I had met in Salzburg. He was 100. He had vivid memories of World War I. When the next war came, he was in four concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Buchenwald. He was known to quip, “I could write a Michelin guide to the camps.” He has now died at 106. This is one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met.

God bless you, Herr Feingold, and thank you for joining me, ladies and gentlemen.

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