Commentary Magazine


Topic: Richard Nixon

Governing Solo? Two Can Play That Game

President Obama is making no secret of his intentions to go it alone in the last two years of his presidency. After insisting his policies were on the ballot in the midterms, he and his presidency received a monumental drubbing. Obama asked the people to vote based on his agenda, and the people complied, unambiguously rejecting it. But neither the voters nor the system of checks and balances–to say nothing of constitutional precedent–have played much of a role in his actions, and they won’t start now. There is a difference, however, in how Congress can push back.

Read More

President Obama is making no secret of his intentions to go it alone in the last two years of his presidency. After insisting his policies were on the ballot in the midterms, he and his presidency received a monumental drubbing. Obama asked the people to vote based on his agenda, and the people complied, unambiguously rejecting it. But neither the voters nor the system of checks and balances–to say nothing of constitutional precedent–have played much of a role in his actions, and they won’t start now. There is a difference, however, in how Congress can push back.

In Bob Gates’s first (and, frankly, more enlightening) memoir of his service at the CIA and National Security Council during the Cold War, he writes of the battles between the Nixon administration and Congress after the Watergate scandal broke. Gates describes it as a last straw for Congress’s patience with the increasing power of the presidency, but in the process makes a key observation about the separation of powers:

Our system of “checks and balances” by which each of the three branches of government keeps the other two from becoming too powerful works wonderfully, but it is neither a gentle nor a subtle process. Nor does it function normally as a routine, frequent series of minor adjustments. It is more comparable to the swings of a pendulum than a balancing scale—and one branch (or the mood of the country as a whole) reacts usually only when another branch has acted so stupidly or so egregiously to expand its power as to compel a response. Vietnam and the way Lyndon Johnson escalated and fought the war provoked the congressional attack on the powers of the Presidency. Dislike of Nixon, the way in which he and Kissinger negotiated secretly and deviously, and finally Watergate and Nixon’s cover-up greatly magnified the intensity of the attack.

In this period of presidential weakness, Congress sought to capture for itself and from the President a coequal (and, at times, dominant) role in foreign affairs that it had not had since before World War II and America’s emergence as a superpower.

Gates’s description of the “pendulum” is accurate. Presidents accumulate power incrementally, sometimes setting new precedents and sometimes merely expanding on previous encroachments. Especially in wartime, Congress tends to give the president a fair amount of latitude. Additionally, there isn’t all that much Congress can do, since most of Congress rarely wants to be seen as undercutting the war effort or not supporting the troops. Eventually, however, it becomes clear that too many lines have been crossed.

And his assertion that Congress was seeking not merely to punish Nixon but also to reclaim its own proper place in the American system of government is highly relevant to the looming battle between a Republican-controlled Congress and President Obama, especially with a restive conservative flank that believes the troubling expansion of presidential power predates Obama and thus has a long list of objections.

When the Republicans were a minority in the Senate and only controlled the House, their attempts to rein in the president were legalistic. They could sue the president, as Speaker John Boehner announced they would over delays in ObamaCare implementation. They can challenge the president in the courts, where judges have found various Obama power grabs to be unconstitutional. And they can hold oversight hearings, as they have with the IRS corruption scandal, Benghazi, and others.

All this enables the minority party to make its voice heard. The hearings play on the fact that the president’s bully pulpit makes it easier for him to get through to the American people than it is for Republicans in Congress, who have the additional obstacle of a media seeking to protect the president. And judicial challenges can be effective too in undoing policy.

But there hasn’t been much room for Congress to reassert its authority because Democrats held the majority in the Senate. This meant that Harry Reid, who was happy to cede Congress’s authority to the president, relied on gridlock and parliamentary schemes to enable Obama. Republicans couldn’t get bills to the floor for a vote, and they weren’t allowed amendments on bills that Reid would bring to the floor.

But now they’re in the majority. And as the Wall Street Journal hints in a story about Obama’s solo act, that changes the calculus:

Mr. Obama’s actions have signaled a lack of concern about damaging congressional relations, [Ari Fleischer] said. And the next Congress could respond by taking actions the White House opposes, such as approving sanctions on Iran over the objections of the president.

“If the president disregards Congress, then Congress can disregard the president,” Mr. Fleischer said.

Indeed it can. That’s not to say it can simply legislate whatever it wants. It’ll need Democratic votes in some cases, especially if the GOP puts the filibuster back in its place after Reid removed it. And Obama can always veto such bills.

But the reason Reid wouldn’t allow a vote on so many of the Republicans’ ideas is that they are popular enough to pass and to put pressure on the president to sign. Either way, by actually passing legislation, the Republicans will be doing what Reid and the Democrats refused to: protect the system of checks and balances and reclaim some of Congress’s territory that has been annexed by Obama.

Read Less

The President’s Emotional State Bears Watching

One of the more interesting political/psychological pastimes these days is to watch how President Obama deals with his crumbling presidency. The answer is: Not well.

Read More

One of the more interesting political/psychological pastimes these days is to watch how President Obama deals with his crumbling presidency. The answer is: Not well.

Take (via The Daily Caller) his comments last night in which Mr. Obama blamed the press for his travails:

“Frankly, the press and Washington, all it does is feed cynicism,” he insisted, despite getting six years of favorable coverage from establishment newspapers and TV shows.

“Most of you don’t know the statistics I just gave you,” Obama said, after listing a series of cherry-picked data that ignored that roughly 10 million Americans who have given up looking for work, and the $7 trillion in added debt.

“The reason you don’t know [the favorable data] is because they elicit hope. They’re good news … and that’s not what we hear about,” he declared to the roughly 250 supporters who paid up to $1,000 to attend.

“We hear about phony scandals, and we hear about the latest shiny object, and we hear about how Washington will never work,” Obama insisted.

Pobrecito, as the Spanish say. Poor thing.

What is worth paying increasing attention to, I think, is the emotional state of the president. It’s in front of his donors that his most authentic feelings seem to surface, and it’s clear he’s becoming increasingly isolated, embittered, and thin skinned. His excuse making is now chronic and habitual. He’s even displaying some signs of paranoia. Everyone is against him.

Obama is becoming Nixonian.

The man who by a wide margin has received the most worshipful press coverage in at least the last half-century is complaining that the press is mistreating him. A president who routinely misleads the public on matters large and small, who first ran for president on the promise of unifying America but governs based on dividing it, and who allows the most important national-security matters to be decided by crass political considerations is blaming others for feeding cynicism.

Watching a narcissist struggle to deal with massive, multiplying failures can be a poignant thing, especially when everyone gets what’s going on except the narcissist and his enablers. When this happens to a sitting president, however, what is poignant becomes alarming. Because it’s always better that the president of the United States live in reality rather than creating his own.

Read Less

Nixon Resigns

Saturday will mark the 40th anniversary of the only presidential resignation in American history, at the end of the country’s greatest scandal.

Read More

Saturday will mark the 40th anniversary of the only presidential resignation in American history, at the end of the country’s greatest scandal.

Indeed, Watergate became the archetype of political scandals and even added a suffix to the English language. Scandals ever since have often been given names like Monicagate. Words such as firestorm acquired their political meanings thanks to Watergate, phrases such as “modified, limited hangout,” “expletive deleted,” and “What did he know and when did he know it?” were coined during Watergate.

The scandal began with a comically inept burglary of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate building complex, not far from the Lincoln Memorial, on June 17, 1972. But the White House denied any connection and dismissed it as a “third-rate burglary.” It managed to keep the lid on long enough for Nixon to win a 49-state landslide over Senator George McGovern that November.

But the next spring the scandal broke wide open when John Dean, the White House counsel, began talking to congressional investigators and U.S. attorneys. The whole world watched in fascination. (I happened to be in Manaus, Brazil, in the middle of the Amazon jungle, and I don’t speak Portuguese. But the headline in the local paper, in war type, proclaiming “O Escândolo Watergate!” told me it was time to get home and watch the fun.)

It was the greatest political theater one can imagine as Nixon fought with all the considerable cunning at his disposal as the Senate Watergate hearings and a special prosecutor burrowed in. The three networks carried the hearings live (one network carried them every day, alternating among them) and the ratings were huge. I doubt there have ever been so many banner headlines in a 15-month period in the New York Times, not a paper known for big headlines, except possibly in wartime. The revelation of the White House taping system, the Saturday Night Massacre, the 18 1/2 minute gap in the tapes, the reporting of Woodward and Bernstein, Judge Sirica, the ever-growing list of indictments of Nixon officials. Political junkies never had it so good.

By the next summer Nixon was on the ropes. The House was preparing articles of impeachment and the Supreme Court, in a rare summer meeting, ruled 9-0 that the tapes had to be turned over. Knowing that his impeachment was imminent and his conviction in the Senate likely, Nixon resigned. The new president, Gerald Ford, said that “our long national nightmare is over,” and soon gave Nixon a blanket pardon, largely ending the investigation. It is highly likely that the pardon cost Ford election in his own right in 1976.

