Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gerald Ford

Ronald Reagan on Democracy

The unfolding revolution in Egypt has provoked a wider debate about what has been called the “freedom agenda.” At the heart of this debate is whether the United States should champion democratic ideals. Some people, including many conservatives, are deeply skeptical of the wisdom of promoting democracy, arguing that some nations (most especially in the Islamic and Arab world) are unprepared for freedom. Making democracy and human rights a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy is therefore unwise and, in many cases, injurious to America’s national interests.

With that in mind, it’s worth revisiting the words of the most important conservative figure of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan. President Reagan said plenty about democracy — including during his June 8, 1982, Westminster Address. That speech is worth quoting extensively, since Reagan laid out his argument with intelligence and care.

“Democracy is not a fragile flower,” Reagan said. “Still it needs cultivating. If the rest of this century is to witness the gradual growth of freedom and democratic ideals, we must take actions to assist the campaign for democracy.”

America’s 40th president went on to say this:

While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections. The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means. This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy.

In practice, Reagan did not place talisman-like powers in democracy, and he wasn’t stupid in his application of the principles he enunciated. He didn’t favor destabilizing pro-American authoritarian regimes if they were going to be replaced by anti-American totalitarian ones. Statesmanship involves the prudential application of principles to particular situations and moments in time, something at which Reagan excelled. Read More

The unfolding revolution in Egypt has provoked a wider debate about what has been called the “freedom agenda.” At the heart of this debate is whether the United States should champion democratic ideals. Some people, including many conservatives, are deeply skeptical of the wisdom of promoting democracy, arguing that some nations (most especially in the Islamic and Arab world) are unprepared for freedom. Making democracy and human rights a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy is therefore unwise and, in many cases, injurious to America’s national interests.

With that in mind, it’s worth revisiting the words of the most important conservative figure of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan. President Reagan said plenty about democracy — including during his June 8, 1982, Westminster Address. That speech is worth quoting extensively, since Reagan laid out his argument with intelligence and care.

“Democracy is not a fragile flower,” Reagan said. “Still it needs cultivating. If the rest of this century is to witness the gradual growth of freedom and democratic ideals, we must take actions to assist the campaign for democracy.”

America’s 40th president went on to say this:

While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections. The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means. This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy.

In practice, Reagan did not place talisman-like powers in democracy, and he wasn’t stupid in his application of the principles he enunciated. He didn’t favor destabilizing pro-American authoritarian regimes if they were going to be replaced by anti-American totalitarian ones. Statesmanship involves the prudential application of principles to particular situations and moments in time, something at which Reagan excelled.

Still, there is no denying the centrality that freedom and human rights played in American foreign policy during the Reagan years. And those who are consistently skeptical about proclaiming the inalienable and universal rights of all human beings — who when they speak about democracy promotion these days almost always do so in critical terms — are standing shoulder-to-shoulder not with Reagan but with Henry Kissinger.

Secretary Kissinger, after all, downplayed the role of morality in foreign policy. He believed that the United States should largely ignore the human-rights violations of other nations. Democracy promotion for him was a peripheral concern, and sometimes not even that.

Oh, and Dr. Kissinger was (in the 1976 primary challenge against Gerald Ford) Reagan’s bete noire, and the Reagan presidency in important respects a repudiation of Kissinger’s realpolitik.

I admire much about Henry Kissinger. But on this, as on so much else, Ronald Reagan was right.

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‘Why Saigon Fell and Jerusalem Hasn’t’

In yesterday’s post, I described how newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War reveal the enormous strategic impact that America’s perceived credibility as an ally (or lack thereof) has on the Middle East. But the documents also teach another important lesson about the modern Middle East — the importance of Congress.

In 1973, the Yom Kippur War erupted even as the Vietnam War still raged. Thus Israel and South Vietnam wound up submitting very similar requests for military aid to Washington. As then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer noted in one internal discussion, “Many of the things [South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu] wants, Israel wants too. We have to make some decisions.”

Ultimately, those decisions heavily favored Israel: Jerusalem got most of what it wanted; Saigon did not. But that was not because either the Nixon administration or the subsequent Ford administration preferred Israel to South Vietnam. It was because Congress did.

In 1974, then-president Gerald Ford explained this bluntly to South Vietnam’s foreign minister, Vuong Van Bac. After pledging the administration’s full support, he qualified, “Our problem is not us, but on the Hill.”

Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger echoed this in an internal discussion in 1975. Congress, he complained, had told him:

“You’ve got to give aid to Israel because they win their wars, but we can’t give aid to other countries that are losing their wars.” Well, on that goddamn theory it’s a wonder that the Soviets are not in Bonn already. On that theory the Nazis would have taken over the world.

Haaretz journalist Amir Oren summed the lesson up nicely:

Fortunately for Israel, Washington does not only consist of the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, but also Congress. Thanks to Israel’s power in Congress, it has fared better than other, smaller allies, like South Vietnam. In the absence of congressional support, they did not win the administration’s affection; this is why Saigon fell and Jerusalem hasn’t.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson few Israeli prime ministers seem to have learned. Because Israel’s Knesset has virtually no power over foreign affairs, Israeli leaders often fail to understand the crucial role that congressional support, or opposition, plays in American foreign affairs. They therefore focus exclusively on good relations with the administration, while ignoring Congress entirely.

That would be a bad mistake for any country. But it’s a particularly egregious mistake for a country that has traditionally enjoyed far more support in Congress than it has from even the friendliest administration.

Yet it isn’t only Israeli leaders who could benefit from studying this lesson: the newly released documents also provide a crucial reminder for American voters. Americans, of course, do understand the role of Congress. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a tendency to think that since foreign policy is primarily in the president’s domain, congressional votes should focus on domestic concerns.

But, in fact, as these documents show, Congress plays a vital role in foreign policy as well. The lesson is clear: if voters want a pro-Israel foreign policy, they must keep electing pro-Israel congressmen.

In yesterday’s post, I described how newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War reveal the enormous strategic impact that America’s perceived credibility as an ally (or lack thereof) has on the Middle East. But the documents also teach another important lesson about the modern Middle East — the importance of Congress.

In 1973, the Yom Kippur War erupted even as the Vietnam War still raged. Thus Israel and South Vietnam wound up submitting very similar requests for military aid to Washington. As then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer noted in one internal discussion, “Many of the things [South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu] wants, Israel wants too. We have to make some decisions.”

Ultimately, those decisions heavily favored Israel: Jerusalem got most of what it wanted; Saigon did not. But that was not because either the Nixon administration or the subsequent Ford administration preferred Israel to South Vietnam. It was because Congress did.

In 1974, then-president Gerald Ford explained this bluntly to South Vietnam’s foreign minister, Vuong Van Bac. After pledging the administration’s full support, he qualified, “Our problem is not us, but on the Hill.”

Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger echoed this in an internal discussion in 1975. Congress, he complained, had told him:

“You’ve got to give aid to Israel because they win their wars, but we can’t give aid to other countries that are losing their wars.” Well, on that goddamn theory it’s a wonder that the Soviets are not in Bonn already. On that theory the Nazis would have taken over the world.

Haaretz journalist Amir Oren summed the lesson up nicely:

Fortunately for Israel, Washington does not only consist of the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, but also Congress. Thanks to Israel’s power in Congress, it has fared better than other, smaller allies, like South Vietnam. In the absence of congressional support, they did not win the administration’s affection; this is why Saigon fell and Jerusalem hasn’t.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson few Israeli prime ministers seem to have learned. Because Israel’s Knesset has virtually no power over foreign affairs, Israeli leaders often fail to understand the crucial role that congressional support, or opposition, plays in American foreign affairs. They therefore focus exclusively on good relations with the administration, while ignoring Congress entirely.

That would be a bad mistake for any country. But it’s a particularly egregious mistake for a country that has traditionally enjoyed far more support in Congress than it has from even the friendliest administration.

Yet it isn’t only Israeli leaders who could benefit from studying this lesson: the newly released documents also provide a crucial reminder for American voters. Americans, of course, do understand the role of Congress. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a tendency to think that since foreign policy is primarily in the president’s domain, congressional votes should focus on domestic concerns.

But, in fact, as these documents show, Congress plays a vital role in foreign policy as well. The lesson is clear: if voters want a pro-Israel foreign policy, they must keep electing pro-Israel congressmen.

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The Recovery Summer That Wasn’t

This National Republican Senatorial Committee ad about President Obama’s much-ballyhooed “Recovery Summer” is a fairly effective one. Of course, Obama has given the GOP a whole lot of material to work with.

