Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and the executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. Paul Kengor is the author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007) and The Communist — Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink 2012).

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 12:04

Kengor Writes . . .

Kengor Writes . . .

Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from The American Spectator. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). His latest book is The Communist - Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink 2012.

Attacks on Scott Walker Remind Us of Reagan

As soon as a conservative Republican emerges as a serious presidential frontrunner, liberals in the media suddenly yank out the microscopes they've been keeping away from Barack Obama since 2007. They couldn't care less what Obama did in college, how he got into college, who paid for his college, who wrote his letters of recommendation, what his grades were, and on and on - but we already know everything about Scott Walker and college. Obama's media protectors couldn't give a rip that he had a mentor who was a literal card-carrying member of the Communist Party in the Stalin era. But as soon as someone like Scott Walker starts gaining ground, wow, "journalists" lunge for the magnifying glass and became real reporters again, profusely digging and questioning, looking for mole holes to make into vast mountains of scandal.

On Walker, there will always be a new scandal as long as he remains viable. I don't want to be regularly drawn into defending the man, but here are two recent episodes I've been asked to weigh in on, specifically, because of their parallels to Ronald Reagan:

First, there was Walker's comment at CPAC (I was there) on fighting ISIS and fighting government unions. Asked how he would handle a foe like ISIS as president, Walker said, "If I can take on a 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world."

The answer was immediately blasted. It shouldn't be.

Obviously, the public-sector unions that Scott Walker faced in Wisconsin are not equivalent to ISIS. They're not beheading anyone. They're not killers. We know this, and we know that Scott Walker knows this. In fact, the day after his CPAC comments, he explained:

My point was just, if I could handle that kind of a pressure and intensity [in Wisconsin], I think I'm up for the challenge for whatever might come, if I choose to run for president.

It's fully appropriate and necessary for Walker to clarify that he was not equating Wisconsin public employees with ISIS, and to apologize for any such ridiculous misunderstanding, and it's also appropriate and necessary for his opponents not to abuse his point.

Abuse his point? Yes, because he made a good one. The truth is that it isn't easy to do what Scott Walker did as governor in Wisconsin. That's the main reason he so impresses conservatives. The enmity and utter hatred that he and his family and extended family (including his elderly parents) felt constantly, from union members and their militant "progressive" allies in his own backyard, at the state house, in the halls, at his office, in his neighborhood, at his church, at the grocery story, at Starbucks, at the car wash, on the street, at Boy Scouts meetings, at soccer games, at dance practice, at baseball games, at theaters and musicals, and on and on and on, is something awful that people can scarcely imagine enduring. Public-sector union thugs can be brutes and can make your life miserable. For Walker, it equated to a nasty pressure that was omnipresent. In a way, it really would be more personally distressing than a president dealing with ISIS because the president, fully protected, never gets anywhere near an ISIS killer. That's not true for Governor Walker.

It's a point that Ronald Reagan could have related to. Asked about dealing with the Soviets, or Brezhnev, or Gorbachev, Reagan often told reporters that he could handle them because he still had "scars on my back" from fighting unions.

"I know it sounds kind of foolish maybe to link Hollywood, an experience there, to the world situation," he said from the White House, "and yet, the tactics seemed to be pretty much the same." When aide Lyn Nofziger cautioned him about the Soviets at Reykjavik, he responded: "Don't worry. I still have the scars on my back from fighting the communists in Hollywood." He judged this Hollywood experience "hand-to-hand combat."

Was Reagan thereby insulting, say, the boys who invaded Normandy and fought at Iwo Jima who experienced true hand-to-hand combat? Of course not. We know that.

Consider another moment that Ronald Reagan never forgot: As an actor and president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), he was on location in an isolated rural area when told by a crew member that he had a telephone call waiting at a nearby gas station. At the time, Reagan was preparing an important report for SAG relating to a major 1946 strike. Spearheading the strike was the Red-dominated Conference of Studio Unions (CSU), led by a thug named Herb Sorrell, who Reagan charitably described as "a large and muscular man with a most aggressive attitude."

Reagan arrived at the gas station and answered the phone. "I was told," he said later:

. . . that if I made the report a squad was ready to take care of me and fix my face so that I would never be in pictures again.

Specifically, the caller threatened to splash acid upon Reagan's unsuspecting million-dollar face - the source of his livelihood.

Such fears were nothing new for Reagan. Police began guarding Reagan's home and children, and he began packing a Smith & Wesson revolver, which he took to bed each night.

I bet that Scott Walker had a gun for protection, or at least a security guard always near his side.

The vituperation and dripping, red-hot anger directed at Walker by unions in Wisconsin was a sight to behold. What he endured in Wisconsin was extremely distressing. But don't expect Walker's opponents to try to understand that.

Second, another Walker-Reagan comparison/clarification is in order. It began with a January 28 item in PolitiFact that stated:

As momentum builds for a possible 2016 presidential run, Gov. Scott Walker has spent more time speaking on foreign policy.
One of his talking points: Leadership trumps experience when it comes to managing affairs overseas. Look at Ronald Reagan.
That was Walker's response Jan. 21, 2015 when he was asked on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" about the importance of foreign policy experience. First, the governor criticized the secretary of state record of Hillary Clinton, the leading potential Democratic candidate for 2016.
Then he turned to Reagan, one of his political heroes, and one of the Republican president's early acts in office - the mass firing of most of the nation's air traffic controllers. . . .
In his MSNBC interview, Walker asserted that the move was one of the most important foreign policy decisions "made in our lifetime," showing allies and adversaries around the world "that we were serious."

Then he added this:

"Years later, documents released from the Soviet Union showed that that exactly was the case. The Soviet Union started treating (Reagan) more seriously once he did something like that. Ideas have to have consequences. And I think (President Barack Obama) has failed mainly because he's made threats and hasn't followed through on them."
So, Walker goes beyond stating an opinion about the foreign policy implications of Reagan's move. He states as fact that there are Soviet documents showing the Soviets treated Reagan more seriously because he fired American air traffic controllers.
That's a bold claim.

A bold claim? Gee, those of us who have written about or followed Reagan have heard this account many times. What is PolitiFact so upset about? It explained its beef with Walker's assertion:

When we asked for evidence to back the claim, both the governor's office and Walker's campaign cited statements from a variety of people. Each essentially said the firings showed Reagan meant what he said, and that he was to be taken seriously.

PolitiFact then listed the examples that immediately came to my mind, apparently getting them from Walker's office and campaign. Here they are:

Reagan special assistant Peggy Noonan wrote in her White House memoir that George Shultz, who became Reagan's secretary state a year after the firings, had called the firings the most important foreign policy decision Reagan ever made. Joseph McCartin, the author of a book on the strike, wrote that when House Speaker Tip O'Neill, a Democrat, visited Moscow not long after the strike, "He learned that the Soviet leaders had been deeply impressed by Reagan's actions." And Reagan biographer Edmund Morris wrote: "Former Soviet apparatchiks will tell you that it was not his famous 'evil empire' speech in 1983 that convinced them he meant strategic business, so much as photographs of the leader of the air traffic controllers union being taken to jail in 1981."

Precisely, PolitiFact. That's exactly what I remember. I don't get it? Why are we having this conversation? What's wrong with what Scott Walker said? PolitiFact provided its answer:

Those are perceptions of Americans, however. [Actually, no, it was Americans reporting Soviet perceptions.] Walker's claim was the Soviets treated Reagan more seriously after he fired the controllers, and that Soviet documents prove it.
But he did not provide us anything referencing Soviet documents. ?And apparently there are no such documents that have been made public.

Ah, that's the issue? The lack of "documents?" That's the big deal? But why? Tip O'Neill apparently talked to "Soviet leaders" and Edmund Morris's sources were "former Soviet apparatchiks." And George Shultz dealt with the Soviets daily. Surely that's a solid-enough measure of evidence.

But the issue, apparently, is "documents." No documents. Frankly, I hadn't even noticed in my initial read that Walker used the word "documents," even when I first read his statement on MSNBC. It went right by me. And I specialize in dealing with Cold War documents.

Nonetheless, PolitiFact continued on that point, quoting experts adamantly and testily objecting to this apparent lack of "documents."

Five experts told us they had never heard of such documents. Several were incredulous at the notion.
McCartin, a Georgetown University labor history expert who wrote the book about the strike that Walker cited, said: "I am not aware of any such documents. If they did exist, I would love to see them."
Svetlana Savranskaya, director of Russia programs at the National Security Archive at George Washington University, told us she "had to listen to the Walker interview twice, so ridiculous is the statement about the air traffic controllers. There is absolutely no evidence of this. I would love to see the released Soviet documents on this subject that he has apparently seen."
James Graham Wilson, a historian at the U.S. State Department, also told us he was not aware of any Soviet documents showing Moscow's internal response to the controller firings. He speculated that there could be such records, given how some Soviet experts characterized the firings.??
Wilson and other have noted the perspective of Richard Pipes, professor emeritus of Russian studies at Harvard University. Pipes said the firings showed the Soviets that Reagan was "a man who, when aroused, will go to the limit to back up his principles."
. . . In any case, the lack of Soviet records described by Walker is clear.?? Reagan's own ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock, told us: "It's utter nonsense. There is no evidence of that whatever."

Nonsense? What is nonsense? Walker's general point isn't nonsense but apparently the lack of "documents" is being judged a gigantic faux paus by Walker. PolitiFact thus concluded by applying a "rating" to Walker's statement:

Walker cited no Soviet documents showing that the firings made the Soviets treat Reagan more seriously. And experts, several of whom felt Walker's claim is outrageous, told us they are not aware that any such documents exist. For a statement that is false and ridiculous, our rating is Pants on Fire.

The minute that this PolitiFact item was released, I got an email from a fellow Reagan expert who was really steamed. "Paul, you've got to take this on!" he wrote.

Because a politician in an unscripted TV interview referred to documents rather than reports by biographers, he's a liar with his pants on fire? Should we hold a governor to the standard that we do scholars because he used the word "documents" in an off-the-cuff remark to a TV guy? Do we expect our politicians to be archival experts in Cold War documents in order to make general points with the utmost academic-scholarly precision?

Walker had indeed correctly read that the Soviets were impressed by Reagan's actions, and just as clearly assumed (understandably) that the authors he remembered writing about the incident (being authors) probably had used some sort of "documents" for their research.

But because he used a work like "documents" instead of, say, "biographers" we're going to denounce him, "Liar, liar, pants on fire?!"

I guarantee you that I could start digging in archives, and especially the voluminous Soviet media archives that I've collected over the decades, and find an example of Moscow officials communicating about Reagan and PATCO. It might take me hours or days or even weeks, but I could find them. I have read hundreds of Soviet memoirs, and I could go back through and start checking those, too. If PolitiFact wants to pay me for my time (by the hour, please), I'll start looking. But I warn them: Finding actual "documents" is never easy. It always takes a lot of time. So, this could cost them.

Another warning: Such "documents" probably will not be a big deal. They would likely simply offer a written communication of what we already knew, a mere hardcopy communication from one Soviet official to another. That's all that "documents" often are.

Peggy Noonan, at the end of her long piece on this, writes:

I have never heard of such documents. No one I spoke to for the book referred to them. If Walker got it wrong, he should say so. Though I'm not sure it matters in any deep way. Of course the Soviets saw and understood what had happened with Reagan and the union. Of course they would factor it in. They had eyes. They didn't have to write it down.

That's right. I've shared thousands of perceptions from people in articles and books I've written. The vast majority, I'm sure, were never recorded in documents. Bill Clark, Reagan's closest aide in the attack on the Soviet Union, had an explicit policy of not writing down sensitive information that he and Reagan feared could be leaked. Boy, if I could've had just one of the many napkins or paper scraps that Clark scribbled on after his meetings with Cardinal Pio Laghi, John Paul II's apostolic nuncio in Washington, which Clark then took to Reagan to refer to while briefing the president. Unfortunately, Clark always dropped them in the trash.

The lack of those "documents" frustrated me as his biographer, but that was the way it was. It didn't mean that those communications didn't happen.

As Peggy Noonan details in her current piece, "So was Scott Walker right about the importance of Reagan and PATCO? Yes." It mattered on the international stage and especially to Moscow.

A final Walker-Reagan comparison: Scott Walker has unintentionally uncovered something else he shares with Ronald Reagan: the media's ability to place every inexact word of his under microscopic scrutiny and trounce him when he isn't perfect to the letter of his word. This is something the media does not do to Barack Obama - never has and never will.

As Scott Walker moves on, he can expect to get much, much more. Ronald Reagan certainly did. Don't let it bother you, governor, you're in good company. *

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 12:01

Kengor Writes . . .

Kengor Writes . . .

Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from The American Spectator. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). His latest book is The Communist - Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama' s Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink (2012).

Here's the Guy Rudy Is Talking About: Frank Marshall Davis, Communist Party No. 47544

Rudy Giuliani is being roundly criticized for several recent statements he has made about President Barack Obama, including the claim that Obama in his youth was influenced by a literal Communist. I cannot address all of Giuliani's remarks, but I can certainly speak to the influence of the Communist he referred to. In short, Rudy was correct and he even had Obama's exact age (nine) right when he was first introduced to this person.

"From the time he was 9 years old, he was influenced by Frank Marshall Davis, who was a Communist," Giuliani said.

I can't say for certain that Rudy Giuliani read my book, which is titled, The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor, but he has those facts absolutely right. If I may, I'd like to add some crucial detail:

Frank Marshall Davis (1905-87) was a hardcore Communist, an actual card-carrying member of Communist Party USA (CPUSA), who spent time with a young Barack Obama throughout the 1970s, right up until the moment Obama left Hawaii for Occidental College in 1979.

Davis joined the Communist Party in Chicago in the early 1940s. CPUSA members swore an oath to "ensure the triumph of Soviet power in the United States." They were dedicated to what CPUSA leader William Z. Foster had openly called "Soviet America." Notably, Davis joined CPUSA after the Hitler-Stalin Pact, a time when many American Communists (especially Jewish Communists) had bolted the Party in disgust that their Soviet Union had allied with Hitler.

As we know from Davis's declassified 600-page FBI file (and other sources), his Party card number was 47544. He was very active. In 1946, he became the founding editor-in-chief of the Chicago Star, the party-line newspaper for Chicago. There, Davis shared the op-ed page with the likes of Howard Fast, a "Stalin Prize" winner, and Senator Claude "Red" Pepper, who, at the time, sponsored the bill to nationalize healthcare in the United States.

Davis left the Star in 1948 for Hawaii, where he would write for the party-line organ there, the Honolulu Record. His politics remained so radical that the FBI had him under continued surveillance. The federal government actually placed Davis on the Security Index, meaning that in the event of a war between the United States and USSR, Barack Obama's mentor could be placed under immediate arrest.

Frank Marshall Davis's targets were Democrats more than Republicans, given that Democrats, like Harry Truman, held the White House and opposed Stalin's Soviet expansion at the time. In December 1956, the Democrat-run Senate Judiciary Committee called Davis to Washington to testify on his activities. Davis pleaded the Fifth Amendment. No matter, the next year, the Democratic Senate published a report titled, "Scope of Soviet Activity in the United States," where it listed Davis as "an identified member of the Communist Party."

Frank Marshall Davis would eventually meet a young Barack Obama in 1970, introduced by Obama's grandfather, Stanley Dunham, for the purpose of mentoring. The boy's grandfather felt that the fatherless boy was in need of a black-male role model. For that, Dunham chose one of the most politically radical figures in all of Hawaii. He introduced the two in the fall of 1970. An eyewitness, a woman named Dawna Weatherly-Williams, who knew Davis so well that she called him "Daddy," was present the first time Obama and Davis met. She described the relationship as very influential, with Davis impacting Obama on "social justice," on "life," on "what's important," on no less than "how to use" his "heart" and "mind."