At the center of it all, of course, was Richard Nixon, a character of Shakespearean proportions. He had few political gifts. He wasn’t handsome, he was at best a mediocre speaker, he had no gift of gab and lacked sociability. He was a bundle of psychological tics with more than a whiff of paranoia. With good reason, he was nicknamed “Tricky Dick.” What he did have was an utter determination to rise to the top of American politics, and an irresistible urge to ruin himself. Nearly kicked off the Republican ticket as vice president in 1952 in a scandal over a slush fund, he saved himself with the maudlin, but highly effective “Checkers speech.” When he lost the race for governor of California in 1962, he told the press, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around any more.” But six years later he became the first failed presidential candidate (having lost to Kennedy in 1960) to win the White House. Even after the disaster of Watergate, Nixon managed to make himself into a respected elder statesman on foreign affairs. Most presidential failures have few biographies written about them. Nixon will have an endless stream.

For the sake of the country, I hope we never have another Watergate, but I confess I enjoyed the one we had.

Read Less

Obama’s Psychological Tapestry

We’re facing a humanitarian crisis on our southern border, caused in very large part by the president’s June 2012 order halting the deportation of young illegal immigrants. (The number of children who have surged across the border in the last eight months is ten times what it was in 2012.) And what is the president’s response? “Barack Obama goes after Republicans on immigration,” according to a Politico headline. Over at hotair.com Noah Rothman does a nice job documenting the president’s blame shifting. And an exasperated House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday, “He’s been president for five-and-a-half years. When’s he going to take responsibility for something?”

Read More

We’re facing a humanitarian crisis on our southern border, caused in very large part by the president’s June 2012 order halting the deportation of young illegal immigrants. (The number of children who have surged across the border in the last eight months is ten times what it was in 2012.) And what is the president’s response? “Barack Obama goes after Republicans on immigration,” according to a Politico headline. Over at hotair.com Noah Rothman does a nice job documenting the president’s blame shifting. And an exasperated House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday, “He’s been president for five-and-a-half years. When’s he going to take responsibility for something?”

It looks very much like the answer is never. And the reason may well lie in Mr. Obama’s psychological makeup. Let me explain what I mean.

Early on with Mr. Obama, I assumed his chronic finger pointing was simply cynical. It may be that in part, but it seems to me to be more than that. It’s one thread in a larger psychological tapestry.

The president is a man who has a grandiose sense of himself, a very strong sense of entitlement, and is, even for a politician, unusually prickly and self-pitying. He is blind to the damage he’s doing and the failures he’s amassed. His self-conception–pragmatic, empirical, non-ideological, self-reflective, willing to listen to and work with others, intellectually honest, competent at governing–is at odds with reality. Mr. Obama is constantly projecting his own weaknesses onto his political opponents. There are never any honest differences with Obama; he is always impugning the motives of his critics–they put “party ahead of country”–while presenting his own motives as being as pure as the new-driven snow. And whatever goes wrong on his watch is always the result of someone or something else. There’s a kind of impressive consistency to Obama’s blame game. It never rests, and it applies to every conceivable circumstance.

Mr. Obama also has the habit of increasing his mockery of his political opponents as his own ineptness is exposed. Which explains why so often these days Obama’s public remarks are the equivalent of playground taunts. Ridicule and sarcasm are vehicles for Obama to vent his frustrations and externalize his failures. (It’s cheaper than weekly therapy sessions.)

What all these things in combination result in is an inability to adjust to circumstances and self-correct. There’s a marked rigidity, a lack of cognitive flexibility, in Mr. Obama. He has to be right, he is always right, and so (for example) the president can declare earlier this year–with a straight face–that the Affordable Care Act is “is working the way it should.”

Some of Obama’s personality traits and emotional characteristics were fairly obvious early on; others have emerged front and center during the course of his presidency. In some ways, the most comparable modern president to Obama is Richard Nixon. That is to say, Nixon’s presidency was powerfully defined by, and ultimately undone by, Nixon’s psychological flaws, including his paranoia and insecurities.

Mr. Obama’s personality profile is quite different, and in some important respects healthier, than was Nixon’s. But not in every respect. Mr. Nixon, for example, was less prone to create and live in a make believe world than Mr. Obama. (It’s impossible to imagine Nixon believing, as Obama does, that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s lightning-like seizure of Crimea and destabilization of Ukraine, combined with Russia’s major new presence in the Middle East, were evidence of Putin acting “out of weakness, not out of strength.”) And vanity, which helps explain Obama’s adamantine approach, was not nearly as much of an issue for Nixon.

Every presidency ends differently, and Obama’s will not end like Nixon’s did. But it will not end well. And as happened with Nixon, people will look back at the Obama presidency and see just how much Mr. Obama’s psychological landscape–how he sees himself and how he sees the world–contributed to his undoing.

Read Less

Ryan to IRS Commissioner: “This is Unbelievable. … Nobody Believes You.”

In a hearing about the IRS targeting of conservative groups, Representative Paul Ryan–during his exchange with IRS Commission John Koskinen–leveled a devastating criticism of Koskinen, essentially accusing him of being a liar. Mr. Ryan runs through the layers of deception, and pattern of abuse, we’re seen from the IRS so far, which now includes the fantastic claim that it has lost ex-IRS official Lois Lerner’s hard drive with emails relevant to the (illegal) audits of conservative groups. Lois Lerner’s crashed hard drive has been recycled, we’re now being told. (The Internal Revenue Service also revealed earlier this week that it can’t produce emails from six more employees involved in the targeting of conservative groups, including from Nikole Flax, the chief of staff to former IRS commissioner Steven Miller, who was fired in the wake of the targeting scandal.)

Read More

In a hearing about the IRS targeting of conservative groups, Representative Paul Ryan–during his exchange with IRS Commission John Koskinen–leveled a devastating criticism of Koskinen, essentially accusing him of being a liar. Mr. Ryan runs through the layers of deception, and pattern of abuse, we’re seen from the IRS so far, which now includes the fantastic claim that it has lost ex-IRS official Lois Lerner’s hard drive with emails relevant to the (illegal) audits of conservative groups. Lois Lerner’s crashed hard drive has been recycled, we’re now being told. (The Internal Revenue Service also revealed earlier this week that it can’t produce emails from six more employees involved in the targeting of conservative groups, including from Nikole Flax, the chief of staff to former IRS commissioner Steven Miller, who was fired in the wake of the targeting scandal.)

And here’s Ryan’s colleague, Kevin Brady, grilling Mr. Koskinen, saying this (h/t: HotAir.com):

Mr. Commissioner, why, at this point, why should anyone believe you? The IRS denied for two years targeting of Americans based on their political beliefs. That wasn’t the truth. They said it was a few rogue agents in Cincinnati. That wasn’t the truth. You said you were targeting liberal organizations. That wasn’t the truth. Then you assured us you would provide us all the emails in May and that wasn’t the truth. And today, you’re telling us out of thousands of IRS computers, the one that lost the emails was a person of interest in an ongoing congressional investigation. And that is not the truth either. This is the most corrupt and deceitful IRS in [American] history.

It’s fairly obvious, I think, that what has occurred is the destruction of evidence related to a congressional investigation about the abuse of power of one of the two most powerful agencies in government. Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal makes the case that “The IRS tea-party audit story isn’t Watergate; it’s worse than Watergate. The Watergate break-in was the professionals of the party in power going after the party professionals of the party out of power. The IRS scandal is the party in power going after the most average Americans imaginable.”

Whether it turns out to be worse than Watergate is impossible to know at this point. But it is bad enough. One question–not the only one, but an important one–is whether and how deep this scandal reaches into the rest of the Obama administration, including the Obama White House.

Inquiring minds want to know.

Read Less

Are Lois Lerner’s Emails Really Lost?

I wrote on Friday how the IRS, after a full year of stonewalling, sent a letter to Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, saying that a vast trove of emails between Lois Lerner and government agencies outside the IRS, including the White House, had been lost thanks to a hard drive crash on her computer. Friday afternoons, of course, are when people who want something to go unnoticed make a public announcement about it.

This did not go unnoticed, however. As you can see from the TaxProfBlog, which has been covering the unfolding IRS scandal like a glove, all the major news outlets ran stories on it, even such liberal bastions as ABC News and the Huffington Post. Its similarity to the event that radically shifted public opinion about Watergate—the conveniently missing 18 1/2 minutes of tape—was just too strong. However, the New York Times, ever increasingly the public-relations arm of the Obama administration, has run nothing whatever in the print editions and, indeed, the only mention of it whatsoever was on a blog on the Times website that quotes what other op-ed pages are saying, a one-paragraph overview of the conservative Washington Examiner’s editorial. The Washington Post did not do a story of its own, settling for AP coverage about a potentially huge story taking place in its own backyard. Both of these legendary American newspapers are going to be severely embarrassed if this turns into a major scandal, as it well may.

The reason it may is because there are very good reasons to doubt the idea that these emails are irretrievably lost due to a simple crash of a personal computer’s hard drive.  For one thing, downloading an email from an email server does not cause the email to be deleted from the server itself. And a lawyer in the Department of Justice, who understandably wishes to be anonymous, reports that government email servers are automatically backed up every night. So both Lerner’s computer and the email server would have had to crash for these emails to have been lost. That would be some coincidence.

Read More

I wrote on Friday how the IRS, after a full year of stonewalling, sent a letter to Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, saying that a vast trove of emails between Lois Lerner and government agencies outside the IRS, including the White House, had been lost thanks to a hard drive crash on her computer. Friday afternoons, of course, are when people who want something to go unnoticed make a public announcement about it.

