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).
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). His latest book is The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).
The latest unemployment figures are again depressing, but not for the usual reasons. They provide further confirmation of Barack Obama's fundamental transformation of America, specifically through his creation of a growing government class.
The numbers show a massive increase in government jobs created over the last five months - 621,000, to be exact, dwarfing private-sector job growth. Those new government jobs account for a staggering 73 percent of overall job growth. In all, 21 million citizens now work for government, out of 143 million employed in America, or one in seven Americans.
The vision and policies and programs of President Obama and "progressives"/liberals are rapidly generating a new government class. The current class - the one that re-elected Obama - comprises of federal workers; of state, county, and municipal workers; of employees in public-sector unions; of Americans collecting food stamps, welfare, and unemployment benefits; of those looking to government for healthcare; and more. They don't all vote Democrat, of course, but many do. And Democrats desperately hope many more will. Incredibly, there is even a rising group of young women suddenly demanding that Uncle Sam (i.e., taxpayers) pay for their contraception and abortions.
Most remarkable, this new class of Americans constitutes a huge and expanding segment of the population (and voters) who are becoming not merely dependent upon government but dependent upon Democrats. The more dependent this group becomes, and the more it enlarges, the more it redounds to the political enshrinement of liberal-Democrat politicians.
All of these segments of the citizenry - or, perhaps, constituencies - have steadily expanded over the last 100 years of progressivism/liberalism, and have surged under Barack Obama. Under Obama, there are a record 48 million Americans on food stamps, up from 32 million at the start of his presidency. The welfare rolls have exploded. Unemployment has not only increased but remains stuck and stagnant, with the actual unemployed around 15 percent and rising. Not only does the number of federal workers continue to balloon, but so do employees joining public-sector unions beholden to Democrats: SEIU, AFSCME, teachers organized through the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
Writing on this phenomenon, my colleague, Dr. Marvin Folkertsma, observes that roughly half the population receives some form of aid from the federal government, a figure that will utterly explode once Obamacare takes full force.
It goes without saying that this is disastrous for the literal solvency of the republic, but it's good news for those hoping to expand the boundaries (and collective dependency net) of progressivism/liberalism.
So, where does this leave us as a republic? Well, in very deep trouble. Most of those in the new government class become rapidly conditioned to their reality. Easily lured into their situation, they will be easily prompted into vociferously defending their position - especially those in unions. They will defend their status with ferocious loyalty when the right buttons are pushed by liberal-Democrat organizers and agitators (and their media allies) who benefit from their votes.
Ronald Reagan said the only guarantee of eternal life in this world is a government bureaucracy. He was correct, especially once the bureaucracy is unionized; ditto for the bureaucracy's programs and goodies. We will not be able to undo Obamacare; trying to do so will be like unscrambling eggs. Look at Britain's National Health Service; it is the third-rail of British politics. Even Margaret Thatcher couldn't touch it.
Ironically, Margaret Thatcher might offer the lone glimmer of hope. America four years from now will look increasingly like Britain circa 1978-79, when the electorate had enough and somehow awakened and hired the Iron Lady, who took on the government class. In the United States, however, it will not be easy. We will need a leader with the combined skills and determination of Thatcher or Reagan, who will be demonized unlike any American heretofore. Moreover, we will need that leader soon. If this isn't halted quickly, America as we know it is over.
How long? We have four years at best. Think about it: How many more Americans over the next four years will be employed and unionized by government; collecting food stamps, welfare, and unemployment; looking to government for healthcare, for contraception, and more? And they will be further trained to believe this is the norm and their natural right, and that anyone standing in the way is a monster.
It may already be too late. The federal government under Obama is hiring 103 new government employees per day, with nothing stopping them. These new additions to the government class will populate areas like Northern Virginia, turning Virginia (politically) into another Maryland, which dutifully pulls the lever for Democrats every four years.
Well, Barack Obama promised a fundamental transformation of America, and now we're getting it.
It has been a couple of weeks since the death of Robert Bork, which occurred shortly before Christmas and didn't really get the news coverage that Bork merited.
Bork died at age 85. In 1987, he became a national headline when President Ronald Reagan nominated him to the Supreme Court. He was a judicial conservative, a "strict constructionist." He warned about the road America was embarking upon in neglecting its Constitutional principles, and saw doom and gloom ahead. He was grimly pessimistic about America generally, dreading modern liberalism's grip on the nation. Liberalism, Bork insisted, was pushing America toward decline. We were headed to hell in a hand-basket. A decade after his failed confirmation, Bork authored a bestselling book tellingly titled, Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline.
Bork had seen liberalism up close and full throttle - and at its open-throated angriest. During his unsuccessful confirmation hearings in 1987, he was plainly smeared. He was hysterically and unfairly portrayed by radical abortion feminists and the likes of Senator Ted Kennedy as an abuser and assaulter of women - a Neanderthal, a kind of political/cultural gargoyle. Liberals demonized Bork and railroaded his nomination, ushering in a whole new incivility and politicization to the judicial nomination process. Liberal journalists literally dug through Bork's trash looking for anything to attack the man; they went to the nearby video store to find out what he rented.
"Hmmm," they rubbed their hands together hopefully, "Any X-rated flicks, Judge Bork?"
Alas, that wasn't Robert Bork's universe. They learned that Bork had an affinity not for pornographic film but for "Fred and Ginger" movies.
"Hah," they hissed, "What a square!"
The left's assault on Bork was unhinged, a precursor of behavior to come with later judges they disliked, particularly pro-life judges. Liberals were so nasty to Bork that the man's name has become a verb: When liberals today vilify a conservative Supreme Court nominee, like a Clarence Thomas, we say that the nominee has been "Borked."
The tributes to Bork at the time of his death revisited this sordid history. But none, to my knowledge, focused on the area where, sadly, I believe he was most prophetic - namely, his pessimism about American life and culture.
I never met Bork to discuss that pessimism, but a former Grove City College student of mine did. It was about 10 years ago. I was speaking at Ave Maria University School of Law in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My former student, Mark, was there. He was taking a class that semester with Judge Bork. He shared with me a dose of the usual Bork cynicism. Looking to buoy Bork a bit, my student optimistically told the judge that America's future looked good because of promising demographics. He noted that committed evangelicals and orthodox Roman Catholics were having lots of children, whereas secular leftists were not. Surely, he assured Bork, this boded well for the culture, or at least the kind of culture Bork desired.
"No, no," disagreed Bork. The judge conceded the positive demographics but noted that most of these evangelicals and Catholics send their kids to colleges dominated by these secular liberals, where all the ideals and values the youngsters learned at home and at their churches is rapidly undermined in four years - with the faithful parents unwittingly paying for the undermining. In short order, these conservative Christians support abortion and gay rights.
"We're doomed," Bork assured my student. America was on the road to Gomorrah.
Unfortunately, I think Robert Bork was exactly right.
For today's liberals, who call themselves "progressives," support for abortion has morphed into forcing fellow taxpayers to pay for it - and they plainly smear those who think otherwise as favoring a "war on women." Their support for gay rights has morphed into gay marriage - with accompanying vitriol slung at anyone who disagrees.
Robert Bork was a man ahead of his time.
Judge Robert Bork, rest in peace - far away from the shores of Gomorrah.
The last few weeks have produced many intriguing political moments, but none as shocking as the revelation that President Obama has been absent from the vast majority of his daily intelligence briefings.
According to a 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 the chaos that erupted in the Arab world. The mere fact that we were approaching 9/11 was a crucial enough reason to attend not one but all the briefings. President Obama attended none.
Worse, this is apparently nothing new. Obama attended only 43.8 percent of his Daily Briefs in the first 1,225 days of his administration. For this year, he attended a little over a third.
This is stunning, and there's no excuse for it.
Washington Post columnist, Marc Thiessen, who worked for President George W. Bush, pressed NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor for an explanation. Thiessen reported:
Vietor did not dispute the numbers, but said the fact that the president, during a time of war, does not attend his daily intelligence meeting on a daily basis is "not particularly interesting or useful." He says that the president reads his PDB every day, and he disagreed with the suggestion that there is any difference whatsoever between simply reading the briefing book and having an interactive discussion of its contents with top national security and intelligence officials where the president can probe assumptions and ask questions. "I actually don't agree at all," Vietor told me in an e-mail. "The president gets the information he needs from the intelligence community each day."
That's simply the White House covering for the president.
Similarly, White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed the PDB charge as "hilarious." No, no, said Carney, the president "gets it every day." By "it," Carney was apparently talking about the intelligence briefing papers, not the actual meetings.
Pro-Obama journalists happily accepted Carney's explanation. CNN posted Carney's comments under a photo of a pensive Obama sitting at an intelligence briefing.
Sorry, but, once again, there's no excuse for this, especially in the post-9/11 world. George W. Bush not only didn't miss the PDB but actually expanded it to six meetings per week.
Consider, too, the case of Ronald Reagan, who liberals, ironically, portrayed as an uninformed idiot who didn't pay attention in meetings or read anything.
Reagan, in fact, attended the daily intelligence briefing. I could lay this out at length, but here I'll offer just two Reagan sources, both still living, who can speak to this:
One source is Herb Meyer, special assistant to CIA director Bill Casey in the 1980s. Meyer told me:
Of course Reagan attended all those daily briefings. And after the briefers returned to CIA headquarters, Bill [Casey] would meet with them just to be sure the president (and Haig & Weinberger) got answers to whatever questions they may have had. In short, it was a very - very - serious business.
Another source is Bill Clark. Clark was Ronald Reagan's right-hand man in foreign policy. As his biographer, I know Clark well. He is 80 years old and lives in California. Clark told me this about Reagan and the PDB:
Bill Casey would, by courier, send the President's Daily Brief each morning at about 5:00 a.m. to our war room downstairs in our [National] Security Council. . . . It would be delivered to the president in his residence before he came over [by 7:00 a.m.] . . . . He'd write questions all over the margins about things that weren't clear in the briefing. And, of course, the agency [CIA] would come down with further explanations.
Clark recalls how Reagan craved that regular morning update. He would read it and then they would meet. Reagan ate up these briefings. He asked questions of his advisers. He probed for ideas. Reagan attended the briefings and used them as presidents should.
When Reagan finished his presidency, after two terms, genuine freedom and democracy were surging all over the Communist world.
As for President Obama, if he's in the process of finishing his presidency, after one term, he's facing a surge of radical Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East. Can any of that be blamed on Obama's failure to attend these routine briefings? Maybe, maybe not, but it certainly can't help.
In fact, as Marc Theissen and the Government Accountability Institute have noted in follow-up stories, Obama is now suddenly attending his daily briefing. That's no doubt a response to political criticism. But could it be - on the heels of the eruptions in Libya and Egypt, which Obama initially blamed not on pre-meditated terrorism but a video - that maybe President Obama feels like he might have been missing something?
In a recent interview, Senator Marco Rubio, effectively the Republican front-runner for 2016, was asked, "How old do you think the Earth is?"
It's a question of utter irrelevance to the country's status and whether Marco Rubio would be a good president. Rubio's answer was excellent:
I'm not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that's a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I'm not a scientist. I don't think I'm qualified to answer a question like that.
To any sensible person, this was a perfect response. Who could object?
Well, an editor for the New York Times - that flagship of faith and reason - judged Rubio's response "ludicrous." A writer at the liberal Slate, who no doubt Googled first, claimed authoritatively: "Our planet was formed 4.54 billion years ago. If Rubio suggested otherwise, it's because he's uninformed or stupid."
Ah, yes. I'm sure everyone at Slate knows the Earth is 4.54 billion years old.
As for myself, if someone asked me that question out of the blue, I couldn't answer. I've been a scientist, an agnostic/borderline atheist, and ultimately a Christian. I've taught Sunday School, lectured at colleges, collected data at top research labs, and everything in between. I've published in scientific and political journals. I know, as Marco Rubio does, that theologians dispute this.
In fact, anyone with a serious, sincere interest in this question knows this. But, of course, the question wasn't asked to Rubio out of serious, sincere interest; it never is when posed to a Republican.
Marco Rubio needs to understand two things at play here: 1) these types of questions will only get worse as he continues to campaign for president; and 2) these are not earnest questions. No, these are political booby-traps set by political partisans who work as journalists. They are used to try to caricature conservatives as extremists.
I recall a painful example when George W. Bush first became Texas governor. Bush was known as a committed Christian who had a late-in-life conversion. For the secular liberal media, this meant that Bush was a "fundamentalist." For liberal journalists, it also meant an opportunity.
And so, one journalist asked the governor if Jews get into heaven. Taken by complete surprise, Bush fumbled his answer. Afterward, he thought long and hard about it, and consulted Billy Graham. The next time Bush got the question he was ready. It was December 1999, when he was running for president, and when his opponent, Al Gore, wasn't (of course) getting asked any such questions by the liberal media. Bush's answer was a good one:
[I] understand that people communicate with God and reach God in different ways. . . . Obviously there's the big issue between the Christian and the Jew, the Jewish person. And I am mindful of the rich traditions and history of the Jewish faith. And I am mindful of what Billy Graham one time told me: for me not to try to figure out - try to pick and choose who gets to go to heaven. . . . Billy Graham said, "Don't play God." I don't get to determine who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. That's not me. Governors don't do that.
That's a really good response: "Governors don't do that." They "don't play God." They don't decide who goes to heaven.
Marco Rubio wasn't asked that same question, at least not yet, but his answer might be the same: "Sorry, man, I'm not playing God."
In fact, here's a further response Rubio might consider more generally:
Look, let's be honest: We both know what you're trying to do. You're trying to trip me up. I'm not a theologian. I'm not a minister. I don't want to be one, and the American public doesn't want me to be one. Let's stick to issues that concern people. And one more thing: Are you asking these same questions to any Democrats? Are you?
Rubio should say it calmly, gently, and with a smile - but emphatically. He is running for president, and not running for reverend. He wants to be President Rubio, not Reverend Rubio.
Unfortunately, for Rubio, like all conservative Republicans who seek the presidency, it will be open season on his beliefs. Republicans are badgered on their faith in ways that liberal Democrats plainly are not. For the media, it's the same old double standard. I hope Marco Rubio refuses to tolerate it. *
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). His latest book is The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).
Timing is everything in politics. For four years, I angered conservatives by insisting Barack Obama would get reelected. I figured that an electorate willing to elect a man with ideas and a record that far to the left in 2008 would do so again. I began changing my view, however, after the first presidential debate. Over the last three or four weeks, I became confident that Mitt Romney would defeat Obama.
Fortunately for Obama, two forces intervened to rescue him. One was the mainstream media, which ensured that Benghazi, Hurricane Sandy, and the increase in the unemployment rate wouldn't be used to undermine Obama. As for Hurricane Sandy, Obama flew in for a photo-op and then immediately returned to campaigning. If George W. Bush were president, a relentless media would have ensured that Bush didn't return to the campaign trail.
The second force was David Axelrod and the campaign machine. I stand in awe at what they pulled off. They managed to push considerably more Democrats than Republicans to the polls (38-32 percent margin), closer to the 2008 turnout that favored Obama than the 2010 mid-term turnout that favored Republicans. Because they did, the predictions of an easy Romney victory by the likes of Dick Morris, Michael Barone, George Will, and Newt Gingrich (and myself) were dead wrong. We were certain that pollsters were oversampling Democrats. The pro-Republican, pro-Romney, and anti-Obama enthusiasm we were seeing was extremely intense. It was inconceivable to us that it could be overcome by a higher Democrat turnout. Somehow, however, it was, obliterating Romney's five-point victory among independents. It erased Romney's 50-49 percent edge in the final polls by Gallup and Rasmussen.
I stand in stunned disbelief. David Axelrod, you are a miracle worker.
How much of a miracle worker? Consider:
The American people reelected a man who presided over one of the worst four-year economic records in American history. By every objective measurement, the economy is far worse than four years ago: 47 million on food stamps (up from 32 million); all-time record deficits and debt (dwarfing the Bush numbers); chronic unemployment; a prolonged non-recovering recovery; 636,000 homeless; a doubling of gas prices; and on and on.
For historical perspective, consider this: No president since FDR in 1940 won reelection with an unemployment rate above 7.1 percent. And for FDR, that number was a huge improvement from four years earlier.
How did Obama and his team overcome this? The answer: they successfully blamed it on George W. Bush, with Bill Clinton aiding and abetting the process. There were no limits to how much they blamed Bush, and how much it worked. The Democratic base swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.
Sadly, other things worked as well, and none are good for this country. The framing of Republicans as conducting a "war on women" because they don't favor forced taxpayer funding of abortion, Planned Parenthood, and contraception worked. The insistence that government-provided contraception is a new "entitlement" worked. The demonization of the Tea Party - a movement spontaneously created by Obama's wild spending - worked.
For that matter, Obama got away with the extraordinarily wasteful $800 billon "stimulus" package that didn't stimulate and buried us fiscally. He even got away with the HHS mandate that constitutes the greatest threat to religious liberty (particularly against the Catholic Church) in at least a century.
In terms of social policy, the electorate has given the green light to a president who is redefining marriage and promoting forced funding of abortion and contraception and embryo destruction - at the expense of religious liberty.
Moreover, the president's unceasing class-warfare rhetoric was rewarded by the electorate, as were his attacks on profits, the private sector, the wealthy, banking and investment, and the oil and natural gas industry. The Obama energy policy is advanced. Mitt Romney would have unleashed a boom for America's domestic energy industry. That is now gone. That is a tragedy, the levels of which we will not be able to appreciate.
And what about Romney? I had my reservations, but America rejected a genuinely decent man who had the best business background of anyone who would have ever assumed the Oval Office. He was the perfect person for the perfect time.
In short, what we saw on November 6, 2012 was a breathtaking display of political survival by Barack Obama, the first president to be re-elected with a lower number of Electoral College votes and popular vote. What we also witnessed was the final step in the fundamental transformation of America that Barack Obama promised four years ago.
All the pieces fit, so why do historians and biographers ignore the question?
As president, Barack Obama is many things - many unprecedented things. There's the commendable: the truly historic achievement (with apologies to Bill Clinton) of being the first black president. There's the dubious: the lamentable distinction (christened by Newt Gingrich) of being the first "food stamp president."
But here's an intriguing, provocative thought: Is Barack Obama our first "Red Diaper Baby" president? That would be unprecedented.
Now, before deeming the question over-the-top, out-of-bounds, and unnecessarily incendiary, hear me out:
I come at this question as a Cold War historian and as the guy who wrote the book on Obama's mentor, Frank Marshall Davis, a hardcore Communist (The Communist, Threshold Editions/Mercury Ink). And the thought is not my own. It was posed to me last week by an emailer, and I'm surprised the thought never once crossed my Cold Warrior mind, particularly given the daily questions that I field about Obama's past, the Communists in Obama's past, and even whether Obama himself is a Communist. I've heard them all. I've considered those questions from every angle, and yet, this one never occurred to me.
