Commentary Magazine


Topic: Nixon

The Obama Campaign Goes Completely Insane

If you look a few posts below, you will find the text of President Bush’s powerful and moving speech to the Knesset today. In the course of it, he says something very general:

Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Bush here is arguing in very broad brush against a generally meliorist view of foreign policy — one, moreover, that is held by many people who work inside his own government. For some reason, people who work for the almost-certain nominee of the Democratic party have decided that Bush was attacking him. As Kate Phillips writes on the New York Times website:

In a telephone interview on CNN just a few minutes ago, Robert Gibbs, the communications director for Senator Barack Obama, called Mr. Bush’s remarks “astonishing” and an “unprecendented political attack on foreign soil.”

An “unprecedented attack on foreign soil”? That is completely deranged. Not only did Bush not mention Obama by name, it is doubtful he or his people were thinking about Obama. The argument that negotiating with terrorists is appeasement akin to Europe’s appeasement of Hitler is a standard view among hawks on the Right — decades old, dating back even before Barry Obama found the audacity to hope in the pews of Jeremiah Wright’s church. It is exactly the sort of thing a man with Bush’s politics would say in a speech before the Knesset, whether Obama had run for president or not.

The Obama campaign has even issued a statement on the matter in Obama’s name:

It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack. It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel. Instead of tough talk and no action, we need to do what Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan did and use all elements of American power – including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy – to pressure countries like Iran and Syria. George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the President’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.

I’m not sure what this all says about Obama. Is this smart politics, getting his base riled up on his behalf? Is he trying to use Bush as a wedge to make the case to the Jewish community in the United States that the bad man in the White House is mischaracterizing him and therefore Jews should like him more? Is he trying, for the millionth time, to rule any criticism of himself out of reasonable bounds by complaining about something that isn’t even criticism of him?

Or is this just another example of Obama’s thin-skinned-ness?

If you look a few posts below, you will find the text of President Bush’s powerful and moving speech to the Knesset today. In the course of it, he says something very general:

Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Bush here is arguing in very broad brush against a generally meliorist view of foreign policy — one, moreover, that is held by many people who work inside his own government. For some reason, people who work for the almost-certain nominee of the Democratic party have decided that Bush was attacking him. As Kate Phillips writes on the New York Times website:

In a telephone interview on CNN just a few minutes ago, Robert Gibbs, the communications director for Senator Barack Obama, called Mr. Bush’s remarks “astonishing” and an “unprecendented political attack on foreign soil.”

An “unprecedented attack on foreign soil”? That is completely deranged. Not only did Bush not mention Obama by name, it is doubtful he or his people were thinking about Obama. The argument that negotiating with terrorists is appeasement akin to Europe’s appeasement of Hitler is a standard view among hawks on the Right — decades old, dating back even before Barry Obama found the audacity to hope in the pews of Jeremiah Wright’s church. It is exactly the sort of thing a man with Bush’s politics would say in a speech before the Knesset, whether Obama had run for president or not.

The Obama campaign has even issued a statement on the matter in Obama’s name:

It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack. It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel. Instead of tough talk and no action, we need to do what Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan did and use all elements of American power – including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy – to pressure countries like Iran and Syria. George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the President’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.

I’m not sure what this all says about Obama. Is this smart politics, getting his base riled up on his behalf? Is he trying to use Bush as a wedge to make the case to the Jewish community in the United States that the bad man in the White House is mischaracterizing him and therefore Jews should like him more? Is he trying, for the millionth time, to rule any criticism of himself out of reasonable bounds by complaining about something that isn’t even criticism of him?

Or is this just another example of Obama’s thin-skinned-ness?

Read Less

Media Double Standards

Reminders of the mainstream media’s egregious political double standard vis-à-vis liberals and conservatives come on an almost daily basis. The latest is this week’s New York magazine, the cover of which features a head shot of John McCain smack in the middle of a bulls-eye target, accompanied by this charming teaser copy: “Target: Bush-Backing, Surge-Loving, Economically Clueless Geezer.”

Just try to imagine the frenzy of outrage that would ensue if a right-wing journal were to put on its cover Barack Obama’s face in a bulls-eye, along with the words “Target: Jeremiah Wright-Backing, Surrender-Loving, Foreign Policy-Clueless Slickster.”