This did not go unnoticed, however. As you can see from the TaxProfBlog, which has been covering the unfolding IRS scandal like a glove, all the major news outlets ran stories on it, even such liberal bastions as ABC News and the Huffington Post. Its similarity to the event that radically shifted public opinion about Watergate—the conveniently missing 18 1/2 minutes of tape—was just too strong. However, the New York Times, ever increasingly the public-relations arm of the Obama administration, has run nothing whatever in the print editions and, indeed, the only mention of it whatsoever was on a blog on the Times website that quotes what other op-ed pages are saying, a one-paragraph overview of the conservative Washington Examiner’s editorial. The Washington Post did not do a story of its own, settling for AP coverage about a potentially huge story taking place in its own backyard. Both of these legendary American newspapers are going to be severely embarrassed if this turns into a major scandal, as it well may.

The reason it may is because there are very good reasons to doubt the idea that these emails are irretrievably lost due to a simple crash of a personal computer’s hard drive.  For one thing, downloading an email from an email server does not cause the email to be deleted from the server itself. And a lawyer in the Department of Justice, who understandably wishes to be anonymous, reports that government email servers are automatically backed up every night. So both Lerner’s computer and the email server would have had to crash for these emails to have been lost. That would be some coincidence.

John Hinderaker at Power Line has a great deal of experience in accessing emails in the course of legal discovery. He’s blunt: “The Obama administration is lying, and lying in a remarkably transparent way.” He points out that even if the email server were erased after a period of time, the IRS has elaborate protocols for the permanent storage of all electronic communications. Hinderaker also notes that even if a hard drive crashes, the information stored on it can usually be recovered. He politely offers to help:

One more thing: if it were true that the only copies of many thousands of emails existed on Lois Lerner’s desktop computer–which is certainly not true–and that computer’s hard drive crashed in 2011, the emails would in all probability be recoverable. Even if Lerner threw her computer into a lake, which has been known to happen. One of the world’s most famous data recovery firms is located here in the Twin Cities, and I would be happy to send Barack Obama the name and phone number of a person who, in all likelihood, could recover Lerner’s “lost” emails from her supposedly crashed hard drive. Even if the computer has been lying at the bottom of a lake since 2011.

Fox and Friends this morning reported that in addition to nightly email backups and permanent storage on another medium, IRS regulations require individuals to make paper backups of anything that falls under the rubric of a “federal record.”

The administration is desperately hoping that by making this public on a summer Friday afternoon, it will all have blown over by Monday morning, especially with the onrush of other news stories, such as the gathering debacle in Iraq, and the latter-day children’s crusade on our southern border. I doubt that will happen. I think enough elements of the media smell blood. If the Obama administration is caught in a bald-faced lie here, its political support might well collapse, just as Nixon’s did in the fall of 1973. That would sell a lot of newspapers.

Read Less

Like Jimmy Carter? How About Like Richard Nixon?

Many people think that Barack Obama’s presidency, with his inept, if not disastrous foreign policy, and his ineffectual or counterproductive domestic programs can be aptly compared with Jimmy Carter’s. When Carter ran for reelection in 1980, it should be remembered, he carried fewer states than had Herbert Hoover in 1932.

Now, it seems, it’s worse. Today, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp issued a press release announcing that the IRS claims to have lost all the emails that Lois Lerner sent to or received from government agencies, including the White House, between January 2009 and April 2011.  They have only her internal emails (H/T Instapundit). How very convenient.

Camp, as you can well imagine, is not amused:

Read More

Many people think that Barack Obama’s presidency, with his inept, if not disastrous foreign policy, and his ineffectual or counterproductive domestic programs can be aptly compared with Jimmy Carter’s. When Carter ran for reelection in 1980, it should be remembered, he carried fewer states than had Herbert Hoover in 1932.

Now, it seems, it’s worse. Today, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp issued a press release announcing that the IRS claims to have lost all the emails that Lois Lerner sent to or received from government agencies, including the White House, between January 2009 and April 2011.  They have only her internal emails (H/T Instapundit). How very convenient.

Camp, as you can well imagine, is not amused:

The fact that I am just learning about this, over a year into the investigation, is completely unacceptable and now calls into question the credibility of the IRS’s response to Congressional inquiries.  There needs to be an immediate investigation and forensic audit by Department of Justice as well as the Inspector General.

Just a short time ago, Commissioner Koskinen promised to produce all Lerner documents.  It appears now that was an empty promise.  Frankly, these are the critical years of the targeting of conservative groups that could explain who knew what when, and what, if any, coordination there was between agencies.  Instead, because of this loss of documents, we are conveniently left to believe that Lois Lerner acted alone.

So it would seem that not only does the Obama administration exhibit the worst attributes of the Carter administration, it also exhibits the worst attributes of the Nixon administration. No one believed Nixon’s explanation for the infamous missing 18 1/2 minutes of oval office tapes. I doubt many will believe that this is an accident too.

Read Less

Presidential Longevity and Social Security

Today is George H.W. Bush’s 90th birthday. That is certainly an event worth celebrating, and may he enjoy many more. But it is also illustrative of a remarkable increase in longevity enjoyed by recent presidents (and the rest of us).

Before there were presidents there were English sovereigns. Not one of them lived to see his or her 70th birthday until George II, who died in 1760, aged 76. To be sure a few of them, such as Edward II, Richard II, and Henry VI, were assisted early into that good night for political reasons.

Of the first six presidents, four of them (Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and John Quincy Adams), remarkably, lived to be over 80 and John Adams lived to be 90 and 8 months, a presidential longevity record that would last into the 21st century, until Ronald Reagan surpassed him in 2001. But from John Quincy Adams to Herbert Hoover, more than a century later, no president made it to 80. Hoover lived to be 90 and two months. Harry Truman, who died at the age of 88, was the only other president to live to 80 until Richard Nixon.

Read More

Today is George H.W. Bush’s 90th birthday. That is certainly an event worth celebrating, and may he enjoy many more. But it is also illustrative of a remarkable increase in longevity enjoyed by recent presidents (and the rest of us).

Before there were presidents there were English sovereigns. Not one of them lived to see his or her 70th birthday until George II, who died in 1760, aged 76. To be sure a few of them, such as Edward II, Richard II, and Henry VI, were assisted early into that good night for political reasons.

Of the first six presidents, four of them (Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and John Quincy Adams), remarkably, lived to be over 80 and John Adams lived to be 90 and 8 months, a presidential longevity record that would last into the 21st century, until Ronald Reagan surpassed him in 2001. But from John Quincy Adams to Herbert Hoover, more than a century later, no president made it to 80. Hoover lived to be 90 and two months. Harry Truman, who died at the age of 88, was the only other president to live to 80 until Richard Nixon.

But starting with Nixon, every president has either lived to the age of 80 or is still alive. Reagan and Ford each lived to be 93, and Ford holds the longevity record at the moment, dying at the age of 93 and five months. On October 1 this year, Jimmy Carter will also turn 90.

Living to 100 used to be exceedingly rare, but not anymore. Among the famous who have reached 100 in recent decades are Irving Berlin, the Queen Mother, Rose Kennedy, Brooke Astor, Bob Hope, and George Burns. I have a friend who is in robust good health at the age of 84. Her mother, in equally robust health except for being a bit deaf, is 109.

All this, while unreservedly good news for all of us, has profound policy implications regarding entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. The latter program was instituted in 1935 and set the age for receiving benefits at 65. The reason 65 was chosen is that that was the life expectancy in the 1930s. Today, in the United States, it is 79.8 for women and 77.4 for men and rising quickly. That is no small part of the reason both programs are headed inexorably toward insolvency unless Congress acknowledges mathematical and medical reality.

Read Less

Compare Obama Scandals to W., Not Nixon

The Obama administration’s scandal trifecta has caused some Republicans and even some media figures to start throwing the most dreaded comparison you can throw at a president: Richard Milhous Nixon. But though Democrats understand that the politicization of the IRS will, at the very least, energize their opponents next year, they’ve also rightly understood that at this stage talk about Nixon is, at best, premature. Thus when the White House sent out one of the president’s inner circle yesterday to do all five Sunday news talk shows, their strategy for surviving the scandals was clear. After the worst week of the Obama presidency, senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer played the one card that has always worked for the Democrats in the last few years: alleged Republican extremism. To listen to Pfeiffer, instead of the president needing to be accountable to the country for what’s been happening, it’s the GOP that owes the country an apology for preventing Obama from implementing his policies by prioritizing the scandals.

Turning the tables on your opponents is always a useful tactic, especially if it is done as shamelessly as this. After all, the same media that has turned on the president in the last week spent the previous four years lapping up this stuff. But if Pfeiffer’s boss thinks he can live through this siege of bad news merely by repeating the same media strategy he’s been employing all along, he’s mistaken. Talk about Nixon or impeachment doesn’t hurt Obama. But what he and his advisors are missing is that the most dangerous comparison to him right now is a president with whom they are much better acquainted: George W. Bush.

Mentioning Bush in the same breath as Obama is bound to offend both Democrats and Republicans. The former because they despise W. even more than a GOP demon from the past like Nixon, and the latter because they rightly believe evaluations of Bush as a failed president are unfair and the product of liberal slanders and media bias. But the 43rd president’s second term provides an object lesson in how a president can be done in by an impression of incompetence.

