Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Kennedy

The Kennedys Leave Washington with a Whimper

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

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If Only King Arthur Had a Videographer Like Obama’s

Some 40 years ago, author Joe McGinniss shined a light on the way campaign imagery shapes our perceptions of politics with his The Selling of the President about Richard Nixon’s 1968 run for office. Though aimed at the evil geniuses behind the “new Nixon” who beat Hubert Humphrey, one of the most famous lines in the book recounted the way Nixon’s old nemesis John Kennedy had beguiled the American people with a White House that was sold as a new Camelot. As McGinniss put it: “We forgave, followed and accepted because we liked the way he looked. And he had a pretty wife. Camelot was fun, even for the peasants, as long as it was televised to their huts.”

American politics was played by different rules from 1961 to 1963. The image of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and their two adorable children was ubiquitous in American culture in those years, and the publication or broadcast of unpleasant truths about the president and his brother the attorney general was simply out of the question. Since then, no American president has received the same kid glove treatment from the press. Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton, and the second Bush were all treated with little deference and much cynicism by the media.

But the election of the first African-American president in 2008 has changed the way the presidency is treated in popular culture. In the past two years, the images coming out of Barack Obama’s White House of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and two adorable daughters have been highly reminiscent of Kennedy’s Camelot imagery. That’s a big part of the reason why, despite the administration’s well-documented troubles in selling its hyper-liberal policies to the public, Obama’s personal popularity remains high.

Part of Obama’s dream machine was highlighted yesterday in a puff piece in The New York Times about Arun Chaudhary, the former New York University film instructor who is Obama’s full-time videographer. Chaudhary’s “West Wing Week” films may not be sweeping the nation, but they are part of the way the president’s personal image — and that of his family — have been carefully burnished. The midterm elections illustrated the rejection of Obama’s political agenda by the voters. But anyone who thinks that the 2012 election, in which the president will be personally on the ballot, will not be heavily influenced by the Camelot factor is not paying attention. With such loving images of Obama being beamed out regularly — not merely to our huts but to the peasantry’s computers, iPads, and phones — the task of defeating even a president whose policies are unpopular will be that much harder. Obama’s Camelot may not be impregnable, but it is buttressed by the sort of stained-glass image that has not been seen since the days of John Kennedy.

Some 40 years ago, author Joe McGinniss shined a light on the way campaign imagery shapes our perceptions of politics with his The Selling of the President about Richard Nixon’s 1968 run for office. Though aimed at the evil geniuses behind the “new Nixon” who beat Hubert Humphrey, one of the most famous lines in the book recounted the way Nixon’s old nemesis John Kennedy had beguiled the American people with a White House that was sold as a new Camelot. As McGinniss put it: “We forgave, followed and accepted because we liked the way he looked. And he had a pretty wife. Camelot was fun, even for the peasants, as long as it was televised to their huts.”

American politics was played by different rules from 1961 to 1963. The image of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and their two adorable children was ubiquitous in American culture in those years, and the publication or broadcast of unpleasant truths about the president and his brother the attorney general was simply out of the question. Since then, no American president has received the same kid glove treatment from the press. Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton, and the second Bush were all treated with little deference and much cynicism by the media.

But the election of the first African-American president in 2008 has changed the way the presidency is treated in popular culture. In the past two years, the images coming out of Barack Obama’s White House of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and two adorable daughters have been highly reminiscent of Kennedy’s Camelot imagery. That’s a big part of the reason why, despite the administration’s well-documented troubles in selling its hyper-liberal policies to the public, Obama’s personal popularity remains high.

Part of Obama’s dream machine was highlighted yesterday in a puff piece in The New York Times about Arun Chaudhary, the former New York University film instructor who is Obama’s full-time videographer. Chaudhary’s “West Wing Week” films may not be sweeping the nation, but they are part of the way the president’s personal image — and that of his family — have been carefully burnished. The midterm elections illustrated the rejection of Obama’s political agenda by the voters. But anyone who thinks that the 2012 election, in which the president will be personally on the ballot, will not be heavily influenced by the Camelot factor is not paying attention. With such loving images of Obama being beamed out regularly — not merely to our huts but to the peasantry’s computers, iPads, and phones — the task of defeating even a president whose policies are unpopular will be that much harder. Obama’s Camelot may not be impregnable, but it is buttressed by the sort of stained-glass image that has not been seen since the days of John Kennedy.