The liberal blogosphere would suffer a nuclear meltdown and publications like…well, like New York would immediately commission articles on such an incendiary, and potentially tragic, choice of words and imagery and what it says about the scary intolerance–the “bitterness,” if you will–of Red-State America. Meanwhile, the New York Times would torture readers with a numbing slew of front-page news and “news analysis” pieces (think Augusta National Golf Club circa 2002-2003) on American bigotry, Republican sleaziness, and the approaching racial apocalypse.

But what about Obama’s condescending remarks on middle-class, small-town voters and their values? His words are a precise reflection of what liberal elitists have been thinking and saying for decades (with relative impunity in the private sector but at great cost during presidential campaigns). Yet similarly demeaning generalizations about subgroups on liberals’ endangered species list invariably result in orgies of self-righteous denunciation.

There’s something in the liberal mindset that causes otherwise intelligent and rational people to view small towns and their residents with inordinate fear and loathing. It’s why Hollywood, the epicenter of pop-culture liberalism, has long portrayed “townies” in a sinister light and often in need of help provided by their big-city superiors. In his 1979 book The View From Sunset Boulevard, Ben Stein devoted a chapter to “Small Towns on Television.” While a few of the writers and producers Stein interviewed had some positive things to say about small towns, the general attitude was highly negative and derogatory. “There are a lot of dumb, violent people in small towns,” declared the producer Garry Marshall (he of such brainy fare as “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “Mork & Mindy,” and “Joanie Loves Chachi”). One unnamed producer told Stein that small towns are “the kinds of places where the Ku Klux Klan could grow today . . . right now.” Asked whether she saw small towns as “frightening,” the late producer Meta Rosenberg “at first said ‘No,’ and then added, ‘Jesus, they did vote for Nixon.’”

Indeed they did. As, in 1972, did the majority of Americans in 49 of 50 states. Twelve years later, Ronald Reagan, another Republican reviled by the Left, scored another 49-to-1 knockout (with Minnesota taking Massachusetts’s place as the lone entry in the losing column.) But in the eyes of liberal elitists, unless we pull the Democratic lever, we’re all bitter small-town Americans.

Reminders of the mainstream media’s egregious political double standard vis-à-vis liberals and conservatives come on an almost daily basis. The latest is this week’s New York magazine, the cover of which features a head shot of John McCain smack in the middle of a bulls-eye target, accompanied by this charming teaser copy: “Target: Bush-Backing, Surge-Loving, Economically Clueless Geezer.”

Just try to imagine the frenzy of outrage that would ensue if a right-wing journal were to put on its cover Barack Obama’s face in a bulls-eye, along with the words “Target: Jeremiah Wright-Backing, Surrender-Loving, Foreign Policy-Clueless Slickster.”

The liberal blogosphere would suffer a nuclear meltdown and publications like…well, like New York would immediately commission articles on such an incendiary, and potentially tragic, choice of words and imagery and what it says about the scary intolerance–the “bitterness,” if you will–of Red-State America. Meanwhile, the New York Times would torture readers with a numbing slew of front-page news and “news analysis” pieces (think Augusta National Golf Club circa 2002-2003) on American bigotry, Republican sleaziness, and the approaching racial apocalypse.

But what about Obama’s condescending remarks on middle-class, small-town voters and their values? His words are a precise reflection of what liberal elitists have been thinking and saying for decades (with relative impunity in the private sector but at great cost during presidential campaigns). Yet similarly demeaning generalizations about subgroups on liberals’ endangered species list invariably result in orgies of self-righteous denunciation.

There’s something in the liberal mindset that causes otherwise intelligent and rational people to view small towns and their residents with inordinate fear and loathing. It’s why Hollywood, the epicenter of pop-culture liberalism, has long portrayed “townies” in a sinister light and often in need of help provided by their big-city superiors. In his 1979 book The View From Sunset Boulevard, Ben Stein devoted a chapter to “Small Towns on Television.” While a few of the writers and producers Stein interviewed had some positive things to say about small towns, the general attitude was highly negative and derogatory. “There are a lot of dumb, violent people in small towns,” declared the producer Garry Marshall (he of such brainy fare as “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “Mork & Mindy,” and “Joanie Loves Chachi”). One unnamed producer told Stein that small towns are “the kinds of places where the Ku Klux Klan could grow today . . . right now.” Asked whether she saw small towns as “frightening,” the late producer Meta Rosenberg “at first said ‘No,’ and then added, ‘Jesus, they did vote for Nixon.’”