Read More

The Obama administration’s scandal trifecta has caused some Republicans and even some media figures to start throwing the most dreaded comparison you can throw at a president: Richard Milhous Nixon. But though Democrats understand that the politicization of the IRS will, at the very least, energize their opponents next year, they’ve also rightly understood that at this stage talk about Nixon is, at best, premature. Thus when the White House sent out one of the president’s inner circle yesterday to do all five Sunday news talk shows, their strategy for surviving the scandals was clear. After the worst week of the Obama presidency, senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer played the one card that has always worked for the Democrats in the last few years: alleged Republican extremism. To listen to Pfeiffer, instead of the president needing to be accountable to the country for what’s been happening, it’s the GOP that owes the country an apology for preventing Obama from implementing his policies by prioritizing the scandals.

Turning the tables on your opponents is always a useful tactic, especially if it is done as shamelessly as this. After all, the same media that has turned on the president in the last week spent the previous four years lapping up this stuff. But if Pfeiffer’s boss thinks he can live through this siege of bad news merely by repeating the same media strategy he’s been employing all along, he’s mistaken. Talk about Nixon or impeachment doesn’t hurt Obama. But what he and his advisors are missing is that the most dangerous comparison to him right now is a president with whom they are much better acquainted: George W. Bush.

Mentioning Bush in the same breath as Obama is bound to offend both Democrats and Republicans. The former because they despise W. even more than a GOP demon from the past like Nixon, and the latter because they rightly believe evaluations of Bush as a failed president are unfair and the product of liberal slanders and media bias. But the 43rd president’s second term provides an object lesson in how a president can be done in by an impression of incompetence.

Right now, Republicans aren’t satisfied with damning the administration for its incompetent response to the failure to protect diplomats in Benghazi, the IRS scandal or the Justice Department’s spying on journalists. The implications of the lies that were told about Benghazi, the politicization of the IRS and the DOJ’s campaign of intimidation against whistle-blowers go much deeper than that. Indeed, Democrats lately seem to think that putting all of these problems down to stupidity is a safer strategy than the alternative. They believe Americans will forgive the government for not knowing what it is doing a lot quicker than they will deceit or a malevolent manipulation of power.

Perhaps. But what they are forgetting is that what made Bush’s second term so problematic was not so much the allegations about him “lying us into a war” as it was the impression that he lost control of the government. The tipping point was Hurricane Katrina and the attempt to portray that disaster as not only being Bush’s fault but that government agencies were not up to the task of handling the problem. The Iraq war dragged down his presidency not so much because many Americans came to the conclusion it was a mistake but because for a crucial period, the bloodletting seemed to be beyond his control. The financial crisis in the closing months of his term solidified the idea that Bush wasn’t in command and couldn’t fix problems.

Let me specify that I think much of this case against Bush was off base. Indeed, Iraq showed that Bush could take a crisis on and largely fix it, as the surge he adopted in 2007 won the war even if Obama’s subsequent withdrawal may wind up losing it. But the lesson here is that once a president is branded as out of touch and incompetent, not even a war-winning strategy shift can make it go away.

So while Democrats may think they are taking the easy way out by trying to persuade the public that the government just didn’t know what it was doing in these scandals, this is actually a fatal mistake. For a party and a president that are ideologically committed to the cause of big government to play this card undermines everything they stand for. As bad as Bush seemed to be doing, it is even worse for his successor to behave as if he hears about every problem in the media the same as everyone else and that he had nothing to do with any of it.

Pfeiffer and the rest of Obama’s advisers need to understand that rather than the incompetence argument being a plea bargain that will get him off the hook, it is actually an admission that the lame duck portion of this presidency has already begun. Accusing Republicans of being extremists won’t change that verdict.

By the same token, as much as Republicans are right to focus on the lies about Benghazi and the illegality of what the IRS has done, they need to remember just how badly Bush suffered from being labeled as a president who didn’t know what he was doing. Calling Obama a liar may be more satisfying than calling him incompetent, but it is the latter that may do more damage in the long run.

Read Less

Note to President Obama: IRS Scandal Is Why We Distrust Government

While almost all liberals and Democrats are still in denial about the implications of the Benghazi scandal, none of them is choosing to defend the IRS officials who targeted Tea Party groups for investigations that would deny them tax-exempt status. Like the White House, the chattering classes are united in decrying the blatantly illegal actions by what we are told were just low-level IRS employees. But the universal condemnation of these acts doesn’t mean that this administration can shrug this story off as easily as that. The IRS investigations aren’t merely a chilling abuse of power. They go straight to the heart of conservative distrust of Barack Obama’s worldview.

Seven days ago, President Obama went to the Ohio State University to give a commencement address during which he heaped scorn on those who oppose his efforts to expand the power of government:

Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.

But the problem here is not just that a branch of that government has been caught using their almost unlimited power to harass political opponents of the president. It is, as Ross Douthat points out today in the New York Times, that the president and his cheerleaders in the press have spent the last three years demonizing those targeted by the IRS. There was, of course, one element to his indictment of this mentality that he left out: That his own newspaper had actually editorialized in favor of this harassment in March of 2012.

Read More

While almost all liberals and Democrats are still in denial about the implications of the Benghazi scandal, none of them is choosing to defend the IRS officials who targeted Tea Party groups for investigations that would deny them tax-exempt status. Like the White House, the chattering classes are united in decrying the blatantly illegal actions by what we are told were just low-level IRS employees. But the universal condemnation of these acts doesn’t mean that this administration can shrug this story off as easily as that. The IRS investigations aren’t merely a chilling abuse of power. They go straight to the heart of conservative distrust of Barack Obama’s worldview.

Seven days ago, President Obama went to the Ohio State University to give a commencement address during which he heaped scorn on those who oppose his efforts to expand the power of government:

Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.

But the problem here is not just that a branch of that government has been caught using their almost unlimited power to harass political opponents of the president. It is, as Ross Douthat points out today in the New York Times, that the president and his cheerleaders in the press have spent the last three years demonizing those targeted by the IRS. There was, of course, one element to his indictment of this mentality that he left out: That his own newspaper had actually editorialized in favor of this harassment in March of 2012.

As John Podhoretz wrote here on Friday, groups with the words “Tea Party” and “Patriot” aren’t the only ones that have been singled out for suspiciously political investigations during the last four years. COMMENTARY magazine was given the business in this manner in 2009, and who knows how many others may have gotten the same treatment?

While the orders to the IRS might not be able to be traced directly back to the president, there’s no doubt the officials that took these steps were acting in the spirit of the president’s efforts to treat those who are his critics as being out of the American mainstream.

As I wrote on Monday:

The fear of tyranny Obama cited isn’t an invention of the Koch brothers or the Tea Party, it can be found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson and most of the founders. They worried that our “experiment in self-rule” would fail specifically because of over-reaching on the part of the government or a blind obedience to the vagaries of public opinion. Our Constitution was written by men who understood that the key principle of American democracy must be a system of checks and balances that was designed to frustrate people like Obama who want to shove their big ideas about re-engineering our society and government down the throats of the voters. They placed obstacles in the path of such leaders in the form of representative government institutions that are supposed to go slow and invariably give voice to those who are more interested in holding government accountable than in growing it. Supporting this instinct isn’t cynical, nor is it a function of special interests. It is democracy in its purest and most American form.

What I didn’t know on Monday was that the government headed by the president was about to provide us with an egregious example of exactly why Americans should distrust their government. There is a long and dishonorable tradition of using the IRS to target political opponents of the party in power. Such actions were cited in the articles of impeachment of Richard Nixon and it is well known that Franklin Roosevelt played the same game with impunity against those on his own enemy’s list.

But while Nixon and Roosevelt simply went after specific political foes, what we have seen under Obama is an effort to brand all those who question his philosophy as being somehow beyond the pale of decent society. Under those circumstances why wouldn’t government officials and administrators, whom reports now tell us today knew about these abuses as long ago as 2011 and which may go deeper than initially thought, think nothing of putting the screws to those who believe the president has exceeded his powers?

I’ve no doubt that Congress will investigate this scandal with a bipartisan will that so far is lacking on Benghazi. That will probably result in heads rolling at the IRS. But the problem goes far deeper than the misguided unfortunates who listened to the president’s rhetoric and drew the logical conclusions.

Read Less

The Lessons Of Nixonian Politics

For many people, Richard Nixon’s centennial is yet another excuse for trotting out Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and reliving one of the great triumphs of 20th century liberalism. Richard Nixon was the bête noire of a generation of Democrats and the process by which he received what they believed were his just deserts seemed to vindicate every epithet that had ever been thrown at a man who first came to the country’s attention as a dedicated opponent of Communism. As Politico notes, unlike other former presidents who have their fans, the tribe of Nixonians is pretty small. That’s because Republicans as well as Democrats associate him primarily with Watergate, rendering any good or bad done during a long political career to the margins of history.

Yet there is more to his legacy than the tapes and the break-in. The more one thinks about his record as president the less there is to like. That’s because the 37th president is someone who teaches us that character is a fungible quality in politics. The lack of it not only allows a president to violate the law and to misuse his power. It also can lead to the abandonment of principle with regard to political issues. Though there is always the temptation for conservatives to take up the cudgels for anyone liberals hate (a factor that helped Nixon retain the loyalty of many Republicans during his career) he also ought to be remembered as an example of a Republican who betrayed the voters in a vain attempt to gain popularity. That’s a memory that ought to haunt contemporary conservatives who may believe the task of governing requires them to check their principles at the door to the Capitol.