Moreover, a critical clarification: If Barack Obama is a Red Diaper Baby, it doesn't mean he's a Communist. I've met many conservative anti-communists who were born and raised Red Diaper Babies, only to flee their parents' politics like the plague. They contact me, "Hi, professor Kengor, my name is [fill in the blank] and I'm the classic Red Diaper Baby. Let me tell you my story, . . ."
There have been studies and books (some by university presses) on Red Diaper Babies. One of them, Red Diapers: Growing Up in the Communist Left, an edited volume by Judy Kaplan and Linn Shapiro, includes chapter contributions from the likes of Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporter of Watergate fame. Bernstein is not a Communist.
So, the question of Obama?s red diapers was just posed to me. I discussed it with Ron Radosh, a fellow historian of the Cold War and Communism. Radosh himself, in his youth, was a Communist. He wrote a terrific memoir called Commies. Radosh knew Red Diaper Babies by the nursery-load, and he understands the phenomenon not only personally but historically and as a scholar.
"I and everyone else who uses the term 'Red Diaper Baby,'" says Radosh, defining his terms, "do so to define anyone whose parents were either CPUSA members or fellow-travelers, and who therefore grew up in the milieu of the Party and its front groups." Radosh, a professor emeritus of history at the City University of New York, adds: "Obama fits that definition."
Indeed, Obama seems to fit that definition. Consider:
Barack Obama's mother and father met in a Russian language class at the University of Hawaii in the fall of 1960. Their choice of study was a reflection of political interests. As one sympathetic biographer, Sally Jacobs, said of Barack senior, "Obama had an abiding interest in the Soviet Union."
Jacobs has published the preeminent biographical work on the senior Obama. Among those she quotes is Naranhkiri Tith, a prominent Cambodian who became professor of international economics at the prestigious Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Tith was a classmate of Barack senior at the University of Hawaii. The two had frequent, spirited debates over subjects like Communism, an ideology that would ravage Tith's native Cambodia, where Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge slaughtered 1-2 million out of population of 5-7 million in just four years.
"Obama and I were on opposite poles," says Tith.
I did not believe Communism could save the world. It was too good to be true and I gave examples of what I had seen. Obama senior was the opposite. He was always glorying about how Communism had liberated Africa and Cuba. He had no idea what Communism was all about. For him, Communism was going to save the world. Capitalism was going to collapse.
The senior Obama found a more receptive audience in Ann Dunham, Obama's mother. A radical leftist, Dunham questioned the American way. As Sally Jacobs put it, Dunham was given to questions like: "What was so good about democracy? What's so bad about Communism? And why was capitalism so great?"
It appears that Obama's mother was, at the least, a fellow traveler.
Of course, young Obama spent much time with his mother but virtually no time with Barack senior, which brings me to another source: Frank Marshall Davis.
In the fall of 1970, a nine-year-old Obama was introduced to Frank Marshall Davis by Obama's grandfather, Stanley Dunham, who himself was on the far left. Dunham connected the two because his grandson was lacking a black-male role model. Dunham chose a curious pick as a mentor for his grandson. As I've noted in a lengthy profile for The American Spectator, Davis was a literal, card-carrying member of Communist Party USA (card number 47544). He edited and wrote for Party-line publications such as the Chicago Star and the Honolulu Record. Davis did outrageous pro-Soviet propaganda work. In December 1956, the Democrats who ran the Senate Judiciary Committee summoned Davis to Washington to testify on his activities. He pleaded the Fifth Amendment. Even more remarkable, Frank Marshall Davis's political antics were so radical that the FBI placed him on the federal government's Security Index, which meant that he could be immediately detained or arrested in the event of a national emergency, such as a war breaking out between the United States and USSR.
Young Obama met with Davis far more often than he met with the senior Obama. I've been told by one source that they met weekly, a claim I cannot substantiate. We know they met often, and in lengthy, late-night sessions. David Maraniss, whose source may be Obama himself, contends that Davis and Obama met upwards of 15 times, a conservative estimate that nonetheless would be 15 times the number of times that young Obama met his Kenyan father.
To sum up: Between Obama's mother, grandfather, Kenyan father, and Frank Marshall Davis, those are some pretty extreme political influences. Some of them were interested in Communism, sympathetic to Communism, fellow travelers, or even downright Communist Party members. For a young Obama - who I actually feel bad for - this would seem to meet the standards of a Red Diaper Baby environment. And as I lay out in my book, citing especially the testimony of Dr. John Drew, who states that he knew Obama at Occidental College as a fellow Marxist, these political pilgrims produced a kindred spirit who left Hawaii for the wider world in 1979. Today he sits in the Oval Office.
I can hear liberals now: So, if Obama is our first Red Diaper Baby president, but not currently a closet card-carrying Communist, why does this matter? That's nonsense, the typical liberal red herring. Of course, it matters.
It matters just as any biography of any president or leader matters. None of us (liberals included) would ignore the ideological upbringing of any other president. This information gets to the core of the intellectual and political development of President Obama, the most powerful man in the world, the man in charge of the mightiest economic engine in history. This man is the product of many radical influences that helped forge him into what he is today. If that man was raised a Red Diaper Baby, then it had some form of meaningful impact that's worthy of our consideration. Let's discuss it like adults.
"What do you think of this?" So began a phone call from Todd Starnes of FoxNews radio. Starnes asked me for a comment on a shocking story: A band at a high school near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania performed a halftime show titled, "St. Petersburg 1917," a musical commemoration of the Bolshevik Revolution, replete with hammers and sickles, military uniforms, and red flags.
"No way," I responded. "Are you sure this wasn't a joke, a parody?"
It wasn't. And parents of the students aren't laughing.
The superintendent of the school genuinely pleaded innocence. "It's a representation of the time period in history, called 'St. Petersburg 1917,'" she said.
I am truly sorry that somebody took the performance in that manner. I am. . . . If anything is being celebrated it's the music. . . . I'm just very sorry that it wasn't looked at as just a history lesson.
Well, as a history lesson, I give it a giant, red "F."
To be fair to the superintendent, she sincerely doesn't seem to understand what's so bad about this incident, and why it's in bad taste. In fact, therein is the basic problem: We have failed to teach the horrors of the Bolshevik Revolution specifically and of Communism generally.
Those horrors include over 100 million corpses generated by Communist governments, starting with the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 - that is, "St. Petersburg 1917." For perspective, 100 million is twice the combined deaths of World War I and II, the two deadliest conflicts in history. Even then, 100 million dead, which is the estimate provided by the seminal Harvard University Press work, The Black Book of Communism, is a conservative figure. The latest research claims that Mao Tse-Tung was responsible for the deaths of at least 70 million in China, and Joseph Stalin alone may well have killed 60 million in the USSR.
And yet, far too many Americans are ignorant of this catastrophe, especially younger Americans. I know. I've been observing it carefully for years. I could give a thousand examples, but here are just a few:
One former student of mine, John, told me about his first assignment as a teaching assistant in a high-school history class. He offered to cover some of the lectures on the 1930s Soviet Union. His supervising teacher agreed. So, John methodically covered the famine in the Ukraine, Stalin's purges, the Hitler-Stalin Pact.
John was pleased at how the students were electrified, hands in the air, many questions - clearly learning these hideous things for the first time. Yet, he also noticed the dirty looks from his supervisor. Later, the teacher testily reprimanded him: "Look, John, I want you to ease up on the Red-baiting and Commie-bashing. Besides, these students are going to get a decidedly different view on Communism from me." She promised to teach "a softer side of Communism."
Another student of mine, Sean, told me of the elite Christian private school he attended, where the newly hired teacher, fresh out of a major university, told the students he was a "Christian Communist," and that anyone who is a Christian should be a Communist.
Another student told me of a teacher who "convinced the entire class" that Marxism was a "wonderful" but "misunderstood" idea that simply had not been tried correctly. "He absolutely brainwashed us," she told me bitterly.
These are merely three anecdotal examples.
What's true for high schools is even worse at the university level. I lecture around the country, sponsored by groups like the Young America's Foundation and Intercollegiate Studies Institute. I'm often requested to give a talk titled, "Why Communism Is Bad." When I read passages directly from the Communist Manifesto, or when I cite authoritative sources on the maimed and dead, the students are aghast, eyes wide open. Rarely are their professors in attendance.
Those same professors, incidentally, write the textbooks used by high schools. Several years ago, I did a comprehensive, two-year study on "World History" and "Civics" texts. The study looked at roughly 20 texts used in public schools. Their treatment of Communism is scandalous. The greatest abuse is the sins of omission. I could not find a single text that listed figures on the dead under Communist governments. These omissions were not repeated for historical abuses like the Inquisition, the Crusades, slavery, or the internment of Japanese Americans. "Right-wing" dictators like Cuba's Batista and Chile's Pinochet were treated far more harshly than Fidel Castro, who generated many more victims and was still in power.
I could go on and on.
In short, we now have an entire generation of Americans born after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and USSR. They didn't live through the mass repression and carnage that was Soviet Communism. They need to learn about it, just as my generation learned the evils of Nazism. Unfortunately, they are not. And so, we shouldn't be surprised when they merrily march to the triumphal sounds of the Bolshevik Revolution.
(Co-written with Judge Bill Clark)
Ronald Reagan clashed with Libya and its dictator Moammar Gadhafi for the first time over 30 years ago. The details of that encounter must be revisited - particularly President Reagan's sense of resolve and clarity of purpose - as once again America grapples with the anti-American sentiment and attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts in the Middle East.
One of us (Clark) was there in Washington in the 1980s, serving as acting secretary of state, in the absence of Secretary of State Al Haig, when the news hit regarding Gadhafi's latest antics. Clark was in constant communication with Reagan and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. All had been close friends, colleagues and confidants dating back to California in the 1960s, when Clark was Governor Reagan's chief of staff.
The crux of the crisis was, as usual, Gadhafi himself. The location was the Gulf of Sidra, off the North African coast in the Mediterranean, an area of obvious strategic importance. Gadhafi had already persisted in making himself a nuisance to the civilized world. In the late 1970s, he issued a direct challenge to the United States.
Each year, the American Sixth Fleet conducted extensive naval exercises in these waters. This was acceptable action in international waters, appropriate maneuvers for battle-readiness, particularly for the nation that led NATO. U.S. actions went on without dispute or provocation. That changed when Gadhafi unilaterally extended Libya's presence beyond its historic 12-mile coastal limit into a much wider swath that went 100-200 miles from Tripoli to Benghazi, deep into the Gulf of Sidra. He was attempting to establish it as a Libyan lake, off limits to America and the West.
The Carter administration chose not to challenge Gadhafi, rescheduling and relocating U.S. exercises, ordering the Navy to stay clear of Gadhafi's muscle-flexing. In 1981, however, a new president and new team - new principals with new principles - came to Washington. Ronald Reagan made clear he would not let America be bullied. Reagan and Weinberger announced that exercises would take place, as scheduled, just outside Libya's 12-mile coastal limit.
More than that, the Joint Chiefs of Staff established new rules of engagement for the U.S. fleet, which Reagan quickly approved. The rules stated that if U.S. forces were fired upon, they could fire back immediately, without seeking layers of approval. "Anytime we send an American anywhere in the world where he or she can be shot at," declared Reagan, "they have the right to shoot back."
Reagan went further. During a National Security Council briefing, the admiral in charge asked precisely how far U.S. aircraft would be permitted to retaliate against Libyan aircraft. Reagan answered: "All the way into their hangar," into Libya itself.
Reagan understood that a bully continues bullying until he's punched in the nose. That moment came with early morning exercises in August 1981, led by the USS Nimitz. The Libyan air force set course, with a large number of aircraft, including Soviet MiGs. After a series of confrontations, two Libyan fighter jets locked on two American F-14 Tomcats escorting our ships, firing air-to-air missiles. The American pilots wasted no time making good use of the Reagan-approved rules, firing back with heat-seeking missiles. No need remained to follow the Libyan jets all the way to their hangars; they went down in the Mediterranean.
This demonstration cooled off Gadhafi, though it did not end his mischief. He continued his terrorist activities, operating not defiantly in the open but covertly, pursuing an extensive hit list, including Clark as one of the principal targets. His killing of innocent civilians in countries deemed threats to his regime eventually prompted the Reagan administration to order U.S. aircraft to Libya in April 1986. Targets in Tripoli and Benghazi were of a military and personal nature. Some of the nearly 100 bombs delivered on Gadhafi's homeland landed at Splendid Gate, Gadhafi's barracks, injuring his family members. Gadhafi, sleeping in a tent outside the compound, barely missed injury but did receive a rude awakening.
Consistently, President Reagan held firm against protests from the international community, from France, and from American liberals insisting that the Gulf of Sidra would be another Gulf of Tonkin: "Vietnam" all over again.
America has a terribly difficult job with the present crisis in Libya and throughout the Middle East. To be clear, we're not advocating military action. We don't want war. We believe the lessons of the Reagan years - and those immediately prior - speak for themselves, namely: The Middle East situation demands a sense of direction, clarity, and confident purpose. Uncertainty suggests weakness. The Washington rule stands the test of time: The principles never change - only the principals. *
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). His latest book is The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).
In the last 24 hours, beginning with the 11th anniversary of 9/11, all hell broke loose in the Middle East. Our diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya have been attacked, with the U.S. ambassador to Libya among those brutally murdered by Islamists. Much will continue to be said about this, but the similarities to Iran 33 years ago are striking. And make no mistake about it, rightly or wrongly, this is now a major political issue in our presidential election, as it was in the 1980 presidential election. Just like that, in one explosive burst, foreign policy is on the front-burner in the 2012 campaign.
Over the last four years, longtime authoritarian Arab leaders in Egypt and Libya have been deposed, supplanted - we fear - by longtime extremist Islamic movements. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak is gone. In Libya, Muammar Kaddafi is gone. Neither man was, by any stretch, a democrat. And yet, we worry that they have been replaced by something much worse.
Well, something similar unfolded in Iran 33 years ago, when a longtime authoritarian leader and close U.S. ally, the Shah, was replaced by an extremist Islamic movement headed by the Ayatollah, producing the world's worst, longest-running theocratic/terrorist state. The moment was dramatized on November 4, 1979, when the U.S. embassy was seized and over 50 American hostages were captured and held for 444 days. Like in Egypt, it all seemed to begin, at least visually, symbolically, with the burning of the American flag at our embassy.
The current chaos in Egypt was reportedly precipitated not by any sort of vile commemoration of 9/11, but by an anti-Mohammed film released in parts on the internet and broadcast inside Egypt. That said, it was also reported that the American flag outside the embassy was replaced by pro-Al Qaeda flags. What other factors may have sparked the Egyptian and Libyan outbursts? Fairly or unfairly, that's where the politics comes in.
President Obama's detractors are wasting no time looking for possible added motivations. They are noting the debate at the Democratic convention last week over Jerusalem. They are pointing to the news (released the same day, on September 11, 2012) that Obama allegedly refused an Israeli request for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ben Netanyahu. They are stressing four years of (in their view) weakness, accommodation, amateurism, and a lack of clarity by the Obama administration in the Middle East, from Egypt and Libya to Iran and Syria. Indeed, the "clarity" factor was precisely Mitt Romney's theme in his September 12 press conference in Jacksonville, Florida, where Romney repeatedly underscored the word "lead" or "leadership," which he sees as lacking from Barack Obama.
I will not dissect those claims here (some of which I agree with), but what is clear is how this unfolding situation appears eerily like what President Jimmy Carter faced going into his reelection in 1980. Carter was blamed for the fall of the Shah and the rise of the Ayatollah. Republicans will be making analogies between Carter's mishandling of Iran and the Shah and Obama's handling of Egypt and Mubarak - and perhaps also of Obama's handling of Libya and Kaddafi, and still more.
Whoever is to blame, there's no question that the course of events in Egypt and Libya suddenly seem to be veering even more sharply into the catastrophic direction that Iran took 33 years ago. That is a very bad thing, a rapidly evolving foreign-policy disaster for the United States - and for its president. Will it hurt or help Barack Obama as the November vote approaches? We shall see. In the meantime, get ready for seven weeks of intense and at times nasty debate.
This August 23, 2012, marks the centennial of the birth of Gene Kelly, the great American dancer, actor, singer; a guy's guy who - along with Fred Astaire - is the only male who ever left me (momentarily) wishing I could dance.
I've always felt a kinship with Gene Kelly. It starts with Pittsburgh, the town of our birth. Kelly was born there, a hardworking Irish Catholic kid, son of Harriet Catherine and James Patrick Joseph Kelly. He attended St. Raphael Elementary and eventually sparred in fistfights and on the dance floor before opening a studio in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill section.
And then there's our connection to the University of Pittsburgh, from which we both graduated many decades apart - he in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. When I step on campus today, I walk by his star engraved outside the William Pitt Union. There are no stars chiseled on campus for the likes of, say, Thomas Starzl, who pioneered organ transplantation at Pitt's School of Medicine, or for Jonas Salk, who was developing the Polio vaccine at Pitt when Kelly was making "Brigadoon" - but, hey, such is celebrity, and I'm happy that folks get this regular reminder of Kelly's feet once gliding across campus. That star stands a few feet from where - at old Forbes Field - Bill Mazeroski beat the New York Yankees in the 1960s World Series, and where Roberto Clemente did a different kind of gliding across the base paths.
Readers familiar with my writings are probably thinking I must also feel a political kinship with Kelly. Not exactly. I'm, of course, a conservative; Kelly was anything but. In fact, it pained me to include him in my book, Dupes where I noted Kelly among the Hollywood progressives exploited by Hollywood Communists. To wit:
In October 1947, Gene Kelly joined a gaggle of Hollywood liberals who formed a group called the "Committee for the First Amendment." They launched a major public-relations trip to Washington to defend accused friends; that is, friends accused of being Communists. Their friends had been summoned before the House Committee on Un-American Activities for their blatantly pro-Soviet activities. The accused insisted they were neither pro-Communist nor pro-Stalin. Kelly and his fellow progressives believed them totally - hook, line, sinker.
Among the liberal stars enlisted were Katherine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Danny Kaye, Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Gene Kelly.
Once they got to Washington, however, the wide-eyed progressives learned the truth. The accused, such as the likes of John Howard Lawson - known as "Hollywood's Commissar"-Dalton Trumbo, Alvah Bessie, and Albert Maltz, were guilty as charged. When the actors watched the hearings, they were stunned that Congress' Democrats and Republicans and their lawyers had done their homework and presented massive volumes of hard evidence: Communist Party card numbers, dues payments, writings for the Daily Worker and New Masses, membership in front-groups, and on and on. The actors had been lied to - big-time. Bogart flew into a rage, screaming with choice profanities that he had been "sold out." He sure had - as had Gene Kelly and the others.
In fact, it was the second time that year that Kelly had been duped. In February 1947, Hollywood's closet Communists cast Kelly, the all-American boy, to provide the introduction at the kick-off meeting of the Progressive Citizens of America (PCA), held at the Embassy Auditorium in Los Angeles. Kelly was no doubt surprised to see (before he spoke) the large screen that splashed rolling footage of Harry Truman's and America's bloody crime at Hiroshima. This was part of Communist Party USA's anti-Truman campaign, along with other campaigns that year that served Stalin: their attacks on the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan. On the ballot that evening as board members of PCA were the likes of Lawson and Trumbo.