Indeed they did. As, in 1972, did the majority of Americans in 49 of 50 states. Twelve years later, Ronald Reagan, another Republican reviled by the Left, scored another 49-to-1 knockout (with Minnesota taking Massachusetts’s place as the lone entry in the losing column.) But in the eyes of liberal elitists, unless we pull the Democratic lever, we’re all bitter small-town Americans.

Read Less

Extreme Prejudice

“I am extremely concerned about the tendency of the intelligence community to turn itself into a kind of check on, instead of a part of, the executive branch,” Henry Kissinger writes in today’s Washington Post. “When intelligence personnel expect their work to become the subject of public debate, they are tempted into the roles of surrogate policymakers and advocates.” In this instance, they created the “extraordinary spectacle of the president’s national security adviser obliged to defend the president’s Iran policy against a National Intelligence Estimate.”

Scott Johnson over at powerline is absolutely right: when someone of Henry Kissinger’s stature joins in in denouncing the intelligence community for its handling of the Iran NIE something significant is going on.

What exactly is it? Perhaps it is the fact that the intelligence failures of the last seven years have impressed upon all Americans the price of lapses in this vital area. This explains why voices on both the Right and the Left — even the New York Times has tepidly joined in — are criticizing the intelligence community for its handling of the Iran NIE. All this gives rise to the hope that after the presidential elections a bipartisan coalition will emerge that could find some radical way to address a problem that has become apparent to all.

But I am not holding my breath. American intelligence agencies, the CIA foremost among them, have proved themselves to be extraordinarily recalcitrant to reform. And the agencies are not the only problem. In today’s Washington Post, David Ignatius, a long-time observer of the intelligence world, takes a look at the other end of the snake.

Intelligence oversight by Congress is in a “free fall,” Ignatius writes. And the problem is not the standard liberal complaint that the CIA is withholding vital information from congressional oversight panels. Rather, right now

we are getting the worst possible mix — a dearth of adequate congressional scrutiny on the front end that could improve performance and check abuses, and a flood of second-guessing at the back end, after each flap, that further demoralizes and enfeebles the spies. Congress silently blesses the CIA’s harsh interrogation tactics, for example, and then denounces the practices when they become public.

Ignatius’s column opens the door to some thoughts that have hitherto been unthinkable in Washington D.C.. Perhaps the time has come to ask whether an experiment embarked upon in 1975 in response to genuine abuses of intelligence is appropriate for our own time. To judge by the picture painted by Ignatius, the experiment clearly has failed:

The intelligence committees have become politicized. Members and staffers encourage political vendettas against intelligence officers they don’t like, as happened when [CIA Director Porter] Goss brought his congressional aides with him to the CIA. The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran has become a political football; so has negotiation over legal rules on intercepting foreign communications, one of the nation’s most sensitive activities. The bickering has turned the intelligence world into a nonstop political circus, to the point that foreign governments have become increasingly wary of sharing secrets.

Congressional oversight was a “radical idea” when it was introduced in response to the abuses of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon years. Back then, Ignatius notes, “[s]ome experts questioned whether it was realistic to ask elected officials to sign off on the work of intelligence agencies — which, when you strip away all the high-minded language, basically involves the systematic violation of other countries’ laws. Intelligence agencies steal other nations’ secrets, bribe their officials into committing treason, intercept their most private conversations.”

Those skeptics seem to have been proved right. At a time when our intelligence agencies are the crucial front in the war we are facing, we cannot afford to have it managed by a “political circus.” The time has come to bring an end this state of affairs — with extreme prejudice.

“I am extremely concerned about the tendency of the intelligence community to turn itself into a kind of check on, instead of a part of, the executive branch,” Henry Kissinger writes in today’s Washington Post. “When intelligence personnel expect their work to become the subject of public debate, they are tempted into the roles of surrogate policymakers and advocates.” In this instance, they created the “extraordinary spectacle of the president’s national security adviser obliged to defend the president’s Iran policy against a National Intelligence Estimate.”