Read More

For many people, Richard Nixon’s centennial is yet another excuse for trotting out Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and reliving one of the great triumphs of 20th century liberalism. Richard Nixon was the bête noire of a generation of Democrats and the process by which he received what they believed were his just deserts seemed to vindicate every epithet that had ever been thrown at a man who first came to the country’s attention as a dedicated opponent of Communism. As Politico notes, unlike other former presidents who have their fans, the tribe of Nixonians is pretty small. That’s because Republicans as well as Democrats associate him primarily with Watergate, rendering any good or bad done during a long political career to the margins of history.

Yet there is more to his legacy than the tapes and the break-in. The more one thinks about his record as president the less there is to like. That’s because the 37th president is someone who teaches us that character is a fungible quality in politics. The lack of it not only allows a president to violate the law and to misuse his power. It also can lead to the abandonment of principle with regard to political issues. Though there is always the temptation for conservatives to take up the cudgels for anyone liberals hate (a factor that helped Nixon retain the loyalty of many Republicans during his career) he also ought to be remembered as an example of a Republican who betrayed the voters in a vain attempt to gain popularity. That’s a memory that ought to haunt contemporary conservatives who may believe the task of governing requires them to check their principles at the door to the Capitol.

Evaluating Nixon’s presidency is hard work for anyone who wants to talk about anything but Watergate. But as much as Nixon provided liberals with a target, it should also be remembered that he gave conservatives an example to avoid too. That’s because Nixon’s principle domestic achievements as president were important milestones in the descent of America into the malaise of big government liberalism.

While his creation of the Environmental Protection Agency is most often cited as an interesting historical irony, it was just one of many excursions into the creation of the superstate that conservatives of our own day are struggling to cut back. Nixon’s willingness to use his war powers was seen as an “imperial presidency” by his liberal opponents, but the same tendency led him to breach every principle of conservative governance to impose wage and price controls on the economy. That disastrous experiment testified to Nixon’s lack of any political principles as much as Watergate exposed his lack of a moral compass when it came to political espionage.

Nor were his betrayals limited to domestic policy. His trip to China and the establishment of ties with Beijing are rightly praised as a bold stroke that discomfited the Soviets. But the abandonment of his anti-Communist roots was not limited to that initiative. It was Nixon’s championing of détente with Moscow that kept the evil empire alive for longer that it should have. It was also primarily responsible for the dark decade of Soviet expansionism and proxy wars around the globe that followed. Far from being a foreign policy genius, as some would have it, his cynical realpolitik approach did as much damage to the world as his liberal economic schemes did at home.

Nixon isn’t the Republican who abandoned conservative ideas when he got personal control of the federal leviathan. But there is no better example of the consequences of such folly. Nixon’s presidency will always be seen as a tragic failure because of his resignation in disgrace. But even if we leave that aside, it ought to remain a toxic model for future generations of conservatives.

Read Less

Obama’s “Throw Rocks at It” Approach to Capitol Hill

Today is Richard Nixon’s centennial, which will draw attention to relevant aspects of Nixon’s life and legacy besides Watergate. Nixon’s grasp of American politics was unusually sharp, and a Politico story today about President Obama’s striking disinterest in negotiating with Republicans calls to mind a piece of advice Nixon once gave to Ronald Reagan through William F. Buckley.

Despite the claims that Obama is “the Democrats’ Reagan,” Obama lacks Reagan’s best qualities, especially his temperament. Nixon and Buckley were having lunch when Nixon made a suggestion for Reagan: the president’s admirable affability shouldn’t preclude having someone else be tough on the Democrats for him, enabling Reagan to stay above the fray. Here is how Buckley relayed the advice to Reagan (“RN” is Nixon; “RR” is Reagan):

Read More

Today is Richard Nixon’s centennial, which will draw attention to relevant aspects of Nixon’s life and legacy besides Watergate. Nixon’s grasp of American politics was unusually sharp, and a Politico story today about President Obama’s striking disinterest in negotiating with Republicans calls to mind a piece of advice Nixon once gave to Ronald Reagan through William F. Buckley.

Despite the claims that Obama is “the Democrats’ Reagan,” Obama lacks Reagan’s best qualities, especially his temperament. Nixon and Buckley were having lunch when Nixon made a suggestion for Reagan: the president’s admirable affability shouldn’t preclude having someone else be tough on the Democrats for him, enabling Reagan to stay above the fray. Here is how Buckley relayed the advice to Reagan (“RN” is Nixon; “RR” is Reagan):

“He needs an Agnew,” RN said. “He did it for me, and he was first-rate–check his ratings back then. I did it for Ike. Ike was smooth. But when I went all-out against the Dems, and they went to Ike, he’d sort of shrug his shoulders, but when he saw me, he’d say: ‘Attaboy, Dick. More of the same.’” What if [John] Connally wouldn’t? Well, RR would need to find somebody who would do it. The Dems are terrifically vulnerable, but there isn’t anybody out there in headline-country who’s skewering them with their own vulnerabilities. It’s got to be done.

Contrast that with how Obama approaches his political fights with the Republicans. A perfect example was Obama’s bizarre campaign-style event at which he taunted Republicans about the fiscal cliff deal before the deal was even done. Rather than use his vice president–Joe Biden can be as vicious as they come, and he’ll always get a pass from the media–to shove Republicans around, allowing Obama to stay above the fray and look presidential, Obama does this himself while tasking Biden with the actual work of governing. Here’s Politico:

His apparent conclusion, after watching the implosion of the House GOP’s effort to pass a modest tax increase before the final fiscal cliff deal, is that the best way to deal with the Capitol is to throw rocks at it — then send Vice President Joe Biden in to clean up the glass.

The result is that we only got a fiscal cliff deal, however imperfect, because Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reached out to Biden and the two put something together. Obama has always been uninterested in the details, which is why we had to pass the bill with his name on it–Obamacare–just to find out what’s in it. And as the New York Times has reported, Obama isn’t interested in building relationships with either party on Capitol Hill. With an air of entitlement, he dispenses demands and assumes someone will always be there to clean up the messes he makes in Washington.

That someone, these days, is Joe Biden. But the roles can’t be reversed so easily. The public looks to the president to set the tone of an administration, and what they’ve seen in Obama’s four years is mostly petty and vindictive behavior. And it’s only a matter of time before Biden reverts back to his old “put y’all back in chains” self. Reagan’s problem, according to Nixon, was that he didn’t have anybody “throwing rocks” at the other side. Obama’s problem is that he’s running out of people to clean up the glass.

Read Less

Romney’s Choice: Be Reagan, Not Nixon

In the last week, the Romney campaign got a taste of some of the same treatment from the mainstream media that has afflicted Republicans for decades. The GOP candidate’s foreign trip was widely lampooned. The substantive issues he discussed in Israel and Poland were buried underneath a torrent of ridicule because of his Olympics gaffe as well as the media’s blind acceptance of the false idea he had misspoken about the Palestinians. Some of the frustration of the Romney camp became visible today in Warsaw, when a staffer blew up as reporters shouted questions at the candidate as he left a wreath at the Polish Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The irony is, as Politico reports, members of the media had their own beef with Romney because he has largely stiffed them on the trip, affording them virtually no opportunities to ask questions or interact with the man they are covering. There are some lessons to be learned here for the Romney campaign, though those in his camp may be too mad about the poor treatment their guy has gotten to pay attention. Nevertheless, now would be a good time for them to remember that while they cannot undo liberal media bias, there are better ways to cope with it. Indeed, the choice for every Republican or conservative is pretty much the same as it has always been. Romney can try and be a Ronald Reagan, and he and his team can present a positive face to the country and the media no matter how badly he’s treated, or he can be another Richard Nixon and scowl and fight with the press.

I think we all know which of those two scenarios will work out better, so here are four easy rules for coping with the problem of media bias that Romney and every Republican ought to follow:

Read More

In the last week, the Romney campaign got a taste of some of the same treatment from the mainstream media that has afflicted Republicans for decades. The GOP candidate’s foreign trip was widely lampooned. The substantive issues he discussed in Israel and Poland were buried underneath a torrent of ridicule because of his Olympics gaffe as well as the media’s blind acceptance of the false idea he had misspoken about the Palestinians. Some of the frustration of the Romney camp became visible today in Warsaw, when a staffer blew up as reporters shouted questions at the candidate as he left a wreath at the Polish Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The irony is, as Politico reports, members of the media had their own beef with Romney because he has largely stiffed them on the trip, affording them virtually no opportunities to ask questions or interact with the man they are covering. There are some lessons to be learned here for the Romney campaign, though those in his camp may be too mad about the poor treatment their guy has gotten to pay attention. Nevertheless, now would be a good time for them to remember that while they cannot undo liberal media bias, there are better ways to cope with it. Indeed, the choice for every Republican or conservative is pretty much the same as it has always been. Romney can try and be a Ronald Reagan, and he and his team can present a positive face to the country and the media no matter how badly he’s treated, or he can be another Richard Nixon and scowl and fight with the press.