So deep was Davis's influence that Obama, in his huge bestselling memoir, Dreams from My Father, would cite him repeatedly over thousands of words and in each and every section (all three parts) of his memoirs - though he referred to him only as "Frank." "Frank" is mentioned 22 times by name, and far more times via pronouns and other forms of reference.

It is extremely telling that in the 2005 audio version of Dreams, released to help package Obama for the White House, "Frank" was completely purged from the memoir. As noted on the back cover, the audio version was personally "approved" by Obama himself.

How often did Obama and Frank Marshall Davis meet?

Only Obama himself knows and could answer that question. The Washington Post's excellent writer David Maraniss, in his acclaimed biography of Obama, writes that "Obama later estimated that he saw Davis 'ten to fifteen times'" during their years together in Hawaii. Maraniss didn't provide his source, but he must have gotten it directly from Obama in an exclusive interview for his book. I haven't seen that figure cited anywhere else.

For the record, 10 to 15 times is notable, especially given the nature and duration of these one-on-one meetings - often long late-night evenings together. (Some people cite mentors who they've barely met or not even met at all.) The two would drink and even got drunk together. In reality, I bet the number of Obama-Davis meetings is much greater, given that Obama would be expected to understate Davis' influence. Consider the print and audio versions of Dreams from My Father.

Again, one person could easily clarify the whole thing in a sentence, if he were asked by our "journalists": Barack Obama.

Now, the billion-dollar question: What's the relevancy of all of this? Does this Davis stuff mean that Barack Obama is today a closet Communist? No, of course it doesn't. We all know that. It does, however, explain how and why and where Obama went so far to the left, and why he's so far to the left to this day. In my book on Davis, I quote at length a student Communist leader at Occidental College who knew Obama immediately after he left Davis and knew him as a Communist. I'm confident from my research that the young Obama was once a Communist, and that Davis was surely an influence in that regard. The unknown is precisely how much Davis influenced Obama, and - the true big question - when and where and how and why Obama ever rejected that Communist past. To this day, Obama has never, despite two pre-presidential memoirs and thousands of interviews, told us about this radical background and why he supposedly left it. And the media refuses to ask, instead they dump on those like Rudy (and myself) who bother to ask.

As I've said repeatedly in my interviews on the Frank Marshall Davis book, Barack Obama could have crushed all wild speculation in 2008 by simply being candid about the Communism in his background and explaining when he (allegedly) left it all behind. My primary biographical subject, Ronald Reagan, once had been a self-described "hemophiliac" liberal duped by Communists. He told us all about it. George W. Bush told us about his alcohol struggles. Hillary Clinton has told us about her shift away from being a Goldwater girl.

So, where is Obama's conversion narrative? Again, the media refuses to ask.

All of which brings me back to Rudy Giuliani and Barack Obama. There's a super-quick way to clear up what Rudy is raising: Instead of interrogating Rudy, just once, finally, for the first time, ask Barack Obama about the Communist, Frank Marshall Davis, whom he spent time with throughout the 1970s. We're still waiting for just one question.

"It Was a Real Killing Field" - Remembering Iwo Jima

On February 19, 1945, 20-year-old Bill Young of Mooresville, North Carolina, disembarked an LST onto a miserable hunk of black rock called Iwo Jima. He was part of a 75-mile-long convoy of ships preparing to dislodge the Japanese from this volcanic remnant of an island. The territory was formally part of Japan, meaning it was considered literally sacred ground to Japanese soldiers.

Just how many Japanese were there, and where, was a mystery to Bill and the approaching Marines. It took his crewmen six weeks to arrive. They slept in cots under a tarp erected on the deck; all beds below were taken up by as many men as the U.S. military could jam onto one boat. But that little bit of discomfort was nothing compared to what was unexpectedly awaiting them.

"The plan was to be at Iwo Jima just a few days to mop it up - less than a week we were told," Bill told me. They would tidy up things and then move on. The Japanese, however, had other plans.

"I ended up there for 37 days," says Bill, who stayed for the full duration of the unforeseen hell ahead. "We ran into more resistance than we ever thought imaginable. It was a real killing field."

It became the bloodiest battle for American troops during all of World War II, with 7,000 killed and 20,000 casualties. Bodies, bullets, and death everywhere.

"You could just shoot into a crowd and kill someone, there was so many people," says Bill of those first waves that stormed the beaches. "We lost one Marine every 45 seconds, more than one per minute, for the first three days. We didn't have anywhere to bury them. We laid them out side by side, put a raincoat over them until we could build a cemetery."

I asked Bill about those early moments. In his low-key voice, he recalled that things happened so fast he didn't have time to dwell on the calamity. In between firing their weapons, he and the others tried to make foxholes but couldn't because of the odd lava rock. Their instinct was to simply survive.

The Japanese weren't on the island, explains Bill, they were in the island. They were hidden in a wild labyrinth of caves, intricate tunnels, and camouflaged concealments.

The Japanese dead numbered around 19,000, with only about 200 taken prisoner - those too injured to kill themselves with their grenades. The Japanese homeland was only 600 miles away. They would (and did) fight to the death. And they took a lot of good American boys with them.

As for Bill, he survived without a scratch, but most weren't so fortunate. Of the six men who raised the famous flag photographed atop Mount Suribachi, only three left the island, with two of them, John Bradley and Rene Gagnon, going on to lead normal lives. Bradley is the subject of the superb book-turned-film, Flags of Our Fathers. The third surviving flag raiser was Ira Hayes, a Native American.

Bill Young knew Ira Hayes. He vividly remembers leaning on the ship rail and shooting the breeze with Ira for several hours on the boat home. "They didn't think nothing of it," says Bill of Ira and his fellow flag-raisers. "They just grabbed a pipe, put a flag on it, and raised it."

But everyone else thought something of it. The moment was captured by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal and became a national sensation. Indeed, Ira's time with Bill on the ship was cut short when a helicopter nabbed the instant celebrity to rush him off to sell war bonds. He and Bradley and Gagnon became a huge hit touring the country.

The adulation, however, couldn't heal Ira Hayes, who used alcohol to cope with the horrors he experienced. He died a sad death after returning home.

Bill Young didn't get home right away. He readied for an even worse dnouement with the devil: an invasion of Japan's mainland. He was spared when President Harry Truman dropped the atomic bomb, finally compelling the Japanese to surrender.

Bill Young eventually made his way home. He married his sweetheart, Arvelle. They were together for 58 years before her death. Today, at age 90, Bill lives next door to the house where he grew up.

Asked how he feels about his time in World War II, Bill recalls the entire experience, beyond just Iwo Jima, and says simply: "I'm glad I did it. I enjoyed it, as much as you could something like that."

Yes, as much as you could enjoy something like that.

Iwo Jima was, says Bill Young, a real killing field. On the anniversary of that ferocious battle, let's remember Bill and all those who sacrificed so much.

Remembering Roe: A Forgotten Warning from Ronald Reagan

Given the somber anniversary of Roe v. Wade - source of 40 million abortions since 1973 - I thought I'd share an excellent but forgotten speech by President Ronald Reagan. The speechwriter was Peter Robinson, featured guest of our Reagan Lecture this year.

Reagan's remarks, made in July 1987 to pro-life leaders, are moving to read and watch (or listen to). They are prescient in light of the widening abortion abyss we face under the Obama administration and Pelosi-Reid Congress.

Reagan began with a reminder I often share with my secular-liberal friends. He told the pro-life activists:

[M]any of you, perhaps most, never dreamed of getting involved in politics. What brought you into politics was a matter of conscience, a matter of fundamental conviction.
That point cannot be underscored enough. Few things rile me more than demands that pro-lifers - especially those motivated by their faith - keep out of politics. Quite the contrary, many did just that, quietly going to church and reading their Bibles, until one day they awoke to learn the Supreme Court had passed Roe v. Wade. . . and the hellacious assault was on. They entered pro-life activism reluctantly, as a reaction to what was thrust upon their culture and country. The last thing they wanted was to get involved in politics. The Death Culture came to them.

Reagan next added:

Many of you've been attacked for being single-issue activists or single-issue voters. But I ask: What single issue could be of greater significance?

Agreed. For me, the life issue is my starting point, of far greater value than where a politician stands on social security or the minimum wage. Obviously, other issues matter. The right to life, however, is the first and most fundamental of rights, without which other rights are impossible. And if you, personally, are unsure when life begins, consider Reagan's recommendation: "If there's even a question about when human life begins, isn't it our duty to err on the side of life?"

Reagan saw the onslaught against America's unborn as so ferocious that he favored a "human life amendment" to the Constitution. At the time, this seemed extreme, but we've learned that unless amendments are attached to bill after bill - the Hyde Amendment, the Stupak Amendment - anonymous powers ensure all sorts of "unintended" consequences, including taxpayer funding of abortion.

Speaking of such funding, Reagan also acknowledged his "Mexico City policy," which blocked U.S. taxpayer funding of international "family planning" groups. One of the first things President Obama did was rescind that policy - immediately after the March for Life in January.

Another policy Reagan highlighted in his speech was the prohibition of federal funds to finance abortions in the District of Columbia. This, too, was overturned, thanks to a Democratic Congress and president that rejected funding for school vouchers for poor children in Washington, DC, but supported funding for abortions for the mothers of those children.

Yes, I know the contrast is breathtaking, but it's true.

Reagan talked more about abortion funding, and specifically "the so-called Grove City [College] legislation sponsored by Senator [Ted] Kennedy." "This bill," noted Reagan,

. . . would mean that all hospitals and colleges receiving federal funds, even those with religious affiliations, would be open to lawsuits if they failed to provide abortions.

The usually affable Reagan said: "this one really touches my temperature control."

There was much more Reagan said in this speech, but I'll close with two poignant thoughts: "Many who turn to abortion do so in harrowing circumstances," Reagan emphasized, including women "misled by inaccurate information."

. . . [W]e must remind those who disagree with us, and sometimes even ourselves, that we do not seek to condemn, we do not seek to sit in judgment. . . . [I]t is our duty to rise above bitterness and reproach.

Pro-lifers must heed that call, respecting the human dignity of everyone. All victims require love and charity. On that, Reagan finished with this:

I'd like to leave with you a quotation that means a great deal to me. These are the words of my friend, the late Terence Cardinal Cooke, of New York. "The gift of life, God's special gift, is no less beautiful when it is accompanied by illness or weakness, hunger or poverty, mental or physical handicaps, loneliness or old age. Indeed, at these times, human life gains extra splendor as it requires our special care, concern, and reverence. It is in and through the weakest of human vessels that the Lord continues to reveal the power of His love."

Here was a warning against the pallbearers of the progressive death march, from Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger - who hoped to expunge the gene pool of "human weeds" - to the euthanasia precipice to which America is being dragged. It starts with the weakest of vessels: the infant in its mother's womb.

Timeless words of wisdom to bear in mind this week, as America struggles to survive another year of Roe v. Wade. *

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 11:59

Kengor Writes . . .

Kengor Writes . . .

Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from The American Spectator. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). His latest book is The Communist - Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink (2012).

Is Obama Still Relevant?

Editors Note: This essay was written just after the midterm elections.

"Today I had a chance to speak with John Boehner and congratulated Mitch McConnell on becoming the next Senate majority leader," said Barack Obama in the opening of his White House press conference following the Democrats' Tuesday massacre. "And I told them both that I look forward to finishing up this Congress's business and then working together for the next two years to advance America's business." The president is looking forward to "working together to deliver for the American people."

Obama struck an optimistic, cooperative tone. Of course, he had better. If he wants to have any relevance going forward, what choice does he have but to play nice with Republicans, or at least talk nice?

This begs the trillion-dollar question: Is Obama still relevant? Given the truly historic proportion of this Republican victory, is Barack Obama about to become the lamest of lame ducks?

Before Republicans get too excited, I would caution that a president is never irrelevant, simply due to the sheer power of the office. We don't call it the Bully Pulpit for nothing. There are plenty of muscles for the commander-in-chief to flex, even if the opposing party runs the fitness center.

I would point conservatives to a notable example from their presidential icon, Ronald Reagan. Six years into his presidency, in 1986, Ronald Reagan's party likewise lost the Senate, and again lost the House. And yet, Reagan's final two years were rich with success. He and Mikhail Gorbachev held four summits, in Reykjavik, Washington, Moscow, and New York. They signed history's greatest nuclear-missile treaty: the INF Treaty. Domestically, Reagan reaped the benefits of the 1986 Tax Reform Act, a further boon to economic prosperity.

Alas, there was one key negative in Reagan's final two years: the Iran-Contra hearings. With the help of the Dan Rather-media, Democrats in Congress tried to turn Iran-Contra into the second coming of Watergate. The sharks were in the water. They wanted Reagan's demise.

Could Republicans seek the same against Obama? I doubt it. Any attempt to do so, no matter the validity, would be met with the loudest wails of "racism" and everything and anything else from the progressive corner. Republicans will not want to jeopardize their chances for the White House in 2016. Impeaching Obama would be politically counterproductive.

But while Barack Obama might not be the subject of Capitol Hill hearings, the Democrats' presumptive nominee in 2016, Hillary Clinton, likely will be. This seems inevitable, given that Benghazi demands continued investigation.

But back to the Reagan analogy: Ronald Reagan generally enjoyed an excellent final two years from a policy standpoint, especially in foreign policy. Could Obama do the same? No, I don't think so. Consider:

In foreign policy, Obama is plainly not a leader. I don't think he wants to be. His view of America in the world is a diminished America. He has willingly and happily diminished his own leadership role. There will be no Obama-Putin moments similar to Reagan-Gorbachev ones - quite the contrary.

Domestically, his signature policy achievement, Obamacare, will be slowed if not stopped. It has now lost all momentum and assistance from the Congress. Obama is no longer on offense. That's especially true given his pronounced inability to reach across the aisle over the past six years, an opposition he once called "hostage-takers."

"I continue to believe we are simply more than just a collection of red and blue states," Obama told the press on Tuesday, seeking a more conciliatory tone. "We are the United States."

The rhetoric is nice, but given Obama's ideology and perhaps psychology, I don't foresee him suddenly becoming the great unifier, initiating a cascade of bipartisan triumphs. I can't even imagine what those would be.

So, for Obama to implement much of anything from his agenda, what will it take? His main source of impact will not come in bipartisan achievements but in unilateral overtures. We may see him attempt to further rely on executive orders, which would be unfortunate and even more divisive. He will also hammer out a long-term liberal legacy with the courts, where he can help shape law and culture. Given the opportunity, he will seize the chance to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with another leftist in the mold (and youth) of Elena Kagan. The long-term impact on issues like religious freedom could be dismal. If Obama has made any particularly discernible "change," it is in the courts.

So, is President Barack Obama still relevant? Yes, but much less so. His own radicalism in attempting to fundamentally transform America has prompted Americans to fundamentally transform his plans.

Wolfboy and Princess Cupcake: The Complementarity of the Sexes

Ecumenism at its best was recently demonstrated at the Vatican, where dozens of faith leaders worldwide assembled to remind us of the essential complementarity of men and women in life, marriage, and parenthood. It was enough to prompt a high-five between Pope Francis and evangelical pastor James Robison.

Of course, do we really need reminding that male and female are different? Absolutely, especially with the advent of same-sex marriage, which is prompting assertions that it "doesn't matter" whether two men or two women parent a household.

Ask any parent if males and females are different. My wife and I have eight children under our roof, and the boy-girl differences are dramatic.