Kelly was hardly alone in being burned by the Reds. My political hero, Ronald Reagan, once a self-described "hemophiliac liberal," likewise was torched by Hollywood's Communists. Reagan, of course, more than redeemed himself. As a result, we remember him for his politics more than his movies.
As for Gene Kelly, though, we fortunately remember him for his movies: The blue-collar, happy-go-lucky GI performing "I Got Rhythm" to French kids in Paris post-World War II; singing with Judy Garland when she was famous before he was ("For Me and My Gal," 1942); doing the town with Frank Sinatra; and, best of all, immortalized in that wonderful scene in "Singing in the Rain." For the record, my favorite occasion watching the latter was during a rain delay one day at a Pittsburgh Pirates game. That brought it all home.
Here's to Gene Kelly, fellow Pittsburgher-and American icon. May that star continue to shine beyond Pitt campus.
Try to define progressivism. In fact, ask progressives to try to define progressivism. All we really know is that they're, well, progressing. They and their ideas and their politics are always changing, evolving. This means that what they believe and hold fast and dear today may not be what they believe and hold fast and dear tomorrow, or decades or a century from now.
For instance, when progressive heroine Margaret Sanger started her American Birth Control League a century ago, she was seeking birth control for, among other purposes, what she and fellow progressives termed "race improvement." She hoped to expunge the gene pool of what she termed "human weeds," "morons," and "imbeciles." She repudiated abortion, calling it
. . . an alternative that I cannot too strongly condemn . . . the practice of it merely for limitation of offspring is dangerous and vicious."
She clarified in no uncertain terms:
. . . some ill-informed persons have the notion that when we speak of birth control we include abortion as a method. We certainly do not.
Today, Sanger's American Birth Control League is Planned Parenthood, America's largest abortion provider. Progressives have not only progressed to that level but also to the point where they demand full taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood and birth control and abortion drugs. Most amazing, those who disagree are castigated as Neanderthals favoring a "war on women."
How did we suddenly progress to this latest stage?
That's a long answer with a lot of factors, but we cannot disregard the huge impact of the latest influence: President Obama. If you would have told me five years ago that the president of the United States, by executive fiat, would force all Americans - including all religious organizations - to fund sterilization services and abortion drugs, I would have at least taken solace in one thing: my liberal friends would surely respect my religious beliefs and insist their president was crossing the line.
Sorry, the opposite is true. With President Obama leading, millions of Democrats have willfully fallen in line. He is not bending, and neither are they. If we disagree with what they're compelling us to do - that's our fault. We have failed to progress to their understanding.
My pro-choice friends always promised they'd never force me to pay for their abortions. With Obama out front, that has changed. They simply hadn't progressed there yet.
The same is true for gay marriage, where liberals - immediately after Obama's statement on gay marriage to ABC a few months ago - are suddenly on fire for the cause, from blasting Chick-fil-A to, according to The New York Times, considering the unprecedented step of placing gay marriage in the Democratic Party platform. Consider liberals' progression on this issue:
A half century ago, the concept of "gay marriage" would have been unthinkable to any Democrat. Currently, I'm being frequently asked about parallels in thinking between Obama and his mentor, Frank Marshall Davis. There are striking similarities when it comes to their words on Wall Street, the rich, tax cuts, wealth redistribution, universal healthcare. I'm often asked if Davis' writings indicated support for gay marriage and abortion. Are you kidding? Anyone who might have voiced public support for those things back then, Democrat or Republican or radical, would have been hauled off to an asylum as a public menace.
Just 20 years ago, the previous Democratic president, Bill Clinton, supported the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as strictly between a man and a woman.
While support for gay marriage has increased since then, what the progressive movement needed was a front man to light the fuse and take the lead. They got it big-time from President Obama. Just like that, the entire public debate has changed, with gay-marriage advocates on the offensive and opponents on the defensive. Those opposing the unwavering norm since the dawn of humanity, following the billions before us - what Chesterton called the "Democracy of the Dead" - are suddenly framed as extremists who must explain ourselves. And CEOs of companies who voice a mere opinion to the contrary - e.g., Chick-fil-A - are picketed, protested, banned, and attacked by the nation's mayors for manufacturing everything from "hate thoughts" to "hate chicken."
Progressivism. No one can see where it will end up, but we can see how it unfolds. In this latest manifestation - call it President Obama's progress - it compels all of us to acquiesce on gay marriage and abortion. Obama didn't begin the push, but, in only four years, he has advanced the progressive project by leaps and bounds, a stunning surge that doesn't happen without him.
In 2008, Barack Obama promised fundamental, transformational change - and now, thanks to the American electorate, we're getting it.
President Obama's position on gay marriage has won some converts, from (perhaps) the entirety of the Democratic Party to (especially) young people. As to the latter, one of them emailed me recently. A good-hearted, thoughtful young man, who this fall will be a freshman at a very liberal college in the Northeast, I'll leave him unnamed. His story, however, is instructive, and sheds light on an ancient morality tale worth considering right now.
The young man comes from a conservative evangelical family. He has progressively edged in a liberal direction. He read an article I had written on President Obama's gay-marriage advocacy. Though he disagreed with me, he was respectful. I appreciated that, and responded.
He objected to my point that legalizing gay marriage would represent a radical rupture not just of the definition of "marriage" but of "family." "How would that happen?" he asked.
I support gay marriage and think that if two people are in love, then they should have the right to be together with full benefits under the title of being MARRIED.
I really don't want to hear any religious arguments. Marriage is a secular act that can also be religious.
The young man was open to hearing my viewpoint. As he said, he didn't want to merely yell at me, "Oh my god! You're against gay marriage? Then you're stupid!" That's what he's sure to hear at the liberal college where his parents will be sending their life savings.
Though there were many ways I could have replied to this young man's email, my response focused not on his youth but, rather, the youth of all of us, of this entire generation, of the whole culture. Here was the thrust of my response:
Whether a society or people are religious or not, the most fundamental basis of society and peoples - literally since the dawn of humanity- has been marriage between a man and a woman. That bond is the cornerstone. To suddenly sever that bond is not only a radical rupture, but remarkably arrogant; it assumes that our current generation is wiser than the multiple millennia of civilizations heretofore. Google the word "matrimony." "Marriage" has always meant the marriage of a man and a woman.
We shouldn't mess with these things. Once we begin redefining and reshaping these things in each of our own images, we're in trouble. I ask progressives: Do you truly want the government to take unto itself the right to remold such ancient terms? (Answer: Yes, they do, but only when the government agrees with them.)
That question ought to give pause to libertarians who support gay marriage. Do they want to allow government this unprecedented, enormous moral power and authority, from which will flow all sorts of new, massive government redistributive power and authority? As Jennifer Roback Morse asks, do libertarians really want the federal government regulating (let alone defining) marriage? If they do, then they're favoring not small government but big government - actually, huge government.
Even most liberal Democrats (prior to President Obama) had voted to preserve marriage between a man and a woman. Witness the Clintons and congressional Democrats passing the Defense of Marriage Act in the 1990s.
Those against gay marriage need to know that not only are they in the majority today, but over the course of centuries and millennia. Our position is based not on the latest societal/cultural whim at the ballot box but on the inherited wisdom of billions of ancestors and thinkers preceding us. It is rooted in what G. K. Chesterton called "the democracy of the dead."
In his book, Orthodoxy, Chesterton wrote:
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of their birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father.
There is deep, accumulated wisdom in our long line of ancestors. To suddenly assume we know better, compliments of recent enlightened understanding, is self-righteous and short-sighted. Don't our ancestors - our dead - have any say? There were a lot more of them than us. Are we to judge they were mere brutes lacking our magnificent reasoning abilities?
There's something to be said about, oh, multiple millennia of consensus belief. It seems unwise to not give our ancestors any serious consideration, and to not at least consider whether we might be wrong on this particular issue.
Should the dead not have a vote, a say, in this? *
When we open our newspapers on Father's Day, we expect to find something nice about dads - often, heroic dads. Yet, for every boy or girl whose father was a doctor or Marine who stormed the beaches of Normandy, there is a dad who was more complicated: not a great dad but one still loved and who had an impact, sometimes in unorthodox ways. This describes a father I've studied: Jack Reagan, father of the late president, Ronald Reagan.
Born in the Midwest, Jack Reagan was a shoe salesman who scraped and scrapped so his family could get by. And they didn't get by very well. Before long, drinking - a lot of drinking - was helping Jack to cope.
Jack uprooted the family at every turn. Throughout young Ronald Reagan's childhood, his family never owned a home.
In one of these moves, to the little Illinois town of Galesburg, Ronald had a kind of epiphany. The lonely boy ventured to the attic of his latest home. The previous tenant left behind a collection of bird's eggs and butterflies enclosed in glass. The curious first-grader escaped into the attic for hours at a time, marveling at the eggs' rich colors and the intricate wings of the butterflies. "The experience," Reagan remembered,
. . . left me with a reverence for the handiwork of God that never left me.
These wonderments, said Reagan, were like "gateways." The notion of a Creator was etched into the boy's consciousness. He later thanked that previous tenant as "an anonymous benefactor to whom I owe much."
Ironically, this dramatic rendezvous with the Creator was Jack's inadvertent doing.
Moving took a toll on the young Ronald; it created a void in him - a hole that religion came to fill. In need of a rock of reliability, he looked to where his mom, his heart, and his desolation pointed him: upward. There, he found what he perceived as a permanent friend - God, who was always in His place, accessible at any moment, who never moved on him.
Another foible of Jack's may have contributed to his son's turn to God. It was a brisk February evening in Dixon, Illinois in 1922. Returning home from a basketball game at the YMCA, 11-year-old Ronald expected to arrive to an empty house. Instead, he was stunned by the sight of his father sprawled out in the snow on the front porch. "He was drunk," his son later remembered. "Dead to the world . . . crucified." Jack's hair was soaked with melted snow, matted unevenly against the side of his reddened face. The smell of whiskey emanated from his mouth.
Young Reagan stood over his father for a minute or two. He wanted to simply let himself in the door and pretend his dad wasn't there. Instead, he grabbed a fistful of overcoat and heaved Jack to the bedroom, away from the weather's harm and neighbors' attention. He felt no resentment, just grief. This, after all, was the man who had always carried him.
The event shook the young Reagan; he never forgot it. Four months later he was baptized at his mom's church.
The story of Ronald Reagan's dad is sad. Yet, it describes many father-son relationships and reveals how a complex father can possess both negative and positive attributes - and, yes, there were positives.
Jack instilled in Ronald Reagan the work ethic that propelled him into radio, then the movies, and then television - all in the heyday of each medium. In the 1930s, when most of America suffered, Ronald Reagan soared. He would go on to twice win (in landslides) the governorship of the nation's largest state and the presidency of the world's most powerful nation. His father taught him that success comes from within, not by a handout. Reagan saw in his dad an ability to roll with the punches, a trait crucial to Reagan's thick political skin. He also learned from his father the gift of gab that the Great Communicator ultimately mastered.
Moreover, completely neglected by history was Ronald Reagan's hatred of racial and religious bigotry. Here, too, his dad had a role. Jack didn't just tell his son that racism was bad; he shared indelible accounts that Reagan internalized and retold throughout his life.
Of course, dads can't do everything. For the duty of spiritual development, Jack Reagan delegated to his wife, Nelle. Give him credit, I suppose. Jack knew his limits and his wife's strengths. Nelle excelled at the task.
Really, it was the Reagans together, both Jack and his wife, who serve as an excellent example of how it takes two - a mom and dad, each bringing separate strengths to the table - to best raise a child. Maybe that's a worthwhile thing to remember on Father's Day, and any day.
The left-leaning magazine The Nation has published a list of what it deems America's all-time, most influential progressives. The list, which you can review for yourself, is very revealing.
For starters, it's fascinating that The Nation leads with Eugene Debs at number 1. Debs was a socialist. It was 100 years ago this year, in 1912, that Debs ran for president on the Socialist Party ticket.
Today's progressives get annoyed if you call them socialists. Well, why is a pure socialist the no. 1 "progressive" on The Nation's list?
Of course, progressives really get annoyed if you suggest they bear any sympathies to Communism. That being the case, two other "progressives" on The Nation's list are quite intriguing: Paul Robeson and I. F. Stone.
Paul Robeson was a proud recipient of the "Stalin Prize." Even The New York Times concedes Robeson was "an outspoken admirer of the Soviet Union." When Robeson in 1934 returned from his initial pilgrimage to the Motherland, The Daily Worker thrust a microphone in his face. The Daily Worker rushed its interview into print, running it in the January 15, 1935 issue under the headline, "'I Am at Home,' Says Robeson at Reception in Soviet Union."
The Bolsheviks, explained Robeson, were new men. He was bowled over by the "feeling of safety and abundance and freedom" he found "wherever I turn." He discovered sheer equality under Joseph Stalin.
When asked about Stalin's purges, Robeson retorted:
From what I have already seen of the workings of the Soviet Government, I can only say that anybody who lifts his hand against it ought to be shot!
Yes, Robeson was deadly serious.
Robeson told the Daily Worker that he felt a "kinship" with the USSR. So much so that he moved his family there.
He also joined the Communist Party USA. In May 1998, the centennial of Robeson's birth, longtime CPUSA head Gus Hall hailed Robeson as a man of Communist "conviction," who "never forgot he was a Communist."
None of this is mentioned in The Nation's profile, which blasts anyone who dared consider Robeson a Communist. Instead, The Nation insists that Comrade Paul was a "progressive."
And that brings me to I. F. Stone.
Stone is listed at number 26 on The Nation's list. Stone has been hailed by liberals for decades as the literal "conscience" of journalism - a hero of impeccable honesty. In fact, we now know that Stone, at one time, was a paid Soviet agent.
In their latest Yale University Press work, historians John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev conclude that Stone (from 1936-39) was a "Soviet spy." Also closely studying Stone's case is Herb Romerstein. In The Venona Secrets, Romerstein likewise concluded "Stone was indeed a Soviet agent." One of the stronger confirmations from the Soviet side is retired KGB general Oleg Kalugin, who reported:
He [Stone] was a KGB agent since 1938. His code name was "Blin." When I resumed relations with him in 1966, it was on Moscow's instructions. Stone was a devoted Communist.
None of this appears at Stone's "progressive" profile at The Nation.
And speaking of progressives with Communist sympathies, also on The Nation's list is Margaret Sanger. The Planned Parenthood matron sojourned to Stalin's Potemkin villages in 1934. "[W]e could well take example from Russia," Sanger advised Americans upon her return, "where birth control instruction is part of the regular welfare service of the government."
The Planned Parenthood founder was stunned by the explosion of abortions once legalized by the Bolsheviks. No fear, though. Sanger offered this confident prediction:
All the [Bolshevik] officials with whom I discussed the matter stated that as soon as the economic and social plans of Soviet Russia are realized, neither abortions nor contraception will be necessary or desired. A functioning Communistic society will assure the happiness of every child, and will assume the full responsibility for its welfare and education.
This was pure progressive utopianism, an absolute faith in central planners.
Overall, the socialists, Communists, and Soviet sympathizers on The Nation's list are dizzying: Upton Sinclair, Henry Wallace, W. E. B. DuBois, Norman Thomas, Lincoln Steffens, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Tom Hayden, Barbara Ehrenreich, and John Dewey - founding father of American public education.
Thus, I'm compelled to ask: Is this "progressivism?" Is progressivism synonymous with liberalism, or is it much further to left, closer to Communism?
I plead with progressives: This is your ideology. . . . Could you better define it, if that's possible? Or is the definition of progressivism always progressing? Actually, it is always progressing; that's precisely the problem with this train-wreck of an ever-elusive ideology. The Nation's list of leading American "progressives" is truly a teachable moment.
I've gotten some very interesting emails regarding President Obama's mandate commanding Roman Catholics (and many evangelical Protestants) to violate their consciences by providing mandatory contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing pharmaceuticals. The emailers noted that Obama's action will force Catholics to challenge the president in court, particularly given that bishops are saying they will not comply with the law. It could mean another constitutional showdown over "Obamacare," one that could likewise end up in the Supreme Court. Imagine: Catholic Bishops v. Obama.
What a fitting capstone to the Obama presidency. And imagine that a majority of professing Roman Catholics elected this man in November 2008.
If this issue goes to the high court, I wouldn't bet my money on Obama, even with the two new "pro-choice," pro-Roe liberals he added to the bench: Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Even the most "progressive" Supreme Court justice cannot avoid that old freedom-of-religion thing in the First Amendment.
All of that is remarkable enough. But I find it especially ironic given two other fascinating current news item relating to the Constitution:
President Obama did an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer. Obama expressed frustration at his inability to be the "transformational political figure" Americans elected. The "change agent" lamented that this was the fault of the American Founders - who Obama refers to as "men of property and wealth" - and their Constitution. Obama told Lauer:
What's frustrated people is that I have not been able to force Congress to implement every aspect of what I said in 2008. Well, it turns out our Founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change that I would like sometimes. But what I have been able to do is move in the right direction. And what I'm going to keep on doing is plot away, very persistent.
Ah, that old Constitution again.
Obama is quite correct. His primary obstacle is the Founders' system of separation of powers and checks and balances. His problem is a Congress and Supreme Court that is empowered to say, "No, Mr. President, that isn't constitutional. You can't do that in America."
That brings me to the second news item:
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave an interview to Egyptian television. Ginsburg will likely be the next justice to step down. Once Obama replaces her with a much younger pro-Roe judge, this nation will have Roe v. Wade for another 39 years. In the interview, Ginsburg advised Middle East democrats on drafting a constitution. She did not, however, recommend the U.S. Constitution. Ginsburg stated:
I can't speak about what the Egyptian experience should be, because I'm operating under a rather old constitution. The United States, in comparison to Egypt, is a very new nation; and yet we have the oldest written constitution still in force in the world . . .
I would not look to the U.S. Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the constitution of South Africa. That was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, and had an independent judiciary. . . . It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done. Much more recently than the U.S. Constitution, Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It dates from 1982. You would almost certainly look at the European Convention on Human Rights. Yes, why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world?
Actually, why not take advantage of what's in the U.S. Constitution? The paradox in Ginsburg's statement is her dismissal of the U.S. Constitution because it's "rather old;" in fact, "the oldest written constitution still in force in the world."
Well, why is it so old and still in force? Because it was done right. It is based on timeless values and virtues and universal rights that work; that are true. It has been amended less than 30 times in 220-some years. It is the most stable, successful, remarkable constitution in history, bringing together a vast array of peoples and assimilating them into history's most prosperous, awe-inspiring nation - a nation that spent the 20th century winning freedom for other nations, so those nations could produce democracies and constitutions. The U.S. Constitution is the perfect model, at once both beautifully broad and specific.
And among the things it got right are separation of powers and checks and balances. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and President Obama may be learning that again very soon - compliments of Obamacare and its constitutional assault on the consciences of religious believers.