I think we all know which of those two scenarios will work out better, so here are four easy rules for coping with the problem of media bias that Romney and every Republican ought to follow:

1. Gaffes are nobody’s fault but your own. Liberal bias cannot be wished away, but you can control how you act and what you say. It does no good to complain about the media when your candidate hands them his head on a silver platter. What Romney said about the London Olympics was probably true, but he ought to know better than to say so out loud in public.

2. The press may be the enemy, but walling yourself off from them isn’t going to make things better. It’s true that no presidential candidate was more inaccessible than Barack Obama was in 2008, and his press conferences since then have been few and far between, but any Republican who expects to be treated fairly isn’t smart enough to be president. Conservatives may have snickered at John McCain’s openness with the press in 2000 and during the 2008 primaries, but it worked–at least for a while. It may not be possible to do that under Romney’s current circumstances, but he should be prepared to expose himself more often to tough, even adversarial questions. It won’t be any easier when he squares off with Barack Obama in the October debates.

3. Smile and stay on message. Romney has had his moments of public irritation during the campaign, but in general, he has avoided meltdowns. While affable, he lacks the common touch that great politicians instinctively possess. This is not a fatal flaw, but he needs to make a greater effort to tell us what kind of person he is. Modern campaigns think they can bypass a biased media and address the public without the filter of the press, but that doesn’t remove an obligation to try and do better. Even if you believe, as Rush Limbaugh does, that some in the media are trying to create gaffes as much as report them, Romney will do better to show some humility and laugh at himself more often. That’s a tactic that can disarm even the nastiest of critics. Like it or not, the media still has a large audience, so it is Romney’s obligation to show the press he is as good a guy as those who know him say he is. And his staff needs to follow the same pattern.

4. The message, not the media, is what counts most. Right now, the Romney camp is fuming about what they think is the media’s sabotaging of his foreign tour. But he needs to remember that he didn’t go to Britain, Israel and Poland to play media games but to put his foreign policy agenda on display. Romney may have undermined that effort in Britain, but his speech in Israel on the Iranian threat and his acknowledgement that Jerusalem was the country’s capital was exactly what he needed to do. The Polish visit and the endorsement of Lech Walesa did the same. Instead of worrying about what the press is saying, the Romney camp needs to be showing confidence.

The bottom line is that no matter how raw a deal you’ve received, whining about media bias does nothing but make a candidate look weak and stupid. Republicans can’t alter liberal media bias, but they can rise above it. The sooner Romney’s camp realizes this and starts reading from Reagan’s playbook, the better off they’ll be.

Read Less

The Legacy of the Nixon-to-China Moment

“China will never be a superpower and it opposes hegemony and power politics of any kind.” So reads the “Shanghai Communiqué,” the joint statement released by President Nixon and Chairman Mao Tse-tung during Nixon’s famous trip to China, which began exactly 40 years ago today. The street value of diplomatic joint statements is always lower than their face value, of course. Nonetheless, an argument can be made (and is being made far and wide) that there are no more pressing concerns for the West in this still-young century than China’s taste for hegemony and power politics, not to mention the possibility of parity with the world’s current sole superpower.

Nixon’s propensity for the historic left its mark on our political lexicon. Any scandal, no matter how ridiculous, earns a “-gate” suffix, and any major politician’s rebuke to his ideological compatriots, no matter how superficial, is a “Nixon-to-China moment.” But while Nixon’s critics are, for all the obvious reasons, reluctant to give him recognition for his accomplishments, Nixon deserves the credit for the China trip. (As he does, as we now know, for Operation Nickel Grass, the weapons airlift to Israel during the Yom Kippur War.) What was so notable about Nixon’s desire to work with China for mutual benefit is not that Nixon considered China a paper tiger—quite the opposite. Nixon understood China’s potential, once unlocked, to dominate, and worked to facilitate it anyway. As Niall Ferguson said in his opening remarks at last year’s Munk Debate on China:

Four decades ago Richard Nixon got this point sooner than most: [Nixon said,] “Well you can just stop and think of what would happen if anybody with a decent system of government got control of that mainland. Good God, there’d be no power in the world that could even…I mean, you put 800 million Chinese to work under a decent system and they will be the leaders of the world.”

Read More

“China will never be a superpower and it opposes hegemony and power politics of any kind.” So reads the “Shanghai Communiqué,” the joint statement released by President Nixon and Chairman Mao Tse-tung during Nixon’s famous trip to China, which began exactly 40 years ago today. The street value of diplomatic joint statements is always lower than their face value, of course. Nonetheless, an argument can be made (and is being made far and wide) that there are no more pressing concerns for the West in this still-young century than China’s taste for hegemony and power politics, not to mention the possibility of parity with the world’s current sole superpower.

Nixon’s propensity for the historic left its mark on our political lexicon. Any scandal, no matter how ridiculous, earns a “-gate” suffix, and any major politician’s rebuke to his ideological compatriots, no matter how superficial, is a “Nixon-to-China moment.” But while Nixon’s critics are, for all the obvious reasons, reluctant to give him recognition for his accomplishments, Nixon deserves the credit for the China trip. (As he does, as we now know, for Operation Nickel Grass, the weapons airlift to Israel during the Yom Kippur War.) What was so notable about Nixon’s desire to work with China for mutual benefit is not that Nixon considered China a paper tiger—quite the opposite. Nixon understood China’s potential, once unlocked, to dominate, and worked to facilitate it anyway. As Niall Ferguson said in his opening remarks at last year’s Munk Debate on China:

Four decades ago Richard Nixon got this point sooner than most: [Nixon said,] “Well you can just stop and think of what would happen if anybody with a decent system of government got control of that mainland. Good God, there’d be no power in the world that could even…I mean, you put 800 million Chinese to work under a decent system and they will be the leaders of the world.”

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the presidency often (eventually) imbues the country’s chief executive with a bit of humility, even if hard earned. Once that happens, to these men history becomes not the vessel but the wave, if not the violent riptide underneath—seemingly beyond their control or design. So it appears to have been with Nixon, who saw a near future with China in pole position. Well, are we there yet? And more importantly, what is the status of U.S.-China relations, the legacy of the original Nixon-to-China moment?

Is it the story of, as Zachary Karabell believes, how the “two countries became one economy”? It certainly doesn’t appear that way, with the sitting president complaining of unfair trade practices (China’s obvious currency manipulation) with the Chinese vice president and heir apparent Xi Jinping in town for a major state visit. Mitt Romney says he’ll go even farther if he’s elected president this year, pledging to label China a currency manipulator on day one of his first term. That sounds an awful lot like the instigation of a trade war, and conservatives have been uneasy with a policy that reeks of protectionism. (And veteran foreign policy opinion writers aren’t too impressed, either; Dan Drezner describes the attitude as inspired by the Incredible Hulk—“Romney SMASH China!”)

But Irwin Stelzer, in an incisive post for the Weekly Standard, suggests there may be more behind the president’s and Romney’s vocal displeasure with China’s trade practices:

One reason Xi came to America is to protest Obama’s expansion of the American military presence in Asia. Hu Jintao had earlier complained that America is building “a wall of containment” around China, to use Kagan’s phrase. “What the Chinese find really upsetting,” he continues, “is the extent of American’s military alliances,” some fifty, whereas China has not a single ally in its region, with the exception of North Korea, as much a liability as an asset. To make American intentions at strengthening these alliances and its presence in Asia clear to Xi, Secretary Panetta timed congressional testimony detailing the expanding U.S. military presence and capabilities in Asia to coincide with the Washington visit of the future Chinese [leader].

And so China has responded with a see-and-raise maneuver that would be audacious if it weren’t so familiar:

Which suggests that American efforts to persuade China to abandon its trade practices, in any event doomed to failure, has as much to do with power as with money. China’s currency manipulation, subsidization of its SOEs and other export enhancing practices provide funds to pay for an expanded military. They also create a voracious demand for oil and other commodities, a demand that is forcing China to extend its reach to Africa and to America’s backyard, Latin America. In addition, the earnings from trade are used to make loans that add to Chinese influence. The Financial Times reports that the $75 billion China has lent to Latin America since 2005 exceed the total made available by the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and the Export-Import Bank.

Stelzer’s article is titled “Trade Is War, By Other Means.” That “by other means” is obviously the way we intend to keep it, but still: It’s a far cry from China “oppos[ing] hegemony and power politics of any kind.”

Read Less

Billy Graham and the Temptations of Politics

In an interview with Christianity Today, Billy Graham, 92, said this:

I … would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.

Graham, of course, was not a particularly powerful force in American politics. Rather, he was known as the “pastor to the president.” He was a friend to presidents of both parties — and he certainly wasn’t as political as, say, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson (who is not a minister but is certainly a prominent Christian).

Still, we know that Graham’s close association with Richard Nixon is one he came to regret, especially in the aftermath of Watergate. Tapes released in 2002 revealed Graham as saying disparaging things about Jews, which Graham was embarrassed by and for which he apologized. And proximity to power can appeal to one’s ego and pride. Ministering to the powerful can be a heady experience.

It’s important to point out that the Reverend Graham was not offering a sweeping condemnation of Christians who involve themselves in politics. My guess is that he would agree that according to Christian doctrine, God has never detached Himself from the affairs of the world; that in the Hebrew Bible, certain kings win the outright approval of God; that civil government was itself established by God; and that because politics, in its deepest and best sense, is about justice, it would be foolish to exclude Christians from the realm of politics. Some are called to participate in that arena.