Here's a typical Saturday morning exchange at our house: "Daddy!" my 7-year-old son yells, running toward me in camouflage hunting clothes. "I had a dream last night that I stabbed Bigfoot nine times with a spear!" Not missing a beat, his 3-year-old sister prances and dances toward me in a flowered pink dress: "Daddy, I had a dream about a ladybug!"

The 3-year-old goes by "Princess Cupcake." She's of the age where she dresses up and displays herself in front of me waiting for me to gush, "Wow, you look like a princess!" She beams. Her older sisters did the same thing. The first time I said that to her oldest sister, she calmly glowed to her mom, "He said I look like a princess."

Needless to say, the boys have never done that - not once in 20,000-plus days of combined lives.

My wife and I have nothing to do with these differences, other than providing the chromosomes.

My 7-year-old boy, long before fancying himself a Bigfoot slayer, declared himself "Wolfboy." My wife and I certainly didn't come up with that one. She will tell you that she did not give birth to a wolf boy. No, it was he alone who transmogrified himself into this half beast, half boy.

Wolfboy sauntered around the house creeping, preying. We attempted to keep these wild manifestations at, shall we say, bay - a more restrained Wolfboy. One day at the home of friends, he politely asked my wife if he could go outside to "howl," to the giggles of my friend's teenage girl.

Fortunately, the Wolfboy thing eventually cooled. One afternoon he grabbed two chopsticks for fangs, shoving them into his throat. Wolfboy had to be taken to the hospital. We've since had several full moons with no reappearances.

That brings me back to the differences in the sexes. These traits follow us into adulthood, marriage, and parenting. There are things my wife does that I just can't. She happily jumps up in the middle of the night at the slightest cry. I lay there groaning. On the flip side, she has no yearning to take the teenage boys hunting in 20-degree weather with rifles and crossbows to shoot and gut and hang and skin and butcher a deer. My boys crave that, and they're utterly mystified at their sisters' insatiable interest in the Duggar family's weddings.

In short, all of this is obvious, observable. Really, to deny it is to be warped by ideology, culture, politics, or some agenda.

That brings me back to the ecumenical gathering at the Vatican, where these gender differences in married and family life were acknowledged and celebrated.

"The biggest threat to marriage is that people have forgotten its purpose," said Pastor Rick Warren, the 28th speaker at the conference:

Children who grow up with the presence of a mother and father are more successful in life, are healthier, are stronger, are less likely to be involved in crime, are less likely to go to prison, are less likely to be involved in drug abuse, are less likely to live in poverty. If you really want to support children, we need to support two-parent families, a husband and a wife, a mom and a dad.

The bishop of Rome didn't disagree with the Saddleback Church pastor.

"Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother," said Pope Francis. Such households are best "capable of creating a suitable environment for the child's development and emotional maturity."

Of course, not all children get that ideal, but it's an ideal our culture should strive for rather than against. We were made male and female, and from birth to death and childhood to parenthood, those differences have a distinct and complementary purpose. *

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 11:52

Kengor Writes . . .

Kengor Writes . . .

Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from The American Spectator. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). His latest book is The Communist - Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink (2012).

When the Communists Murdered a Priest

It was October 19, 1984 - 30 years ago this week. A gentle, courageous, and genuinely holy priest, Jerzy Popieluszko, age 37, found himself in a ghastly spot that, though it must have horrified him, surely did not surprise him. An unholy trinity of three thugs from Communist Poland's secret police had seized and pummeled him. He was bound and gagged and stuffed into the trunk of their cream-colored Fiat 125 automobile as they roamed the countryside trying to decide where to dispatch him. This kindly priest was no less than the chaplain to the Solidarity movement, the freedom fighters who would ultimately prove fatal to Soviet Communism - and not without Popieluszko's stoic inspiration.

The ringleader this October day was Captain Grzegorz Piotrowski, an agent of Poland's SB. Unlike Jerzy, who grew up devoutly religious, Piotrowski was raised in an atheist household, which, like the Communist despots who governed Poland, was an aberration in this pious Roman Catholic country. The disregard for God and morality made Piotrowski an ideal man for the grisly task ahead, which he assumed with a special, channeled viciousness.

Piotrowski's first beating of the priest that evening was so severe that it should have killed him. Jerzy was a small man afflicted with Addison's disease. He previously had been hospitalized for other infirmities, including (understandably) stress and anxiety. But somehow, the priest was managing to survive as he fought for his life in the cold, dark trunk of the Fiat. In fact, somehow he unloosened the ropes that knotted him and extricated himself from the car. He began to run, shouting to anyone who could hear, "Help! Save my life!"

He was run down by Piotrowski, a dedicated disciple of what a Polish admirer of Jerzy, Pope John Paul II, would dub the Culture of Death. "I caught up with him and hit him on the head several times with the stick," Piotrowski later confessed.

I hit him near or on the head. He fell limp again. I think he must have been unconscious. And then I became - never mind, it doesn't matter.

It did matter. It certainly mattered to the helpless priest. What Piotrowski became was something altogether worse. He seemed overtaken by another force. As recorded by authors Roger Boyes and John Moody in their superb book, Messenger of the Truth, which is now a gripping documentary, Piotrowski's accomplices thought their comrade had gone mad, "so wild were the blows." It was like a public flogging. Jerzy's pounding was so relentless that it wouldn't be misplaced to think of Christ's scourging at the pillar. This young man in persona Christi, not much older than Jesus Christ at his death agony, was being brutally tortured. It was a kind of crucifixion: the kind at which Communists uniquely excelled.

One is tempted to say that Piotrowski beat the hell out of Father Jerzy, but such would be inappropriate and inaccurate for such a man of faith. Really, the hell was coming out of the beater, in all its demonic force and fury.

After another round of thrashing, Piotrowski and his two fellow tormentors ramped up the treatment. They grabbed a roll of thick adhesive tape and ran it around the priest's mouth, nose, and head, tossing him once again in the vehicle, like a hunk of garbage on its way to the heap.

Though he could barely breathe or move, Father Jerzy somehow again pried open the trunk as the car continued to its destination. This set Piotrowski into a rage. He stopped the vehicle, got out, looked sternly at the priest, and told him that if he made even one more sound, he would strangle him with his bare hands and shoot him. Boyes and Moody report what happened next:

He [Piotrowski] replaced the gun and lifted [his] club. It came down on the priest's nose, but instead of the sound of cartilage breaking, there was a plop, like a stick hitting the surface of a puddle.

The perpetrators didn't realize it quite yet, but it was the final, deadly blow. They had no doubt the next time they saw Father Jerzy.

The killers drove to a spot at the Vistula River. They tied two heavy bags of stones, each weighing nearly 25 pounds, to the priest's ankles. They lifted him in a vertical position above the water and then quietly let him go. He sunk into the blackness below them. It was 10 minutes before midnight, October 19, 1984. "Popieluszko is dead," announced Lieutenant Leszek Pekala to his collaborators in this revolting, sad crime. The third helper, Lieutenant Waldemar Chmielewski, solemnly and simply affirmed, "That's right."

They drove away, downing a bottle of vodka to try to numb what they had done. Pekala thought to himself as he drank, "Now we are murderers."

Indeed they were. Of course, so was the system they represented. It and its handmaidens had consumed countless Jerzy Popieluszkos and tens of millions of others whose names tragically will never be remembered on the anniversary of their deaths.

This priest, however, was remembered, by the millions. When he didn't show for 7:00 a.m. Mass the next morning, his parishioners were immediately alarmed. This wasn't like the loyal and punctual man of the cloth. A search for his whereabouts quickly commenced. It would take some time, but the truth eventually prevailed, as it did against Communism generally. Among those sickened by the news was a Polish priest in the Vatican, Karol Wojytla - Pope John Paul II. The shocked pontiff could relate: he had experienced many fellow Poles and priests killed by totalitarianism. He himself was a survivor. The Communists had wanted him dead as well; they tried to assassinate him three years earlier.

And like John Paul II, Jerzy Popieluszko's torment at the hands of devils was not in vain. Millions of Poles poured out of their homes and into churches to pay him homage, as they had for their native son, Karol Wojtyla, back in June 1979 - a historic, life-changing visit that a young Jerzy helped coordinate. Ironically, Jerzy had been charged with working between the Vatican and Polish Ministry of Health to arrange emergency safety measures during that trip. Then, too, he had the mission of protecting people from harm - harm by Communism.

Ultimately, Jerzy Popieluszko's struggle, like that of his pope, was not in vain. As Tertullian once put it, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. The Communists could not extinguish the Poles' desire for the Church, for God, and for freedom. It would take another five years after his death, but the saintly priest's demise had further fueled the flames for the torch of freedom and the corresponding crash and burn of Communism.

In retrospect, Jerzy's murder in 1984 marked the mid-point between two cataclysmic events that put nails in the coffin of Communism: John Paul II's June 1979 visit to Poland, and the crucial free elections held in Poland in June 1989. Those elections, more than anything else, signaled the coming collapse of Communism. Mikhail Gorbachev later said that when those elections were held in Poland, he knew it was all over. It was no coincidence that the Berlin Wall fell five months later.

Father Jerzy Popieluszko was one of many martyrs at the hands of atheistic Communism. But his cause was an especially significant one. His service and death were not in vain.

The Liberal Religion of "Tolerance"

I've said it before, and I'm hardly alone. Many have observed it. Liberals revere tolerance. They practically worship it. It's like a religion to them. Well, now comes a study that supports the point.

A new survey by Pew Research finds that when it comes to teaching children, liberals place a far higher priority on teaching "tolerance" than teaching religion. That liberals do this in schools is abundantly clear, but they apparently do it in their homes as well.

In this, Pew finds, liberals are the opposite of conservatives. "The starkest ideological differences [between liberals and conservatives] are over the importance of teaching religious faith," reports Pew.

Among those who have consistently conservative attitudes across a range of political values, 81 percent think it is especially important for children to be taught religious faith. . . . Among those with consistently liberal views, just 26 percent rate the teaching of religious faith as especially important, and only 11 percent regard it as among the most important child-rearing qualities.

Moreover, finds the survey, a staggering 88 percent of "consistently liberal" Americans list tolerance as their most important value in teaching their children.

While this data is significant, it's also limited. It depends first and foremost on how one defines "tolerance," and especially how liberals professing tolerance define tolerance.

I believe, in general, that liberals are not tolerant. Liberals tolerate only what they what want to tolerate. They tolerate things they agree with - which, of course, isn't tolerance. Tolerance is about accepting the often-difficult differences between you and someone you strongly disagree with, and respecting that person's right to an opposing point of view. Obviously, that's not liberalism. This could be demonstrated multiple ways, but consider two salient examples pervasive in daily headlines: liberals' behavior regarding same-sex marriage and abortion.

Liberals are relentless in denouncing, demonizing, boycotting, picketing, prosecuting, suing, fining, and even threatening to jail people who disagree with them on same-sex marriage. If your family owns a barn in New York (or elsewhere) and declines to rent it to a gay couple for a wedding ceremony, because such an arrangement violates your religious beliefs and freedom, liberals will fine you $13,000. If you're Elaine Photography in New Mexico and beg not to photograph a same-sex wedding, liberals will sue you. If you are the Kleins in Oregon and plead not to make a cake for a same-sex ceremony, you will be picketed, hauled before state commissions, and have your livelihood ruined by liberals. If you are Jack Phillips, a baker in Colorado, or a florist in any number of states, who likewise prefers not to service same-sex events, you will be threatened with imprisonment. If you are the owner of Chick-fil-A or other businesses, and you dare admit that you're against redefining marriage because you believe your God says you can't, liberals literally will assert at your death that Jesus is going to send you to hell. I could go on and on with such examples: Mozilla, Craig James, the owner of Barilla pasta, the governor of Arizona, etc., etc., etc.

Liberals refuse to tolerate those who refuse to redefine marriage.

As for abortion, liberals not only refuse to respect your opposition; they insist you pay for their abortions. From Hobby Lobby to the Little Sisters of the Poor, they're making you pay. If you don't, you will be fined mightily.

I could go on and on with other examples from other issues. Look at how liberals run the universities, the training grounds for their missionaries of diversity. The faculty at these colleges are 80-90 percent liberal, and conservatives are not only marginalized but often barred from speaking on campus or angrily protested by these self-professing champions of free speech and open-mindedness.

All of this tells us much about liberals, but it especially reveals the phoniness of their claims to "tolerance."

In truth, what liberals really practice is a selective "tolerance." And when that selective tolerance doesn't extend to you and your viewpoint, they tell you that you're against tolerance, that you're against diversity, and that you "hate."

All of which brings me back to the Pew survey. I think it reveals something even deeper. Many liberals have left religion because it doesn't accord to their definition of what religion (or God) should be. They've jettisoned Christianity because certain aspects don't accord to their worldview. Their Christianity is, at best, a kind of cafeteria Christianity, where they pick and choose the elements they like and discard those they don't. It's a selective Christianity.

Liberals are instead embracing the faith of tolerance. But here, too, it's a selective faith.

And most ironic, this selective tolerance often excludes the religious - or at least the religious that liberals disagree with.

The Scandal Continues: President Obama's Skipped Intelligence Briefings

Two years ago, I wrote about a scandalous presidential reality. I'd say I'm shocked to report that the scandal continues, but I'm not. And that's even more scandalous.

In October 2012, I commented on the revelation that President Obama had been absent from the vast majority of his daily intelligence briefings. According to a then-study by the Government Accountability Institute, Obama failed to attend a single Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) in the week leading up to the recent anniversary of 9/11, and despite the chaos that erupted in the Arab world, most notably in Libya. The mere fact that we were approaching a 9/11 anniversary was an essential enough reason to attend all the briefings. And yet, President Obama attended none. That's right, not one.

Worse, this was nothing new. Obama attended only 43.8 percent of his Daily Briefs in the first 1,225 days of his administration. For the year 2012, he attended a little over a third.

There was no excuse for this. It's unacceptable for a president, especially one criticized for spending so much time vacationing and campaigning.

By comparison, President George W. Bush not only didn't miss the PDB but actually expanded it to six meetings per week. Or consider President Ronald Reagan, who, ironically, liberals portrayed as a detached, lazy, unengaged, uninformed idiot. In my 2012 piece, I quoted two advisers who briefed Reagan. One of them was Bill Clark, Reagan's right-hand man at the National Security Council. As Clark's biographer, he told me often how Reagan craved that regular morning update. Reagan ate up these briefings. He devoured the written report and then asked probing questions of his advisers during the live briefing that followed. Reagan used the briefings precisely as presidents should.

That brings me back to Barack Obama.

When this was reported in October 2012, it was embarrassing to President Obama and potentially damaging politically, with the presidential election only a month away and Mitt Romney moving ahead in the polls. One would think that, by now, this would have been corrected by Obama, not only for political reasons, but (more important) national-security concerns. This president has an ongoing PR problem with ill-advised statements about not having strategies and dashing for the golf course and fundraisers immediately after beheadings and aircraft downings.

But alas, we now learn that this problem continues to fester: The Government Accountability Institute is back with a new report revealing that President Obama has missed over half of his briefings in his second term, obviously learning little (literally) since the first term.

The man has skipped hundreds of daily briefings.

My colleague Wynton Hall notes that these findings come on the heels of Obama's "60 Minutes" comments on Sunday, where he seemed to blame the surge of ISIS and events in Syria on his intelligence chief James Clapper.

I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria. . . .

Obama averred, coolly passing the buck. (For the record, this was something that a Ronald Reagan would never have done to his CIA director, Bill Casey, and nor would George W. Bush.)

The defense and intelligence community was not pleased with Obama's statement. Wynton Hall quoted the liberal Daily Beast, which reported that Pentagon officials were "flabbergasted" by Obama's passing the blame. "Either the president doesn't read the intelligence he's getting or he's bulls---ing," said one angry official.