Congressman Allen West (R-Fla.) is being heavily criticized for comments alleging that certain Democratic members of Congress are Communists, and he is not backing down. West dared to quantify his accusation, claiming there are "78 to 81" Congressional Democrats who are Communists.
I want to say three things relating to West's remarks: First, some criticism of West's critics. Second, a defense of West's critics. And, finally, some criticism of West, which I offer constructively. I like Allen West and want him to succeed.
First, on West's critics:
Their concern about West's exaggeration and name-calling has little credibility coming from an ideology (liberalism) and political party (Democrat) which constantly engages in exaggeration and name-calling. I could point out a litany of examples. It's as easy as the latest liberal/Democrat gambit accusing Republicans of a "war on women" merely because they believe the federal government shouldn't force taxpayers to fund contraception and Planned Parenthood. For that crime, West's colleague Maxine Waters called Republicans "demons." Nancy Pelosi said they want women to "die on the floor." Dianne Feinstein insisted they want "to sock it to women." Harry Reid claimed Republicans have placed a "bull's eye on women." Barbara Boxer described it as a "vendetta" against women. Congresswoman Barbara Lee summed it up as a GOP "war on women."
I could go on and on. Google the words "George W. Bush" and "Hitler" or "Nazi." Or recall the obscene statements from Democratic lawmakers regarding the Iraq war. Remember that Senator Dick Durbin compared our troops to "Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime - Pol Pot or others."
But only when a Rush Limbaugh blows his top - or someone like Allen West issues charges like this one - does The New York Times start issuing calls for civility.
Point made. Now, for my second and third points:
Allen West needs to be much more careful. He sloppily overlapped categories and blurred lines of distinction. The reality is that the left side of the political spectrum is very broad. It includes Democrats, liberals, progressives, "social-justice" Christians, socialists, Communists, Marxists, Leninists, Stalinists, Maoists, and more. There are distinct differences, even when a liberal Democrat favors something that Marx favored. For instance, point two in Marx's 10-point plan in The Communist Manifesto calls for "a heavy progressive or graduated income tax." Advocates of this include basically the entirety of the Democratic membership of the House of Representatives - but it doesn't make them Marxists. Consider point three in Marx's 10-point plan, which calls for "abolition of all rights of inheritance." Many "liberals" and "progressives" advocate that to some degree (via taxation), but I know of no Congressional Democrat calling for complete abolition of all rights of inheritance.
Likewise, Marx wrote this: "the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property." Yes, liberals place all kinds of restrictions on private property, but I know of no Congressional Democrat who would go as far as Lenin and Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot and Castro.
Here's the reality that often complicates things for conservatives when looking at the political left: Liberals agree with Communists on many key sympathies - workers' rights, spreading and redistributing wealth, a narrow to non-existent income gap, an expansive central government offering a wide array of "free" government services, favoring the public sector over the private sector, class-based rhetoric (often demagoguery) toward the wealthy, progressively high tax rates. The differences are matters of degree, but they are crucial differences.
Sure, Allen West didn't say that every liberal in Congress is a Communist. Yet, he did say that there is a huge portion. Even worse, he initially said that "78 to 81" were actual Communist Party members, or about 40 percent of the Democratic membership. Clearly that's not accurate. If it is, then West should be chiseled into Mt. Rushmore for exposing the greatest threat to Washington since the War of 1812 - and we should commence a national march to the Capitol right now, with torches.
I assume that West misspoke, and meant communists (lower case "c") in ideology, not actual card-carrying Communist Party members.
Allen West has forgotten the painful lesson of Joe McCarthy: If you're going to call certain people Communists, you better be absolutely, 100 percent certain. There's nothing that liberals detest more than anti-Communism. Their preferred villain is Joe McCarthy, not Joe Stalin. They and their mass media will go ballistic, demanding a level of precision from you that they never demand from their own name-callers. Our side must be more cautious; that's the deck stacked against us.
Allen West, your courage and boldness is refreshing, but please be more careful.
I was recently contacted by Ben Johnson of LifeSiteNews, who told me of a fascinating development. He informed me of a curious fan of President Obama's advocacy of gay marriage: Mariela Castro, niece of ailing and aging Cuban tyrant, Fidel Castro, and daughter of current despot, Raul Castro.
Ben knows that my area of research is the Communist movement. I had just published an article on the longstanding Marxist/Communist position against traditional marriage. I quoted Karl Marx on the "abolition of the family" and underscored the anti-family actions of Communists historically and worldwide, from the Bolsheviks in Russia to Communist Party USA (CPUSA) to Communist nations generally - such as Cuba.
Importantly, I noted a key exception to the Marxist/Communist assault on the institution of marriage: As I said, the Russians certainly were not stumping for gay marriage. Joe Stalin was no gay-rights crusader. Neither was Fidel Castro. To the contrary, Communist regimes tended to be militantly anti-homosexual. In Cuba, Castro locked up homosexuals as public menaces, putting them in prison or lunatic asylums.
Thus, for Raul Castro's daughter to publicly support gay marriage is quite remarkable. Specifically, Mariela Castro called President Obama's statement on gay marriage "humane" and "understanding," said it has "great value," and wished that his words "will be taken seriously in the political and legislative decisions made in different states and in the whole world."
Again, this is striking. Here is a high-level Cuban Communist official publicly pushing not only for gay rights but gay marriage.
As Ben Johnson reported, Mariela, a "trained sexologist," heads the Cuban National Center for Sex Education. In Havana in broad daylight, she led an "LGBT" parade, where, as Johnson reported:
Some 400 transvestites sashayed behind Castro, doing a conga line through the streets, to celebrate the Fifth Cuban Day Against Homophobia, observed elsewhere on May 17. Marchers shouted, "Down with homophobia! Long Live Sexual Diversity!"
This scene was once unthinkable in Cuba.
Even more eye-opening, Mariela maintains that her uncle favors same-sex marriage, "but he has not made it public." More than that, she says Fidel is a closet gay-rights advocate:
He has done some advocacy work, speaking of the need to make progress in terms of rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
To hasten "gay marriage," Mariela says Cuba will be changing its "Family Code" and "constitution."
In short, this is an amazing turnabout. What's going on? Why this sudden conversion by Castro and Communist Cuba? Does this make sense?
Yes, it does. The root of the answer, once again, is the Marxist/Communist assault on marriage. Led either by the spirit of the times or by another spiritual force that has long led Communists, the Communist priority is not gay rights but a continued assault on the family. It's an assault on an institution both ancient and Biblical. As ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers liked to say, the Communist worldview is grounded in the first sin at the Garden of Eden, when man and woman, first joined by God, were separated by the Evil One: "Ye shall be as gods."
For atheistic Communists, this is just the latest slap in a century-long sustained bludgeoning of marriage and the family. Faced with a conflict between their penchant for persecuting the family and persecuting homosexuals, the Communist war on traditional morality and faith and family won out, thus dictating a sudden embrace of gay marriage (at least in Cuba). As long as the traditional family is destroyed, Marxism is advanced. Communists will do whatever they need to destroy the family; "gay marriage" seems the latest device.
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx characterized the Communist goal of "abolition of the family" as revolutionary, "the most radical rupture with traditional relations." Indeed, Mariela Castro speaks of her new cause as "revolutionary," She wants to break the "patriarchal family model."
No doubt, Mariela sees President Obama's support of same-sex marriage as a step in rupturing that family model.
Finally, an interesting coda to this story: Ben Johnson reports that this "revolutionary process" in Cuba is being underwritten by American taxpayers. He says that in 2011, the State Department spent $300,000 promoting homosexual activism in Cuba. The funds went
. . . to strengthen grassroots organizations to create the conditions that allow meaningful and unhindered participation by members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in all aspects of Cuban society.
Moreover, Mariela Castro was granted a visa to visit the United States for a conference in San Francisco. The visa was granted by Hillary Clinton's State Department.
When I first heard about the visa, I figured it was merely another example of the Obama administration going soft on Communist regimes. Now, however, given Mariela's kinship with President Obama on gay marriage, maybe there's more to the story - a lot more. *
Something wonderful unfolded in American politics the last few days.
Almost immediately after Rick Santorum dropped out of the Republican presidential hunt, David Axelrod and the Obama reelection team unleashed the class-warfare cannons. They expected to enjoy the first salvo of the season, fired by Democratic lobbyist Hilary Rosen. In a CNN interview, Rosen claimed that Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, "has actually never worked a day in her life."
It was a nasty blow, and the public rallied to Ann Romney's defense. As for Ann Romney, she didn't remain silent. "I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys," she said. "Believe me, it was hard work." She might have noted her considerable physical sacrifices as well - such as breast cancer and MS - but didn't.
While Hilary Rosen's shot was still smoldering, liberal blogs were rife with fresh Democratic talking points vilifying Mitt Romney as a "one percenter," asking whether he paid his "fair share" in taxes, and attacking him for squirreling away his vile riches in foreign bank accounts. It was total class warfare. And this was just week one!
But then came the wonderful thing: Merely six days after Hilary Rosen's comment, major polling organizations released numbers on a head-to-head match-up between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and Romney suddenly has a lead. The most respected among them, Gallup, released numbers on April 17 showing Romney ahead by five points, 48 to 43 percent.
Why is this wonderful? It's not that I adore Mitt Romney, but I loathe class hatred. Marx and the Bolsheviks and their disciples did it with great destruction. I don't want it in my country.
It's hard to pinpoint the exact reasons for Romney's sudden surge over Obama, but no doubt some of this (particularly the swipe at Ann Romney) backfired. Or, at the least, some pollsters and pundits are interpreting it that way. If so, then maybe - just maybe - Axelrod might learn that not all forms of class warfare will resonate with Americans. Let's hope that's the case, because, otherwise, Axelrod and the president he serves - whom Axelrod portrays as the Great Unifier and fountain of hope - will be bitterly dividing this nation along economic lines.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, not only has President Obama been unceasingly employing class rhetoric for three years now, but Axelrod has been thrilling over precisely such an assault against Mitt Romney. "Obama officials intend to frame Romney as the very picture of greed in the great recession - a sort of political Gordon Gekko," reported an August 2011 Politico piece titled, "Obama plan: Destroy Romney." The piece quoted Axelrod:
He [Romney] was very, very good at making a profit for himself and his partners but not nearly as good [at] saving jobs for communities. He is very much the profile of what we've seen in the last decade on Wall Street.
This had been the plan before the Occupy Wall Street movement got up and running. Axelrod and Obama see Romney as red meat to feed the Occupy movement. As the Occupiers exploded last fall, Axelrod paused to tell MSNBC:
[Romney] says he represents business, but he really represents the Wall Street side of business.
Envy is a deadly sin, but Team Obama desires it as an excellent divide-and-conquer tactic. Axelrod and Obama both cut their political teeth in Chicago, home of Obama inspiration Saul Alinsky, who preached the tactic of "isolating" a target and "demonizing" it. Romney's riches fit the bill nicely.
More recently, in January, Axelrod told George Stephanopoulos that Romney is "not a job creator" but a "corporate raider" who outsourced "tens of thousands of jobs," "closed down more than 1,000 plants, stores, and offices," and raked in "hundreds of millions of dollars" at the expense of the poor. Axelrod referred to this as the sinister "Bain mentality."
Alas, here we are, April 2012, with the presidential race finally down to Obama vs. Romney, and the first polls show Obama behind this rapacious capitalist reptile.
So, will Romney's sudden surge signal to Axelrod and Obama to call off the class-warfare dogs? I doubt it. This thinking is too close to their hearts. They've been hungering for this; fomenting class envy is what they long to do. But maybe - just maybe - the American public won't swallow it.
Wouldn't it be nice if the people of this country quit hating each other, including hating people with more money? I'm hoping so, but our messengers of hope, Obama and Axelrod, are hoping not.
President Obama has caused quite a stir with a private comment made to Russian President Dimitri Medvedev. In discussing missile defense, Obama suggested he would be prepared to yield to Russian demands after the November election. "This is my last election," said Obama, not knowing his words were being picked up by an open microphone. "After my election, I have more flexibility." A pleased Medvedev replied: "I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir [Putin]."
This is a big deal. Obama understands that his longtime stance against U.S. missile defense - while in full accord with Russian leadership - is not popular with Americans. He cannot codify his stance in a formal agreement with Medvedev and Putin until after the November election - assuming he wins. It was a rare moment when Obama was caught on tape expressing his true beliefs.
Those beliefs are no surprise. Barack Obama has never supported missile defense. In 2008, he openly campaigned to "cut investments." It is most unfortunate that Americans would elect to the White House a man who rejects missile defense. Time and time again, in poll after poll, the vast majority of Americans have stated that if a nuclear missile were fired at the United States, we should have a missile-defense system (we do not) that would shoot it down. They believe this despite voting for Democratic presidential nominees who blocked missile defense: Al Gore, John Kerry, and Obama.
That said, I was taken aback by the historical irony of Obama's comment to Medvedev. It came 29 years almost to the day that Ronald Reagan, on March 23, 1983, announced his Strategic Defense Initiative. More fitting, Obama's remarks came precisely during the period in 1983 when liberal Democrats lined up to ridicule Reagan's SDI.
Immediately after Reagan's announcement, Senator Ted Kennedy dashed to the Senate floor to mock the SDI speech as "misleading, Red-scare tactics and reckless Star Wars schemes." The term quickly found itself typed into New York Times headlines that day. Kennedy inspired other Democrats to follow suit. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HA) dismissed Reagan's talk of "Buck Rogers" weapons. Congresswoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), today a U.S. senator from California, chuckled at the president's "astrological dream." Boxer ridiculed Reagan's vision of flying parking "garages" in orbit. The leftist scientist Carl Sagan, the face of Cosmos, a popular PBS series, joined the fun, howling at Reagan's silly machine: "In the foreground comes a very attractive laser battle station," guffawed Sagan, "which then makes a noise like bzzzt . . . bzzzt . . . bzzzt."
Needless to say, the Kremlin absolutely loved this; it was a badly needed gift, courtesy of America's Democrats. Reagan's announcement had terrified the Russians. They needed a way to turn the tables. They adored the lines about "Star Wars" and "Buck Rogers." They instantly co-opted the language and created a full propaganda campaign built precisely on these terms of derision by Democrats.
As with Barack Obama's statement against missile defense today, the Russians were elated.
That was March 1983. And yet, President Obama's comments bring to mind another troubling historical analogy. They follow Obama's September 17, 2009 announcement cancelling plans for joint missile defense between the United States, Poland, and the Czech Republic - former "Captive Nations" of the Soviet Bloc that have become superb U.S. allies, and who still fear the Russians. Obama's action was a shocking betrayal of these two allies, and it was done to mollify Vladimir Putin and the Russians.
Poles and Czechs were stunned. But Poles especially were aghast at the timing of Obama's decision: It came exactly 70 years to the day - September 17, 1939 - that Stalin's Red Army, in compliance with the Hitler-Stalin Pact, invaded Poland. The Soviets thereby joined the Nazis in assaulting Poland and starting World War II. Among other calamities for Poland, such as the Katyn Woods massacre, this joint attack made possible the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz. Poland somehow survived, but its Jews did not.
Back then, too, in September 1939, Poland was virtually defenseless, and Uncle Sam didn't help.
This time, in September 2009, Poles and Czechs were asking for something much simpler: a U.S. commitment to the joint missile-defense system that America had promised under its previous president. No American troops were requested, no American tanks, planes, rifles, bullets, or grenades - only a defense system.
President Obama reversed that promise on September 17, 2009.
Many Poles saw the move as another painful example of Uncle Sam siding with Russia at Poland's expense and to Poland's detriment, a tragic history that goes back to Yalta in February 1945.
President Obama's moves on missile defense contain some chilling historical parallels. This is not good.
Will any of this matter to Obama's supporters? No, it won't.
"I love Fidel Castro," said Florida Marlin's manager Ozzie Guillen to Time magazine. "A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that [expletive] is still here." Guillen "respects" the Cuban despot.
Guillen has since apologized profusely for his comments, which infuriated Florida's Cuban emigre community - and for good reason.
Fidel Castro is a tyrant. I could go through a litany of the man's crimes against humanity since he turned a beautiful country into a Communist dictatorship over 50 years ago. Castro violated every form of basic human rights, from freedom of speech, to press, to assembly, to religion. He jailed dissidents and never stood for election - a promise he made in 1959. Liberals might take note of Castro's locking up of homosexuals on the island. And then there was that whole Cuban Missile Crisis thing, where Fidel and his pal Che Guevara - a hero at American universities - actually wanted to launch the nuclear missiles at the United States, and unleash nuclear Armageddon. And don't forget about the 15,000-20,000 Cubans that Castro has executed, or the tens of thousands who have drowned trying to swim 100 miles to the shores of Florida.
Safely ensconced on our shores is Mr. Ozzie Guillen, who became rich playing baseball under America's free-enterprise system. Guillen currently basks in a four-year, $10 million contract for managing the Marlins. He would never be able to make that kind of money in Cuba. In fact, to consider just how bad Cuba is under Castro, let's stick to baseball.
Fidel's favorite sport is baseball. He turned it into a national past time in Cuba. Unfortunately, Cuban players are not permitted to score some badly needed dollars, or personal freedom. I recall a telling incident in the spring of 1999. The Cuban national team came to America; specifically, to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where they played the Baltimore Orioles. They blew out the Orioles 12 to 6, giving Castro something to crow about. He framed the win as a victory for Communism over capitalism.
Not heralded by Castro, however, was the plight of his players. The entire payroll for the Cuban national team was $2,400 - yes, for the entire team. Each man on the roster of 20 players was paid a paltry $120 per year, just like everyone else in Cuba, from doctors, to teachers, to maintenance workers. That's called equal distribution of wealth. By comparison, the Orioles payroll for that year was $80 million, with players like Albert Belle and Cal Ripken enjoying huge long-term contracts.
Alas, no one in Cuba has a payroll quite like Fidel Castro. At the time, Forbes magazine published its annual list of the world's wealthiest leaders. Placing eighth was Castro at $110 million - a conservative estimate that doesn't begin to account for the billions of dollars in land, industry, and resources he has personally confiscated.
"We fight not to create millionaires!" proclaimed Fidel. Well, that's not quite true. Cuba has its share of filthy rich; they are the "one percent" of Communist Party cronies and apparatchiks, from Fidel's brother Raul (Cuba's current leader) to other corrupt mansion Marxists. They are typical of any Communist regime.
Of course, Cubans painfully realize their horrible situation. Testimony to that was the reaction of the Cuban national team immediately after they defeated the Baltimore Orioles. Rigoberto Herrera Betancourt defected. And while a bragging Fidel chomped on a hundred-dollar cigar, six other members of the Cuban delegation "overslept" and missed the airplane home. All did this at great personal risk to themselves and the families they left behind. They don't love Castro.
Ozzie Guillen, however, expressed a markedly different sentiment. Needless to say, if Guillen lived in Cuba, he would never have gotten the opportunities he has in America. He'd be poor or in prison.
Guillen is now in hot water in Florida, dealing with a five-game suspension because of his comments. Fans are still furious.