The “Recovery Summer” is rapidly on its way to becoming one of the worst public-relations disasters in modern American politics. As Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey points out, even Gerald Ford’s Whip Inflation Now (WIN) buttons “didn’t promise 500,000 new jobs a month if people wore buttons on their shirts.”

This National Republican Senatorial Committee ad about President Obama’s much-ballyhooed “Recovery Summer” is a fairly effective one. Of course, Obama has given the GOP a whole lot of material to work with.

The “Recovery Summer” is rapidly on its way to becoming one of the worst public-relations disasters in modern American politics. As Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey points out, even Gerald Ford’s Whip Inflation Now (WIN) buttons “didn’t promise 500,000 new jobs a month if people wore buttons on their shirts.”

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Saving American Employees in Iraq

U.S. forces are rapidly withdrawing from Iraq; they are supposed to be down to 50,000 by the end of August and to zero by the end of 2011. What does that mean for the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have worked for U.S. military and civilian representatives? That is unclear, but the portents are ominous.

Iraq is getting more peaceful, but extremist groups have openly talked about “nine bullets for the traitors.” Al-Qaeda in Iraq is, no doubt, much weakened by a recent wave of raids by Iraqi and U.S. forces that have taken out much of its top leadership, but it could well regenerate itself to carry out such threats or other groups could rise up to target these American employees. Many have already died in such terrorist attacks since 2003, and those who remain an American employee are scared about what happens once American troops leave. This article in an English-language Abu Dhabi paper quotes one “‘terp,” who works for American troops:

“They’re going to leave us behind, I can see that now,” he said. “I never thought this day would come and even when [president] Obama said they’d pull-out, I believed all the promises from the soldiers that they’d take us with them, that we were their brothers, their buddies, their guys.

“But now they’re going and it’s obvious they’re not going to take us. We’ll be left here, we’ll be hung out to dry, we’ll be [expletive].”

The question is whether America will accept a moral responsibility to help out those who have helped us. Kirk Johnson, a former USAID worker in Iraq who has started an NGO called the List Project to resettle Iraqi allies, urges what he calls the Guam option:

In the 1970s, then-President Gerald Ford eventually did the right thing by airlifting hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, using the U.S. military base in Guam as a staging area, but not before thousands were slain or lost to Ho Chi Minh’s “re-education camps.” Bill Clinton used Guam again in 1996 when he ordered Operation Pacific Haven, which flew 7,000 at-risk Iraqis to safety in an effort that took weeks, not months or years. Since then, the “Guam option” has been the standard for swiftly saving refugees, while also maintaining security, as processing occurs in military bases.

One may well object that the Vietnam analogy doesn’t apply, because we haven’t lost in Iraq. That’s true. And if some U.S. troops remain in Iraq after 2011 — as I hope will occur — the Guam option may not be necessary, because U.S. forces can play an important peacekeeping role to ensure that Iraq remains on a stable, democratic path. But if we do execute a full pullout by the end of next year, then all bets are off, and the Guam option should be given serious consideration as a way to save our brave allies, whose safety cannot otherwise be assured.

U.S. forces are rapidly withdrawing from Iraq; they are supposed to be down to 50,000 by the end of August and to zero by the end of 2011. What does that mean for the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have worked for U.S. military and civilian representatives? That is unclear, but the portents are ominous.

Iraq is getting more peaceful, but extremist groups have openly talked about “nine bullets for the traitors.” Al-Qaeda in Iraq is, no doubt, much weakened by a recent wave of raids by Iraqi and U.S. forces that have taken out much of its top leadership, but it could well regenerate itself to carry out such threats or other groups could rise up to target these American employees. Many have already died in such terrorist attacks since 2003, and those who remain an American employee are scared about what happens once American troops leave. This article in an English-language Abu Dhabi paper quotes one “‘terp,” who works for American troops:

“They’re going to leave us behind, I can see that now,” he said. “I never thought this day would come and even when [president] Obama said they’d pull-out, I believed all the promises from the soldiers that they’d take us with them, that we were their brothers, their buddies, their guys.

“But now they’re going and it’s obvious they’re not going to take us. We’ll be left here, we’ll be hung out to dry, we’ll be [expletive].”