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The Reality Deficit

Michael Gerson certainly nails the central issue for Obama. As he says, “Obama’s problem is not a vice president behind his right shoulder who can’t stop his distracting, sycophantic nodding — though it was certainly annoying.” (A slight disagreement: the inanity of his VP is a constant reminder that Obama is a terrible chief executive, one of whose key responsibilities is to select credible people to surround him.) What’s at stake, Gerson points out, is the economic future of the country:

The Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that unemployment will average more than 10 percent for the first half of this year, before declining at a slower pace than in past recoveries. On this economic path, Obama’s presidency will fail. Many Democrats in the House chamber tonight will lose their jobs. And the nation will enter a Carter-like period of stagnation and self-doubt.

All the measures he proposed either are unconnected to the economic recovery or may impede it (e.g., cap-and-trade). Gerson explains:

His proposal to cut the capital gains tax for small business investment seems positive. His other ideas — taking money from some bankers and giving it to other bankers and a temporary hiring tax credit — are a caricature of job-creation policy. For the most part, Obama defended a continuation and expansion of the stimulus package, which promises to bring prosperity on high-speed trains. Compare Obama’s speech to John Kennedy’s State of the Union in 1963, which called for permanent tax cuts that would allow America to move toward full employment. Some Democratic presidents have actually understood how the economy works.

There was no rendezvous with reality in the speech, no serious policy initiative or vision to restore private-sector growth. Maybe he imagines the economy will limp along and recover just enough by 2012 to give him a shot at that second term, provided he wants one. But that’s small consolation to Americans now and to his own party, which must run congressional, Senate, and state elections in a year in which the administration offers not a single serious measure commensurate with the nature of the economic problems we face. There is no one, apparently, in his administration with enough creativity and gumption to bring forth even the most obvious measures (a payroll tax cut, a corporate tax moratorium) that might induce businesses to relocate and hire here. And that “no one” includes the president, who seems to know even less about market economics than he does about the Supreme Court’s latest ruling.

Michael Gerson certainly nails the central issue for Obama. As he says, “Obama’s problem is not a vice president behind his right shoulder who can’t stop his distracting, sycophantic nodding — though it was certainly annoying.” (A slight disagreement: the inanity of his VP is a constant reminder that Obama is a terrible chief executive, one of whose key responsibilities is to select credible people to surround him.) What’s at stake, Gerson points out, is the economic future of the country:

The Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that unemployment will average more than 10 percent for the first half of this year, before declining at a slower pace than in past recoveries. On this economic path, Obama’s presidency will fail. Many Democrats in the House chamber tonight will lose their jobs. And the nation will enter a Carter-like period of stagnation and self-doubt.

All the measures he proposed either are unconnected to the economic recovery or may impede it (e.g., cap-and-trade). Gerson explains:

His proposal to cut the capital gains tax for small business investment seems positive. His other ideas — taking money from some bankers and giving it to other bankers and a temporary hiring tax credit — are a caricature of job-creation policy. For the most part, Obama defended a continuation and expansion of the stimulus package, which promises to bring prosperity on high-speed trains. Compare Obama’s speech to John Kennedy’s State of the Union in 1963, which called for permanent tax cuts that would allow America to move toward full employment. Some Democratic presidents have actually understood how the economy works.

There was no rendezvous with reality in the speech, no serious policy initiative or vision to restore private-sector growth. Maybe he imagines the economy will limp along and recover just enough by 2012 to give him a shot at that second term, provided he wants one. But that’s small consolation to Americans now and to his own party, which must run congressional, Senate, and state elections in a year in which the administration offers not a single serious measure commensurate with the nature of the economic problems we face. There is no one, apparently, in his administration with enough creativity and gumption to bring forth even the most obvious measures (a payroll tax cut, a corporate tax moratorium) that might induce businesses to relocate and hire here. And that “no one” includes the president, who seems to know even less about market economics than he does about the Supreme Court’s latest ruling.

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Re: The D Handicap

If you think I was harsh comparing Martha Coakley to Creigh Deeds, take a peek at Gail Collins’s rant today. She says that Coakley “is the kind of candidate who reminds you that the state that gave birth to John Kennedy also produced Michael Dukakis.” She grumbles:

She is the attorney general, and her speaking style has been compared to that of a prosecutor delivering a summation to the jury. In civil court. In a trial that involved, say, a dispute over widget tariffs.