Well, if it gets worse, maybe he could consider managing the Cuban national team. I hear they're paying $120 a year. *
Editor's note: This article first appeared at The American Spectator.
Vaclav Havel is dead. Among other forces and powers, he is among the seven individuals most responsible for peacefully ending the Cold War: the great liberators who brought freedom and democracy. They are Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, Margaret Thatcher, Lech Walesa, and Havel.
With Havel's death, a majority of these seven are now gone, giving new voice and added meaning to what Chesterton deemed the democracy of the dead.
All waged battle against what Reagan inspiringly called the "Evil Empire," a brute creation cobbled out of a diabolical ideology that generated the deaths of over 100 million in the last century. At the core of that evil was what Mikhail Gorbachev characterized as a "war on religion," which, among other forms of malevolence, spawned what Vaclav Havel described as "the Communist culture of the lie." As they engaged the beast, John Paul II admonished all to "Be not afraid."
Vaclav Havel was unafraid. He and his Charter 77 movement were courageous, willing to go to jail rather than take orders from the devils who installed themselves as dictators from Budapest to Bucharest, from Warsaw to Prague.
As if all of this, unfolding here on earth a short time ago, was not profound enough, I'm suddenly struck at the profundity of Havel passing into the next world alongside Christopher Hitchens, and both shortly before Christmas.
Peter Robinson, who knows about the collapse of Communism, having written Ronald Reagan's Brandenburg Gate speech, interviewed Hitchens for his PBS show "Uncommon Knowledge." Robinson was troubled by Hitchens' willingness to concede credit to Havel for the collapse but none to Reagan. He took on Hitchens at that moment, not letting him get away with the slight against Reagan. I wish Vaclav Havel himself would have been there to set Hitchens straight. Havel said of Reagan, ironically at Reagan's death: "He was a man with firm positions, with which he undoubtedly contributed to the fall of Communism."
Havel had a lot to teach to Hitchens. Hitchens would have listened to Havel.
Indeed, of all people on this planet who God might have chosen to counsel a stunned Hitchens as he sits outside the Pearly Gates shaken in awed confusion, Havel would have been perfect, the one intellectual to merit Hitchens' intellect and respect. If Hitchens' un-merry band of atheists will forgive me, the religious romantic in me can't help but indulge an image of Hitchens sitting there, hunched over, head in hands, only to look up at a smiling Havel and saying, "Fancy that I'd see you here. You just getting here?"
Vaclav Havel was not just a man of politics and intellect, but a man of the arts, theater, literature - and, yes, of God. He exhorted the West and the wider post-modern world to seek "transcendence." Hitchens might have figured God "the ultimate totalitarian," but Havel saw God as the solution to totalitarianism, as tyranny's antidote, as the fountainhead of freedom. This was something Havel deeply admired about America and its roots - its fusion of faith and freedom and the recognition that the latter cannot genuinely exist without the former. "The Declaration of Independence states that the Creator gave man the right to liberty," Havel concluded in his July 4, 1994, lecture at Philadelphia's Independence Hall, home of that very sentiment. "It seems man can realize that liberty only if he does not forget the One who endowed him with it."
Vaclav Havel never forgot that principle nor its Endower. Neither did any of the Cold War seven that laid waste to the Soviet beast. And it was with the power of that conviction that they tapped the ultimate force that resolved the Cold War and won the victory for freedom and good against oppression and evil.
Vaclav Havel now joins the Heavenly majority. May he rest in peace, at last reaching true transcendence.
Editor's note: A version of this article first appeared at American Thinker.
This past Christmas, the people of North Korea were without their messiah. That is, their self-anointed messiah.
For a sense of just how bad was Kim Jong-Il, I thought I'd share a few anecdotes reflecting the singularly pernicious nature of this man and what he created in his own image.
Kim was truly a modern Stalin - in some ways, worse. His cult of personality began with the advent of his birth, which North Korea heralded as a second coming, eerily akin to the birth of Jesus Christ. Kim was born February 16, 1941, a date accorded the status of a national holiday and treated like Christmas. On that date, all North Koreans are allowed off work for the grandest parade, the highlight of which is a float marked by a glorious double rainbow and star - indicative of the double rainbow and new star that miraculously appeared in the sky the moment of Kim's birth.
Speaking of miracles, the totalitarian state's propaganda machine churned out outrageous distortions, easily exceeding even Stalin standards. State media claimed that in the first round of golf Kim ever played, he broke the all-time world record for the best round of golf in history. The government press also reported that Kim composed more and better operas - and at a younger age - than anyone who ever existed. Songs like "Dear Leader Dispels Raging Storms" were karaoke hits in North Korea.
An eyewitness to the madness was Kang Chol-hwan, author of the frightening memoir, Aquariums of Pyongyang. Kang recalled how as a child he and his wide-eyed classmates were taught that Kim and his late father were "Edenic" human beings, so perfect that neither man defecated or urinated. They were born without sin, if not purer. My faith teaches that Christ was both 100 percent human and 100 percent divine. North Korea tipped the scales even higher.
Kang Chol-hwan remembered how North Korean children were told that Kim was a "kind of Father Christmas," because of whose benevolence every child was graciously entitled to a new pair of shoes.
The regime was hell-bent on this messiah complex. The consistent, dogged application of this divine narrative was unrelenting and sickening. I could give example after example that would make you cry. It was evil, just plain evil.
Compounding the obscenity is this tragic truth: no modern people have been so repressed and persecuted. North Koreans experienced a government-induced famine where two-to-three million people (10 to 15 percent of the population) starved to death from 1995-98. The place is a living, breathing (actually, dying) tragedy. At its apex sat Kim, whose omnipresent face and figure literally hovered above the masses in murals and statues and screens.
I recall one day watching a C-SPAN broadcast of U.S. senators returning from a fact-finding trip to this prison state. It was one of the first overseas trips of Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who had replaced Bob Dole. Roberts was asked what term he would use to classify the North Korean regime, perhaps "Stalinist," maybe "totalitarian," or simply "Communist?" I'll never forget Roberts' response: He quickly said "theocracy."
Yes, very good. This viciously atheistic regime that pursued a classic Communist war on religion was devoutly religious itself. Ironically, it had not banned religion; it had nationalized it, centralized it, redistributed it - all in the form of Kim Jong-Il. Just as North Korea's Communist government had taken over all industry, all agriculture, and even all crime, it had also seized all faith.
When Whittaker Chambers once commented on the ultimate crime of Communists, he explained that they had grossly repeated humanity's original mistake: "Ye shall be as Gods."
Ah, in that sense, Kim was indeed "Edenic."
Kim Jong-Il presented himself to his suffering people as their god and their salvation. Instead, he was their downfall. He was the worst embodiment of the fall of man, and he in turn felled a nation and a people in the ugly process.
Christmas is no time for false messiahs. The worst of them, Kim Jong-Il, spent this season no longer among the living. His people can rest in peace. I have a strong suspicion Kim is not. This Christmas time, little old Kim finally had some explaining to do. He is at long last accountable for his sins.
Editor's note: A shorter version of this article first appeared in today's issue of USA Today.
As the indignation of the Wall Street Occupiers spreads across the nation, it is time to step back and consider the broader historical perspective. What will history books record about the Wall Street Occupation? For starters, what was the start date? The answer to that simple fact alone has some potentially profound meaning.
The Wall Street Occupation began on September 17. How ironic that date is.
If the Wall Street Occupiers could hop into a time machine and read their New York Times from September 17 almost a century ago - specifically, September 17, 1920 - they would be struck by this headline: "WALL STREET EXPLOSION KILLS 30, INJURES 300; MORGAN OFFICE HIT; BOMB PIECES FOUND."
At noon the previous day, a horse-drawn wagon carrying hundreds of pounds of explosives and deadly shrapnel exploded in front of the headquarters of J. P. Morgan at 23 Wall Street, the heart and busiest section of America's financial district. The final death toll was 38, with over 400 injured.
The suspects were surprisingly similar to the spectrum of leftists who are occupying Wall Street right now. They ranged from radical progressives to socialists to Communists to anarchists, from homegrown Bolsheviks to Italian Galleanists to Communist Party USA. No matter their labels, all shared one thing in common: they were anti-capitalist, anti-Wall Street, anti-banker, and generally despised what President Obama constantly refers to as "millionaires and billionaires" who do not "pay their fair share." They saw banks, loan-makers, investors, Wall Street, and the wealthy as sinister forces. They, too, shouted "down with capitalism!"
As the bomb immediately produced millions of dollars in damages and worse still in human carnage, certain wealthy bankers and investors, like J. P. Morgan, braced themselves for a march on their homes by anti-capitalist mobs - a prelude to what happened in New York this time around. The September 17, 1920, New York Times, in a lengthy page-one article titled, "RED PLOT SEEN IN BLAST," noted not only that Mr. Morgan's home was being guarded but - in another similarity to the current Wall Street Occupation - that "many cities" around America were preparing their financial districts "against similar disaster." Mayors nationwide worried about the Wall Street chaos metastasizing to their cities, organized by left-wing ringleaders connected to the New York fiasco.
It strikes me that today's Wall Street Occupiers, as they go national, have become increasingly belligerent and violent. Reports abound of widespread theft, destruction of property, rampant drug use, sexual assaults from groping to alleged rape, knocking over trash cans, defecating on police cars, clashes with police - involving rocks, tear gas, riot gear, shouting down police as "Pigs" - stabbing threats, mass arrests, blatant anti-Semitism, refusals to report crimes, and all sorts of other violent outbursts. Incidents have occurred across the country, from New York to Boston to Baltimore to Cleveland to Denver to Oklahoma City to Oakland, California.
Democrats have responded to the Wall Street Occupiers in varying ways, from Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi's strange, "God bless them for their spontaneity," to President Obama expressing empathy with their "frustrations." "I understand the frustrations being expressed in those protests," Obama told ABC's Jake Tapper:
In some ways, they're not that different from some of the protests that we saw coming from the Tea Party. . . . I think people feel separated from their government. They feel that their institutions aren't looking out for them.
Likewise, Vice President Biden has framed the protests as a sort of leftist version of the Tea Party.
More generally, the Occupy Wall Street behavior is a cautionary tale to President Obama and Democrats: Class-based rhetoric and demagoguery is poisonous and destructive. Once the enraged masses spill into the streets in more and more cities, the chances for violence magnify exponentially. Class envy and hatred engenders an unhealthy rage. I'm amazed that the protests have not gotten much more violent. Roseanne Barr literally called for guillotining wealthy bankers - and she was deadly serious.
The September 17, 1920, New York Times was a picture of that violence. It was at newsstands on Wall Street the exact same day the current Wall Street Occupation took hold on September 17, 2011.
Is the date a coincidence? Yes, I think so, even as the symbolism is jarring. The planners in September 2011, as far as I can tell, have no idea of the irony of the set of dates, being inspired and led by other forces. Unless, that is, the devil has a sense of irony.
This week [the end of November] hunters across America storm the woods loaded for deer. For yet another indication of how times have changed, consider this account of Deer Season a half century ago:
My mother's family lived in Emporium, Pennsylvania, as did dozens of their relatives. Emporium is a tiny town nestled in the mountains near the north/central part of the state. Back in the 1940s, when my mother was born, my grandmother had worked as a Rosie the Riveter at the Sylvania plant. Some reading this article will remember owning a huge, heavy Sylvania TV - back when you got only three channels.
Sylvania employed half the town. Farming was another means of employment, which my grandfather and his parents and nine siblings had done down the road in Rich Valley.
Still, neither Sylvania nor farming nor anything else did much to populate tiny Emporium.
Once a year, however, the place was flooded with people. That time of year was Deer Season, when out-of-town hunters arrived like an incoming Army, loaded with rifles and bullets. "Army" is a good metaphor, given that a large portion of the hunters were World War II vets. They came from the mills and mines of Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania. They came to shoot a deer.
During that special week, Emporium's streets were bustling, the bars were jammed, and churches had more people than usual, including St. Mark's, where hunters sought out the priest for a blessing before heading into the woods.
The lone hotel was full, leaving hunters looking for lodging. Some packed into makeshift hunting camps. Some slept in their cars. Sleeping in a car was no big deal to guys who had fought in Germany, France, and the Battle of the Bulge. Nonetheless, they searched for a place with a roof, heat, a bathroom - which brings me to my main focus:
My grandmother always took in boarders during Deer Season. In fact, the whole town did. Up and down every street, hunters knocked on doors asking if the home was taking boarders. Bear in mind, these were complete strangers carrying guns and lots of ammunition. And yet, there was never any fear that they were a threat to a household.
"I never heard of any problems anywhere," recalls my mother, who was a little girl when the hunters stayed at her house. "There was never any concern about the safety of anyone, including the kids. Today you can't trust anyone. It was different then."
It was very different. There was also a general trust of hunters, a trust I believe is still merited and shared in those areas. My Uncle Carl, my mom's brother, says, "I still think that hunters are a special breed and even though they kill animals most are very caring, trustworthy, and law abiding."
My uncle remembers my grandparents taking in so many people that he lost track. "During hunting season our house was a zoo," he says.
For a few dollars per person, my grandparents hosted two or three hunters per night, giving them a bedroom and maybe the backroom. The hunters marched inside with all their gear. As evening fell, early in the winter, my grandmother made dinner for everyone. They all shared a meal. The hunters talked and played and joked with the kids. After dinner, they got their equipment in order and went to bed - snoring loudly through the night.
Around 5:00 a.m., my grandmother made breakfast for the hunters, typically bacon and ham and eggs.
The meals were special. "I enjoyed the stories at night and breakfast in the morning as much as the hunting," says my uncle.
Then they were off to the woods. If they shot a deer early, some headed straight back to Pittsburgh, hoisting the gutted carcass atop the Oldsmobile. Others, if they got a deer late, might return to the house, where my grandmother cooked up some venison. If they had no luck, they stayed another night or two.
This scene was repeated in house after house in Emporium. My Aunt Della, who lived across the railroad tracks and river, took in boarders in an apartment above her garage. She tended to get the same guys year to year. I'm sure her rigatoni and meatballs were a factor.
Can you imagine this today? Any of this?
Yes, the culture has really changed. America has changed. *
America's Catholic bishops are princes of diplomacy, highly educated, erudite, men of tact, propriety. They're asked to shepherd the flock with a long historical timeframe - say, eternity. They tend not to have knee-jerk reactions to issues of the moment.
And so, it's not often when a paragon of decorum, namely, Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, publishes a letter in his diocesan newspaper with a title such as, "To hell with you."
Gee, what could have provoked that? The answer is the Obama administration via its horrendous mandate to Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacients - that is, birth-control drugs that induce abortion. The Catholic Church defines these things as "evil." The Church and its members are now being told they must provide them. By fiat, the Obama administration has issued that decree.
It sort of flies in the face of that old freedom of religion thing we've always had in America. And it's certainly of concern not merely to Catholics but all Americans.
Here's what happened:
Last August, the Obama administration's Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued guidelines for implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obama-care." The guidelines mandated that by summer 2012 all health-insurance plans - yes, all of them - must cover any and all FDA-approved contraception, sterilization procedures, and pharmaceuticals, even those that produce or result in abortion. Every employer and employee must pay for these things, even if they violate the dictates of their conscience. The employers include all Catholic institutions, from colleges to hospitals to nursing homes to social-service agencies to charities . . . to whatever else. "All" means "all."
How's that for social justice?
When ex-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a lifetime Roman Catholic, said that we'll learn the details of Obama-care after Congress passes the legislation, this is a perfect illustration. The Devil is truly in the details.
In response to this screaming train-wreck, Catholics sent letters to Kathleen Sebelius, HHS secretary, who happens to be Roman Catholic. When she was governor of Kansas, Sebelius was so terrible on abortion, and so defiant of Church teaching, that her bishop ordered that she be denied Communion. Catholics protested directly to Sebelius.
On January 20, Sebelius and Barack Obama answered Catholics. As Bishop Zubik put it, "On Jan. 20, the Obama administration answered you and me. The response was very simple: 'To hell with you.'"
This is government by fiat that attacks the rights of everyone. . . . At no other time in memory or history has there been such a governmental intrusion on freedom. . . . It undermines the whole concept and hope for healthcare reform by inextricably linking it to the zealotry of pro-abortion bureaucrats. The mandate would require the Catholic Church as an employer to violate its fundamental beliefs concerning human life and human dignity. . . . It is really hard to believe that it happened.
All of the bishops are frustrated. Bishop Timothy Dolan of New York said that the Obama administration has basically told American Catholics that they have one year "to figure out how to violate our consciences."
In Phoenix, Bishop Thomas Olmsted appeared to urge civil disobedience. In a letter read to every church in his diocese, Olmsted wrote: "Unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled to either violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). We cannot - we will not - comply with this unjust law."
Also vowing non-compliance is Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay and Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati. LifeNews.com reports that 86 bishops (thus far) have spoken against the mandate.
The Obama administration has forced the bishops' hand. President Obama and Secretary Sebelius are not backing down. They are true believers.
Where are liberals on this issue? We know they support the so-called "right to choose," politically sanctified by Roe v. Wade in January 1973. But the Constitution predates Roe by a good 200 years. The First Amendment that begins the Bill of Rights starts with religious freedom. Are liberals so devoted to "abortion rights" that they will trump the conscience of their fellow Americans?
Apparently so. They've already ensured that my tax dollars fund Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider. It was only a matter of time before they forced me to fund abortifacients. The direct funding of actual abortion procedures is no doubt next. It's amazing, when it comes to abortion, pro-choice liberals have everything they want, but it isn't enough. Now they want to force pro-lifers - and our churches - to pay for their choices.
Sadly, all of this was so painfully predictable back in November 2008, when a majority of professing Roman Catholics voted Barack Obama president.
Well, you reap what you sow.
If Mitt Romney gets the GOP nomination, prepare for a season of class warfare in America unlike any before. Not only has President Obama been pushing class warfare unceasingly for three years now, but his chief strategist, David Axelrod, has been employing precisely this tactic against Romney, and well before Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry started harshly criticizing Romney's Bain Capital work.
Axelrod, of course, is the Chicago-based consultant who got Obama elected. He was the chief architect of Obama 2008, right down to the very words "Hope and Change." The Los Angeles Times correctly calls him the "keeper" of the Obama message. The New York Times dubs him "Obama's Narrator." Axelrod honed the Obama image, got him elected, and changed this nation. Then, after two years as a presidential adviser, he went back to Chicago to strategize on reelecting Obama. "I have one campaign left," Axelrod told a reporter, "and it is going to be to try to elect a guy who I think is a great president."
Which Republican stands in the way? The leading candidate is Mitt Romney, who happens to be the candidate Axelrod and Obama want to run against. "Ax" is slicing up Mitt for an Occupy Wall Street feast. He sees Mitt as a hunk of red meat for the Occupy movement, the poster-boy for Wall Street greed.