The question is whether America will accept a moral responsibility to help out those who have helped us. Kirk Johnson, a former USAID worker in Iraq who has started an NGO called the List Project to resettle Iraqi allies, urges what he calls the Guam option:

In the 1970s, then-President Gerald Ford eventually did the right thing by airlifting hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, using the U.S. military base in Guam as a staging area, but not before thousands were slain or lost to Ho Chi Minh’s “re-education camps.” Bill Clinton used Guam again in 1996 when he ordered Operation Pacific Haven, which flew 7,000 at-risk Iraqis to safety in an effort that took weeks, not months or years. Since then, the “Guam option” has been the standard for swiftly saving refugees, while also maintaining security, as processing occurs in military bases.

One may well object that the Vietnam analogy doesn’t apply, because we haven’t lost in Iraq. That’s true. And if some U.S. troops remain in Iraq after 2011 — as I hope will occur — the Guam option may not be necessary, because U.S. forces can play an important peacekeeping role to ensure that Iraq remains on a stable, democratic path. But if we do execute a full pullout by the end of next year, then all bets are off, and the Guam option should be given serious consideration as a way to save our brave allies, whose safety cannot otherwise be assured.

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RE: State of the Union Advice

I certainly agree with Jennifer (and Lisa Schiffren) that President Obama should hold the speech to 25 minutes. In oratory, shorter is almost always better. The greatest inaugural speech in American history, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, took only a few minutes to deliver. (Do yourself a favor and read it here.) William Henry Harrison’s inaugural speech, on the other hand, is remembered only for being the longest in American history, lasting an hour and forty-five minutes. He delivered it in a snow storm and died a month later of pneumonia.

To be sure, State of the Union speeches are usually boring and utterly unmemorable. Of all the ones I have listened to, the only two lines I can remember are: “the state of the Union is not good” (Gerald Ford in 1976); and “the era of big government is over” (Bill Clinton, 1996).  Come to think of it, perhaps President Obama should start off his first State of the Union speech quoting Bill Clinton. That would certainly get everyone’s attention.

I certainly agree with Jennifer (and Lisa Schiffren) that President Obama should hold the speech to 25 minutes. In oratory, shorter is almost always better. The greatest inaugural speech in American history, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, took only a few minutes to deliver. (Do yourself a favor and read it here.) William Henry Harrison’s inaugural speech, on the other hand, is remembered only for being the longest in American history, lasting an hour and forty-five minutes. He delivered it in a snow storm and died a month later of pneumonia.

To be sure, State of the Union speeches are usually boring and utterly unmemorable. Of all the ones I have listened to, the only two lines I can remember are: “the state of the Union is not good” (Gerald Ford in 1976); and “the era of big government is over” (Bill Clinton, 1996).  Come to think of it, perhaps President Obama should start off his first State of the Union speech quoting Bill Clinton. That would certainly get everyone’s attention.

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The Obama Agenda Is Sinking Fast

According to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll out today, in comparison with the approval ratings for modern elected presidents in December of their first year in office, Obama’s standing is the worst. The latest survey puts the president’s approval at 49 percent, with 46 percent disapproval. That is Obama’s narrowest margin of the year.

As a reference point, when he was inaugurated in January, Mr. Obama scored a job rating of 64 percent approve/25 percent disapprove in the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. To have seen the gap shrink from 39 percentage points to just 3, all in his first year in office, is staggering; the slide has been both rapid and consistent. And what must worry the White House and Democrats most is that this unprecedented drop is not tied to a single event (like, say, Gerald Ford’s pardoning of Richard Nixon) but rather to Obama’s entire governing agenda, from A to Z. The public is rising up against Obamaism, in almost all its particulars. This administration is therefore weaker than many people think – and if ObamaCare passes, it will be weaker still.

President Obama, like President Clinton before him, will need to make some fairly dramatic midcourse corrections. Whether he does or not is another matter (Obama strikes me as significantly more liberal and ideological than Clinton ever was). In any event, these are difficult days for modern liberalism. The high hopes and expectations of Obama and his supporters are crashing down all around them. And those who pronounced the death of conservatism earlier this year look sillier and sillier with every passing month.

According to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll out today, in comparison with the approval ratings for modern elected presidents in December of their first year in office, Obama’s standing is the worst. The latest survey puts the president’s approval at 49 percent, with 46 percent disapproval. That is Obama’s narrowest margin of the year.