She is so tone deaf that she made fun of her opponent for standing outside Fenway Park shaking hands “in the cold.” A week before the election, Coakley was off the campaign trail entirely in Washington for a fund-raiser that was packed with the usual suspects. But undoubtedly it was well heated. … This week Coakley unleashed a hard-hitting ad that charged Brown with being, um, a Republican. Brown’s hard-hitting response charged Coakley with running a negative ad. He is generally thought to have gotten the best of that round, especially given that little mishap with the spelling of the name of the state.

Collins is, I suspect, representative of most Democrats, who now realize that Coakley could lose. And just as they began to trash Creigh Deeds in advance of the election to insulate the White House from blame, they’re putting the potential catastrophe on the shoulders of the candidate in Massachusetts. But to her credit, Collins hints that there’s no escaping the source of the Democrats’ angst: “The people who voted for Barack Obama, meanwhile, are sullen and dispirited. This is, of course, partly because of the economy, but also partly because of the sense that the president is not getting anything done.” And it’s partly because he didn’t turn out to be anything special — not a motivational presence post-election, not an eloquent leader of liberalism, and not someone who cared much about hewing to any of his campaign themes (e.g., transparency, not taxing non-rich people).

There is, as Collins notes, a huge imbalance in enthusiasm. The Republicans in Massachusetts are pumped up and can taste a huge upset. The Democrats alternate between panic and despondency. You’ll see more of this, I suspect, in many more races this year. And after a while, it’ll be hard, even for the most ardent media spinner, to blame failure on each and every one of the Democratic candidates.

If you think I was harsh comparing Martha Coakley to Creigh Deeds, take a peek at Gail Collins’s rant today. She says that Coakley “is the kind of candidate who reminds you that the state that gave birth to John Kennedy also produced Michael Dukakis.” She grumbles:

She is the attorney general, and her speaking style has been compared to that of a prosecutor delivering a summation to the jury. In civil court. In a trial that involved, say, a dispute over widget tariffs.

She is so tone deaf that she made fun of her opponent for standing outside Fenway Park shaking hands “in the cold.” A week before the election, Coakley was off the campaign trail entirely in Washington for a fund-raiser that was packed with the usual suspects. But undoubtedly it was well heated. … This week Coakley unleashed a hard-hitting ad that charged Brown with being, um, a Republican. Brown’s hard-hitting response charged Coakley with running a negative ad. He is generally thought to have gotten the best of that round, especially given that little mishap with the spelling of the name of the state.

Collins is, I suspect, representative of most Democrats, who now realize that Coakley could lose. And just as they began to trash Creigh Deeds in advance of the election to insulate the White House from blame, they’re putting the potential catastrophe on the shoulders of the candidate in Massachusetts. But to her credit, Collins hints that there’s no escaping the source of the Democrats’ angst: “The people who voted for Barack Obama, meanwhile, are sullen and dispirited. This is, of course, partly because of the economy, but also partly because of the sense that the president is not getting anything done.” And it’s partly because he didn’t turn out to be anything special — not a motivational presence post-election, not an eloquent leader of liberalism, and not someone who cared much about hewing to any of his campaign themes (e.g., transparency, not taxing non-rich people).

There is, as Collins notes, a huge imbalance in enthusiasm. The Republicans in Massachusetts are pumped up and can taste a huge upset. The Democrats alternate between panic and despondency. You’ll see more of this, I suspect, in many more races this year. And after a while, it’ll be hard, even for the most ardent media spinner, to blame failure on each and every one of the Democratic candidates.

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A Peek At What We’ll See

Barack Obama accused John McCain of “smearing him” by claiming that Hamas wants Obama to be President. But this isn’t a smear, it is fact. A spokesman for Hamas, you will recall, did endorse Obama. This report is fairly straightforward:

During an interview on WABC radio Sunday, top Hamas political adviser Ahmed Yousef said the terrorist group supports Obama’s foreign policy vision. “We don’t mind – actually we like Mr. Obama. We hope he will [win] the election and I do believe he is like John Kennedy, great man with great principle, and he has a vision to change America to make it in a position to lead the world community but not with domination and arrogance,” Yousef said in response to a question about the group’s willingness to meet with either of the Democratic presidential candidates.

Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition had this comment:

It’s understandable that Obama would like to make this go away. However, the reality is, Hamas is comfortable with Obama and they endorsed him. It’s the truth, not a ‘smear.’