But what Graham was saying — and what Christians need to pay special attention to — is that politics is an arena in which the witness of believers
can be easily harmed. Issue by issue, act by act, faith can become — or can be reasonably seen to become — subordinate to a political party or ideology. In addition, the passions and emotions politics can stir up can cause people to act in troubling ways. Grace can give way to bitterness and brittleness, to viewing political opponents as political enemies. Read More

In an interview with Christianity Today, Billy Graham, 92, said this:

I … would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.

Graham, of course, was not a particularly powerful force in American politics. Rather, he was known as the “pastor to the president.” He was a friend to presidents of both parties — and he certainly wasn’t as political as, say, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson (who is not a minister but is certainly a prominent Christian).

Still, we know that Graham’s close association with Richard Nixon is one he came to regret, especially in the aftermath of Watergate. Tapes released in 2002 revealed Graham as saying disparaging things about Jews, which Graham was embarrassed by and for which he apologized. And proximity to power can appeal to one’s ego and pride. Ministering to the powerful can be a heady experience.

It’s important to point out that the Reverend Graham was not offering a sweeping condemnation of Christians who involve themselves in politics. My guess is that he would agree that according to Christian doctrine, God has never detached Himself from the affairs of the world; that in the Hebrew Bible, certain kings win the outright approval of God; that civil government was itself established by God; and that because politics, in its deepest and best sense, is about justice, it would be foolish to exclude Christians from the realm of politics. Some are called to participate in that arena.

But what Graham was saying — and what Christians need to pay special attention to — is that politics is an arena in which the witness of believers
can be easily harmed. Issue by issue, act by act, faith can become — or can be reasonably seen to become — subordinate to a political party or ideology. In addition, the passions and emotions politics can stir up can cause people to act in troubling ways. Grace can give way to bitterness and brittleness, to viewing political opponents as political enemies.

The writer Sheldon Vanauken has written about the fine line between zeal and anger. Admitting that he was caught up in the mood and action of the 1960s, Vanauken wrote that Jesus, he thought, would surely have him oppose what appeared to him to be an unjust war (Vietnam). “But the movement,” Vanauken conceded, “whatever its ideals, did a good deal of hating.” And Jesus, he said, was gradually pushed to the rear. “Movement goals, not God, became first.” Vanauken admitted that that is not quite what God had in mind.

In 1951, Prime Minister Winston Churchill offered Christian author and apologist C.S. Lewis the title of Commander of the British Empire, a high and appropriate distinction. But Lewis refused the honor. “I feel greatly obligated to the Prime Minister,” he responded, “and so far as my personal feelings are concerned this honour would be highly agreeable. There are always, however, knaves who say, and fools who believe, that my religious writings are all covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours List would of course strengthen their hands. It is therefore better that I should not appear there.”

In his own way, what Graham is saying, I think, is that he wishes he had followed the Lewis example. I can understand why. For those of us who claim the title Christian, faith should always be more important than politics. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be involved in politics; it simply means we should do so with care, with wisdom, with our eyes wide open.

The City of Man may be our residence for now, but the City of God is our home.

Read Less

Will Rewriting History Silence Conservatives?

Chris Matthews writes in the Washington Post about the friendship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. Matthews wants us to believe that those were the Good Old Days, years characterized by civility and comity among political opponents, an era when high-minded disagreements were stated in the most irenic way possible.

In short, a time when after-hours lions and lambs laid down beside each other.

Steven Hayward does us a public service by reminding us of what things were really like, with O’Neill saying, among other things, that “evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.”

To Hayward’s examples I would add a January 30, 1984, Associated Press story, which reported this: “Ronald Reagan has been a divider, not a uniter. He has divided our country between rich and poor, between the hopeful and the hopeless, between the comfortable and the miserable. He has not been fair and the people know it. The American people will reject four more years of danger, four more years of pain,’ [Thomas P.] O’Neill said.”

Ronald Reagan was, in fact, a deeply hated figure by liberals when he was president.

The effort to pretty up the past is not simply evidence of nostalgia or selective memories. It is an effort by liberals to portray this current moment in our history, when conservatives have, for the first time, a wide array of media outlets at their disposal, as a period of unprecedented incivility. The unstated argument goes like this: for the first time in modern history, conservatives dominate a few media precincts (cable news and talk radio). It is also a period of vitriolic public discourse, unmatched in the annals of American history. We’ll leave it to you, the American voters, to connect the dots.

In fact, liberals are inventing a false correlation in order to assert a false causation.

And it’s an easy enough one to disprove. Those who lived through the 1980s merely need to dust off their own memories or read contemporaneous news accounts from that period (at the New York Times, the predecessor of Frank Rich and Paul Krugman was Anthony Lewis). An older generation can do the same thing for the 1970s, when Richard Nixon was a reviled figure by the left; and the 1960s, when there were riots in the streets and on American campuses and students chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

This is simply part of an ongoing effort by liberals to disfigure American history in order to advance their post-Tucson fairy tale. It’s really quite regrettable — and, because it’s untrue, I rather doubt it will work.

Chris Matthews writes in the Washington Post about the friendship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. Matthews wants us to believe that those were the Good Old Days, years characterized by civility and comity among political opponents, an era when high-minded disagreements were stated in the most irenic way possible.

In short, a time when after-hours lions and lambs laid down beside each other.

Steven Hayward does us a public service by reminding us of what things were really like, with O’Neill saying, among other things, that “evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.”

To Hayward’s examples I would add a January 30, 1984, Associated Press story, which reported this: “Ronald Reagan has been a divider, not a uniter. He has divided our country between rich and poor, between the hopeful and the hopeless, between the comfortable and the miserable. He has not been fair and the people know it. The American people will reject four more years of danger, four more years of pain,’ [Thomas P.] O’Neill said.”

Ronald Reagan was, in fact, a deeply hated figure by liberals when he was president.

The effort to pretty up the past is not simply evidence of nostalgia or selective memories. It is an effort by liberals to portray this current moment in our history, when conservatives have, for the first time, a wide array of media outlets at their disposal, as a period of unprecedented incivility. The unstated argument goes like this: for the first time in modern history, conservatives dominate a few media precincts (cable news and talk radio). It is also a period of vitriolic public discourse, unmatched in the annals of American history. We’ll leave it to you, the American voters, to connect the dots.

In fact, liberals are inventing a false correlation in order to assert a false causation.

And it’s an easy enough one to disprove. Those who lived through the 1980s merely need to dust off their own memories or read contemporaneous news accounts from that period (at the New York Times, the predecessor of Frank Rich and Paul Krugman was Anthony Lewis). An older generation can do the same thing for the 1970s, when Richard Nixon was a reviled figure by the left; and the 1960s, when there were riots in the streets and on American campuses and students chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

This is simply part of an ongoing effort by liberals to disfigure American history in order to advance their post-Tucson fairy tale. It’s really quite regrettable — and, because it’s untrue, I rather doubt it will work.

Read Less

The Merits of Measured, Judicious, and Precise Language

In an interview with CNN, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was asked about his pre-election comments that President Obama was among the “most corrupt presidents” in modern times. Here’s what he said:

I corrected what I meant to say. … In saying that this is one of the most corrupt administrations, which is what I meant to say there, when you hand out $1 trillion in TARP just before this president came in, most of it unspent, $1 trillion nearly in stimulus that this president asked for, plus this huge expansion in health care and government, it has a corrupting effect. When I look at waste, fraud and abuse in the bureaucracy and in the government, this is like steroids to pump up the muscles of waste.

Criticisms of the president and his policies are certainly warranted. Still, Mr. Issa needs to be careful not to toss around the term “corruption” in a promiscuous manner. Corruption is commonly understood to mean extremely immoral, dishonest, or depraved; susceptible to bribery; crooked, and the like. What Richard Nixon did in Watergate and what Bill Clinton did to cover up his affair with Monica Lewinski was corrupt.

The Obama administration, whatever its errors, has not approached the level of corruption or criminality of either the Nixon or Clinton administration. And citing TARP as key evidence to prove the corruption of the Obama administration is discrediting. (For a good account of the merits of TARP, see this Washington Post editorial.)

If lawmakers hope to increase public confidence in Congress, they need to speak in measured, judicious, and precise ways. They need to resist resorting to incendiary charges. And they can’t let their rhetoric get ahead of the evidence. That was true when George W. Bush was president, and it should be true when Barack Obama is president.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to go after Mr. Obama and his administration. Charging them with being the most liberal administration in our history, or even as among the more pernicious in our lifetime, is, I think, fair. But charging them with being among the most corrupt isn’t.

In an interview with CNN, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was asked about his pre-election comments that President Obama was among the “most corrupt presidents” in modern times. Here’s what he said:

I corrected what I meant to say. … In saying that this is one of the most corrupt administrations, which is what I meant to say there, when you hand out $1 trillion in TARP just before this president came in, most of it unspent, $1 trillion nearly in stimulus that this president asked for, plus this huge expansion in health care and government, it has a corrupting effect. When I look at waste, fraud and abuse in the bureaucracy and in the government, this is like steroids to pump up the muscles of waste.