"Obama officials intend to frame Romney as the very picture of greed in the great recession - a sort of political Gordon Gekko," reported an August 2011 Politico piece, titled, "Obama plan: Destroy Romney." The article quoted Axelrod:
He [Romney] was very, very good at making a profit for himself and his partners but not nearly as good [at] saving jobs for communities. He is very much the profile of what we've seen in the last decade on Wall Street.
This, mind you, was still before Occupy Wall Street exploded in September and October.
The Politico quoted a "prominent Democratic strategist" close to the White House: "Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney."
Well, indeed, Obama and Axelrod will run on Romney - tire-tracks and all.
Axelrod has steadily maintained this caricature of Romney. "He says he represents business," Axelrod told MSNBC in October, "but he really represents the Wall Street side of business."
Last Sunday, Axelrod told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that Romney is "rooting" for economic decline. He described Romney as a nefarious outsourcer of "tens of thousands of jobs," who "closed down more than 1,000 plants, stores, and offices" and "took 12 companies to bankruptcy." As this rapacious profiteer cheerfully destroyed companies and businesses and shops and shop-owners and the poor and the meek and the downtrodden and the crippled and the lame, "he and his partners made hundreds of millions of dollars."
"He is not a job creator," scowled Axelrod. "He is a corporate raider."
Axelrod frames this Romney way as the sinister "Bain mentality."
And if you thought the Occupy movement was worked up last fall, you ain't seen nothing yet. If Romney is the nominee, the Occupiers will go bananas this coming fall, especially if prodded by the Obama campaign.
With Barack Obama at the helm, and David Axelrod charting the course against Mitt Romney, this nation will set sail into a poisonous sea of class hatred. "Bain" Capital will be "Bane" Capital, as in evil. "Venture capital" will be "vulture capital."
This November's election might boil down to a fundamental debate between the merits of markets vs. central planning and wealth redistribution; that is where the rhetoric is headed.
If I were Mitt Romney, I would be prepared to carefully explain to Americans what venture capital is, and why someone with such economic experience is arguably perfect for the White House given today's economy. I would bone up on Friedman, Hayek, Mises, Hazlitt, Laffer, and, most of all, Marx. Oh, and I might Google the word "agitprop," understanding that I'll be thus targeted.
If Romney (as the nominee) does this right, he has a chance not only to win Americans' votes but also to educate them about the free-market system that has made their nation the marvel it is. An ugly campaign of class envy could become a valuable and teachable moment.
In case you didn't notice, with George W. Bush out of office and a Democrat in the White House, the secular media stopped its handwringing over the president mentioning God. With Rick Santorum's surge, the hysteria has started again. Every religious utterance by Santorum will be a cause for apoplexy by the liberal press.
It will be just fine - perfect, actually - for President Obama to effectively claim that Jesus favors a 39.6 percent marginal income tax rate on wealthy Americans (as opposed to 36 percent), or repeatedly sermonize about being his "brother's keeper." It won't be preachy for Nancy Pelosi to urge no domestic drilling as "an act of worship." But if Rick Santorum's wife, Karen, dares to consider her husband's presidential pursuit as "God's will"?
Well, that's plainly unacceptable.
Speaking of God's will, I could offer countless examples of Democrats invoking precisely that. I've done articles, chapters, books, on the subject. Pick your liberal/progressive: Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore. Democrats have never been shy about claiming God's work as their own. The difference is that the secular press calls attention to this alleged malfeasance only when committed by conservatives.
To briefly illustrate the case, here are some examples from Bill Clinton: "By the grace of God and your help, last year I was elected president," said Bill Clinton, speaking at the Church of God in Christ in Memphis, November 1993. Or take this one: "Our ministry is to do the work of God here on Earth," said Clinton to a church in Temple Hills, Maryland, August 1994.
Mind you, Clinton said this not merely while speaking in churches but actively campaigning in churches - another tactic the press only permits of Democrats.
In fact, Bill Clinton's wife, as the senatorial candidate for New York in 2000, likewise campaigned in churches, as did Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee. On election eve in November 2000, Mrs. Clinton campaigned in seven churches in seven hours.
Bill Clinton, sitting president, happily helped Hillary and Al Gore and other Democrats that year, barnstorming churches like a country preacher. On October 31, 2000, Clinton hit the Kelly Temple Church of God in Christ in Harlem. Joined by a contingent of fellow Democrat politicians, Clinton reminded congregants why they were there:
Now, we all know why we're here. . . . But I want to talk to you about the people that aren't in this church tonight . . . but they could vote. And they need to vote, and they need to know why they're voting. And that's really why you're here, because of all the people who aren't here. Isn't that right? . . .
So what you have to think about tonight is, what is it you intend to do between now and Tuesday, and on Tuesday, to get as many people there as possible and to make sure when they get to the polls, they know why they're there, what the stakes are, and what the consequences are. . . . If you've got any friends across the river in New Jersey or anyplace else, I want you to reach them between now and Tuesday, because this is a razor-thin election.
Speaking to the Alfred Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, Bill Clinton employed Scripture as justification to head to the polls:
The Scripture says, "While we have time, let us do good unto all men." And a week from Tuesday, it will be time for us to vote.
Clinton was joined at the Alexandria church by a prominent collection of Democrats. That talk came on October 29, 2000, at 12:40 p.m. Three hours earlier, at 9:40 a.m., he squeezed in another campaign talk to the congregation of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. There, Clinton pitched various federal legislation and blasted Republican-proposed tax cuts before urging worshipers to go vote.
When Scripture was mentioned at these churches, it was for political purposes. It was a total infusion of church and state. And why not? shrugged Clinton. As he told a congregation in Newark, he and fellow Democrats were doing the Lord's work: "God's work must be our own."
Overall, Bill Clinton spoke in churches 21 times as president, over half of which came in election years. For the record, his wife did 27 churches in just two months in 2000.
The hypocrisy of the press on this issue is staggering. All a Republican needs to do is mention God and secular liberals go wild. Meanwhile, liberal Democrats can say anything they want about God - even while blatantly campaigning in churches - and their media allies will not utter a peep of protest.
"God's will?" To the press, that's the domain of Democrats alone.
The secular world today trembles and shudders at the sight of Rick Santorum speaking on good and evil at Ave Maria University in Florida in 2008. Santorum's statement came 25 years after another much-maligned social conservative, Ronald Reagan, delivered a similarly fiery speech in Florida in 1983. In both cases, the secular left recoiled in horror, mortified that any American other than Barack Obama or Jimmy Carter might dare remark on matters of faith and state, of the temporal and eternal.
I caught excerpts of Santorum's speech for the first time yesterday, when America's omnipresent force - Matt Drudge - posted a link under the grim, black-and-white headline, "SANTORUM'S SATAN WARNING." Immediately, the remainder of the natural universe leapt in knee-jerk hysteria, and soon Santorum's warnings of the Evil One were the talk of a stunned nation.
As I digested the speech, I was struck at how so many of Santorum's themes and words echoed those expressed in Ronald Reagan's historic Evil Empire speech. Santorum ruminated on evil, spiritual warfare, truth, vanity, sensuality, temptation, pride, education, and abortion. Like Reagan, he fears that the "great political conflict" in America "is not a political war at all, or a cultural war - it is a spiritual war." In that war, "the father of lies" has "set his sights" on America.
And then, like Reagan, Santorum finished with a message of faith-based optimism for the faithful:
My message to you today is that you will lose, you will lose battle after battle; you will become frustrated, but do not lose hope. God will be faithful, if you are.
As for Ronald Reagan's Evil Empire speech, it was many things. It is remembered as a bold, long-overdue utterance of searing truth about the USSR, which Reagan described as "the focus of evil in the modern world." But the speech was much more. It looked inward at the sins and evils at work in America - as did Santorum's speech. It was first and foremost a speech about evil generally, theological as much as political - like Santorum's speech. As Reagan himself put it:
We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin.
Reagan dared to use the "J" word: "There is sin and evil in the world, and we're enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might."
Reagan spoke on March 8, 1983, at the Orlando Sheraton. The audience was the National Association of Evangelicals. He began by thanking those present for their prayers. He cited his favorite quote from Lincoln, about being driven to his knees by the "overwhelming conviction" that he had nowhere else to go. He commended the crucial role of faith in democracy. "Freedom prospers only where the blessings of God are avidly sought and humbly accepted," Reagan maintained. "The American experiment in democracy rests on this insight." He said the discovery of that insight was the "great triumph" of the Founders. Indeed it was.
Characteristically, Reagan cited George Washington on the indispensability of religion and morality to "political prosperity." Reagan bemoaned the "modern-day secularism" that had discarded the "tried and time-tested values" upon which American civilization was based. He expressed deep concern over rising illegitimate births and abortions. He pushed for prayer in public schools.
Reagan then underscored the evils pervading American life. "Our nation, too, has a legacy of evil with which it must deal," said Reagan, pointing to the "long struggle of minority citizens for equal rights." He insisted: "There is no room for racism, anti-Semitism, or other forms of ethnic and racial hatred in this country."
Like Santorum, Reagan essentially agreed that America, too, had been victimized by Satan. Racism and slavery were among the Devil's vicious victories.
Reagan cast America's struggle as spiritual: "The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith." He referred to Marxism-Leninism as "the second oldest faith, first proclaimed in the Garden of Eden with the words of temptation, 'Ye shall be as gods.'''
Alas, Reagan finished with a burst of faith-based optimism, quoting Isaiah:
He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increased strength. . . . But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary.
Of course, in reaction to Reagan's speech, the press went nuts, much like the reaction to Santorum's remarks.
Oh, well. To borrow from Reagan: There they go again.
Hang in there, Rick. Be not afraid. *
Editor's note: A version of this article first appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
"Just existing became what was important," says 87-year-old Frank Kravetz of Pittsburgh, captive of the "hell-hole" that was Nuremberg Prison Camp. "Yet even as I struggled with the day-to-day sadness and despair, I never once had any regrets that I signed up to serve."
An extended tour of Nazi camps as a wounded POW scratching for survival wasn't what Frank had in mind when he signed up to serve his country in World War II. He refused his parents' wishes to stay home; they already had two sons overseas. Frank was eager to fight for the freedom his Slovakian parents had secured in America. It was the least he could do.
Francis Albert Kravetz was born October 25, 1923, in East Pittsburgh, near the Westinghouse plant that provided income and aspiration for an entire community. Every morning he shoveled soot that drifted onto the porch from the steel mill. He lived a happy life. But then war came. Frank enlisted in the Army Air Corps. If he was going to help Uncle Sam beat the Nazis, he would do it from an airplane - and he did it very well, as a tail-gunner.
Frank's life as a soldier took a dramatic turn on November 2, 1944, in a bomb-run over Germany. He crammed into the tail of a B-17, wedged inside a flak jacket. The target was Merseberg, a major industrial area. He flew amid an air armada of 500 heavy bombers - each carrying eighteen 250-pound "general purpose" 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 manned from the tail. It was a dogfight, and Frank was shot and badly wounded. His B-17 was filled with holes, the engines destroyed. The crew had to bail, quickly.
Frank was bleeding profusely and could barely move. His buddies tried to get a parachute on him, but it opened inside the plane. They wrapped it around him, taking care 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 he was on the wings of angels.
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.
How did he survive? "All I can say is that the good Lord was watching out for me," Frank says today.
Liberation came April 29, 1945, by General Patton's 3rd Army. Grown men wept with joy, embracing their liberators, falling to their knees. Frank was among them; that is, the 125 pounds that remained.
Frank returned home to Pittsburgh, hitchhiking all the way from New York. He unceremoniously arrived at his folks' door, no trumpets, no dramatic background music. He hugged his mom and dad, went inside, and sat down.
Frank soon thereafter married his sweetheart, Anne. They've been happily married ever since. He also got active as an ex-POW, eventually becoming national director of American Ex-Prisoners of War.
I talked to Frank one day last August. We chatted about a friend of his who had recently died, another WWII veteran gone. I told him it was critical that vets like him relay their message to the current generation.
Frank needed no convincing. "The current generation," he said, frustrated, "they don't know!"
To ensure they know, Frank wrote a book, a riveting account of his ordeal, titled, Eleven Two: One WWII Airman's Story of Capture, Survival and Freedom. The title refers to November 2, a date with multiple meanings in Frank's sojourn.
Assisted by his daughter, Cheryl, the book is a vivid account of the nitty-gritty, day-to-day details of an American POW held by Nazis, from the monotony to the terror, from the hunger and wounds that wouldn't heal to the rock that was his faith.
For too long, guys like Frank didn't tell their story. "We didn't talk about it," he explains, "It was too tragic. . . . So I just moved on. I just moved on."
Frank is now willing to share. There are others like him, and they won't be around much longer. A decade or two from now, they'll be nearly extinct.
If you know a Frank who hasn't told his story, help him. Get a pen, a video camera, whatever, and get him talking. As Frank says, "they don't know."
They need to know. Men like Frank Kravetz have no regrets, but we'll regret not pausing to record their history.
In the 1980s, I was an unrefined adolescent from blue-collar Butler, Pennsylvania. I knew nothing and cared nothing about politics. I had no idea if I were a conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, or much of anything else. But I knew one thing: Moammar Kaddafi was a bad dude. This was expressed in a rather unsophisticated way by the bumper sticker affixed to my white Chevy Chevette, which declared simply and succinctly: "Kaddafi Sucks."
Yep, Moammar Kaddafi was a bad dude. And now, three decades later, and some 40-plus years after coming to power, he is gone, dispatched to the ash-heap of history with other murderous terrorists and dictators: Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Mao Tse-Tung, Joe Stalin, Vladimir Lenin.
I will not here add to reports of how Kaddafi met his final fate, but I would like to share a valuable piece of information that was revealed to me by Bill Clark, Ronald Reagan's right-hand man and national security adviser when Kaddafi was ramping up in the 1980s.
It was early 1981. President Reagan had just been inaugurated. Alexandre de Marenches, the director of France's external intelligence agency, SDECE, came to the White House with a highly sensitive plan to remove Kaddafi. The plan was to assassinate the Libyan dictator during a parade, by use of an explosive device placed near the reviewing stand. "Our answer," said Clark, "was that we understood their feelings toward the man, but we don't do assassinations."
That was because there was an executive order banning assassinations, first signed by President Gerald Ford and supported by President Carter. The Reagan team had no intention of violating the order as one of the first acts of the new administration.
Intelligence sources I consulted confirmed Clark's recollection of de Marenches' request. "He came over to the U.S., probably in early February 1981," said one source, a high-level CIA "operations" person.
His interlocutor was Vice President Bush. The purpose of the visit was to discuss the removal of Kaddafi. He came to try to get us involved operationally in the plan. . . . He wanted not just our moral or political support but to get us involved in the actual operation.
This same source pointed to the "Safari Club," which was a group of countries - France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and the Shah's Iran - that had banded together for two primary purposes: 1) to fight the spread of Soviet Communism in Africa; and 2) to counter Kaddafi, particularly his adventures in neighboring Chad. The group was formed by intelligence ministers in the mid-1970s, and de Marenches was its catalyst. The group was appalled by America's unwillingness to no longer stand up to the Soviets; it was post-Watergate, post-Vietnam, Americans had elected an incredibly liberal Congress, and Jimmy Carter was president. The Club sought to fill the vacuum.
De Marenches' offer against Kaddafi was consistent with the concerns of the Safari Club.
As an indication of the confidential nature of his overture, de Marenches did not discuss his offer to the Reagan administration in either of his 1986 and 1992 books. But he did note yet another intention to kill Kaddafi: He said that on March 1, 1978, Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat had asked de Marenches for help in "disposing of him [Kaddafi] physically."
Think of the irony here, and how tragically history unfolds: It would be Sadat who was assassinated in 1981 - on October 6, 1981. He was killed at a reviewing stand at a parade, shot by Islamists for his "crime" of making peace with Israel.
While Sadat died, Kaddafi was permitted to live. Sadat made peace. Kaddafi left a trail of blood and violence.
And here's another irony still: Just weeks after de Marenches' offer to Reagan to assassinate Kaddafi, Reagan was shot, on March 30, 1981, and nearly bled to death.
In retrospect, should President Reagan have agreed to the French request to take out Kaddafi? A lot of innocent lives would have been spared. Terrorist attacks from Lockerbie, Scotland, to the Mediterranean would have been averted.
Alas, such action by Reagan would indeed have been illegal, and was not the mission or foreign-policy plan of his incoming administration. Had Reagan started his presidency by violating an executive order on assassinations, liberals in that post-Watergate/post-Vietnam Congress would have run him out of town with impeachment papers before his historic two-term takedown of the Evil Empire could commence.
Reagan did what he could - or couldn't.
Nonetheless, this is a very intriguing tale of what happens behind the scenes - and what might have been. The death of Kaddafi had to wait - it had to wait a long, painful 30 years. Only now, finally, this bad dude is gone.
I've only recently come to realize the nature of the hurdle this country faces in trying to turn around a stalled economy and horrendous deficit. Here it is: liberal Democrat politicians have fully convinced huge numbers of people that our economic/fiscal mess is the result of two principal demons: 1) "the rich" and 2) the Tea Party. The former, of course, has been a longtime liberal scapegoat; the latter is a new one.
I've realized this painfully in the last few weeks as a result of several commentaries I've done (USA Today, FoxNews, among others), viewed by a large portion of Americans from across the political spectrum. In these commentaries, I tried to stick to statistics and facts. I naively thought my approach would be convincing. It was not, as evidenced by the many people I continue to argue with in emails.
Here today, I'll reiterate the one fact that I thought was irrefutable:
As I noted in my article titled, "It's the Spending, Stupid," the federal government, from 1965-2009, never cut spending one single year. That's right, not one time - nope, nada, nothing. To repeat: from 1965-2009, the federal government never decreased annual spending. To see the figures on a chart is eye-opening. The annual rise in spending has been a steady, non-stop, unbroken, upward climb for over 40 years. To the contrary, revenues to the federal government have gone up and down, the result - not of tax rates on "the rich," but - of the status of the economy from year-to-year, especially during recessions. It's both amazing and depressing to see that the federal government, unlike you and your family and your household and your business and your anything and everything else, is apparently incapable of adjusting (i.e., decreasing) its spending based on available revenues. It used to do so, under both Democrat and Republican presidents, but that changed in 1965, when the federal government, starting with the Great Society, began an outright spending addiction.
As I noted in the article, seeing this for yourself is as easy as Googling "historical tables deficit," where one can view two sources: CBO historical (Congressional Budget Office) and OMB historical tables (Office of Management and Budget). These are the official sources for data on federal budgets. In the OMB site, look at Table 1.1, titled, "Summary of Receipts, Outlays, and Surpluses or Deficits: 1789-2016."
In my articles and emails, I even included hyperlinks to these tables, imploring people to look for themselves rather than accept my word. And yet, I can't begin to recount the angry emails I got from people insisting that the reasons for our deficits/debt is not over-spending by the federal government but greed by wealthy people who don't pay "their fair share" of income taxes and by dastardly "racist" "terrorists" in the Tea Party. And, yes, I actually got emails (many of them) from people insisting that Tea Party members are "terrorist." To observe an American public, only a decade removed from September 11, somehow equating Tea Party members with "terrorists" leaves me almost speechless and hopeless.