As for the McCain camp, this will be an early test of their willingness to go toe-to-toe with Obama. Will they let this Obama remark pass? Or set the record straight and make clear Obama is, as he did in the “100 year” fight, fudging the facts? And we can expect more of this. Every bad fact for Obama or questionable association is a “smear” and every attempt by the McCain camp to set the record straight is “gutter politics.” It is up to McCain’s team to decide whether they will play along or call foul.

Barack Obama accused John McCain of “smearing him” by claiming that Hamas wants Obama to be President. But this isn’t a smear, it is fact. A spokesman for Hamas, you will recall, did endorse Obama. This report is fairly straightforward:

During an interview on WABC radio Sunday, top Hamas political adviser Ahmed Yousef said the terrorist group supports Obama’s foreign policy vision. “We don’t mind – actually we like Mr. Obama. We hope he will [win] the election and I do believe he is like John Kennedy, great man with great principle, and he has a vision to change America to make it in a position to lead the world community but not with domination and arrogance,” Yousef said in response to a question about the group’s willingness to meet with either of the Democratic presidential candidates.

Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition had this comment:

It’s understandable that Obama would like to make this go away. However, the reality is, Hamas is comfortable with Obama and they endorsed him. It’s the truth, not a ‘smear.’

As for the McCain camp, this will be an early test of their willingness to go toe-to-toe with Obama. Will they let this Obama remark pass? Or set the record straight and make clear Obama is, as he did in the “100 year” fight, fudging the facts? And we can expect more of this. Every bad fact for Obama or questionable association is a “smear” and every attempt by the McCain camp to set the record straight is “gutter politics.” It is up to McCain’s team to decide whether they will play along or call foul.

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No Hard Feelings

Hamas holds no grudges apparently against Barack Obama for his aversion to meeting with them. Carl Cameron reports:

During an interview on WABC radio Sunday, top Hamas political adviser Ahmed Yousef said the terrorist group supports Obama’s foreign policy vision. “We don’t mind – actually we like Mr. Obama. We hope he will [win] the election and I do believe he is like John Kennedy, great man with great principle, and he has a vision to change America to make it in a position to lead the world community but not with domination and arrogance,” Yousef said in response to a question about the group’s willingness to meet with either of the Democratic presidential candidates.

That is the problem with telling people only what they want to hear — some of them believe you.

Meanwhile, the Republican Jewish Coalition had offered rare praise for two Democratic congressmen:

“We commend the decision of House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Howard Berman and Committee Member Rep. Gary Ackerman to take a principled stance and ask former President Carter to cancel his planned meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal,” said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks. “Now more than ever, Senator Barack Obama must explain why he will not join the growing chorus of U.S. lawmakers demanding that President Carter stop undermining the Middle East peace process. Senator Obama’s silence speaks volumes about his weak support of Israel.”

And therein lies the problem: the Middle East does not lead itself to telling everyone what he wants to hear. Sometimes you have to say “no” to be the most “stalwart ally of Israel.”

Hamas holds no grudges apparently against Barack Obama for his aversion to meeting with them. Carl Cameron reports:

During an interview on WABC radio Sunday, top Hamas political adviser Ahmed Yousef said the terrorist group supports Obama’s foreign policy vision. “We don’t mind – actually we like Mr. Obama. We hope he will [win] the election and I do believe he is like John Kennedy, great man with great principle, and he has a vision to change America to make it in a position to lead the world community but not with domination and arrogance,” Yousef said in response to a question about the group’s willingness to meet with either of the Democratic presidential candidates.

That is the problem with telling people only what they want to hear — some of them believe you.

Meanwhile, the Republican Jewish Coalition had offered rare praise for two Democratic congressmen:

“We commend the decision of House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Howard Berman and Committee Member Rep. Gary Ackerman to take a principled stance and ask former President Carter to cancel his planned meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal,” said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks. “Now more than ever, Senator Barack Obama must explain why he will not join the growing chorus of U.S. lawmakers demanding that President Carter stop undermining the Middle East peace process. Senator Obama’s silence speaks volumes about his weak support of Israel.”

And therein lies the problem: the Middle East does not lead itself to telling everyone what he wants to hear. Sometimes you have to say “no” to be the most “stalwart ally of Israel.”