As a reference point, when he was inaugurated in January, Mr. Obama scored a job rating of 64 percent approve/25 percent disapprove in the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. To have seen the gap shrink from 39 percentage points to just 3, all in his first year in office, is staggering; the slide has been both rapid and consistent. And what must worry the White House and Democrats most is that this unprecedented drop is not tied to a single event (like, say, Gerald Ford’s pardoning of Richard Nixon) but rather to Obama’s entire governing agenda, from A to Z. The public is rising up against Obamaism, in almost all its particulars. This administration is therefore weaker than many people think – and if ObamaCare passes, it will be weaker still.

President Obama, like President Clinton before him, will need to make some fairly dramatic midcourse corrections. Whether he does or not is another matter (Obama strikes me as significantly more liberal and ideological than Clinton ever was). In any event, these are difficult days for modern liberalism. The high hopes and expectations of Obama and his supporters are crashing down all around them. And those who pronounced the death of conservatism earlier this year look sillier and sillier with every passing month.

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Obama’s Humbling Year

Bill Sammon, in examining data from the Gallup Poll earlier this week, reported this:

President Obama’s job approval rating has fallen to 47 percent in the latest Gallup poll, the lowest ever recorded for any president at this point in his term. Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and even Richard Nixon all had higher approval ratings 10-and-a-half months into their presidencies. Obama’s immediate predecessor, President George W. Bush, had an approval rating of 86 percent, or 39 points higher than Obama at this stage. Bush’s support came shortly after he launched the war in Afghanistan in response to the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

President Obama’s slide has indeed been steep, steady, and historic. There are a dozen or so political data points that all point in the same direction. His act has grown tired and stale in an astonishingly short period of time. In November 2008, after Obama’s election, a Contentions blogger wrote this:

A year from now, it won’t be enough to blame the problems on others. He and other Democrats ran and won on the promise that they would turn things around, and do so quickly. Those promises can’t be reeled back. Obama in particular has set a very high bar. … The capacity to engineer constructive change may be less than Obama thought, and he will find the world will not be as malleable as hot wax. Things don’t have to be perfect, but there needs to be a sense that the trajectory is improving and that his proposals are working. If Barack Obama governs as President as he voted as a state senator and a U.S. Senator–which is to say, from the left–then today’s high hopes will come crashing down around him. … For understandable reasons, many people are being swept up in this remarkable American moment. But reality will intrude soon enough, and Barack Obama will face the same standards that every other President has faced. Incantations of “hope” and “change” can work in a campaign. They are virtually useless when it comes to governing. Barack Obama is about to enter the crucible. We’ll see how he performs.

As the president approaches the end of his first year in office, the verdict of the public is clear: Barack Obama has performed poorly. He has squandered the enormous goodwill he had. His actions have in many instances damaged his country, his presidency, and his party. And the challenges ahead will only grow. The question is: will he?

It is true enough that political leaders can expend their political capital on behalf of admirable causes. But it is also true that political leaders can expend it on behalf of unwise and unworthy causes. With the important exception of his decision on Afghanistan, what President Obama has done is, I believe, the latter. His presidency, still less than a year old, is far from broken. But it has absorbed serious blows. And that memorable November 4 evening in Grant Park — when Obama seemed on top of the world, his party fully in command, liberalism on the rise, his supporters intoxicated by the margin of his victory — now seems like a lifetime ago. Reality has indeed intruded. His perceived strengths are now seen as weaknesses. Many of his supporters are dispirited. In the aftermath of the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, his party’s skittishness has turned to deep concern. The GOP is energized and on the comeback trail. And Barack Obama, a man of almost limitless self-regard, has been humbled. He may not admit it, and he may not even know it. But it has been, in fact, a humbling year. The sooner the president understands that and understands why this moment has come to pass, the better it will be for him, and for us.

Bill Sammon, in examining data from the Gallup Poll earlier this week, reported this:

President Obama’s job approval rating has fallen to 47 percent in the latest Gallup poll, the lowest ever recorded for any president at this point in his term. Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and even Richard Nixon all had higher approval ratings 10-and-a-half months into their presidencies. Obama’s immediate predecessor, President George W. Bush, had an approval rating of 86 percent, or 39 points higher than Obama at this stage. Bush’s support came shortly after he launched the war in Afghanistan in response to the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

President Obama’s slide has indeed been steep, steady, and historic. There are a dozen or so political data points that all point in the same direction. His act has grown tired and stale in an astonishingly short period of time. In November 2008, after Obama’s election, a Contentions blogger wrote this:

A year from now, it won’t be enough to blame the problems on others. He and other Democrats ran and won on the promise that they would turn things around, and do so quickly. Those promises can’t be reeled back. Obama in particular has set a very high bar. … The capacity to engineer constructive change may be less than Obama thought, and he will find the world will not be as malleable as hot wax. Things don’t have to be perfect, but there needs to be a sense that the trajectory is improving and that his proposals are working. If Barack Obama governs as President as he voted as a state senator and a U.S. Senator–which is to say, from the left–then today’s high hopes will come crashing down around him. … For understandable reasons, many people are being swept up in this remarkable American moment. But reality will intrude soon enough, and Barack Obama will face the same standards that every other President has faced. Incantations of “hope” and “change” can work in a campaign. They are virtually useless when it comes to governing. Barack Obama is about to enter the crucible. We’ll see how he performs.

As the president approaches the end of his first year in office, the verdict of the public is clear: Barack Obama has performed poorly. He has squandered the enormous goodwill he had. His actions have in many instances damaged his country, his presidency, and his party. And the challenges ahead will only grow. The question is: will he?

It is true enough that political leaders can expend their political capital on behalf of admirable causes. But it is also true that political leaders can expend it on behalf of unwise and unworthy causes. With the important exception of his decision on Afghanistan, what President Obama has done is, I believe, the latter. His presidency, still less than a year old, is far from broken. But it has absorbed serious blows. And that memorable November 4 evening in Grant Park — when Obama seemed on top of the world, his party fully in command, liberalism on the rise, his supporters intoxicated by the margin of his victory — now seems like a lifetime ago. Reality has indeed intruded. His perceived strengths are now seen as weaknesses. Many of his supporters are dispirited. In the aftermath of the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, his party’s skittishness has turned to deep concern. The GOP is energized and on the comeback trail. And Barack Obama, a man of almost limitless self-regard, has been humbled. He may not admit it, and he may not even know it. But it has been, in fact, a humbling year. The sooner the president understands that and understands why this moment has come to pass, the better it will be for him, and for us.

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Bizarro World

Geraldine Ferraro sounds like Ward Connerly:

As for Reagan Democrats, how Clinton was treated is not their issue. They are more concerned with how they have been treated. Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama’s historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you’re white you can’t open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama’s playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They’re not upset with Obama because he’s black; they’re upset because they don’t expect to be treated fairly because they’re white. It’s not racism that is driving them, it’s racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don’t believe he understands them and their problems. That when he said in South Carolina after his victory “Our Time Has Come” they believe he is telling them that their time has passed.

Terry McAuliffe sounds like Rich Lowry (or Bob Dole) on Scott McClellan:

I never like it when someone works for someone and then comes out and writes a book trashing them. . . . I don’t care if it is politics or life. If he was that upset about everything, he should have quit. Remember, Gerald Ford’s press secretary quit when he disagreed with pardoning, Ford pardoning Nixon. If you don’t agree, then get out. And I just, I find it abhorrent the way these people come out and write books about their boss. It made ‘em money, it made ‘em prestige, it gave them all this power, and then they turn around and slap ‘em. I just, I gotta tell you, I just uh, I don’t care who it is — Democrat, Republican — it’s wrong.

And Bill Clinton sounds like Brent Bozell on the Leftwing media conspiracy.

Next thing you know we will find out that “Obama, a University of Chicago intellectual, is in the unlikely position of seeming to have a closed, uninquisitive mind when it comes to Iraq.” In all seriousness, when the Democratic party lurches so far to the left (with the assistance and urging of much of the mainstream media), the political landscape may be so scrambled that the Clintons, Terry McAuliffe and Geraldine Ferraro–exemplars of the Democratic establishment with a political memory longer than a week–start sounding sane in comparison.

Geraldine Ferraro sounds like Ward Connerly:

As for Reagan Democrats, how Clinton was treated is not their issue. They are more concerned with how they have been treated. Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama’s historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you’re white you can’t open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama’s playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They’re not upset with Obama because he’s black; they’re upset because they don’t expect to be treated fairly because they’re white. It’s not racism that is driving them, it’s racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don’t believe he understands them and their problems. That when he said in South Carolina after his victory “Our Time Has Come” they believe he is telling them that their time has passed.