Hall added:

. . . others in the intelligence community similarly blasted Obama and said he's shown longstanding disinterest in receiving live, in-person PDBs that allow the Commander-in-Chief the chance for critical follow-up, feedback, questions, and the challenging of flawed intelligence assumptions.

No question about that. The facts speak for themselves. And the president's resultant lack of facts has evidently and obviously hurt our foreign policy.

But here's a troubling question: Do President Obama's supporters even care? They'll make ludicrous excuses they would never make for a Republican president. "No big deal," they'll shrug; "He's fine."

Indeed, in 2011, two of Obama's top spokesmen, Jay Carney and Tommy Vietor, did just that, insisting that "the president gets the information he needs." Sorry, but there's no substitute for the give-and-take that comes with daily briefings by advisers and experts. Obama doesn't have ESP-like, Solomon-esque powers; he cannot place briefing papers aside his extraordinary brain and divine all contents and any questions that might have been hashed out during briefings.

And meanwhile, the world burns.

Yes, the world is on fire. And as it is, we're stuck with this dismal White House leadership for another two years. I'm not asking for a perfect president, but I'd at least like a president who attends his security briefings. *

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 11:48

Kengor Writes . . .

Kengor Writes . . .

Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from The American Spectator. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). His latest book is The Communist - Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink (2012).

Death's Progress, Part 2

In 2010, I wrote a piece titled, "Death's Progress," which was widely published. What I laid out needs to be reiterated and updated. Unfortunately, it will need to be regularly reiterated and updated in the years ahead.

Right now, in the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby decision and Obama HHS mandate, we're witnessing another crucial evolutionary stage in the progressive movement's ever-changing advance of abortion. In 2010, I underscored the core problem with progressivism, particularly when applied to issues of unborn human life, where the problem becomes a catastrophe. Bear with me as I excerpt my original words:

One of the only things we really know about progressives, and that they know about themselves and their ideology, is that they favor constant "change," "reform," an ever-shifting, ongoing "evolution," or, yes, progression. And therein is an inherent, significant difficulty: Progressivism offers no clear, definable end. . . .
For the rest of us, this ambiguity is troubling bordering on maddening, as we can't, by the very nature of progressivism, get an answer from progressives as to where, exactly, they intend to stop. . . . [But] here's where the confusion has the potential to become downright destructive: Think about the consequences of their philosophy when applied to the very life and culture of America:
Take the example of Planned Parenthood. It took off in the 1920s, initially as the American Birth Control League. At first, Margaret Sanger and friends wanted birth control. They also advocated eugenics. Sanger was a racial eugenicist. She had hideous views, not only toward the poor ("human weeds," she called them), to the mentally slow ("imbeciles" and "morons"), but, among others, to black Americans. Progressives today dare not raise the grim specter of Sanger's "Negro Project" or infamous 1926 speech to a KKK rally.
But what about abortion? . . . Planned Parenthood's progressives weren't there yet; they had to warm up to that.
It will shock pro-lifers and pro-choicers alike to hear this, but Margaret Sanger initially denounced abortion. "It is an alternative that I cannot too strongly condemn," wrote Sanger in the January 27, 1932 edition of The Nation, "[S]ome ill-informed persons have the notion that when we speak of birth control we include abortion as a method. We certainly do not."
Nonetheless, for these progressives, what began as birth control and eugenics - aimed at halting life at conception - needed only a few decades to snuff out life after conception.
As with much of what progressives do, where they started wasn't enough. And, naturally, once legalized abortion came along, it, too, was not enough. Today, progressives tell us abortion should be funded by taxpayers. . . .
Still, that, likewise, will not be enough. What might be next in the progression? . . .
It serves us all - including unborn future generations - to want answers to some hard questions as far as ultimate objectives are concerned. I sincerely beg progressives for some contours, a vague estimate: Could you please, this time around - where human life is concerned - establish some boundaries, set an end-goal or two, offer an inkling of predictability, a modicum of expectation, some flicker of a suggestion as to where you want to take us?

Unfortunately, they can't, as such is the crux of their ever-changing philosophy.

I wrote that four years ago. In light of progressives' genuinely scary reaction to the Hobby Lobby decision, it's time to update.

We've arrived at another new stage in the progressive march. Just 20 years ago, it was unthinkable that an overwhelming consensus of progressives/liberals would compel everyone, including conscientious objectors invoking their sacred First Amendment religious freedoms, to forcibly pay for others' contraception, sterilization services, and drugs that induce abortions. My "pro-choice" liberal friends assured me they'd never be so crude as to ask me to pay for their abortions. That would be completely over the line. And to pay for their contraception, too? "No way!" they scoffed. Please, that would be beyond ridiculous. They merely wanted me "out of their bedroom" to allow them their "safe, legal, and rare" abortions.

To repeat: They would never ask me to pay for their abortions and contraception. It was unimaginable. They were liberals, after all. They believed in freedom and tolerance. They would never be so "fascistic."

Well, here we are, 2014, and the unfathomable is now the unwavering position of liberals/progressives.

How did they change so much so fast? The short answer is that they had to progress, to evolve to this current understanding that they consider more enlightened. As for those of us who haven't changed, who once shared the same position as these liberals/progressives, we are now deemed the extremists, the intransigents. We're said to favor a "war on women." In pleading with liberals/progressives not to force us to violate our sacred beliefs on human life by subsidizing their abortions, we're told that we're "imposing" our religious beliefs, and also "denying" women the contraceptives they remain fully free to purchase with their own money.

To say this is frustrating is insufficient. Liberals already had everything they demanded on abortion. And yet, that's not enough; it's never enough. Today's leftists want you to be party to their abortions, to enlist you in their behavior, even if you and your faith consider the behavior gravely sinful. If you beg not to do so, they will call you nasty names and accuse you of hatred.

I need not here detail the astonishing examples of liberals/progressives demonizing those who disagree with them on this. I could expend thousands of words quoting their incensed reactions to the Hobby Lobby case: Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and those screaming that Hobby Lobby stores be vandalized and even burnt to the ground. (They're equally vitriolic toward those who disagree with them on same-sex marriage.) Hillary Clinton compared Hobby Lobby's position to brutally misogynistic Muslim regimes. Senate Democrats went so far as to sponsor legislation to "overturn" the Hobby Lobby decision.

The National Organization for Women devised a list of the "Dirty 100" who oppose Obama's HHS mandate. Included are the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Alas, this is where progressives have progressed on unborn life. It's the next stage. It is, yet again, a new stage that furthers death. It uses force not only against the victims, the unborn, but against those pleading not to be party to the victims' destruction.

Again, all that we really know about progressives, and that they know about themselves, is that they're always changing. Because of that, neither we nor they can tell us where they will stand on issues X and Y in 20 years. We can't know because they don't know. They'll tell us when they get there.

But we do know this much: What's seemingly inconceivable to all of us right now - including to progressives themselves - may become the dogmatic position of progressives in a generation. The once-inconceivable absurdities become reality, and when they do, the progressive shrugs and then shouts - at you. If you suggest that a certain impossible position might become progressives' position in, say, the year 2034, they will scoff, insisting they could never hold such an intolerable position. Alas, when they arrive at that position in 2034, they'll tell you that you are the crazy one; more than that, you are the vile extremist for disagreeing with their newfound position. And they will attempt to force your compliance under the coercive power of the state.

When it comes to these vital matters of literal life and death, the ongoing progressive evolution is proving to be downright frightening. Where will progressives be 20 years from now? Where will death's progress advance next? Stay tuned. *

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 11:46

Kengor Writes . . .

Kengor Writes . . .

Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from The American Spectator. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). His latest book is The Communist - Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink (2012).

The Left's Evolving Hierarchy of Rights

Unless you've been sleeping under a rock, you've noticed the growing clash between religious freedom and issues like same-sex marriage and forced funding of abortion. Last week, the Supreme Court heard a landmark case on whether the federal government can compel a business to fund abortion drugs in defiance of the religious beliefs of the business owner. It's merely one such case amid a flurry of lawsuits that even includes the Little Sisters of the Poor. Or, consider these situations involving gay marriage:

In Oregon, a couple that owns a bakery, the Kleins, are being sued and called before the state for not making a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony. The Kleins note that being forced to make such a cake against their will would violate their Christian beliefs and freedom of conscience.

In Colorado, another bakery owner, Jack Phillips, awaits a possible jail sentence for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple.

In Washington State, a florist is being prosecuted by the state's attorney general for declining to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.

In Ocean Grove, New Jersey, a Methodist camp meeting association lost its tax-exempt status for declining its wedding pavilion to two lesbians for a same-sex ceremony.

In New Mexico, the state Supreme Court ruled against the owners of Elane Photography, judging that they violated the state's Human Rights Act by refusing to take pictures for a same-sex ceremony. The ACLU opposed Elane Photography, as did one of the justices, who recognized that the ruling violated Elane's religious freedom but argued that such is the price of "citizenship" in America today.

In Massachusetts and Illinois, Catholic Charities, one of the oldest and most established private adoption agencies in America, has been forced to cease services because it will not provide adoptive children to gay couples.

And then there's any number of figures demonized, boycotted, picketed, pressured, or fired for expressing their opposition to gay marriage: the president of Chick-fil-A, the owner of Barilla pasta, Craig James of Fox Sports, or Arizona's governor.

These are merely a few of many examples. All involve religious believers invoking their sacred First Amendment rights, only to have those rights rejected by those describing themselves as "liberal" and professing "diversity" and "tolerance." In truth, you are not free to disagree with liberals on this issue. They won't let you. They will compel you. They will see you in court, in bankruptcy, maybe even in jail.

Liberals tolerate only what they agree with.

But what's really going on here? What's the bigger picture? Well, these actions of liberals/progressives aren't a surprise when you delve deeper into the logic of their ideology. Consider:

Liberals/progressives have a hierarchy of rights. They don't look at competing rights in a pluralist system in the typical way that we've long been accustomed to in America. For instance, Americans typically - through the political and judicial process - have carefully sought to balance competing rights: property rights, civil rights, religious liberty, freedom of conscience, speech, press, federal rights, state rights, the right to life, and so forth. Picture all of these rights laid out in a line, with each prudently considered among the others, and with respect to the others.

Unfortunately, that is not how liberals/progressives operate. They act according to a hierarchy of rights that - consistent with progressivism - is always progressing, or changing, or evolving. Right now, for liberals/progressives, sitting atop the totem pole in this hierarchy are so-called "marriage rights" and "abortion rights." In the past, they called these things not rights but "gay marriage" or "freedom of choice." Quite shrewdly, however, they've framed these "freedoms" as "rights," along the lines of "civil rights." Equally shrewd, they push them forward under the mantra of "tolerance." It's a brilliant move that's working extremely effectively with millions of Americans.

But here's the main point: for today's liberals/progressives, the likes of "marriage rights" and "abortion rights" rise superior to other rights, certainly above religious rights and property rights. We see this in the gay marriage examples listed above. It also applies to the Obama HHS mandate requiring religious believers to fund abortion drugs. In all these cases, there's one commonality: liberals/progressives disregard the religious rights and property rights that they are steamrolling in the name of gay marriage and abortion. Religious rights and property rights are subjugated to a kind of liberal/progressive gulag. They are deemed bottom-of-the-barrel, and in no way nearly as important or worthy of consideration.

Again, the startling irony is that these same people fancy themselves champions of tolerance, diversity, and "equal rights." That has never been accurate, and they are proving it now with special uncompromising rigidity. They are pursuing what they've always pursued: selective tolerance, selective diversity, and selective equal rights. Religious rights are not among their select.

A quotation that sums up this thinking comes from gay activist, law professor, and EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum. When asked about the conflict between gay rights and religious rights, Feldblum said, "I'm having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win."

That's very clear. An attorney colleague of mine says of Feldblum: "Supposedly a Constitutional Law scholar, she holds that view despite the fact that religious freedom is actually in the Constitution!"

Yes, but to liberals/progressives it doesn't matter. They have a hierarchy of rights, one that's always changing. And right now, religious rights are their bottom-dwellers. For religious believers who disagree with them, too bad. They'll see them in court.

Ronald Reagan on Religious Tolerance

February is the month that we recognize our presidents. It has also become the month that Republicans remember Ronald Reagan. Reagan's birthday is February 6, the forerunner to Lincoln's birthday (February 12), Washington's birthday (February 22), and President's Day (February 17). Throughout the nation, county and statewide Republican groups have been changing their longtime annual Lincoln Day dinners into Reagan Day dinners. On February 25, we at the Center for Vision & Values will host our superb Ronald Reagan Lecture.

Thus, this is also a time when conservatives reach back for various nuggets of wisdom from the Gipper that are badly needed as our current president fundamentally transforms the nation. Among those nuggets, one that you likely will not hear is a gem of a Reagan speech delivered in Dallas 30 years ago. It offers a desperately needed message on religious tolerance - the subject of our April Center for Vision & Values conference.

Today's liberals/progressives, who incessantly preach diversity and tolerance, have been unrelenting in their current campaign of religious intolerance. They mandate that everyone, including religious believers, pay for contraception and abortion drugs; those who disagree are framed as favoring a "war on women." They vigorously demonize and sue anyone who disagrees with them on gay marriage.

It's a good time for a lesson on genuine religious freedom. So, here it goes - a poignant speech and healthy reminder of religious tolerance that not even Reagan aficionados remember.

On August 23, 1984, Reagan was in Dallas to address an ecumenical prayer breakfast. He spoke at 9:30 a.m. in the Reunion Arena. He was introduced by Martha Weisend, the co-chair of the Texas Reagan-Bush campaign. A choir had just regaled the crowd. Reagan called the performance "magnificent."

The president began by saying that he was speaking not as a theologian or scholar but as someone who had "lived a little" as an American and had been active in the political life of the nation for about four decades. During that time, Reagan had experienced much. He had been a self-described "hemophiliac liberal" (a bleeding-heart liberal), a Democrat, an FDR Democrat, a Harry Truman Democrat, a progressive Democrat, a Democrat for Eisenhower, a Democrat for Nixon (1960), and finally a conservative Democrat, a Republican, and a conservative Republican. "I speak," he told the crowd, "I think I can say, as one who has seen much, who has loved his country, and who's seen it change in many ways."

He himself had changed in many ways, but not one way: He had always believed

. . . that faith and religion play a critical role in the political life of our nation - and always has - and that the church - and by that I mean all churches, all denominations - has had a strong influence on the state. And this has worked to our benefit as a nation.

Reagan then followed with a brief history lesson on religion and the republic:

Those who created our country - the Founding Fathers and Mothers - understood that there is a divine order which transcends the human order. They saw the state, in fact, as a form of moral order and felt that the bedrock of moral order is religion.
The Mayflower Compact began with the words, "In the name of God, amen." The Declaration of Independence appeals to "Nature's God" and the "Creator" and "the Supreme Judge of the world." Congress was given a chaplain, and the oaths of office are oaths before God.
James Madison in the Federalist Papers admitted that in the creation of our Republic he perceived the hand of the Almighty. John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, warned that we must never forget the God from whom our blessings flowed.
George Washington referred to religion's profound and unsurpassed place in the heart of our nation quite directly in his Farewell Address in 1796. Seven years earlier, France had erected a government that was intended to be purely secular. This new government would be grounded on reason rather than the law of God. By 1796 the French Revolution had known the Reign of Terror.
And Washington voiced reservations about the idea that there could be a wise policy without a firm moral and religious foundation. He said, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports."