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Krauthammer’s “Holocaust Declaration”

Put me down, first and foremost, as a Charles Krauthammer fan. But his latest column in my opinion is lacking in the unsparing analytic rigor that typically characterizes his work, and it is for this reason that I take a harsher view of the piece than does Gordon. Krauthammer writes that when Iran goes nuclear,

we shall have to rely on deterrence to prevent the mullahs, some of whom are apocalyptic and messianic, from using nuclear weapons. …

How to create deterrence? The way John Kennedy did during the Cuban missile crisis. President Bush should issue the following declaration, adopting Kennedy’s language while changing the names of the miscreants:

It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear attack upon Israel by Iran, or originating in Iran, as an attack by Iran on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon Iran.

This should be followed with a simple explanation: “As a beacon of tolerance and as leader of the free world, the United States will not permit a second Holocaust to be perpetrated upon the Jewish people.”

But the italicized declaration above would do very little to guarantee the promise that follows it — that the U.S. “will not permit a second Holocaust.” To state the obvious, a U.S. second strike would not prevent an Iranian first strike — only react to it once it has happened. What are the chances that Iran would attempt to nuke Israel? Well, who knows: the Soviet Union, however rapacious and barbaric, at least tended to act in favor of national self-preservation, whereas the mullahs — it is something they brag about — have no such conception of self-preservation. As Bernard Lewis has said about the regime, “mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent factor, but rather an inducement.” Krauthammer hints at the messianic and apocalyptic nature of the prevailing Iranian ideology, but gives the unpredictable — or suicidally predictable — nature of Iranian behavior very little weight in his analysis.

Two other major objections: it is very well for the United States to place Israel under its nuclear umbrella, but it will also be true that Iran will place its allies under its nuclear umbrella. During the Cold War, mutually-assured destruction did not prevent Soviet adventurism in many corners of the world, and likewise during a U.S.-Iran Cold War, an American second-strike pledge would not prevent a similar adventurism on the part of Iran’s many allies.

In other words, the recent wars we have witnessed would continue, except that Hezbollah and Hamas would be backed by a nuclear patron. What if Iran instructs Hezbollah to send rockets raining down on northern Israel and then threatens nuclear retaliation should Israel respond with a ground war in Lebanon? Will the Holocaust Declaration have any relevance to such a scenario? Of course not. It only becomes relevant after Tel Aviv is in smoldering ruins. Some comfort.

Which leads to the final point. This is the question of whether Iran, upon acquiring a nuclear weapon, would need to actually launch an ICBM at Israel to destroy the country, or whether it could attempt to pick it apart through a relentless campaign of terror wars launched by its “non-state actor” proxies. Please pardon me for quoting something on this subject that I wrote previously:

The Jewish state already has a problem in the number of its citizens who tire of the warfare, terrorism, and Arab hatred that are regular features of life in Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis live abroad, many permanently, because they seek a “normal life,” and many Jews will never immigrate to Israel exactly because of the absence of such a life. All of this is only in the face of Palestinian and Hezbollah terrorists who kill with crude weapons. Now imagine those groups with the support of a nuclear patron. Imagine daily life in Israel conducted under the constant threat — the Iranians would surely take every opportunity to remind Israelis — of nuclear annihilation.

The Iranians are probably smart enough to know that if they’re patient, nothing so dramatic as nuclear war will be necessary. Simply by possessing a nuclear capability and regularly threatening to use it or supply it to its proxies, Iran will accomplish the psychological and economic attrition of Israel. This goal will be achieved without firing a shot — or at least without full-scale war.

Krauthammer’s column is intended as an attempt at envisioning a U.S. security strategy that would protect Israel in an Iranian nuclear era. Its failure to present a plausible scenario for doing so should underscore the importance of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons in the first place.

Put me down, first and foremost, as a Charles Krauthammer fan. But his latest column in my opinion is lacking in the unsparing analytic rigor that typically characterizes his work, and it is for this reason that I take a harsher view of the piece than does Gordon. Krauthammer writes that when Iran goes nuclear,

we shall have to rely on deterrence to prevent the mullahs, some of whom are apocalyptic and messianic, from using nuclear weapons. …

How to create deterrence? The way John Kennedy did during the Cuban missile crisis. President Bush should issue the following declaration, adopting Kennedy’s language while changing the names of the miscreants:

It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear attack upon Israel by Iran, or originating in Iran, as an attack by Iran on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon Iran.

This should be followed with a simple explanation: “As a beacon of tolerance and as leader of the free world, the United States will not permit a second Holocaust to be perpetrated upon the Jewish people.”