Scott Johnson over at powerline is absolutely right: when someone of Henry Kissinger’s stature joins in in denouncing the intelligence community for its handling of the Iran NIE something significant is going on.

What exactly is it? Perhaps it is the fact that the intelligence failures of the last seven years have impressed upon all Americans the price of lapses in this vital area. This explains why voices on both the Right and the Left — even the New York Times has tepidly joined in — are criticizing the intelligence community for its handling of the Iran NIE. All this gives rise to the hope that after the presidential elections a bipartisan coalition will emerge that could find some radical way to address a problem that has become apparent to all.

But I am not holding my breath. American intelligence agencies, the CIA foremost among them, have proved themselves to be extraordinarily recalcitrant to reform. And the agencies are not the only problem. In today’s Washington Post, David Ignatius, a long-time observer of the intelligence world, takes a look at the other end of the snake.

Intelligence oversight by Congress is in a “free fall,” Ignatius writes. And the problem is not the standard liberal complaint that the CIA is withholding vital information from congressional oversight panels. Rather, right now

we are getting the worst possible mix — a dearth of adequate congressional scrutiny on the front end that could improve performance and check abuses, and a flood of second-guessing at the back end, after each flap, that further demoralizes and enfeebles the spies. Congress silently blesses the CIA’s harsh interrogation tactics, for example, and then denounces the practices when they become public.

Ignatius’s column opens the door to some thoughts that have hitherto been unthinkable in Washington D.C.. Perhaps the time has come to ask whether an experiment embarked upon in 1975 in response to genuine abuses of intelligence is appropriate for our own time. To judge by the picture painted by Ignatius, the experiment clearly has failed:

The intelligence committees have become politicized. Members and staffers encourage political vendettas against intelligence officers they don’t like, as happened when [CIA Director Porter] Goss brought his congressional aides with him to the CIA. The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran has become a political football; so has negotiation over legal rules on intercepting foreign communications, one of the nation’s most sensitive activities. The bickering has turned the intelligence world into a nonstop political circus, to the point that foreign governments have become increasingly wary of sharing secrets.

Congressional oversight was a “radical idea” when it was introduced in response to the abuses of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon years. Back then, Ignatius notes, “[s]ome experts questioned whether it was realistic to ask elected officials to sign off on the work of intelligence agencies — which, when you strip away all the high-minded language, basically involves the systematic violation of other countries’ laws. Intelligence agencies steal other nations’ secrets, bribe their officials into committing treason, intercept their most private conversations.”

Those skeptics seem to have been proved right. At a time when our intelligence agencies are the crucial front in the war we are facing, we cannot afford to have it managed by a “political circus.” The time has come to bring an end this state of affairs — with extreme prejudice.

Read Less

Weekend Reading

From 1970 to 1973, Norman Podhoretz, then COMMENTARY’s editor-in-chief (and now its editor-at-large), wrote a monthly column to introduce and expand on the themes and points raised in the issue’s most important articles. The column, titled “Issues,” lasted only three years, but it ranged over a huge variety of subjects and illuminated some of the most pressing cultural, political, and intellectual questions of the day. This weekend, we offer several of the best of “Issues.”

Laws, Kings, and Cures
October 1970

Liberty and the Intellectuals
November 1971

The Idea of a Common Culture
June 1972

Between Nixon and the New Politics
September 1972

Vietnam and Collective Guilt
March 1973

From 1970 to 1973, Norman Podhoretz, then COMMENTARY’s editor-in-chief (and now its editor-at-large), wrote a monthly column to introduce and expand on the themes and points raised in the issue’s most important articles. The column, titled “Issues,” lasted only three years, but it ranged over a huge variety of subjects and illuminated some of the most pressing cultural, political, and intellectual questions of the day. This weekend, we offer several of the best of “Issues.”

Laws, Kings, and Cures
October 1970

Liberty and the Intellectuals
November 1971

The Idea of a Common Culture
June 1972

Between Nixon and the New Politics
September 1972

Vietnam and Collective Guilt
March 1973

Read Less




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