That Washington quote was one of Reagan's favorites, as was the image of America's first president (while he was still a military general) kneeling to pray in the snow of Valley Forge, which Reagan called the "most sublime image" in American history. Why? Because it showed that from the outset this nation's leaders humbled themselves and looked beyond themselves - to God - for guidance in the goodness of their actions. "I believe that George Washington knew the City of Man cannot survive without the City of God," Reagan told his audience in Dallas, "that the Visible City will perish without the Invisible City."

Reagan also invoked his other favorite prayer line from a president. He loved the line in which Lincoln said that he was often driven to his knees by the "overwhelming conviction" that he had "nowhere else to go."

How fitting that this month of February marks these three presidential birthdays: Lincoln, Washington, and Reagan. The three were linked not just in birthdays but in prayer.

Reagan continued:

Religion played not only a strong role in our national life; it played a positive role. The abolitionist movement was at heart a moral and religious movement; so was the modern civil rights struggle. And throughout this time, the state was tolerant of religious belief, expression, and practice. Society, too, was tolerant.

Here, Reagan had arrived at the religious tolerance portion of his remarks. He said that this tolerance had begun to slip in the 1960s, when "great steps" were taken by those seeking to secularize the nation and remove religion from its "honored place." He gave examples, beginning with the removal of prayer in schools and words like "Under God" from the pledge of allegiance. Reagan believed that the simple acknowledgement of God in the pledge taught children that their inalienable rights come not from government but from God. If they come from government - from men - then government can take them anyway. If they come from God, however, government cannot dare taken them away.

As I read Reagan's words now, I'm floored by the thought that the ACLU, which purports to champion civil liberties, would be leading some of these lawsuits suing Christian bakers and wedding photographers who invoke their sacred religious freedom in the First Amendment of the Constitution. These people of faith, citing their faith, beg not to be compelled to make a cake for or photograph a same-sex ceremony. The liberals tell them they must, by force of their trembling hands, or they will be forced out of business.

Ronald Reagan would not be shocked. He understood liberals. He had been one himself. He knew their claims of open-mindedness were self-serving. He saw how extreme the left could become when equipped with power. Such realizations drove him out of the increasingly left-drifting Democratic Party.

Along those lines, Reagan told the crowd in Dallas:

And the frustrating thing for the great majority of Americans who support and understand the special importance of religion in the national life - the frustrating thing is that those who are attacking religion claim they are doing it in the name of tolerance, freedom, and open-mindedness. Question: Isn't the real truth that they are intolerant of religion? They refuse to tolerate its importance in our lives. . . . So, I submit to you that those who claim to be fighting for tolerance on this issue may not be tolerant at all.

Reagan sensed that religion's "special place" in the American polity was already disappearing, and he knew what a tremendous loss that would be.

There are, these days, many questions on which religious leaders are obliged to offer their moral and theological guidance, and such guidance is a good and necessary thing. . . .To know how a church and its members feel on a public issue expands the parameters of debate. It does not narrow the debate; it expands it.

Again harkening back to George Washington's understanding, Reagan said:

The truth is, politics and morality are inseparable. And as morality's foundation is religion, religion and politics are necessarily related. We need religion as a guide. We need it because we are imperfect, and our government needs the church, because only those humble enough to admit they're sinners can bring to democracy the tolerance it requires in order to survive.

Again, tolerance. Reagan kept returning to the need for religious tolerance. And here, nearing his closing, he expressed some powerful lines that every self-proclaiming liberal/progressive in America needs to read and heed:

A state is nothing more than a reflection of its citizens; the more decent the citizens, the more decent the state. If you practice a religion, whether you're Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or guided by some other faith, then your private life will be influenced by a sense of moral obligation, and so, too, will your public life. One affects the other. . . . We establish no religion in this country, nor will we ever. We command no worship. We mandate no belief. But we poison our society when we remove its theological underpinnings. We court corruption when we leave it bereft of belief. All are free to believe or not believe; all are free to practice a faith or not. But those who believe must be free to speak of and act on their belief, to apply moral teaching to public questions.

Note the words "decent," "command," "mandate," "poison," "corruption," "free." The refusal by liberals/progressives to tolerate the religious beliefs of Americans who disagree with them on matters from marriage to abortion poisons and corrupts discourse and disagreement in this nation.

Reagan reiterated along those lines:

I submit to you that the tolerant society is open to and encouraging of all religions. And this does not weaken us; it strengthens us, it makes us strong. You know, if we look back through history to all those great civilizations, those great nations that rose up to even world dominance and then deteriorated, declined, and fell, we find they all had one thing in common. One of the significant forerunners of their fall was their turning away from their God or gods. Without God, there is no virtue, because there's no prompting of the conscience. Without God, we're mired in the material, that flat world that tells us only what the senses perceive. Without God, there is a coarsening of the society.

This is also, said Reagan, a danger to a word that progressives invoke incessantly: democracy. Reagan understood that as well:

And without God, democracy will not and cannot long endure. If we ever forget that we're one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.

With that, Reagan concluded:

I thank you, thank you for inviting us here today. Thank you for your kindness and your patience. May God keep you, and may we, all of us, keep God.

That was Ronald Reagan in Dallas 30 years ago. He would be horrified at what liberals are doing today, though not surprised.

The coarsening that America is undergoing in this current assault on our most basic First Amendment religious freedoms is undermining the Shining City on a Hill that Ronald Reagan cherished. *

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 11:40

Kengor Writes . . .

Kengor Writes . . .

Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from The American Spectator. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). His latest book is The Communist - Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink (2012).

The Quest for David Axelrod's Leftist Roots

More than any other figure, David Axelrod made Barack Obama president. He was the brain behind the winning message, right down to the words "Hope and Change." The New York Times dubbed him "Obama's Narrator." He was the architect and author. The Obama persona was in large part Ax's carving.

As such, David Axelrod is a significant figure worth knowing and understanding. Two years ago, in a feature for The American Spectator on Axelrod ("David Axelrod, Lefty Lumberjack," March 2012), I endeavored to uncover his roots. Among my findings, Axelrod's Chicago mentors - the Canter family - were not only old hard-line pro-Soviet Communists, but, in an amazing twist, they knew and worked with Frank Marshall Davis, who would meet and mentor Obama in Hawaii in the 1970s. The senior Canter was brought to Moscow during the height of the Stalin period to work as an official translator of Lenin's writings.

But as I dug deeper into Axelrod's roots, one area proved exasperatingly elusive. I tried to discern his mother's politics, given that she seemed more politically involved than his father. Eventually I was able to report in this publication what a few others already knew, namely that the mother had worked for an extremely political newspaper, the left-leaning New York daily, PM.

The newspaper was a battleground between non-communist liberals and progressives and closet Communists who masqueraded as liberals and progressives, with the latter using the former as dupes to advance the Soviet line. Communists on staff, who concealed their associations, pushed for a post-war U.S. alliance with "Uncle Joe"; the liberals resisted. These tensions ripped at PM's seams. It was often hard to know which writer stood where. The self-proclaimed liberals/progressives ranged from I. F. Stone to the famed Arthur Miller, a small-c communist who considered joining the party.

As for Stone, later hailed by liberals as the "conscience of investigative journalism," he appears to have been a paid Soviet agent. The careful historians John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev concluded: "To put it plainly, from 1936 to 1939 I. F. Stone was a Soviet spy." KGB general Oleg Kalugin stated that Stone "was a KGB agent since 1938. His code name was 'Blin.'" Kalugin said that when he "resumed relations" with Stone in 1966, "it was on Moscow's instructions." In The Venona Secrets, the late Herb Romerstein reported: "it is clear from the evidence that Stone was indeed a Soviet agent."

To his credit, Stone reportedly later rejected Communism and became a non-communist leftist of some sort. That said, PM was founded in 1940. Thus, if the above dates on Stone are accurate, then Stone was working for the Kremlin immediately prior to PM, and possibly (we would suspect) retained certain sympathies.

Which brings us back to David Axelrod's mother. Where did Myril Axelrod stand in these battles? The answer, unfortunately, has been unclear. As I noted two years ago, nearly every profile of David Axelrod relates that his mother was a journalist at PM. A few state that she covered "education." I sent a researcher to a library with every old copy of PM, but he could not find a single article with Myril's byline. The question remained: Was Myril one of the closet Communists supporting Henry Wallace and his pro-Stalin Progressive Party, or was she on Harry Truman's side in opposing Stalin? Such answers would tell us something worth knowing about the home in which David Axelrod, who shaped the current leader of the free world, was himself shaped. I've written that Barack Obama is arguably our first Red Diaper Baby president, given his political upbringing. Had Axelrod been a Red Diaper Baby, too? All that I could vaguely say is that Myril was somewhere on the left.

After the publication of the article, I continued to periodically revisit the puzzling absence of information. Even nailing down Myril Axelrod's maiden name and date of birth was an inexplicable and seemingly unnecessary mess. The information published by major newspapers was contradictory. I couldn't find out where and when she was born. I couldn't pinpoint the names of her parents. I looked through old Senate and House committee reports for any "Myril Bennett Axelrod" or similarly related "Bennett" in the New York area who was involved in left-wing activities in the 1940s and 1950s. Yet I came up empty-handed again and again.

In the course of a conversation on David Axelrod about six months ago, I raised the riddle with another researcher (who prefers to remain anonymous). She had experience searching ancestries, but like me she was surprised to find absolutely nothing - nada, zilch, zero. I said to my fellow researcher: "Apparently, it will take Myril's death for us to learn these details. We won't find them until she dies."

Well, a few weeks ago, Myril Axelrod died at age ninety-three. On that, I sincerely express my condolences to her son, despite our political differences. Besides, if Myril was an anti-communist liberal, the type I've always admired, I'd have great respect for her.

A few outlets published small obituaries, which again told us virtually nothing. But at long last, on the funeral home's website, some new information miraculously materialized.

Myril was born on April 4, 1920 in Weehawken, New Jersey. To my great surprise - and this in itself solves one major riddle - she was not born Myril Bennett, but instead Myril Jessica Davidson. I had searched everywhere for Bennetts, not Davidsons. Where did the name Bennett come from?

According to the obituary, after Myril's first husband (David's father) tragically committed suicide, she remarried a marketing executive named Abner Bennett (who died in 1986). This I had not known. And then another long-awaited tidbit: her parents' names, Louis and Gertrude Davidson. I cannot begin to convey how incredibly elusive that simple fact had been. The father had reportedly fled Russian pogroms as a teen and became a dentist in Hoboken, New Jersey. The mother, also a child of immigrants, became a teacher. Myril had two siblings, one of them named Bill, a writer who reportedly entered the NYU journalism program.

With this information finally in hand, I checked the three best sources on Communist/leftist activity from the relevant era. One of them is the prodigious 2,100-page "Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the United States," known among insiders as "Appendix IX." It was produced in 1944 by the Democratic Congress under FDR's attorney general. I also checked part five of the July 1953 congressional report "Investigation of Communist Activities in the New York City Area." Lastly, I looked at the index of the huge 1970 compilation done by the House Committee on Internal Security, likewise run by Democrats. I did not find Myril listed anywhere, nor Gertrude. I did find references to Louis Davidson and also a "William" or "W" Davidson, but I can't say for certain if these men were Myril's father and brother, respectively. There is not adequate additional information.

And what about her work at PM? Here, the funeral-home obituary provided a stunner:

After [World War II], Mrs. Axelrod reentered journalism on the staff of PM, the liberal-leaning, advertising-free daily financed by Marshall Field III. Starting as an assistant, she worked as a "leg man" for Albert Deutsch, the journalist and social historian, on PM's science and welfare coverage. Mrs. Axelrod also helped I. F. Stone prepare his work "Underground to Palestine," a landmark account of the efforts of Jewish "displaced persons" in Europe to reach what was then British Mandatory Palestine after World War II. Mr. Stone's book began as a series in PM.

A book on post-war Displaced Persons (DPs) might not be suspected as a pro-Soviet work - unless you know the history. In fact, Stalin and Molotov tried to turn the DP issue into a major propaganda ploy, as did their comrades throughout the Daily Worker, Communist Party USA, and the international Communist movement. What the Communists did with the DP issue was utterly egregious. It was shameful, disgusting, evil, and typical. I have not read Stone's book, but it's worth tracking down to ascertain precisely where it stood vis--vis Moscow.

Note, too, the obituary informs us that Myril worked for Albert Deutsch, who cursory research suggests was a labor leftist working for the longshoremen's union. That union, incidentally, was one of the most manipulated by Communists. It helped bring Obama's mentor, Frank Marshall Davis, from Chicago to Hawaii in 1949. Deutsch apparently won the Heywood Broun award, named for the celebrated socialist reporter.

In addition, the obituary states that at PM, Myril

. . . rose to City Desk reporter, writing about labor, law enforcement, and breaking news, with a stint covering education. After PM folded in 1948, she stayed on with its successor, the New York Star, before spending most of the 1950s freelancing pieces for national magazines.

This suggests a greater role at PM than many of us suspected. Again, what did she write while there? And under what byline (I imagine now that I should have looked under "Myril Davidson")?

For that matter, what did she write for the left-wing New York Star? It lasted about as long as Frank Marshall Davis's Communist Party-line Chicago Star, which was bannered by a bright red star. Davis, who was founding editor-in-chief of the Chicago Star, folded up the publication to head to Hawaii for his political work there. He folded up almost the same time that the New York Star ceased operations. I have no idea what Myril wrote for the Star.

For the sake of history, it would certainly be useful to answer these questions. Americans today are shockingly ignorant of the dangers of Communism and what the far left has wrought, as the political success of well-known, one-time Communist Bill de Blasio, now New York's mayor, proves.

But maybe others can take up the task. I'm in no rush. This stuff torments me. Besides, what's done is done. David Axelrod elected his president.

Even now, I still can't definitely say much about where Myril Axelrod Bennett stood politically, other than that she was somewhere on the left. But the mystery is at least less of a mystery. Just don't expect a single liberal journalist to exhaust even a minute searching for any of this. It will be entirely up to conservatives like myself and publications like The American Spectator and The St. Croix Review. We will be told yet again that we are nothing more than mere modern incarnations of Joe McCarthy.

So be it. The truth is worth knowing.

Nancy Pelosi Accepts Margaret Sanger Award . . . And Then Calls Catholics Like the Pope "Dumb."

It sounds like a plot right out of The Screwtape Letters. Barack Obama was given a rosary from Pope Francis last week, blessed by the popular Holy Father. Not knowing what to do with a rosary, something compelled Obama to give it to his favorite Catholic: Nancy Pelosi.

And why not? Pelosi, after all, fancies herself an authoritative Catholic, and hasn't hesitated to so represent herself to Obama and to the nation at large. She considers herself an expert on matters like "ensoulment"; that is, when life begins. In an August 2008 interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," she was asked by Tom Brokaw "When does life begin?" Pelosi proceeded to speak for her Church's Magisterium:

I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator - Saint Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is that it shouldn't have an impact on a woman's right to choose.

It certainly doesn't impact that "right" in the eyes of this particular Catholic. Pelosi has a unique sense of the sacred when it comes to abortion, which she describes as "sacred ground" to her. Asked last summer why she refused to support a bill banning late-term abortions, Pelosi said: "As a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me."

Well, it's also sacred ground to Barack Obama, who, in a speech to Planned Parenthood a year ago, tearfully thanked the faithful with an unforgettable, "Thank you, Planned Parenthood. God bless you." Such was Obama's closing benediction to a speech/love-fest that included multiple "I love you" exchanges between himself and the giddy crowd. Obama loves what he calls Planned Parenthood's "extraordinary" and "remarkable work." He told the women that they do a "great, great job."