I will not bother responding to that particular smear, but I would like to address the charge that the rich are not paying "their fair share." Again, I will stick to data.
If you Google the words "Who pays income tax?" you will find a chart from the National Taxpayers Union. It includes these telling statistics:
The top 1 percent of income earners pay 38 percent of all federal tax revenue. The top 5 percent pay 59 percent. The top 10 percent pay 70 percent. The top 25 percent pay 86 percent. The top 50 percent pay 97.3 percent. Conversely, the bottom 50 percent pay merely 2.7 percent of all federal tax revenue.
As the data shows, the rich are certainly paying their fair share. In fact, they pay the vast share. The poorest Americans, conversely, pay literally nothing in income taxes.
If anything, the system is disproportionately titled against the wealthy. Our "rich" are paying for the reckless behavior of politicians addicted to spending; they are subsidizing spending addicts. And to watch those addicts blame their mess on the rich for not paying enough? It's downright obscene.
But the folks who have emailed me have the complete opposite opinion. It is an incorrect opinion.
Let me repeat: America's deficit/debt problem is a spending problem. It is not the fault of rich people who pay too little income tax or Tea Party members guilty of "terrorism." Don't take my word for it. Look at the data.
My fear, however, is that the data just doesn't matter to a huge number of followers of the party line. And that's a very serious problem for this country, a giant propaganda hurdle that may be insurmountable.
Editor's note: This article first appeared at American Thinker.
I got a double shock Thursday morning when I turned on my radio.
"Steve Jobs has passed away," I heard a D.J. remark. "That's a shame."
Yes, it is a shame. I was saddened to hear that.
I was equally shocked as I turned the dial and heard something even more deadly. It was a comment from actress/comedienne Roseanne Barr, literally calling for the death of certain wealthy Americans.
"I do say that I am in favor of the return of the guillotine and that is for the worst of the worst of the guilty," said the comedienne, who did not appear to be joking.
I first would allow the guilty bankers to pay, you know, the ability to pay back anything over $100 million [of] personal wealth because I believe in a maximum wage of $100 million.
Joining her comrades in the "Occupy Wall Street" protest in Manhattan, the celebrity prattled on, pressing for a modern made-in-America version of Mao's and Pol Pot's re-education camps:
And if they are unable to live on that amount then they should, you know, go to the re-education camps and if that doesn't help, then being beheaded.
Roseanne's Robespierre-like sentiments seemed especially cruel in light of the death of Steve Jobs. Consider: Jobs was worth billions of dollars. Would he be exempt from what the bloody French revolutionaries once termed the National Razor? Jobs was not a banker, but he was rich, which, truth be told, is the ultimate sin in the minds of Roseanne and the zealots.
Sure, sure. I hear the criticism: Come on, Kengor, Roseanne Barr is a crackpot.
Well, indeed, that's apparently the case. But Roseanne's rant against the rich seems a fitting apotheosis to the anarchical madness on display on Wall Street and elsewhere by the "Days of Rage" gang.
To be sure, I doubt the mob would be willing to escort American bankers to the chopping block. That said, they and Roseanne share some crucial, unifying commonalities. First and foremost, they are united by an utter, unhealthy contempt for wealthy people, and would be happy to take as much money from the wealthy as humanly possible. Moreover, en masse, they demonize a faceless enemy. "The rich" is a handy caricature for whatever assortment of injustices these people believe ails them.
And that brings me back to Steve Jobs.
In fact, Steve Jobs was among "the rich." It is the likes of Jobs that have given these folks the pleasures and creature comforts they enjoy minute to minute. These alleged oppressed masses issue their talking points from the cell-phone world that capitalism and the likes of Jobs have given them.
There is something comically ludicrous about a throng of ranting, raving, raging college kids slurping Starbucks and staring into iphones while angrily protesting the very system that made it all possible in the first place. Even the mob's ability to meet is made possible by this system. The children are spurning the mother that gave them birth.
As co-founder and CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs changed the world for the better. The Wall Street "occupiers" are exploiting the technology that he helped create.
What the Wall Street horde and Roseanne do not understand is that in America people generally get rich by providing a product or service that people want. Sure, there are exceptions. Some get wealthy by promulgating vice instead of virtue - witness the porn industry's parasitical attachment to Jobs' technology industry. Some are rich because they inherited the money - witness the Kennedy family. By and large, however, "the rich" earn their riches through the consent of millions of citizens who voluntarily purchase products and service through their own free will. That is called the free market; it is the opposite of the command economy.
The failure of young people to know the difference is yet another failure of this nation's horrendous educational system, and especially our bankrupt universities - bankrupt, that is, morally, certainly not financially. The universities that have mis-educated the mob charge far higher fees than any Bank of America ATM.
Roseanne and the mob do not understand this country and its market system. Neither is perfect, nor are wealthy people. We are, however, free here - and free to keep the wealth we earn.
Steve Jobs understood. May he rest in peace. *
I just read two very interesting articles on the U.S. economy, written from historical perspectives. They compelled me to share my own historical perspective. And what I want to say is more about our changing culture than our economy.
One of the articles, by Julie Crawshaw of MoneyNews.com, notes that the "Misery Index" - the combined unemployment and inflation rates - made infamous under President Jimmy Carter, has hit a 28-year high. It's also 62 percent higher than when President Obama took office.
But that's nothing compared to Mort Zuckerman's article in U.S. News & World Report. Zuckerman measures the current situation against the Great Depression. He writes:
The Great Recession has now earned the dubious right of being compared to the Great Depression. In the face of the most stimulative fiscal and monetary policies in our history, we have experienced the loss of over 7 million jobs, wiping out every job gained since the year 2000. From the moment the Obama administration came into office, there have been no net increases in full-time jobs, only in part-time jobs. This is contrary to all previous recessions. Employers are not recalling the workers they laid off. . . . We now have more idle men and women than at any time since the Great Depression.
Zuckerman is a perceptive writer who looks at economies from a historical perspective. In my comparative politics course at Grove City College, I use his article on the Russian collapse in the 1990s, which Zuckerman showed was worse than our Great Depression.
I can't say we're teetering on that precipice, but Zuckerman's article got me thinking: Imagine if America today experienced an economic catastrophe similar to the 1930s. How would you survive?
I remember asking that question to my grandparents, Joseph and Philomena. How did they survive the Great Depression?
My grandmother, never at a loss for words, direly described how her family avoided starving. Compensation came via barter. Her father, an Italian immigrant, baked bread and cured meats in an oven in the tiny backyard, among other trades he learned in the old country. My grandmother cleaned the house and babysat and bathed the children of a family who owned a grocery store. They paid her with store products. Her family struggled through by creatively employing everyone's unique skills.
What about my grandfather? When I asked that question as he sat silently, my grandmother raised her loud Italian voice and snapped: "Ah, he didn't suffer! Don't even ask him!"
My grandfather, also Italian, returned the shout: "Ah, you shut up! You're a damned fool!"
Grandma: "No, you're a damned fool!"
After the typical several minutes of sustained insults, my grandfather explained that, indeed, his family didn't suffer during the depression. They noticed no difference whatsoever, even as America came apart at the seams.
Why not? Because they were farmers. They got everything from the land, from crops and animals they raised and hunted to fish they caught. They raised every animal possible, from cattle to rabbits. They ate everything from the pig, from head to feet. There were eggs from chickens and cheese and milk from goats and cows. There were wild plants.
I was captivated as my grandfather explained his family's method of refrigeration: During the winter, they broke ice from the creek and hauled it into the barn, where it was packed in sawdust for use through the summer. They didn't over-eat. They preserved food, and there was always enough for the family of 12.
When their clothes ripped, they sewed them. When machines broke, they fixed them. They didn't over-spend. Home repairs weren't contracted out. Heat came from wood they gathered.
And they didn't need 1,000 acres of land to do this.
They were totally self-sufficient - and far from alone. Back then, most Americans farmed, knew how to grow things, or provided for themselves to some significant degree.
That conversation with my grandparents came to mind as I read Zuckerman's piece and considered life under another Great Depression. I realized: The vast majority of Americans today would be incapable of providing for themselves. If you live in the city with no land, you'd be in big trouble. Even most Americans, who have a yard with soil, wouldn't know what to do.
Isn't it ironic that with all our scandalously expensive education - far more than our grandparents' schooling - we've learned so little? We can't fix our car let alone shoot, gut, skin, and butcher a deer.
Think about it: If you lacked income for food, or if prices skyrocketed, or your money was valueless, what would you do for yourself and your family?
Americans today are a lifetime from their grandparents and great grandparents. God help us if we ever face a calamity like the one they faced - and survived.
Editor's note: This article first appeared at The American Spectator.
Presidential scholars write on all sorts of aspects of the American presidency. Among the most interesting have been several important works on so-called presidential character and temperament. And when it comes to the temperament of our current president, we've learned quite a bit during the recent debate over the debt ceiling.
The most illuminating report I've read was a Politico piece titled, "Obama abruptly walks out of talks." The article described President Obama's bitter negotiations with nemesis Eric Cantor, the Republican House Majority leader. Obama "abruptly walked out of a stormy debt-limit meeting," Politico reported, "a dramatic setback to the already shaky negotiations." Eric Cantor said of the president's behavior: "He shoved back and said 'I'll see you tomorrow' and walked out."
The Politico continued: "the White House talks blew up amid a new round of sniping between Obama and Cantor, who are fast becoming bitter enemies." When Cantor told the president that they were too far apart to get a deal by the fateful August 2 deadline, Obama, according to Politico, "began to lecture him." Obama indignantly told Cantor that no other president - including Ronald Reagan - would condescend to sit through such negotiations.
Alas, it was Obama's Reagan reference that nags at me.
In truth, Ronald Reagan was a remarkable negotiator, both incredibly patient and principled. Negotiating was one of Reagan's greatest but most unappreciated attributes, to the point where I've many times considered doing a book strictly on Reagan as a negotiator.
When we think of Reagan as a negotiator, we remember his crucial walkout of the Reykjavik Summit in October 1986. Some Obama supporters want to invoke that example here, which is shortsighted at best. Reykjavik was just one of five separate, extended Reagan one-on-ones with Mikhail Gorbachev: Geneva (November 1985), Reykjavik (October 1986), Washington (December 1987), Moscow (May-June 1988), and New York (December 1988).
I could detail any number of examples of Reagan negotiating, from Hollywood in the 1940s to the White House in the 1980s. However, I'd like to cite an example that I believe is most instructive and applicable to Obama right now in dealing with Congressional Republicans. To his credit, Reagan biographer Edmund Morris wrote about it. Beyond Morris, one needs to venture to the Reagan Library to dig through boxes and folders from Reagan's gubernatorial years.
It was 1971, and Governor Reagan squared off with the speaker of the California legislature, a tough Democrat foe named Robert "Macho Bob" Moretti. California was on the verge of a major policy success - a historic welfare-reform package. First, Moretti and Reagan would need to sit down together, side by side, and hammer out specifics. Moretti made his way to Reagan's office, walked in by himself, and announced: "Governor, I don't like you. And I know you don't like me, but we don't have to be in love to work together." Reagan replied simply, "Okay." He committed to a good-faith effort to work with Moretti.
The two endured a long, windy path of binary and plenary sessions, as well as much less formal settings, marked by battle after battle for six weeks. Moretti himself calculated that he sparred with Reagan for "seventeen days and nights," "line by line, statistic by statistic," and obscenity by obscenity. At times, Reagan burned with frustration - "that's it, I'm through with this" - but never gave up.
Grudgingly, Moretti came to respect Reagan, who he saw as hard on his principles but flexible in the details - an observation of Reagan shared by numerous aides over the decades. The Governor surprised Moretti by yielding to fair and rational arguments, once even agreeing to renegotiate a point that the speaker had regretted conceding.
As Morris shows in his biography, Moretti was most impressed with Reagan's honesty as a deal maker. He admired the fact that the governor never lied and honored every commitment he made. This was a character trait Reagan had learned in Hollywood as head of the Screen Actors Guild.
In the end, on August 13, 1971, the California Welfare Reform Act became law. Reagan rightly called it "probably the most comprehensive" such welfare initiative in U.S. history. It was way ahead of its time, predating what would happen in much of the rest of America in the 1990s, made possible by the decentralization, block granting of welfare by President Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress - another bipartisan example of working together.
The negotiations between Reagan and Moretti were somewhat of a microcosm of the Reagan-Gorbachev talks. Then, too, the two men spent many intense hours, exchanging heated words and a few obscenities. For Reagan, there were non-negotiables then as well, of which SDI (at Reykjavik) was the most dramatic. There were items that Reagan insisted upon, such as addressing the USSR's persecution of its own citizens (especially Russian Jews), and giving no quarter in his belief in the superiority of the American system. He and Gorbachev likewise were locked horn to horn. The results were historic changes in arms control. Like Moretti, Gorbachev learned to like and respect Reagan.
I'm not privy to the records on all of President Obama's negotiations with House Republicans like Eric Cantor and John Boehner. From what I'm reading, however, we're seeing a very different kind of chief executive. Barack Obama is not only no Ronald Reagan on economic policy. He's also no Reagan when it comes to negotiating skills. Obama doesn't understand Reagan at all, and that's a loss for this nation.
Editor's note: A version of this article first appeared in USA Today.
How ironic that as America debated its debt ceiling all summer and faced a stunning credit downgrade, the nation approached a most timely anniversary: It was August 13, 1981, that President Reagan signed the Economic Recovery Act. Understanding Reagan's thinking 30 years ago is critical to discerning where we are now.
Reagan's initiative was the antithesis of President Obama's $800-billion "stimulus" that didn't stimulate. The 2009 version was the single greatest contributor to our record $1.5-trillion deficit. It was, plain and simple, what Reagan didn't do.
When Reagan signed the Economic Recovery Act at his ranch near Santa Barbara, it was the largest tax cut in American history. He also revealed leadership that Democrats and Republicans alike agree we are not seeing currently from the White House. Even the Washington Post called Reagan's action "one of the most remarkable demonstrations of presidential leadership in modern history."
The enemy that day was America's progressive federal income-tax system, birthed in 1913 by Congress and President Woodrow Wilson. It was revolutionary, requiring a constitutional amendment. That tax, which began as a 1 percent levy on the wealthy, would rocket up to a top rate of 94 percent by the 1940s.
Ronald Reagan personally felt the toll. In the 1940s, the so-called "B"- movie actor was one of the top box-office draws at Warner Bros. Then a Democrat, Reagan saw no incentive in continuing to work - that is, make more movies - once his income hit the top rate. He also realized who suffered from that choice. It wasn't Reagan; he was wealthy. It was the custodians, cafeteria ladies, camera crew, and working folks on the studio lot. They lost work.
Reagan viewed such rates as punitive, confiscatory - "creeping socialism," as he put it. In speeches in the 1950s and 1960s, he blasted the tax as right out of Marx's Communist Manifesto.
By the late 1970s, Reagan concluded that out-of-control taxes, spending, and regulation had sapped the economy of its vitality and ability to rebound. And so, on that August day in 1981, Reagan, with a Democratic House and Republican Senate, secured a 25 percent across-the-board reduction in income tax rates over a three-year period beginning in October 1981. Eventually, the upper rate would drop to 28 percent.
As biographer Steve Hayward notes, even when Reagan compromised with Democrats on tax increases in exchange for promised spending cuts in 1982, he "never budged an inch on marginal income tax rates." Reagan understood that not all taxes, or tax increases, are equal.
After a slow start through 1982-83, the stimulus effect of the cuts was extraordinary, sparking the longest peacetime expansion in U.S. history. The "Reagan Boom" not only produced widespread prosperity but - along with the attendant Soviet collapse - helped generate budget surpluses in the 1990s. Carter-Ford era terms like "malaise" and "misery index" vanished. Only now has America re-approached similar misery-index levels, reaching a 28-year high.
Unfortunately, liberals have so maligned Reaganomics that they are unable to separate facts from myths - to the detriment of their party and president. Among the worst myths is that Reagan's tax cuts created the deficit, even as the deficit increased under Reagan.
In fact, Reagan inherited chronic deficits. Since Franklin Roosevelt, the budget had been balanced a handful of times, mainly under President Eisenhower. From 1981-89, the deficit under Reagan increased from $79 billion to $153 billion. It peaked in 1983-86, hitting $221 billion. Yet, once the economy started booming, the deficit steadily dropped.
Tax cuts were not the problem. Tax revenues under Reagan rose from $599 billion in 1981 to nearly $1 trillion in 1989. The problem was that outlays all along outpaced revenue, soaring from $678 billion in 1981 to $1.143 trillion in 1989.
The cause of the Reagan deficits was the 1982-83 recession and spending - as is always the case. And, yes, the culprit was not just social spending by congressional Democrats but Reagan defense spending designed to take down the Soviet Union. What a bargain that turned out to be: It helped kill an "evil empire" and win the Cold War, paving the way for a peacetime dividend in the 1990s.
Yet it is clear today that we have refused the proper lessons of history. For one, our problem remains excessive spending. Obama must bear this in mind if he's considering tax increases (which hamper growth) as part of his "balanced" approach to deficit reduction. More than that, the best "stimulus" relies on the tried-and-true American way: Let free individuals stimulate the economy through their earnings and activity.
Ignoring such realities explains the mess we face in August 2011 - a millennium removed from the wisdom of August 1981.
We have failed to heed the lessons of economic history, with terrible consequences for our economy and country. And the most crucial of those lessons, particularly since the start of L.B.J.'s Great Society, is this: deficits have been caused not by a lack of income-tax increases but by recession and, most of all, by excessive government spending.
The failure to learn that lesson is again on painful display, as President Obama travels the country pointing the finger at "the rich" for not forking over enough income. By this narrative, the 36 percent income-tax rate paid by the wealthiest Americans is somehow robbing the poorest Americans, whose income-tax rate is zero percent; something one would never know from Democrats' class rhetoric.
Because I comment on this topic so frequently, especially in the context of Reaganomics, I constantly deal with these issues from a historical perspective. Here, I would like to make it easy for everyone to see the numbers themselves and understand the root of the problem.
The answers are as easy as googling the words "historical tables deficit." Two sources pop up: CBO historical tables and OMB historical tables. "CBO" is Congressional Budget Office; "OMB" is Office of Management and Budget. These are the official go-to sources for data on deficits, revenues, and government expenditures.
Either source will work. To keep it simple, I'll focus on the OMB numbers. At the OMB link is Table 1.1, titled, "Summary of Receipts, Outlays, and Surpluses or Deficits: 1789-2016." That is an official scorecard of spending by the federal government since the founding of the republic.
Looking closely at the chart is an eye-opening experience. As the first two columns show, receipts (i.e., revenues) and outlays (i.e., expenditures) moved up and down throughout our history. In 1965, however, something historically unusual, something literally deviant, began: Spending increased every single year, non-stop, consistently, without exception, into the Obama presidency, from 1965-2009.
There are few constants in the universe: gravity, the sunrise, the oceans, the moon. Add another: spending by the federal government; it rises every year.