But the italicized declaration above would do very little to guarantee the promise that follows it — that the U.S. “will not permit a second Holocaust.” To state the obvious, a U.S. second strike would not prevent an Iranian first strike — only react to it once it has happened. What are the chances that Iran would attempt to nuke Israel? Well, who knows: the Soviet Union, however rapacious and barbaric, at least tended to act in favor of national self-preservation, whereas the mullahs — it is something they brag about — have no such conception of self-preservation. As Bernard Lewis has said about the regime, “mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent factor, but rather an inducement.” Krauthammer hints at the messianic and apocalyptic nature of the prevailing Iranian ideology, but gives the unpredictable — or suicidally predictable — nature of Iranian behavior very little weight in his analysis.

Two other major objections: it is very well for the United States to place Israel under its nuclear umbrella, but it will also be true that Iran will place its allies under its nuclear umbrella. During the Cold War, mutually-assured destruction did not prevent Soviet adventurism in many corners of the world, and likewise during a U.S.-Iran Cold War, an American second-strike pledge would not prevent a similar adventurism on the part of Iran’s many allies.

In other words, the recent wars we have witnessed would continue, except that Hezbollah and Hamas would be backed by a nuclear patron. What if Iran instructs Hezbollah to send rockets raining down on northern Israel and then threatens nuclear retaliation should Israel respond with a ground war in Lebanon? Will the Holocaust Declaration have any relevance to such a scenario? Of course not. It only becomes relevant after Tel Aviv is in smoldering ruins. Some comfort.

Which leads to the final point. This is the question of whether Iran, upon acquiring a nuclear weapon, would need to actually launch an ICBM at Israel to destroy the country, or whether it could attempt to pick it apart through a relentless campaign of terror wars launched by its “non-state actor” proxies. Please pardon me for quoting something on this subject that I wrote previously:

The Jewish state already has a problem in the number of its citizens who tire of the warfare, terrorism, and Arab hatred that are regular features of life in Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis live abroad, many permanently, because they seek a “normal life,” and many Jews will never immigrate to Israel exactly because of the absence of such a life. All of this is only in the face of Palestinian and Hezbollah terrorists who kill with crude weapons. Now imagine those groups with the support of a nuclear patron. Imagine daily life in Israel conducted under the constant threat — the Iranians would surely take every opportunity to remind Israelis — of nuclear annihilation.

The Iranians are probably smart enough to know that if they’re patient, nothing so dramatic as nuclear war will be necessary. Simply by possessing a nuclear capability and regularly threatening to use it or supply it to its proxies, Iran will accomplish the psychological and economic attrition of Israel. This goal will be achieved without firing a shot — or at least without full-scale war.

Krauthammer’s column is intended as an attempt at envisioning a U.S. security strategy that would protect Israel in an Iranian nuclear era. Its failure to present a plausible scenario for doing so should underscore the importance of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons in the first place.

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Not Quite a Knight

Ted Kennedy’s endorsement has sent the political and pundit class swooning. In a typically over-the-top comment, the Washington Post anoints Barack Obama as “Camelot’s New Knight”. But will this knight do any better than the original standard bearer?

John F. Kennedy has been enveloped in a halo since his assassination, but it is important to recall how unimpressive his presidency looked before his tragic demise. Kennedy did not distinguish himself in dealing with foreign policy crises early in his term, notably the Bay of Pigs and the erection of the Berlin Wall. (Khrushchev got the idea that he could be rolled, and the result was the Cuban Missile Crisis.) Mercifully the world escaped
without a nuclear war, but it was a close-run thing. Kennedy also began to get America embroiled in the Vietnam War. In retrospect, many were left pining for the steady, sober leadership of the more proven Eisenhower, who had led vast armies before occupying the Oval Office.

The knock on JFK was that he was just a kid without high-level leadership experience. And that was true. He had not been vice president for eight years like his 1960 election opponent. But he was considerably more experienced than Obama. By the time he became President, Kennedy had fought in a world war and spent 15 years in Congress. Obama, by contrast, has spent seven years in the Illinois state Senate and just three years in the U.S. Senate. His military and foreign policy experience is essentially
nonexistent.

Ted Kennedy tried to wave away objections about Obama’s inexperience:

There was another time, when another young candidate was running for President and challenging America to cross a New Frontier. He faced public criticism from the preceding Democratic President, who was widely respected in the party. Harry Truman said we needed “someone with greater experience” – and added: “May I urge you to be patient.” And John Kennedy replied: “The world is changing. The old ways will not do…It is time for a new generation of leadership.” So it is with Barack Obama. He has lit a spark of hope amid the fierce urgency of now.