Planned Parenthood indeed does remarkable work, and it undeniably excels at what it does. No other group has achieved what Planned Parenthood has achieved. No question. It has annihilated countless millions of unborn babies, particularly (and disproportionately) African-American babies. In that, it is truly extraordinary. And it all began with Margaret Sanger. She is a progressive icon to liberals, a saint in the feminist church. They revere her.

That, too, is something that Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi hold in common, so much so that Planned Parenthood recently feted Pelosi with its highest honor, its esteemed Margaret Sanger Award. Pelosi, of course, was thrilled, and Obama was no doubt thrilled for her (as he surely was for Hillary Clinton when she won the award in 2009).

Neither Pelosi nor Obama in their grateful words to Planned Parenthood commented on the full breadth of Sanger's "remarkable" work, such as her 1926 speech to a KKK rally in Silverlake, New Jersey, or her penchant for "race improvement," the driving motivation for her championing of birth control. The Planned Parenthood matron wanted to advance what she called "racial health," and lamented America's "race of degenerates." This meant purging the landscape of its "human weeds" and "the dead weight of human waste." For Sanger, this included a special "Negro Project" that the racial eugenicist had in mind for a particular group of Americans.

The Negro Project was dear to Sanger's heart, as shown by an odd December 1939 letter she wrote to Dr. Clarence Gamble of Milton, Massachusetts. The Planned Parenthood foundress alerted the doctor: "We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population."

Sanger groaned at America's "idiots" and "morons," and how they were corrupting the gene pool and ruining her efforts to foster a "race of thoroughbreds." The progressive saint wanted to rid America of its "imbeciles."

Speaking of which, Nancy Pelosi made a jaw-dropping comment upon receiving her Sanger prize. Referring to pro-lifers, an exasperated Pelosi asserted:

When you see how closed their minds are, or oblivious, or whatever it is - dumb - then you know what the fight is about.

Yes, said the lifelong Roman Catholic, those who oppose abortion - which includes her Church - are "dumb."

All of which brings us full circle to the rosary beads blessed by Pope Francis that Pelosi got from Obama. Pelosi said she was "happy to receive a rosary blessed by Pope Francis." She said, "It means a great deal to me." It does? But why? After all, Pelosi considers Pope Francis to be stupid.

Ah, you say she never said any such thing? Really? She just last week told the ladies at Planned Parenthood that pro-lifers are closed-minded, "oblivious," "dumb," "whatever." Whatever, indeed!

Well, pro-lifers certainly include Pope Francis, the man who blessed her rosary. So, by Nancy Pelosi's formulation, this pope who means a "great deal" to her, and who blessed her rosary delivered by Obama - the curious handmaiden for this choice sacramental - is an oblivious idiot.

Nancy Pelosi said what she said. And in so doing, she has once again left us dumbfounded.

Holy Mary, pray for us. *

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 11:39

Kengor Writes . . .

Kengor Writes . . .

Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Values. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). His latest book is The Communist - Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink (2012).

Obama Should Study the History of Reaganomics?

Last Tuesday, The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College hosted its eighth Ronald Reagan Lecture, a much-anticipated annual event. This year featured Art Laffer and Roger Robinson. Laffer is the namesake of the Laffer Curve, a cornerstone of President Reagan's supply-side economic policies. Robinson spearheaded the extraordinary economic-warfare campaign against the Soviet Union for Reagan's fearless National Security Council.

The discussion covered many issues, including how the policies pursued by Ronald Reagan to stimulate economic growth were so completely different from Barack Obama's. It's worth highlighting those differences here. We ignore them at our peril.

Reagan inherited an abysmal economy from Jimmy Carter. His prescription for recovery rested on four pillars: tax cuts, deregulation, reductions in the rate of growth of government spending, and carefully managed growth of the money supply. He wanted to stimulate economic growth via tax cuts, allowing the American people to keep their money and invest it more wisely and efficiently than government.

This was, in effect, private-sector stimulus - a stark contrast to President Obama's massive $800 billion public-sector (read: government) "stimulus" in 2009. Among Reagan's tax cuts, the federal income tax reduction was the centerpiece. Reagan secured a 25 percent across-the-board reduction in tax rates over a three-year period beginning in October 1981. Eventually, the upper-income rate was dropped from 70 percent to 28 percent.

In the process, Reagan also dramatically simplified the tax code. When he was inaugurated, there were 16 separate tax brackets. When he was finished, there were only two. Not only did this simplification eliminate complexity, it also eliminated loopholes and removed 4 million working poor from the tax rolls; they no longer paid any federal income tax.

Reagan presided over the largest tax cut in American history and accomplished it in tandem with a huge Democratic Party majority in the House. It was a bipartisan triumph that The Washington Post called "one of the most remarkable demonstrations of presidential leadership in modern history." Unlike President Obama, who derided his Republican congressional opposition as "hostage takers" and denounced their desire for tax cuts, Reagan found a way to work with the opposition to advance the country.

After a slow start through 1982-83, the stimulus effect of the Reagan tax cuts was unprecedented, sparking the longest peacetime expansion/recovery in the nation's history: 92 consecutive months. The bogeymen of the 1970s - chronic unemployment and the deadly combination of double-digit inflation and interest rates - were vanquished. The poverty rate dropped; the standard of living soared. The Dow Jones industrial average, which, in real terms, had declined 70 percent from 1967-82, nearly tripled from 1983-89.

Contrary to liberal demonology, African Americans and other minorities did extremely well during the Reagan years. Real income for a median African American family had dropped 11 percent from 1977-82. But from 1982-89, coming out of the recession, it rose by 17 percent. In the 1980s, there was a 40 percent jump in African American households earning over $50,000.

African American unemployment (which has increased significantly under President Obama) fell faster than white unemployment in the 1980s. The number of African American-owned businesses increased by almost 40 percent while the number of African Americans enrolled in college increased by almost 30 percent (white college enrollment increased only 6 percent).

There were likewise impressive numbers for Hispanics and women. Hispanic-owned businesses in the 1980s grew by an astounding 81 percent and the number of Hispanics in college jumped 45 percent.

Overall, the "Reagan Boom" not only produced widespread prosperity but - along with the attendant Soviet collapse - generated budget surpluses in the 1990s. Carter-era terms like "malaise" and "misery index" vanished. Only during the Obama years, and specifically in 2011, has America re-approached similar misery-index levels, reaching a 28-year high.

All of this is not just history. It's a crucial economics lesson that we need to learn and remember. We neglect it to our detriment.

Shirley Temple's America

I learned only yesterday that Shirley Temple, the iconic child actress, died earlier this week at age 85. Reports on her death were easy to miss. I went through my usual scan of various websites and saw nothing. I fortunately caught a buried "Shirley Temple, R.I.P." by a writer at a political website.

I was dismayed by the sparse reaction to the loss of this woman who lived a great American life. Had Shirley Temple died 50 years ago, or even 30 years ago, the country would have stopped. People everywhere would have paused to give Temple her due. It would have been the lead in every newspaper.

But not today. Our culture is too obsessed with Miley Cyrus and gay marriage to give proper recognition to a woman who was one of the most acclaimed, respected, and even cherished Americans, a household name to children and adults alike.

When I caught the news of Temple's death, I groaned. I braced myself to tell my two young daughters. They've watched Shirley Temple movies for years. To them, she's a contemporary, another innocent little girl. When I informed my 11-year-old daughter, she frowned and said, "Oh, that's terrible." She was about to cry when I quickly explained that Shirley was 85 and had lived an extraordinary life. There was no reason to be sad.

For years, as my daughters and wife and I watched Temple's old movies, particularly on the superb Turner Classic Movies channel, we'd check her date of birth, do the math, and realize that Shirley probably would be with us a while longer. That time has finally closed.

I never met Shirley Temple, but a good friend of mine who died in August knew her. Bill Clark, who was Ronald Reagan's close friend and crucial adviser in taking down the Soviet Union, met Temple at the height of her popularity, when both were children.

Clark's grandfather was a literal sheriff, cowboy, and California trailblazer, known throughout the Los Angeles area. Some Hollywood publicity folks contacted the senior Clark around 1936 for a local promotion. The promotion featured four-year-old little Bill pinning a badge on Shirley Temple's vest as she was "officially" deputized by Marshal Clark.

Bill Clark always fondly recalled that moment, captured in a photo that he kept framed and that we put in his biography. He would later have pictures with the likes of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, but here was one photo he kept close to heart.

Fifty years later, Clark and Temple served together again, this time in the State Department, where Clark held the higher rank: he, as second in command; she, as foreign affairs officer. Temple's old Hollywood friend, fellow Republican, and political ally, Ronald Reagan, had appointed her. She became an ambassador.

But Shirley Temple was, of course, known for film rather than politics. I cannot do justice to that storied career here, but indulge me as I share one of my favorite Shirley Temple movies.

In the 1934 classic, "Bright Eyes," Shirley played a five-year-old who lost her father in an airplane crash and then lost her mother. She is comforted by loving people who would do anything for her, including her godfather, who is identified as just that. The godfather behaves like a true godfather. The movie includes constant, natural references to faith, never shying from words like God, Heaven, and even Jesus.

Today's sneering secular audiences would reflexively dismiss the film as Norman Rockwell-ish. To the contrary, the movie is hardly sugarcoated. Just when your heart is broken from the death of sweet Shirley's dad, her mom is killed by a car while carrying a cake for Shirley on Christmas day.

That doesn't remind me of any Norman Rockwell portrait I've seen.

What such cynics really mean is that the film isn't sufficiently depraved for modern tastes. Shirley doesn't pole dance or "twerk." She doesn't do a darling little strip tease for the boys while singing "Good Ship, Lollipop." The references to God are not in vain or in the form of enlightening blasphemy. And the movie has a happy, not miserable, ending.

Come to think of it, maybe this isn't a movie for modern audiences!

For 80 years, Shirley Temple's bright eyes brightened the big screen. They reflected what was good and decent in this country. She embodied what made America great, and she brightened our lives in the process. *

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 11:34

Kengor Writes . . .

Kengor Writes . . .

Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Values. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). His latest book is The Communist - Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink (2012).

Who Killed the Kennedys? Ronald Reagan's Answer?

Last year marked not only the 50th anniversary of the shooting of John F. Kennedy but also the 45th anniversary of the shooting of Robert F. Kennedy, which occurred in June 1968. Was there a common source motivating the assassins of both Kennedys - that is, Lee Harvey Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan?

That renowned political philosopher Mick Jagger speculated on a source. "I shouted out 'Who killed the Kennedys?'" asks the lyrics in a 1968 song by The Rolling Stones. "When, after all, it was you and me." The song was titled, "Sympathy for the Devil." It was, The Rolling Stones suggested, the Devil who had killed the Kennedys, along with his accomplices.

I must say I can't disagree with that one - a rare area of agreement between Mick Jagger and me.

There is, however, a more earthly answer. And it was provided, surprisingly, by a rising political star in the immediate hours after the shooting of Bobby Kennedy. That star was the new governor of California, Ronald Reagan.

RFK was shot in Governor Reagan's state. Reagan was no stranger to Bobby Kennedy. He had debated him a year earlier on national television, which didn't go well for RFK, with Reagan clearly outshining him. Kennedy told his handlers to never again put him on the same stage with "that son-of-a-b----."

That debate occurred five years after Bobby Kennedy had intervened to get Reagan fired from his long stint as host of the top-rated GE Theatre on CBS - a fact unknown until it was revealed by Michael Reagan in his excellent book, The New Reagan Revolution. Typical of Reagan, he harbored no bitterness toward RFK. That was quite unlike Bobby Kennedy, a man who knew how to hold a grudge.

On June 5, 1968, Reagan was full of nothing but sympathy for RFK. He appeared on the popular television show of Joey Bishop, one of the extended members of Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack. Bishop and Reagan were old Hollywood friends, and Bishop extended the governor a platform to address the shooting. A transcript of Reagan's appearance on that show was grabbed by his young chief of staff, Bill Clark, who died just a few months ago. Clark shoved it in a box that ended up in the tack barn at his ranch in central California. It lay there until I, as Clark's biographer, dug it out three decades later.

That rare surviving transcript reveals a Reagan who spoke movingly about RFK and the entire Kennedy family. Condemning the "savage act," Reagan pleaded:

I am sure that all of us are praying not only for him but for his family and for those others who were so senselessly struck down also in the fusillade of bullets. . . . I believe we should go on praying, to the best of our ability.

But particularly interesting was how Reagan unflinchingly pointed a finger of blame in the direction of Moscow. Reagan noted that Kennedy's killer, Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Arab and also a Communist, had shot Kennedy because of his support of Israel during the Six Day War that had occurred exactly one year earlier. On that, we now know beyond dispute what Reagan knew then: That war had been shamelessly provoked by the Kremlin.

Looking to exploit divisions in the Middle East and further exacerbate America's foreign-policy problems at the time (we were mired in Vietnam), Soviet officials cooked up false intelligence reports claiming that Israeli troops had been moved into the Golan Heights and were readying to invade Syria. They peddled the malicious, phony information to Egypt and other Arab states for the explicit purpose of creating a military confrontation with Israel. The Israeli leader, Levi Eshkol, immediately denounced the accusation, telling the Soviet ambassador to his face that there were no Israeli troops there whatsoever, and offering to personally drive him to the Golan at once. Acting on orders, the ambassador flatly refused, shouting "Nyet!" at Eshkol and storming out of the prime minister's residence. The Egyptians, too, checked their intelligence sources and found no evidence of Israeli troops in the Golan. Nonetheless, the pieces were in motion, and one thing dangerously led to another until everything spiraled out of control. Within mere weeks, the Six Day War was on - precipitated by the Kremlin. The egregious depths of Soviet disinformation spawned a major Middle East war.

RFK supported Israel in that war. Sirhan Sirhan never forgave him for that. He killed him for that.

Again, Ronald Reagan knew about the Soviet role in instigating the conflict, which he apparently pieced together via various reports at the time. As a result, he linked Bobby Kennedy's assassination to the USSR's mischief in the Middle East. "The enemy sits in Moscow," Reagan told Joey Bishop.

I call him an enemy because I believe he has proven this, by deed, in the Middle East. The actions of the enemy led to and precipitated the tragedy of last night.

Moscow had precipitated the Six Day War in June 1967, which, in turn, had prompted RFK's assassin in June 1968.

But Reagan wasn't finished positioning blame where it deserved to be placed. Eight days later, on July 13, 1968, Reagan delivered a forgotten speech in Indianapolis. Both the Indianapolis News and Indianapolis Star reported on Reagan's remarks, but the only full transcript I've seen was likewise located in Bill Clark's private papers. In that speech, Reagan leveled this charge at international Communism, with an earlier Kennedy assassination in mind:

Five years ago, a president was murdered by one who renounced his American citizenship to embrace the godless philosophy of Communism, and it was Communist violence he brought to our land. The shattering sound of his shots were still ringing in our ears when a policy decision was made to play down his Communist attachment lest we provoke the Soviet Union.

Reagan was spot on. As many conservative writers are currently noting, liberals in the immediate moments after the JFK assassination sought to blame everything but Oswald's love of Communism, love of the Soviet Union, and love of Castro's Cuba as motivations for what he did. Some blamed the climate of alleged "hate" and "bigotry" and "violence" in Dallas for the shooting. They ached to blame the right, fulfilling James Burnham's timeless maxim: "For the left, the preferred enemy is always to the right." Amazingly, they attempted to label Oswald a "right-winger," which was utterly upside down. He was a left-winger, as far left as one could get. Oswald was a completely committed Communist. He was head over heels for Castro's Cuba in particular. He adored Fidel. After defecting to and then leaving the Soviet Union after a long stay there, he went back to Texas (with a Soviet wife) and then tried everything to get to Havana and serve the revolution there. JFK and Fidel despised one another; each wanted the other dead. Guess who Oswald sided with on that one?