Terry McAuliffe sounds like Rich Lowry (or Bob Dole) on Scott McClellan:

I never like it when someone works for someone and then comes out and writes a book trashing them. . . . I don’t care if it is politics or life. If he was that upset about everything, he should have quit. Remember, Gerald Ford’s press secretary quit when he disagreed with pardoning, Ford pardoning Nixon. If you don’t agree, then get out. And I just, I find it abhorrent the way these people come out and write books about their boss. It made ‘em money, it made ‘em prestige, it gave them all this power, and then they turn around and slap ‘em. I just, I gotta tell you, I just uh, I don’t care who it is — Democrat, Republican — it’s wrong.

And Bill Clinton sounds like Brent Bozell on the Leftwing media conspiracy.

Next thing you know we will find out that “Obama, a University of Chicago intellectual, is in the unlikely position of seeming to have a closed, uninquisitive mind when it comes to Iraq.” In all seriousness, when the Democratic party lurches so far to the left (with the assistance and urging of much of the mainstream media), the political landscape may be so scrambled that the Clintons, Terry McAuliffe and Geraldine Ferraro–exemplars of the Democratic establishment with a political memory longer than a week–start sounding sane in comparison.

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Why Chirac Won’t Need a Pardon

I see that commentators I respect, such as Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol, are calling for President Bush to pardon Scooter Libby. They make a very persuasive case, but I would be surprised if a presidential pardon is forthcoming—not, at any rate, until the legal process has run its full course. In an Anglo-Saxon democracy under the rule of law, it is always potentially damaging for a head of state to grant pardons, especially to friends, associates, or those who have served under him. Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done.

In practice, this means that pardons are high-risk politics. The pardoning of Richard Nixon, however justifiable, severely damaged Gerald Ford politically. If Tony Blair were to be indicted for the “cash for honors” affair, he would have to resign; if he were convicted, he could expect no pardon. Even if the Queen were minded to grant him one, it would be political suicide for Blair’s successor to ask her for it.

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I see that commentators I respect, such as Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol, are calling for President Bush to pardon Scooter Libby. They make a very persuasive case, but I would be surprised if a presidential pardon is forthcoming—not, at any rate, until the legal process has run its full course. In an Anglo-Saxon democracy under the rule of law, it is always potentially damaging for a head of state to grant pardons, especially to friends, associates, or those who have served under him. Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done.

In practice, this means that pardons are high-risk politics. The pardoning of Richard Nixon, however justifiable, severely damaged Gerald Ford politically. If Tony Blair were to be indicted for the “cash for honors” affair, he would have to resign; if he were convicted, he could expect no pardon. Even if the Queen were minded to grant him one, it would be political suicide for Blair’s successor to ask her for it.

In France, however, they do things differently. Compare the Libby case to that of Jacques Chirac. While in office, Mr. Chirac enjoys full presidential immunity. By announcing on Sunday that he would not seek re-election for a third term, the French president has, in theory, laid himself open to prosecution after he steps down in May. There may then be a brief window of opportunity during which the authorities could bring a case against the former president for any one of the dozens of corruption scandals that have tarnished his career ever since he was mayor of Paris in the 1980′s and 1990′s.

Chirac’s former prime minister, Alain Juppé, is only the most senior of several aides to have been convicted on serious charges. Last month Michel Roussin, Chirac’s chief of staff while he was mayor, had his appeal against a four-year suspended prison sentence quashed. Roussin, whom Chirac later promoted to minister, was convicted of running a six-year scam whereby politicians received kickbacks from public-school service contracts. The corruption that flourished under Chirac’s nose was on a huge scale, ranging from vote-rigging to putting hundreds of party cronies on the public payroll. There is plenty of evidence that Chirac enriched himself and his family, too, though he has always insisted that he was entitled to help himself to various slush funds.

None of these city-hall scandals, despite being public knowledge throughout his presidency, has deterred Chirac from provoking fresh accusations, notably over his connections with the regime of Saddam Hussein. And only last year he was implicated in the Clearstream affair, an attempt to smear his rival Nicolas Sarkozy.

It is true, however, that Mr. Chirac’s corruption scandals pale in comparison to those of his two immediate predecessors. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing notoriously accepted gifts of diamonds from the Central African Republic’s military dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa, while François Mitterrand not only protected his cronies, like Maurice Papon, from their Vichy pasts, but was implicated in several murky deaths, including the dubious suicide of François de Grossouvre. Neither Giscard nor Mitterrand was ever brought to account.