Notwithstanding the “fierce urgency of now” (whatever that means), a new generation of leadership isn’t necessarily to be preferred if it doesn’t know what it’s doing. Obama could turn out to be an extraordinarily competent president—more competent even than JFK. But there is nothing in his record or background to suggest that he is, as Ted Kennedy says, “ready to be President on day one.” The Obama learning curve could be steep and the country could pay the price, just as it did when Ted’s older brother took office.

Ted Kennedy’s endorsement has sent the political and pundit class swooning. In a typically over-the-top comment, the Washington Post anoints Barack Obama as “Camelot’s New Knight”. But will this knight do any better than the original standard bearer?

John F. Kennedy has been enveloped in a halo since his assassination, but it is important to recall how unimpressive his presidency looked before his tragic demise. Kennedy did not distinguish himself in dealing with foreign policy crises early in his term, notably the Bay of Pigs and the erection of the Berlin Wall. (Khrushchev got the idea that he could be rolled, and the result was the Cuban Missile Crisis.) Mercifully the world escaped
without a nuclear war, but it was a close-run thing. Kennedy also began to get America embroiled in the Vietnam War. In retrospect, many were left pining for the steady, sober leadership of the more proven Eisenhower, who had led vast armies before occupying the Oval Office.

The knock on JFK was that he was just a kid without high-level leadership experience. And that was true. He had not been vice president for eight years like his 1960 election opponent. But he was considerably more experienced than Obama. By the time he became President, Kennedy had fought in a world war and spent 15 years in Congress. Obama, by contrast, has spent seven years in the Illinois state Senate and just three years in the U.S. Senate. His military and foreign policy experience is essentially
nonexistent.

Ted Kennedy tried to wave away objections about Obama’s inexperience:

There was another time, when another young candidate was running for President and challenging America to cross a New Frontier. He faced public criticism from the preceding Democratic President, who was widely respected in the party. Harry Truman said we needed “someone with greater experience” – and added: “May I urge you to be patient.” And John Kennedy replied: “The world is changing. The old ways will not do…It is time for a new generation of leadership.” So it is with Barack Obama. He has lit a spark of hope amid the fierce urgency of now.

Notwithstanding the “fierce urgency of now” (whatever that means), a new generation of leadership isn’t necessarily to be preferred if it doesn’t know what it’s doing. Obama could turn out to be an extraordinarily competent president—more competent even than JFK. But there is nothing in his record or background to suggest that he is, as Ted Kennedy says, “ready to be President on day one.” The Obama learning curve could be steep and the country could pay the price, just as it did when Ted’s older brother took office.

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The Candidate

The summer trailers are about to end. This week, after several production delays, The Candidate, starring Fred Thompson, will open at a theater near you.

Senator Thompson faces stiff challenges, from a late entry to disappointing fund-raising figures to the fact that he has spent time recently outside the world of politics. The other candidates have been at this for a while now, honing their messages and building organizations. They are a debate-tested and impressive—if far from invincible—group. Thompson has almost no opportunity for a learning curve and very little margin for error. He’s got to be good, very good, right from the start.

At the same time, Senator Thompson has some advantages. At the start of the summer, he was considered one of four top-tier candidates; at the end of the summer, he’s one of three (McCain having dropped like a stone in the sea). Nationally, Thompson is running second to Giuliani and is doing well in some key early states.

Read More

The summer trailers are about to end. This week, after several production delays, The Candidate, starring Fred Thompson, will open at a theater near you.

Senator Thompson faces stiff challenges, from a late entry to disappointing fund-raising figures to the fact that he has spent time recently outside the world of politics. The other candidates have been at this for a while now, honing their messages and building organizations. They are a debate-tested and impressive—if far from invincible—group. Thompson has almost no opportunity for a learning curve and very little margin for error. He’s got to be good, very good, right from the start.

At the same time, Senator Thompson has some advantages. At the start of the summer, he was considered one of four top-tier candidates; at the end of the summer, he’s one of three (McCain having dropped like a stone in the sea). Nationally, Thompson is running second to Giuliani and is doing well in some key early states.

The moment is also right for a Thompson entry. The GOP is dispirited. Rudy Giuliani is the only other candidate in the field who can send a jolt of electricity through the Republican base—but Giuliani may also be radioactive to a significant portion of it. Thompson has the potential to energize Republicans without offending them. He also has some impressive skills. At his best, he comes across as serious, informed, reassuring, self-possessed, and manly. Some people dismiss these things as matters of style; in fact, style matters quite a lot in politics. It helped that John Kennedy projected an aura of vigor and youth and that Ronald Reagan was movie-star handsome and a riveting speaker.