The Warren Commission later agonized over the possible motivations of Oswald. In the end, it determined that it "could not make any definitive determination of Oswald's motives." To its credit, the commission

. . . endeavored to isolate the factors which contributed to his character and which might have influenced his decision to assassinate President Kennedy.

It listed five factors, which appear on page 23 of the huge commission report. Among the five, the fifth underscored Oswald's "avowed commitment to Marxism and Communism," and noted specifically his ardor for Moscow and Havana. The commission concluded that this did indeed contribute to Oswald's "capacity to risk all in cruel and irresponsible actions."

Nonetheless, Oswald's passion for international Communism, from Russia to the Western hemisphere, has been downplayed by the American left and many Americans generally from the literal moment we learned that John F. Kennedy had been shot.

One American who was never blind to that motivation was Ronald Reagan. More than that, Reagan wasn't naive to the role of international Communism in the shooting of RFK either.

For the record, this is not to say that Lee Harvey Oswald or Sirhan Sirhan acted as conscious, deliberate agents trained and ordered by the Soviets or the Cubans, though some - such as Ion Mihai Pacepa - have examined that possibility in depth. Their actions, however, cannot or should not be separated from the malevolent force of international Communism, which unquestionably played a role in their ultimate deadly actions.

Who killed the Kennedys? Ronald Reagan told us the answer 45 years ago.

Mister Rogers vs. the Unity Tree

I was walking by Stanwix Street and Penn Avenue last week when struck by our city's "Unity Tree." It's a curious thing about the Unity Tree: it only comes out at Christmas time - yes, Christmas. This self-proclaimed source of "unity," like much of modern liberalism, preaches inclusion while it excludes. It boldly expunges "Christmas" from what everyone knows is a Christmas tree. Remarkably, even the banner adorning the tree takes care to exclude Christmas. "Season's Greetings," it tells us.

Well, what season? We know but can't say.

As I continued down Stanwix, I was struck by a legitimate source of unity, one that didn't divide us, and who didn't refrain from the Christmas message. There he was, captured in a big poster in a window: Fred Rogers. Mister Rogers.

Some readers might remember that Mister Rogers recorded an hour-long primetime Christmas special in 1977. His first primetime show, it was titled "Christmas Time with "Mr. Rogers," not "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays" with Mr. Rogers.

At the same time, it featured real unity. Fred Rogers discussed Hanukkah as well as Christmas. The trolley clicked through the Neighborhood of Make-Believe with a banner wishing "Happy Chanukah" on one side and "Merry Christmas" on the other. "Silent Night" was sung. It wasn't like today's phony "unity" where the apostles of "diversity" banish references to Christmas.

When I saw that poster in the window on Stanwix, it occurred to me that it has been 10 years since Fred Rogers left this world. Can you believe it?

What is it about the man that still makes us smile? That still touches a soft spot? That still genuinely unites us?

For me, it's partly my age. I was born in 1966, when there were a handful of TV channels. "Kids programming" consisted of a few PBS mornings shows, with Pittsburgh's own Fred Rogers the feature attraction. His comforting, patient demeanor drew you in. He was more than a friendly face in the neighborhood. He was a teacher.

One of my favorite Mister Rogers stories was told by my pastor at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Bridgeville in the 1990s.

The pastor had a friend, a pious businessman who lived in Connecticut. Though very successful, he was being tugged to make a move of address. That wasn't what his wife wanted to hear, especially when a Pittsburgh company showed interest. Her image of Pittsburgh was smoky, rusty, and smelly. She and her husband prayed for guidance. It would be in God's hands.

The husband liked what he saw, and the company liked him. Mom and the kids would be a tough sell. The company flew them in, as mom prayed for a sign.

When they landed at Pittsburgh International, she was sure the sign had come: a giant "no way." Their youngest child had vanished. They frantically searched the airport, shouting his name. Just then, mom spotted her son wide-eyed speaking to a gaunt man in an overcoat. She assumed the worst and readied to scold the stranger . . . until she saw his face. It was Mister Rogers.

In that trademark voice, he tenderly explained to the mom that her little boy, who he identified by name, had told him his concerns about moving. Mister Rogers explained that although moving can be difficult, it's often for the better, for dad, for mom, for the children. The boy would adjust, make new friends, and so on.

Mom got her sign. It was not only a man of the cloth (Rogers was an ordained minister) but . . . well, Mister Rogers. Could there be a better ambassador?

The family moved, and grew to like Pittsburgh - that is, Mister Rogers' neighborhood.

You want unity, Pittsburgh? Fred Rogers represented it.

Bad Sports: Virtue & Vice at the Ballpark?

If there be (no virtue among us), we are in a wretched situation. -James Madison

This isn't a year for complaints about the Pirates. So, forgive me while I complain not about the Pirates but a certain element of Pirates fans. This "element" is not unique to Pirates fans; it's symptomatic of many fans nationwide and, sadly, our culture and nation at large.

I'm prompted by a recent piece in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review sports section ("Biertempfel: In left field, they have Pirates' backs," Aug. 4), accompanied by a photo. The photo captured Cardinals' left fielder Matt Holliday being taunted, mocked and jeered at by Pirates fans after a ball bounced off his glove and into the bleachers, giving Andrew McCutchen a home run. The image is ugly: children, men, women, young and old, faces contorted, making hand gestures and hissing at Holliday.

They appear in all shapes and sizes, skinny and fat, barefaced and unshaven - united in their nastiness. Other than their vitriol, the one thing they share is that not one could have caught the ball Holliday chased down, certainly not without tripping like fools into the left field wall. For that matter, none could hit a ball like Holliday.

It reminded me of hecklings past. I've never forgotten a moment when a college roommate unloaded on an innocent member of the opposing team's bullpen at Three Rivers Stadium. The poor pitcher had done nothing other than sit with a visible name on his jersey. That was enough for my roommate to unleash himself on this fellow's character. The unsuspecting ballplayer did his best to ignore the unmerited insults. My buddy kept it up: "Hey, (name deleted), you (expletive deleted)!" I told him to knock it off.

I recall a later game my wife and I attended. A young Hunter Pence was in right field for the Astros. An unattractive threesome decided to have some "fun." Pretending to applaud Pence and cheer him on, they got his cheerful attention. Once they did, the bile flowed. A stunned Pence was unsure how to react. Even crueler were the fans observing the spectacle. They laughed and joined in, relishing the wretched display.

I felt bad for Pence. He was green, unseasoned in assimilating the hate that athletes must endure with heroic virtue in the onslaught of vicious fans harboring no virtue at all.

In the end, it really comes down to that - virtue vs. vice.

To overflow with vice is to be vicious. That's what I too often see at the ballpark. Certain fans can be not only mean but craven. Imagine the cowardice: The fan is unrestrained. So long as he doesn't physically assault the much stronger ballplayer, his behavior is largely unchecked by authorities or conscience. The ballplayer, however, must instantly become a paragon of virtue, turning the other cheek and enduring a litany of barbs from vulgarians slopping down beers and choking down hotdogs and nachos.

If he dares to react in the way he ought to be forgiven for reacting, he will find himself attacked not just by the protected cowards who couldn't hit a curveball but by ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Twitter and every sports show in America. That athletes don't react, or do so only rarely, is an extraordinary testament to their character.

"Each new generation," says John Howard, senior fellow at the Howard Center for Family, Religion, & Society, "must be trained to be virtuous." Unfortunately, laments Howard, society today "is such that becoming virtuous is a monstrous chore."

When virtues are not inculcated - at home, at school, in media, and in popular culture - they lay desiccated upon the national landscape and we are in a wretched situation. The ballpark is no exception.

The Progressive Income Tax Turned 100

Maybe it's a measure of progressives' refusal to look back, to always move "forward." Otherwise, they should be celebrating right now. In fact, President Obama and fellow modern progressives/liberals should have been ecstatic all last year, rejoicing over the centenary of something so fundamental to their ideology, to their core goals of government, to their sense of economic and social justice - to what Obama once called "redistributive change."

And what is this celebratory thing to the progressive mind?

It is the progressive income tax. Last year, 2013, it turned 100. Its permanent establishment was set forth in two historic moments: 1) an amendment to the Constitution (the 16th Amendment), ratified February 3, 1913; and 2) its signing into law by the progressive's progressive, President Woodrow Wilson, October 3, 1913. It was a major political victory for Wilson and fellow progressives then and still today. By my math, that ought to mean a long, sustained party by today's progressives, a period of extended thanksgiving.

President Obama once charged that "tax cuts for the wealthy" are the Republicans' "Holy Grail." Tax cuts form "their central economic doctrine." Well, the federal income tax is the Democrats' Holy Grail. For progressives/liberals, it forms their central economic doctrine.

As merely one illustration among many I could give, former DNC head Howard Dean and MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell were recently inveighing against Republican tax cuts. Dean extolled "what an increase in the top tax rate actually does." He insisted:

. . . that's what governments do - is redistribute. The argument is not whether they should redistribute or not, the question is how much we should redistribute. . . . The purpose of government is to make sure that capitalism works for everybody. . . . It's government's job to redistribute.

What Dean said is, in a few lines, a cornerstone of the modern progressive manifesto. For Dean and President Obama and allies, a federal income tax based on graduated or progressive rates embodies and enables government's primary "job" and "purpose." They embrace a progressive tax for the chief intention of wealth redistribution, which, in turn, allows for income leveling, income "equality," and for government to do the myriad things that progressives ever-increasingly want government to do.

And so, in 1913, progressives struck gold. The notion of taxing income wasn't entirely new. Such taxes existed before, albeit temporarily, at very small levels, and for national emergencies like war. The idea of a permanent tax for permanent income redistribution broke new ground. The only debate was the exact percentage of the tax. In no time, progressives learned they could never get enough.

In 1913, when the progressive income tax began, the top rate was a mere 7 percent, applied only to the fabulously wealthy (incomes above $500,000). By the time Woodrow Wilson left office in 1921, the great progressive had hiked the upper rate to 73 percent. World War I (for America, 1917-18) had given Wilson a short-term justification, but so did Wilson's passion for a robust "administrative state."

Disagreeing with Wilson were the Republication administrations of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, his immediate successors. Along with their Treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, they reduced the upper rate, eventually bringing it down to 25 percent by 1925. In response, the total revenue to the federal Treasury increased significantly, from $700 million to $1 billion, and the budget was repeatedly in surplus.

Unfortunately, the rate began increasing under Herbert Hoover, who jacked the top rate to 63 percent. It soon skyrocketed to 94 percent under another legendary progressive, FDR, who, amazingly, once considered a top rate of 99.5 percent on income above $100,000 (yes, you read that right).

Appalled by this was an actor named Ronald Reagan, himself a progressive Democrat - though not much longer. Reagan often noted that Karl Marx, in his Communist Manifesto (1848), demanded a permanent "heavy progressive or graduated income tax." Indeed, it's point two in Marx's 10-point program, second only to his call for "abolition of property."

The upper tax rate wasn't reduced substantially until 1965, when it came down to 70 percent. President Ronald Reagan took it down to 28 percent. And despite claims to the contrary, federal revenues under Reagan increased (as they did in the 1920s), rising from $600 billion to nearly $1 trillion. (The Reagan deficits were caused by excessive spending and decreased revenue from the 1981-3 recession.)

The upper rate increased again (to 31 percent) under George H. W. Bush and under Bill Clinton (39.6 percent). George W. Bush cut it to 35 percent. Barack Obama has returned it to the Clinton level of 39.6 percent.

Here, 100 years henceforth, the wealthiest Americans - the top 10 percent of which already pay over 70 percent of federal tax revenue - will be paying more in taxes this year than any time in the last 30 years. For progressives, this is justice. But it is also bittersweet: As progressives know deep inside, it still isn't enough. For them, it's never enough.

To that end, my enduring question for progressives is one they typically avoid answering, especially those holding elected office: In your perfect world, where, exactly, would you position the top rate? I routinely hear numbers in the 50-70 percent range.

Democrats like President Obama complain about Republican intransigence in raising tax rates but, truth be told - and as any liberal really knows - if it wasn't for Republican resistance, progressives would rarely, if ever, cut taxes. America would remain on a one-way upward trajectory in tax rates, just like under Woodrow Wilson and FDR, and just as it has been in its unrestrained spending for nearly 50 years. Like their refusal to cut spending (other than on defense), progressives are dragged kicking and screaming into tax cuts. They need high income taxes for the government planning and redistributing they want to do; for Obama's sense of redistributive justice.

In 2013 the progressive income tax turned 100. For progressives, getting it implemented was a huge triumph. Their success in making it a permanent part of the American landscape is a more stunning achievement still. *

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 11:21

Kengor Writes . . .

Kengor Writes . . .

Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Values. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004) and The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007). The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). His latest book is The Communist - Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink (2012) .

The Progressive's Progress

New Yorkers have chosen the mayor they deserve. The home of Communist Party USA and the Daily Worker, and, of course, Columbia University and the New York Times, has finally done it. It was only a matter of time. It's fitting that the election of Bill de Blasio occurs amid the "Hope and Change" and "Forward!" presidency of Barack Obama, another "progressive" who eagerly and fundamentally transforms the America we knew.

New York's new Democratic mayor spent his formative years stumping for the Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Bill de Blasio peddled subscriptions for the regime's newspaper, Barricada, the Sandinistas' version of Pravda. The Liberation Theology guru was gaga for Latin American Communist dictators. His love ran so deep that he and his bride actually honeymooned in Cuba a decade after his earlier romance in the Soviet Union. The couple somehow orchestrated their Havana honeymoon despite a U.S. embargo on travel - signed by President John F. Kennedy, a Democrat who today would have to change parties. Regardless of the embargo, American Communists always found a way to Fidel's island prison. Bill de Blasio, too, went where his heart led him; he found Fidel.

Today, de Blasio finds himself where his heart has led him again, this time leader of New York. His comrades throughout the city have rolled out the red carpet. De Blasio is declaring war on "inequality" and the evil rich, committing himself to leveling incomes and ensuring vengeance. If only he had more power to level more incomes, but, hey, who knows, in the new America, the White House could be just around the corner.

Bill de Blasio didn't merely edge out his mayoral opponent; he destroyed him. He won by 50 points, the kind of margin Communist despots once staged in phony elections behind the Iron Curtain. The difference, of course, is that citizens of the Soviet Bloc never actually voted for the Communist. In New York in November 2013, no secret police or party apparatchiks manipulated the results; the masses saluted and delivered. If he's watching, Fidel Castro must be stunned, as are the ghosts of Lenin, Stalin, and Bolsheviks past. If the old commies could have won just one legitimate election with the support of the masses, they would have held one.

All of which leads to the question: Just how far left is Bill de Blasio? Is he still a Communist?

In response to Tuesday's vote, one of my anti-communist colleagues wrote a piece titled, "America's First Openly Marxist Big City Mayor." Another, a respected Cold War historian, told me that de Blasio is a "post-communist Communist." Ron Radosh calls de Blasio's win "a victory for the old Communist left," which it undeniably is.

Yet, ask Bill de Blasio his politics and he describes himself the same way American Communists have been doing for 80 years: a "progressive" pursuing "social justice." "Make no mistake," he declared in his victory speech, standing behind a large sign proclaiming "PROGRESS," "the people of this city have chosen a progressive path. And tonight we set forth on it - together, as one city."

Of course he describes himself as a progressive. They all do. The word has become almost meaningless because of how the Communist left has co-opted it to mask its agenda. Worse, certain progressive scholars don't hesitate to anoint certain Communists "progressives."