Even so, it is interesting that Jacques Chirac feels confident that no charges against him will be brought once he leaves office. Could it have something to do with the fact that he recently appointed Laurent Le Mesle, his personal legal adviser, to the post of chief prosecutor in Paris? Presumably the president expects that Le Mesle can be relied upon to protect his patron. All the chief prosecutor has to do is to sit tight for one month after Mr. Chirac leaves the Elysée Palace in May. If this impending bill, aimed at writing into law the de facto immunity sitting French presidents enjoy, passes, any charges relating to crimes committed while Chirac was president would have to be brought against him by June, after which he will be immune from prosecution. No pardon, no embarrassment. The French political elite certainly knows how to look after its own. L’état, c’est moi—et la justice aussi.

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State of the Union (and of Bush)

For once, the mainstream media’s incessant badmouthing of George W. Bush worked for him. In the day-long lead-up to his State of the Union address, news-readers previewed the speech in tones usually reserved for a crashing market or a dying patient. “Bush’s popularity is at an all-time low.” “Bush’s approval ratings are as low as Gerald Ford’s.” “[They’re] approaching Nixonian levels.”

But at the crucial moment, in a hostile chamber, the President delivered a crisp speech in a strong voice, with no fumbling or smirking in sight. Instead of the traditional laundry list of departmental initiatives, Bush limited his domestic policy projects to a solid, attainable few. He knows that the electorate and the new Democratic majority want more action in the domestic arena. Balancing the budget, cutting earmarks, cleaning up entitlements, moving toward energy independence—all of these ideas are non-controversial. His health-care proposals will be going nowhere soon (too much opposition from organized labor, which stands to lose from his plan to tax especially generous health benefits). But immigration, on which the President called for a discussion “without animosity or amnesty,” is a good bet for quick action. Now that he will be working with a Democratic majority that shares many of his views on the issue, GOP support will depend on details.

But the Bush legacy does not depend on the details of health-care policy. It will live or die by our success or failure in Iraq and in the war on terror and Islamofascism. Last night’s speech smartly separated these two struggles, and did an excellent job of mapping out the many, various threats from different branches of Islam.

Discussing Iraq, the President listed the successes of 2005, and acknowledged our enemy’s response in 2006. He memorably said, “Whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.” Still, when he spoke of turning our efforts “toward victory,” the Democrats (and a few Republicans) neither applauded nor rose.

George W. Bush knows that the struggle he is waging is not a popularity contest. It is a contest of will, force, and American credibility as the world’s leader. Last night’s speech signaled that he is again in fighting form.

For once, the mainstream media’s incessant badmouthing of George W. Bush worked for him. In the day-long lead-up to his State of the Union address, news-readers previewed the speech in tones usually reserved for a crashing market or a dying patient. “Bush’s popularity is at an all-time low.” “Bush’s approval ratings are as low as Gerald Ford’s.” “[They’re] approaching Nixonian levels.”

But at the crucial moment, in a hostile chamber, the President delivered a crisp speech in a strong voice, with no fumbling or smirking in sight. Instead of the traditional laundry list of departmental initiatives, Bush limited his domestic policy projects to a solid, attainable few. He knows that the electorate and the new Democratic majority want more action in the domestic arena. Balancing the budget, cutting earmarks, cleaning up entitlements, moving toward energy independence—all of these ideas are non-controversial. His health-care proposals will be going nowhere soon (too much opposition from organized labor, which stands to lose from his plan to tax especially generous health benefits). But immigration, on which the President called for a discussion “without animosity or amnesty,” is a good bet for quick action. Now that he will be working with a Democratic majority that shares many of his views on the issue, GOP support will depend on details.

But the Bush legacy does not depend on the details of health-care policy. It will live or die by our success or failure in Iraq and in the war on terror and Islamofascism. Last night’s speech smartly separated these two struggles, and did an excellent job of mapping out the many, various threats from different branches of Islam.

Discussing Iraq, the President listed the successes of 2005, and acknowledged our enemy’s response in 2006. He memorably said, “Whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.” Still, when he spoke of turning our efforts “toward victory,” the Democrats (and a few Republicans) neither applauded nor rose.

George W. Bush knows that the struggle he is waging is not a popularity contest. It is a contest of will, force, and American credibility as the world’s leader. Last night’s speech signaled that he is again in fighting form.

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