The most important thing Fred Thompson has to provide, though, is a compelling rationale for his candidacy. His success depends on convincing conservatives that he is, deep in his bones, one of them—and has been for some time now. There has to be more than a check-the-box quality to his conservatism, which needs to be shown both by his record and by the manner in which he articulates his governing philosophy. He shouldn’t simply insist to voters that he’s a conservative; rather, he should go about the task of speaking as a conservative, with ease and command, explaining why conservatism is the right philosophy for this new century.

Will Fred Thompson be as good as advertised? We’ll see. But here’s what we know: in the current political environment, being a good, solid, acceptable candidate probably won’t be enough. Republican hopes in 2008 rest on a candidate emerging who is in possession of uncommon dexterity and ability, someone with authentic star power. Fred Thompson has the potential; within a few weeks we’ll know whether The Candidate has a plausible chance of becoming The Nominee.

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Hypothetical Presidents

Time’s Jay Carney finds it very peculiar that potential Republican candidates are polling better than Democrats in hypothetical presidential match-ups. After all, he says, President Bush’s approval numbers are low, the war is unpopular, and the Democrats just won the mid-term elections.

Carney offers a few possible explanations, noting the maverick character of the Republican front-runners and the polarizing force of Hillary Clinton. (John Hood, at the Corner, also believes Hillary is the key.)

But more is at play here, I suspect, than the burdens of Hillary’s history. Though the Democrats have some significant tactical advantages, the Republican field is much more presidential in some key respects. The three leading Democrats at the moment are Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. All of them are Senators (or in the case of Edwards a former Senator who has been running for President since he left), and the Senate has not produced too many Presidents lately. The last sitting Senator to go to the White House was John Kennedy, 47 years ago. None of the Democrats has a bit of executive experience, and all are also fairly generic down-the-left liberals, even if Obama would prefer to pretend he is not.

Read More

Time’s Jay Carney finds it very peculiar that potential Republican candidates are polling better than Democrats in hypothetical presidential match-ups. After all, he says, President Bush’s approval numbers are low, the war is unpopular, and the Democrats just won the mid-term elections.

Carney offers a few possible explanations, noting the maverick character of the Republican front-runners and the polarizing force of Hillary Clinton. (John Hood, at the Corner, also believes Hillary is the key.)

But more is at play here, I suspect, than the burdens of Hillary’s history. Though the Democrats have some significant tactical advantages, the Republican field is much more presidential in some key respects. The three leading Democrats at the moment are Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. All of them are Senators (or in the case of Edwards a former Senator who has been running for President since he left), and the Senate has not produced too many Presidents lately. The last sitting Senator to go to the White House was John Kennedy, 47 years ago. None of the Democrats has a bit of executive experience, and all are also fairly generic down-the-left liberals, even if Obama would prefer to pretend he is not.

The three leading Republicans, meanwhile, are John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and (though a distant third in most polls) Mitt Romney. One is a Senator, though hardly a generic conservative. Another is a moderately liberal former mayor of a very liberal city, and the third is a conservative former governor of a very liberal state. The latter two have extensive executive experience (though no former mayor has ever been elected President, running New York City might as well count as a governorship.)

Conservatives (like me) are not happy with the absence of a reliable generic conservative in the upper tier of candidates, and recent interest in former Senator Fred Thompson has had a lot to do with that. But the fact is, the Republican field is diverse, interesting, and very experienced, while the Democratic field consists of three liberal Senators whose combined years in office are fewer than John McCain’s alone.

Any of the three leading Republicans might realistically take several of the states Al Gore and John Kerry carried in the last two elections. Of the three Democrats, only Obama stands a plausible chance of stealing any Republican states—his charisma, his positive tone, and (let’s be frank) his race could extend his appeal. But Obama is also the least experienced of all the major candidates.

The supposed Democratic advantage has everything to do with President Bush’s low standing in the polls, and if it stays low well into 2008, it would certainly be a drag on Republicans. But Bush won’t be running in 2008, and anti-Bush venom has been the Democrats’ principal theme since 2001. Deprived of a target for such venom, what platform have they built to run on? And who can they count on to lead them?

Maybe the poll results are not so mysterious.

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