Go to the website of People's World, successor to the Daily Worker as the flagship publication of Communist Party USA. The writers describe themselves and their ideas as "progressive" infinitely more than "Communist" or "Marxist." It's more palatable language for the uninformed. As I write, the lead piece posted at People's World is an editorial highlighted by a beaming photo of de Blasio behind the "PROGRESS" banner. "The people of the city, in electing de Blasio, took a powerful stand against an array of policies that benefit the 1 percent over the 99 percent," People's World celebrates. "[V]oters overwhelmingly backed him and the progressive agenda he put forward."

Yes, the "forward"-looking "progressive agenda."

Take a look at the founders of the 2008 group Progressives for Obama. From Tom Hayden and Mark Rudd to Jane Fonda and the other fellow travelers, it's a Who's Who of '60s Communists, SDSers, and Weathermen. But they call themselves "progressives."

When I was researching my book Dupes, the biggest challenge was sifting through various self-described "progressive" individuals or "progressive" organizations to figure out if they were genuine liberals or closet Communists cloaked as liberals.

When the U.S. Congress in 1961 published its major investigation of Communist front-groups, titled, "Guide to Subversive Organizations and Publications," one of the most popular title listings in the massive index was "Progressive."

If you want a front for your Communist cause or identity, call it "progressive." American Communists have done this successfully since the 1930s - and they haven't stopped. Indeed, why stop? It works. The label is red meat for enlisting a wider swath of nave liberals to your cause or campaign. It's a deliciously deceptive tactic whose success surely never ceases to amaze its manipulators.

When asked about his Communist past, de Blasio neither denies nor disavows it. At the same time, he doesn't exactly spill his guts. Nor does he say whether and why and how he repudiated it. To the contrary, he embraces the standard Marxist class-warfare rhetoric he has no doubt used his entire adult life; in this, he's not unlike our president.

To that end, what we really have here is another eerie Obama-like situation, or perhaps Obama-like deception. Call it the Obama model of obfuscation, rewarded by a compliant media that allows the model to succeed.

Like Bill de Blasio, Barack Obama has similar skeletons in his ideological closet. Both his mother and father were far to the left, essentially near or on the Marxist left. They met in a Russian language class at the University of Hawaii. When Obama's Kenyan father abandoned him, a leftist grandfather introduced him to a potential mentor and father figure, Frank Marshall Davis, who had been a literally card-carrying member of Communist Party USA, an old Party agitator who founded and edited Chicago's Communist newspaper in the 1940s. Davis's work was so extreme that in December 1956 the Democrat-run Senate called him to Washington to testify on his "Soviet activities." He was so radical that the federal government placed him on its Security Index, meaning Davis could be immediately arrested if war broke out between the United States and Soviet Union.

Given all these influences, I pointed out at The American Spectator last year that we Americans actually have our first Red Diaper Baby President. Interestingly, Radosh notes that de Blasio is a "bona fide Red Diaper Baby;" thus, New Yorkers arguably have their first Red Diaper Baby Mayor to go with the Red Diaper Baby President they likewise elected.

When Barack Obama left his Communist influences in Hawaii for Occidental College, he was so far to the left that one eyewitness, the eminently credible Dr. John Drew, who ran the campus Marxist club, was introduced to Obama as a fellow Communist. I interviewed Drew at length for my book on Frank Marshall Davis, The Communist, and his account is wholly consistent and believable.

Thus, here's the million-dollar question for Barack Obama, which is frighteningly similar to what we now ask of Bill de Blasio: When and where and how did he break from these Communist roots? He has never told us, which would be the easiest thing to do - if he genuinely left them.

Instead, we have a young man (Obama) who later, in 1996, went on to join the socialist New Party, who, later still, launched his Illinois state senate bid in the living room of Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, and then who, in his final year in the U.S. Senate, was ranked by National Journal as the most leftist member of the entire Senate - to the left of Barbara Boxer and Ted Kennedy. He then soared to the White House, de Blasio-like, on the wings of what he called "redistributive change," "collective action," "spreading the wealth," leveling income, and bashing the rich. The country twice voted him a mandate. But all along we never learn: What does he really believe? When was his Communist past ever rejected?

New Yorkers - those that actually give a damn - can now ask themselves the same questions about their chief executive.

Alas, what does that mean? What's the big picture? Among other things, it means, in short, here we go again: Another "progressive" boldly moves his project "forward!" As for those of us who dare point out the Communist past as relevant to the future, we are mocked as reincarnates of Joe McCarthy. As we scratch our heads trying to make sense out of this insanity, we are labeled extremists by the extreme leftists and their dupes. As we are, another staunch "progressive" waves his banner and carries on his fundamental transformation with the handy compliance of the masses.

Thanks, New York. Thanks, America.

The Progressive Crusade Against Tax Cuts?

There's an ongoing effort by President Obama and fellow "progressives" not only to continue to blame George W. Bush for every economic woe facing America - even as every economic indicator is far worse under Obama - but to permanently discredit the value of tax cuts. Tax cuts are an unmitigated evil that progressive crusaders must forever exorcise.

For President Obama and his allies, this is a project they're taking back to the Reagan years, starting with an assault on President Reagan's enormously successful 1981 tax cuts. Their campaign, however, can't end with Reagan. They need to venture way back to Andrew Mellon in the 1920s.

Mellon was Treasury Secretary throughout the Republican administrations that followed Woodrow Wilson's exit from the White House in 1921. He was a superb Treasury secretary, with few peers before or since.

Unemployment under Wilson's "progressive" presidency had hit almost 12 percent. In 1921, the newly inaugurated president was Republican Warren Harding. As Harding's Treasury Secretary, Mellon argued against spending increases as "stimulus" for economic growth and, instead, pushed for tax rate cuts. It was a Reagan-like move, with Reagan-like results. By 1923, unemployment dropped to under 3 percent, where it (roughly) remained throughout the 1920s under Harding and his Republican successor, Calvin Coolidge.

The economy did not begin its crash and sustained slide until the presidencies of Herbert Hoover, a Republican, and FDR, a Democrat. Both Hoover and FDR jacked tax rates through the roof. The federal tax rate on income reached a breathtaking 94 percent under FDR. As historian Burt Folsom shows, FDR actually considered raising the upper rate to 99.5 percent on income above $100,000. (Yes, you read that right.)

FDR, for the record, despised Andrew Mellon. He subjected Mellon to an intense, intrusive investigation of his income-tax returns, pursuing him to his deathbed. FDR had a vendetta against Mellon's entire philosophy on taxation. It became personal as well as political.

Here's a Mellon insight that FDR no doubt detested:

It seems difficult for some to understand that high rates of taxation do not necessarily mean large revenue to the government, and that more revenue may often be obtained by lower rates.

FDR certainly didn't understand, though his Treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau, eventually came to that conclusion. "We have tried spending money," said Morgenthau.

We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. . . . I say after eight years of this administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started. . . . And an enormous debt to boot!

Morgenthau figured out what Andrew Mellon already knew. Said Mellon:

The problem of government is to fix rates which will bring in a maximum amount of revenue to the Treasury and at the same time bear not too heavily on the taxpayer or on business enterprises.

And so, during the Harding and Coolidge administrations, Mellon succeeded in promoting tax-rate cuts rates across the board, with upper-income rates reduced from 73 to 24 percent. The cuts were very similar to Reagan's in the 1980s. And like under Reagan - and contrary to liberal mythology - total tax revenue to the Treasury actually increased.

Under Reagan, federal revenue rose from $599 billion to almost $1 trillion. Under Mellon's stewardship in the 1920s, revenue went from $700 million to above $1 billion. And unlike under Reagan, Mellon's policies eliminated the budget deficit. (Coolidge was able and willing to cut spending where Reagan did not.)

For President Obama and his fellow liberals, these are inconvenient, unwelcome facts. They believe they need higher taxes to feed and sustain their government class. Democrats are banking on that government class - which they want to expand and unionize - to keep them in power not another four years but another 40 years.

Tax cuts are anathema to our president and progressives. And so is the wisdom of Andrew Mellon.

Bonding Over Baseball?

My cousin Drew is a 45-year-old veteran of the first Gulf War (1991), which he served aboard a battleship in the Persian Gulf. A former high school quarterback out of Western Pennsylvania, he has always been carefree and a little wild, and always fun to be around. Today, Drew is confined to a wheelchair. He suffers from what was officially diagnosed as "Gulf War Syndrome." The condition has manifested itself as advanced MS, which he believes he contracted on the ship after being forced to take an experimental drug designed to counter the impact of a (suspected) chemical-weapons attack by Saddam Hussein.

This isn't where Drew expected to be in his mid-40s.

Drew and I haven't been in touch much since we were kids. I've always regretted that. I would call him occasionally and we'd engage in whatever small talk we could, usually about politics and the country.

In August, I phoned Drew again, after no contact for a while. His sister told me his condition had worsened. "How are you?" I began. "Well," he sighed. "I'm still alive."

After some uneasy words, our conversation picked up and lit up when we suddenly hit upon something we hadn't discussed in years: baseball. Specifically, the focus was Pittsburgh Pirates' baseball. The Pirates were looking at their first winning season in over 20 years. Drew and I talked for probably a half hour just about the Pirates.

But the dialogue didn't end with that phone call. I soon thereafter learned that Drew loves to send text messages. I don't, and (up until then) had resisted learning how. But the growing onslaught of Drew's text messages forced a reappraisal, especially because the subject was baseball.

Over the course of the next three months, not a Pirates game went by where Drew and I weren't texting throughout. It was a blast. When I was on vacation and didn't have the local cable channel that carries the Pirates, Drew handled the play-by-play for me. It was like a live-feed, accompanied by Drew's usual color and (uncensored) flare.

One afternoon, I was driving my 11-year-old daughter home from swim practice with the game on the radio. My phone repeatedly chimed in with various snippets of analysis by Drew. My daughter intercepted them with a bemused glance. After one particularly awful Pirates' error, I heard the chime and told her she might not want to read that one. She caught the four-letter word and blushed and giggled the rest of the way home.

Beautiful. Classic Drew.

When the Pirates finally made the playoffs, for the first time since 1992, Drew texted to inform me that he ventured out and bought a 60-inch big-screen TV for the occasion. I have no idea how he got to the store, got the TV in a car, and got it inside the hotel room where he lives, or got it hooked up. But not unlike his ability to somehow fly himself to Europe when he gets the urge, or get himself to a Pirates game - a 103-mile one-way cab ride to Pittsburgh - Drew made it happen. He always made things happen.

I texted him about half an hour into the game. "How's the TV?" I asked. "Awesome," he replied.

Our communication continued during down time in between games, when we discussed (always via text) the latest on politics, the world, Syria, Russia, Iraq, and the circumstances in the Middle East that had contributed to his condition.

His texts have been much more frequent than mine. I have seven kids and I'm never alone. Drew is alone. He's confined. But every single message makes me smile. In fact, as I write this sentence, another just came in.

Happily, the texts have continued beyond the Pirates' exit from the post-season. Throughout the championship series in each league, whether the Cardinals vs. the Dodgers or Red Sox vs. the Tigers, we exchanged texts. I asked Drew for an update on the 60-inch TV, and got it:

I also bought the surround sound system that went with the TV and it is awesome. Watching a ballgame on it is unbelievable.

It's a "smart TV," has some sort of "flex belt." Drew says the TV is smarter than him. And me, too, I'm sure.

My point, of course, is this: what has happened is that Drew and I bonded over baseball, beginning with the resurrection of our beleaguered Pittsburgh Pirates. We're now in touch more than ever before.

Baseball has long been America's past time, bringing friends and family together for over a century. It's there every day, day in and day out, from April to October. It's still our pasttime. It still brings people together. That's an intangible that doesn't appear anywhere in any box score.

Patton, Ike, and My Teenage Boys?

I recently took my two teenage sons to a talk by Frank Kravetz, a 90-year-old World War II veteran who survived Hitler's Nuremberg prisons. Frank published his story in a memoir, Eleven Two: One WWII Airman's Story of Capture, Survival and Freedom.

Frank's ordeal began in November 1944 during a bomb-run over Germany. He took his regular position, crammed into the tail of a B-17. The target was Merseberg, a major industrial area. He flew amid an air armada of 500 heavy bombers - each carrying eighteen 250-pound bombs - escorted by 900 fighter planes.

While the Americans were ready for business, so was the Luftwaffe, which set aside every aircraft to defend Merseberg. Frank's plane came under hot pursuit by German fighters. Frank took them on with a twin .50 caliber machine gun. It was a dogfight, and Frank was shot badly. His B-17 was filled with holes. The crew had to bail.

Frank was bleeding profusely. His buddies tried to get a parachute on him, but it opened inside the plane. They wrapped it around him, trying not to cross the chords, and tossed him out. To Frank's great relief, the chute opened. Instantly, the deafening chaos quieted, and Frank floated like on angels' wings.

The tranquility halted with a rude thump as Frank hit the ground and tumbled like a shot jackrabbit. German soldiers seized him.

Thus began "a lousy existence," or, as Frank dubbed it - "Hell's journey." Destination: Stalag 13-D. In the end, Frank's weight dropped to 125 pounds.

Frank's liberation came April 29, 1945, by Gen. Patton's Third Army. For any fan of Patton, Frank's account will bring a lump to your throat:

After the flag was raised, and within a few hours of our troops arriving in camp, Gen. Patton rolled in, sitting high in a command car. His very presence was awe-inspiring. I stood there staring at Gen. Patton, our liberator, appearing larger than life.

Thousands of emaciated, ecstatic POWs chanted, "Patton! Patton! Patton!" Some fell to their knees, overcome with emotion. Standing in the car, Patton seized a bullhorn and spoke: "Gentlemen-you're now liberated and under Allied control. . . . We're going to get you out of here."

Embracing Patton's every word, it finally hit Frank: "I'm going home. I'm really going home!"

As Frank was moved out of his camp en route back home, he had a stop in Rheims, France. There, just as unexpectedly as encountering Patton, he sat in a room with fellow wounded GIs when he looked and suddenly saw Gen. Dwight Eisenhower stroll in. The soldiers jumped to their feet to salute the Supreme Allied Commander. "Sit down, boys," the former Kansas farm-boy humbly said, "I should be standing for you."

Frank eventually got home, first arriving in New York City and then hitchhiking all the way to East Pittsburgh. He unceremoniously arrived at his folks' front door - no trumpets, no dramatic music, no parade. He hugged his mom and dad and sat down. He found his sweetheart, Anne. They've been happily married ever since.

As Frank recently shared his story in a classroom at Grove City College, my two teenage sons were riveted. After his talk, they met Frank, who eagerly shook their hands.

As he did, I was struck by this realization: If my teenage boys live to be Frank's age, they'll live to nearly 2090, roughly 150 years after World War II. They'll be able to tell teenage boys that they shook the hand of a World War II veteran who met Generals Patton and Eisenhower.

That's an amazing thought. It would be like any of us right now meeting an elderly person who met someone who stretched back 150 years to the Civil War, someone who stood in the presence of Ulysses S. Grant or perhaps even Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.

Gee, when you think about it that way, America doesn't really seem all that old.

I shared that thought with a friend and colleague, Darren Morton. In turn, Darren told me about his late grandfather, born in 1909, who could remember parades as a little boy where Civil War vets were present. After one parade, one of those vets recalled that, when he was a boy, his grandfather took him to meet an elderly vet of the Revolutionary War. "So," Darren told me, "I touched the hand of a man who touched the hand of a Civil War vet who in turn touched the hand of a Revolutionary War vet. We are not a very old country."

Indeed, we're not. Like Darren, like my sons, I encourage everyone to meet these vets before they pass on. Hear their stories. Someday you'll be able to pass on your own story about meeting someone from that old war not-so-long ago. *

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Annual Dinner 2020
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Words of Wisdom