Criticisms of the president and his policies are certainly warranted. Still, Mr. Issa needs to be careful not to toss around the term “corruption” in a promiscuous manner. Corruption is commonly understood to mean extremely immoral, dishonest, or depraved; susceptible to bribery; crooked, and the like. What Richard Nixon did in Watergate and what Bill Clinton did to cover up his affair with Monica Lewinski was corrupt.

The Obama administration, whatever its errors, has not approached the level of corruption or criminality of either the Nixon or Clinton administration. And citing TARP as key evidence to prove the corruption of the Obama administration is discrediting. (For a good account of the merits of TARP, see this Washington Post editorial.)

If lawmakers hope to increase public confidence in Congress, they need to speak in measured, judicious, and precise ways. They need to resist resorting to incendiary charges. And they can’t let their rhetoric get ahead of the evidence. That was true when George W. Bush was president, and it should be true when Barack Obama is president.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to go after Mr. Obama and his administration. Charging them with being the most liberal administration in our history, or even as among the more pernicious in our lifetime, is, I think, fair. But charging them with being among the most corrupt isn’t.

Read Less

Kissinger and the Moral Bankruptcy of Détente

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history. But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision. Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning 2 million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes. But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.” A principled and moral foreign policy was not a threat to peace; it was ultimately its guarantor.

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. It is one thing to see human rights as irrelevant to American foreign policy, but quite another to express indifference to the possibility of genocide. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of 6 million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference. The reputation of Stephen A. Wise, the most distinguished American Jewish leader of that time and a devout FDR loyalist, has suffered greatly in recent decades as later generations carefully examined his refusal to speak out during the Holocaust. But say what you will about Wise, and many serious historians have been harshly critical of him, it is impossible to imagine him joking with Roosevelt about what was going on in Hitler’s Europe or musing airily about their catastrophic fate as Kissinger did about the Jews in Soviet Russia.

Whatever Kissinger’s motivation in making his remarks about “gas chambers” might have been, even the most sympathetic interpretation that can be imagined reveals him as a toady seeking Nixon’s approval and looking to establish himself as a Jew who wouldn’t speak up for other Jews, even if their lives were at stake.

The foreign-policy attitudes illustrated by Kissinger’s remarks should be held up to scorn whenever they are trotted out by apologists for American support for tyrannical regimes, be they Arab despotisms or the Communists who rule China. And Kissinger’s dishonorable indifference to the suffering of fellow Jews should stand forever as an example to be avoided at all costs by those Jews who seek or attain power in our democracy.

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history. But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision. Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning 2 million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes. But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.” A principled and moral foreign policy was not a threat to peace; it was ultimately its guarantor.

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. It is one thing to see human rights as irrelevant to American foreign policy, but quite another to express indifference to the possibility of genocide. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of 6 million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference. The reputation of Stephen A. Wise, the most distinguished American Jewish leader of that time and a devout FDR loyalist, has suffered greatly in recent decades as later generations carefully examined his refusal to speak out during the Holocaust. But say what you will about Wise, and many serious historians have been harshly critical of him, it is impossible to imagine him joking with Roosevelt about what was going on in Hitler’s Europe or musing airily about their catastrophic fate as Kissinger did about the Jews in Soviet Russia.

Whatever Kissinger’s motivation in making his remarks about “gas chambers” might have been, even the most sympathetic interpretation that can be imagined reveals him as a toady seeking Nixon’s approval and looking to establish himself as a Jew who wouldn’t speak up for other Jews, even if their lives were at stake.

The foreign-policy attitudes illustrated by Kissinger’s remarks should be held up to scorn whenever they are trotted out by apologists for American support for tyrannical regimes, be they Arab despotisms or the Communists who rule China. And Kissinger’s dishonorable indifference to the suffering of fellow Jews should stand forever as an example to be avoided at all costs by those Jews who seek or attain power in our democracy.

Read Less

The Obama Primary Challenger Issue and Why It’s Misunderstood

With angry leftists starting to discuss the possibility of a primary challenge to Barack Obama, the general reaction from serious and clever political observers has been that the idea is a preposterous one. Ed Kilgore on the New Republic‘s website (trans-ideological congratulations, by the way, to TNR’s new editor, Richard Just), my former colleague Jennifer Rubin on the WaPo site, Dave Weigel in Slate, and many others have sensibly pointed out that such a challenge would be doomed. Obama’s approval ratings among Democrats is in the 80s and not much lower among liberals (despite the outrage this week about the tax-cut deal).

The fact that Obama can surely depend on nearly universal support from black Democrats makes a primary challenge even more unlikely, they say. And not only unlikely, but pointless. Rather than achieving the near-win Eugene McCarthy scored in the 1968 Democratic primary in New Hampshire against sitting president LBJ or Pat Buchanan’s getting 38 percent against Bush the Elder in 1992, Weigel suggests that the outcome would be more like the foolish bid by Ohio Republican Rep. John Ashbrook against Richard Nixon in 1972 from the right, when Ashbrook got 9 percent there.

All worth considering. But in Kilgore’s case, the wish is father to the thought; he doesn’t want a challenge and is offering an analysis intended to talk interested Democrats and leftists out of attempting one. Weigel is giving voice to the “Oh, come on” school oft affected by those who spend most of their time thinking about politics and can’t imagine why anybody would make a political move that seems fruitless.

But here’s the thing. An Obama primary challenger wouldn’t be getting in the race to win. Pat Buchanan didn’t think he’d win, and I don’t think Eugene McCarthy thought so either. The question is whether a collection of factors next year — continued weakness in the economy and the fact that we haven’t pulled out of Afghanistan — creates the conditions under which a primary challenge will be staged. The point, which I make in my COMMENTARY article this month, is that one would arise in that instance because, in effect, the dynamic of the American political system would demand it. Read More

With angry leftists starting to discuss the possibility of a primary challenge to Barack Obama, the general reaction from serious and clever political observers has been that the idea is a preposterous one. Ed Kilgore on the New Republic‘s website (trans-ideological congratulations, by the way, to TNR’s new editor, Richard Just), my former colleague Jennifer Rubin on the WaPo site, Dave Weigel in Slate, and many others have sensibly pointed out that such a challenge would be doomed. Obama’s approval ratings among Democrats is in the 80s and not much lower among liberals (despite the outrage this week about the tax-cut deal).

The fact that Obama can surely depend on nearly universal support from black Democrats makes a primary challenge even more unlikely, they say. And not only unlikely, but pointless. Rather than achieving the near-win Eugene McCarthy scored in the 1968 Democratic primary in New Hampshire against sitting president LBJ or Pat Buchanan’s getting 38 percent against Bush the Elder in 1992, Weigel suggests that the outcome would be more like the foolish bid by Ohio Republican Rep. John Ashbrook against Richard Nixon in 1972 from the right, when Ashbrook got 9 percent there.

All worth considering. But in Kilgore’s case, the wish is father to the thought; he doesn’t want a challenge and is offering an analysis intended to talk interested Democrats and leftists out of attempting one. Weigel is giving voice to the “Oh, come on” school oft affected by those who spend most of their time thinking about politics and can’t imagine why anybody would make a political move that seems fruitless.

But here’s the thing. An Obama primary challenger wouldn’t be getting in the race to win. Pat Buchanan didn’t think he’d win, and I don’t think Eugene McCarthy thought so either. The question is whether a collection of factors next year — continued weakness in the economy and the fact that we haven’t pulled out of Afghanistan — creates the conditions under which a primary challenge will be staged. The point, which I make in my COMMENTARY article this month, is that one would arise in that instance because, in effect, the dynamic of the American political system would demand it.

First, presume that, if the status quo remains largely unchanged, Obama’s support will decline somewhat among Democrats and liberals. They won’t like the state of things; he’ll start to smell like a loser and people tend to desert losers; and many will be genuinely angry that his ideological concessions on taxes and war have not improved matters from their perspective. Someone would do it at that point because (and this sounds sentimental, but isn’t) he actually does hear the leftist body politic crying out for someone to represent its views. Protest candidacies are not about victory, which is why Hillary Clinton won’t stage one; they’re about protest.

Also remember that the cost of entry for a protest candidate is far lower than people realize. One would get in to make a showing in New Hampshire, which is not expensive to run in — and a protest candidacy that gets any kind of purchase will, in any case, be able to raise money very fast. (If Christine O’Donnell can raise a few million dollars in three days, so can Russ Feingold under the right circumstances, like the Huffington Post’s pushing his campaign.) The question then would be what kind of showing such a person could make in that one state. As it happens, it might well be built to help a leftist protest candidate.

For one thing, African Americans make up less than 2 percent of the population of New Hampshire. (Remember: Hillary Clinton won here in 2008.) For another, independents can vote in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, which could allow some genuinely angry people to cast protest votes just to send Obama a message, even though such people would probably end up voting Republican in November 2012.

I have no idea whether there will be such a candidate, because I have no idea what things will look like next fall. I do know that if a candidate turns out to be less like Ashbrook and more like Buchanan, Obama will be in serious trouble. (Read my piece to find out more.) Right now, it is as foolish to presume there won’t be one, or to argue that such a candidate would be unable to make a bid damaging to Obama, as it would be to presume one will definitely rise up to challenge him.

Read Less

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.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.