Significantly, revenues don't increase every year. The most dependable reason for declines in revenues is not a lack of tax increases, or high enough income-tax rates, but recessions. Since 1965, as the data shows, annual revenues declined seven separate times.
At the start of the Great Society, in 1965, revenues and expenditures were nearly equal, with expenditures only slightly higher, leaving a manageable deficit of $1.4 billion. By 2009, however, annual expenditures ($3.5 trillion) had far outpaced annual revenues ($2.1 trillion), leaving a record deficit of $1.4 trillion.
Significantly, the biggest one-year drop in revenues was from 2008-9, when they declined from $2.5 trillion to $2.1 trillion. Worse, President Obama and the Democratic Congress responded with an $800-billion "stimulus" package that didn't stimulate. In other words, they responded in the worst way: with another $800 billion in government spending. That further mushroomed the record deficits/debt we face. The math is very simple.
Government spending, which has hampered growth rather than spark growth, caused this fiscal crisis.
It is crucial to realize that this spending addiction is a new thing in American history. Previous generations of politicians showed much more restraint. Prior to 1965, expenditures were not following an ever-upward trajectory; expenditures decreased year-to-year frequently, nearly two-dozen times between 1901 and 1965, even during the administrations of big-government liberal presidents, like Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt.
This changed in the mid-1960s, when the federal government began a serious spending problem.
How do we communicate the crisis to the wider public, beyond charts and data?
I suggest comparing the situation to a household: Your family's annual revenue has probably not enjoyed a 40-year-plus consecutive increase. For some years, you were paid less. Perhaps you lost a job, took a pay cut, or switched jobs. Maybe your spouse was laid off, or left work to have a child. You bought a house one year, another 20 years later, spent a ton of money on your children's college education, lost on a bad investment.
I doubt your family's yearly revenue has been a steady upward climb since 1965. Life obviously doesn't work that way.
And yet, imagine if each successive year, without fail, you spent considerably more money than the previous, including money that isn't yours. You added debt each year, creating massive debts for your family and children. You paid taxes with a credit card.
How long would this go on before you ended up with a credit downgrade or in jail? Get the picture?
If President Obama and the Democrats don't, they should. Warren Buffet certainly should. Our fiscal crisis is due not to insufficient income taxes but uncontrolled, undisciplined spending.
To paraphrase Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign slogan, "It's the spending, stupid."
Editor's note: This article first appeared at National Review Online.
It was 20 years ago this summer that the final disintegration of the Soviet Union rapidly unfolded. In June 1991, Boris Yeltsin was freely elected president of the Russian Republic, with Mikhail Gorbachev clinging to power atop the precarious USSR. In August, Communist hardliners attempted a dramatic coup against Gorbachev, prompting a stunning succession of declarations of independence by Soviet republics, with seven of them breaking away in August alone, and four more following through mid-December.
The writing was on the wall - not the Berlin Wall, which had collapsed two years earlier, but the graveyard of history, which would soon register the USSR as deceased. It was December 25, 1991, the day the West celebrates Christmas - a celebration the Communists had tried to ban - that Gorbachev announced his resignation, turning out the lights on an Evil Empire that had produced countless tens of millions of corpses.
Historians debate the credit that goes to various players for that collapse, from Gorbachev to Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher, Lech Walesa, and Vaclav Havel, to name a few. These are the people who get books written about them. But there were many behind-the-scenes players who performed critical roles that have never seen the light of a historian's word processor. Here I'd like to note one such player: Herb Meyer. Specifically, I'd like to highlight a fascinating memo Meyer wrote eight years before the Soviet collapse.
From 1981 to 1985, Meyer was special assistant to the director of central intelligence, Bill Casey, and vice chairman of the CIA's National Intelligence Council. In the fall of 1983, he crafted a classified memo titled, "Why Is the World So Dangerous?" Addressed to Casey and the deputy director, John McMahon, it had a larger (though limited) audience within the intelligence community and the Reagan administration, including President Reagan himself. Later, it would earn Meyer the prestigious National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal. Even so, the memo has eluded historians, which is a shame. It ought to rank among the most remarkable documents of the Cold War.
Meyer began his eight-page memo of November 30, 1983, by describing a "new stage" that had opened in the struggle between the free world and the Soviet Union. It was a "direction favorable" to the United States. He listed positive changes in America that suddenly had the USSR "downbeat." Not only was the U.S. economy "recovering," but Meyer foresaw a "boom" ahead, "with the only argument" having to do with its "breadth and duration."
Meyer listed seven signs of America's surge before providing even more symptoms of Soviet decline - a decline that was unrecognized by most pundits and academic Sovietologists. His insights into what he saw as an imminent Soviet collapse were prescient. After 66 years of Communist rule, the USSR had "failed utterly to become a country," with "not one major nationality group that is content with the present, Russian-controlled arrangement." It was:
. . . hard to imagine how the world's last empire can survive into the 21st century except under highly favorable conditions of economics and demographics - conditions that do not, and will not, exist.
"The Soviet economy," Meyer insisted, "is heading toward calamity."
Meyer nailed not only the Soviet Union's economy but also its "demographic nightmare." Here, he was way ahead of the curve, reporting compelling information on Russian birthrates, which were in free-fall. He recorded an astounding figure: Russian women, "according to recent, highly credible research . . . average six abortions."
As for the Soviet Bloc, Meyer didn't miss that either. "The East European satellites are becoming more and more difficult to control," he wrote, emphasizing that it wasn't merely Poland that was in revolt. "[O]ther satellites may be closer to their own political boiling points than we realize."
"In sum," concluded Meyer, "time is not on the Soviet Union's side."
He summed up with two predictions, nearly identically worded, as if to let the reader know he knew the magnitude of what he was saying: (1) "if present trends continue, we're going to win the Cold War;" and (2) "if present trends continue we will win." He quoted President Reagan's May 1981 Notre Dame speech, where Reagan proclaimed that history would dismiss Soviet Communism as "some bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written." Meyer felt that Reagan was "absolutely correct," adding that the USSR was "entering its final pages." His memo projected a window no longer than 20 years.
Herb Meyer was dead on. I know of no other Cold War document as accurate as this one.
I recently talked to Meyer about his memo. He had no idea it had been declassified until someone sent it to him last month. "I was astonished," Meyer wrote me in an e-mail, "and it's a weird feeling to read something you'd written decades ago and hadn't seen since."
Meyer remembered well certain elements of the memo, particularly the Cold War predictions. He also had not forgotten the memo's reception. Within the intelligence community, there was a general feeling that Meyer had lost his mind. That was just the start of the backlash.
The memo was leaked to syndicated columnists Evans & Novak, who devoted a column to it. There was subsequent uproar throughout Washington, which made Meyer very nervous. He was summoned to his boss's office.
"Herb, right now you've got the smallest fan club in Washington," Bill Casey told him grimly. As Meyer turned pale, Casey laughed: "Relax. It's me and the president."
Today, Meyer says with a chuckle: "If you're going to have a small fan club - that's it."
CIA director Casey, like President Reagan, was committed to placing a dagger in the chest of Soviet Communism. He was pleased, and he encouraged Meyer. Meyer recalls: "My orders were, in effect, to keep going."
Meyer particularly remembers Reagan's being shaken by the statement about Russian women averaging six abortions. To Meyer's knowledge, Reagan "never went public with that astounding statistic. . . . Come to think of it, no one - except some Russians - ever talked about it."
Of all the items in the memo, that one remains the most far-reaching. Demographers today foresee Russia plummeting in population from 150 million to possibly 100 million by 2050. Meyer's memo is a prophetic warning that isn't finished. For Russians, the internal implosion isn't over.
When we look back at the Cold War, we remember big names and big statements and documents. There's nary a college course on the Cold War that excludes George Kennan's seminal "Long Telegram," sent from the U.S. embassy in Moscow in February 1946. Kennan's memo prophetically captured what the free world faced from the USSR at the start of the Cold War, forecasting a long struggle ahead. Herb Meyer's November 1983 memo likewise prophetically captured what the free world faced from the USSR, but this time nearing the end of the Cold War, uniquely forecasting a long struggle about to close - with victory.
George Kennan's memo is remembered in our textbooks and our college lectures. Herb Meyer's memo merits similar treatment. *
Editor's note: A longer version of this article appears in American Thinker.
Each time President Obama addresses America's inalienable rights, I get emails. "Did you see Obama left out 'Creator' again?" began the latest.
The most recent occasion was a June 17 presidential statement responding to a U.N. resolution on sexual orientation. Obama stated that "LGBT persons are endowed with the same inalienable rights - and entitled to the same protections - as all human beings."
I can imagine why Obama and his speechwriters excluded the Creator in this particular statement. To say that "LGBT persons," meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, have inalienable rights is one thing. After all, in the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson affirmed that "all" human beings are endowed with "certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."
I take the Founders at their word. "All" means "all." And this, wrote Jefferson, with the hearty approval of John Adams, Ben Franklin, and the entirety of the Continental Congress, is a "self-evident" truth.
No one should argue that "LGBT persons" don't have inalienable rights.
And who endows those rights? The Creator does.
President Obama and his speechwriters and staff surely knew that to bring the Creator into this statement on sexual orientation would generate a firestorm over origins - from the origins of man and marriage to the origins of sexual orientation, from the ancient words of Genesis to the modern text of the Defense of Marriage Act.
That said, this is far from the first time President Obama has been selective with inalienable rights and, more tellingly, with their preeminent author. As CNS News reported, this was the third time this year alone that Obama used the language of "inalienable rights" but omitted the "Creator."
In fact, this tendency by Obama began literally at the very start of his presidency. In quoting what seemed to be an amalgam of the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, our new president excluded "life" among the inalienables, as well as the "Creator" that endows that right to life. It was quite a statement for his first presidential statement.
What to make of all of this? It's hard to say, but it's surely no accident.
Presidents have speechwriters. They write speeches with carefully crafted words that the president wants to say. Those speeches go through an exhaustive review. Exclusions like "Creator" and "life" from America's sacred inalienable rights (or "unalienable") don't happen causally - or shouldn't.
In truth, one cannot separate our Declaration's inalienable rights from their Creator. The Founders understood this, knowing that Americans must realize that these inherent rights come not from man or government but God.
Is President Obama's repeated failure to overtly link the two an attempt to separate them in a deeper sense? Or is he simply assuming they're intertwined, with no need to openly acknowledge God as the source? I don't think we can assume the latter, especially given Obama's consistent omission of the source, but - to be fair - I can't say for certain.
Nonetheless, something is going on here. And this much I can say:
President Obama and his administration pride themselves as modern progressives. The progressive project, for 100 years and counting, has been about reshaping and redefining the very essence of American thinking. The Constitution itself has been the obvious target. Progressives eagerly reinterpret the Constitution, declaring it a "living document" subject to their unceasing, always-evolving "changes" and "reform."
So, given their liberties with the Constitution, why wouldn't progressives do the same with the Declaration of Independence?
With Obama's statements, are we witnessing larger symptoms of a progressive push to reshape and redefine the Declaration's inalienable rights and, more fundamentally, their very source? Are we observing an attempt to remake these rights in the progressives' own image, with the Creator out of the process?
Progressivism is moral relativism at the political level. Truth is never constant, with no fixed starting point, whether (theologically) in Sacred Scripture or (politically) in sacred political documents like the Constitution and Declaration. Truth is determined not by an absolute authority but by individuals - or, here, progressive individuals en masse - who are always marching and ever-advancing toward evolving truths revealed somewhere down the road. There is no goalpost set in concrete. Progressives themselves cannot tell you their ultimate endgame because they are constantly progressing.
Is this an exasperating ideology? You bet it is.
What does this mean as America again prepares to mark the Declaration of Independence? Does it mean our "inalienables" - or, more so, their fountainhead - are not so self-evident, or at least subject to reinterpretation?
To citizens of a "progressive" mind, yes, I'm afraid so. Is our president among them? I fear so.
And I'm even more afraid that few Americans know or care.
Among those doing excellent work on G. K. Chesterton is Joseph Pearce, the brilliant Brit who is a scholar at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida. Pearce, like Dale Ahlquist, is unearthing all sorts of gems from Chesterton's writings.
Pearce recently came to Grove City College in Western Pennsylvania, where he offered an intriguing European perspective on American exceptionalism. Among the Europeans that Pearce was sure to include was Chesterton - and what he said is fascinating. In my view, it's as poignant as the richest lines on America from Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville.
Pearce notes how when it came to America, Britain, the West, and Christianity, Chesterton, as usual, was ahead of his time. He foresaw a faith in rapid decline in Western Europe, and felt it might be left to America to pick up the torch for Christendom. Hilaire Belloc, a friend of Chesterton, famously remarked that Europe is the faith and the faith is Europe. That was true then, but not today.
As a stunning symbol of Chesterton's thinking, Pearce highlights what he dubs Chesterton's "salute to the American flag," a salute signifying Chesterton's hope that America might become a beacon of Christianity worldwide. Lamenting that "the English have often forgotten the cross on their flag," Chesterton hoped that "the crossless flag" of the United States "may yet become a symbol of something; by whose stars we are illumined, and by whose stripes we are healed." (G. K. Chesterton, Collected Works, Vol. XXI, Ignatius Press, 1990, p. 591.)
Wow. Think about that line: "by whose stars we are illumined, and by whose stripes we are healed." Have you ever thought about your flag that way - so Christ-like? G. K. Chesterton did. It's a stirring interpretation of America and its mission.
America and Europe have gone in opposite directions faith-wise. Despite our serious problems - the Death Culture chief among them - the vast majority of Americans remain believers, and Christians, and we provide more missionaries than any country; including to Europe.
As we again mark the birth of America's Founding, may those stars still illumine, and may those stripes still heal.
I encourage you to set aside the burgers, dogs, soda, and beer for a moment this Fourth of July and contemplate something decidedly different, maybe even as you gaze upward at the flash of fireworks. Here it is: Confirm thy soul in self-control.
What do I mean by that? Let me explain.
The Founders of this remarkable republic often thought and wrote about the practice of virtue generally and self-control specifically, two things long lost in this modern American culture of self. Thomas Jefferson couldn't avoid a reference to one of the cardinal virtues - prudence - in our nation's Founding document, the Declaration of Independence, which, incidentally, ought to be a must-read for every American every Fourth of July (it's only 1,800 words). Our first president and ultimate Founding Father, George Washington, knew the necessity of governing one's self before a nation's people were capable of self-governance. As Washington stated in his classic Farewell Address, "'Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government."
A forgotten philosopher who had an important influence on the American Founders was the Frenchman, Charles Montesquieu, whose work included the seminal book, The Spirit of the Laws (1748). Montesquieu considered various forms of government. In a tyrannical system, people are prompted not by freedom of choice or any expression of public virtue but, instead, by the sheer coercive power of the state, whether by decree of an individual despot or an unaccountable rogue regime. That's no way for human beings to live. There's life under such a system, yes, but not much liberty or pursuit of happiness; even life itself is threatened.
Montesquieu concluded that the best form of government is a self-governing one, and yet it is also the most difficult to maintain because it demands a virtuous populace. As noted by John Howard - the outstanding senior fellow at the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society - Montesquieu noted that each citizen in a self-governing state must voluntarily abide by certain essential standards of conduct: lawfulness, truthfulness, honesty, fairness, respect for the rights and well-being of others, obligation to one's spouse and children, to name a few.
"Each new generation must be trained to be responsible citizens . . . to be virtuous and conscientious," writes Howard in The St. Croix Review.
Once the free society is well-established, the daily life of the family and the society is such that becoming virtuous is not a monstrous chore for the young people.
Sadly, becoming virtuous has indeed become a monstrous chore in a society not only lacking virtue but eschewing virtue - fleeing virtue like a vampire fleeing a cross. Living life in a good way - what Benedict Groeschel calls The Virtue Driven Life - becomes so alien that the people prefer darkness over light. When virtues are not taught - whether at home, at school, or by America's educator-in-chief, the TV set - they become unknown and ignored, unfulfilled, desiccated and dead upon the national landscape.
And perhaps saddest of all, as John Howard notes, virtue is something that can be acquired, like learning to speak a culture's language. Once inculcated, however, it needs to be continuously reinforced by the cultural elements of the society. Virtue needs to be nourished, like fruitful plants need water and sunlight. Says Howard emphatically: "I want to repeat. . . . Virtue must be continuously reinforced by the culture."
We Americans might not think about this much, but we actually sing it fairly often, even if the words don't sink in. Consider this line from one of our sacred political hymns, America, the Beautiful:
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
That's the ticket: Confirm thy soul in self-control. Our liberty is enshrined in our laws, but liberty should not be license for opportunities for the flesh. Our liberties, protected and permitted as they are, should not be exploited to do anything and everything we want, including things harmful to oneself, to one's family, to one's neighbors, to one's culture, to one's country. That misunderstanding and abuse of freedom is what Pope Benedict XVI calls a "confused ideology of freedom," one that can engender "the self-destruction of freedom" for others.
In truth, a genuine freedom requires responsibility. As the song says - and as Washington and Montesquieu intimated - we must successfully govern ourselves in order to successfully govern our nation.
It's a timeless concept worth remembering this Fourth of July and every day going forward.
The Libya situation is complicated. I envy no president stuck with the task. Among the complexities, the most daunting unknown is what's behind the opposition. We would all like to see Moammar Gaddafi tossed to the ash-heap of history, but the rub is who, or what, would replace him. What a tragedy it would be if America intervened only to see Gaddafi replaced by an Ayatollah.
President Obama has a tough situation in Libya. I was more certain about what to do with Saddam, in 1990-91 and 2003, under two presidents named Bush, than Libya now.
That said, it's disappointing to see liberals rally behind Obama in Libya in a way they refused under the Bushs in Iraq. I won't go through all the maddening double standards, but there are two that really struck me after President Obama's speech on Libya, and seem to mount by the minute, namely: coalition size and cost.
President Obama stressed that America has not "acted alone" in Libya, and is joined by a "broad coalition," a "strong and growing coalition." He named 11 countries: the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.
Obama used the word "cost" several times. He assured us that "real leadership" meant working "with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs." He gave no numbers.
Now, these were two areas - coalition and cost - where the American Left vilified both Bushs, especially George W. Bush, literally accusing him of acting "unilaterally" in Iraq in 2003. The accusations were outrageously, irresponsibly absurd. And yet, when comparing Obama to the Bushs, Obama falls way short.
For the first Gulf War, George H. W. Bush assembled a multinational coalition that (depending on varying sources), ranged from 27 to 34 nations, with as high as one-third of troops stationed in the Persian Gulf by December 18, 1990 provided by U.S. allies. Also contributing were 11 Middle East Muslim nations - they alone equaled the total of President Obama's current coalition partners - and even members of the still-existing Soviet Warsaw Pact.
The vast majority of the costs were provided by U.S. allies, especially Kuwait, Japan, and Germany. A March 2003 Associated Press analysis determined that the Gulf War initially cost the United States $61 billion, with all but $7 billion reimbursed by allies with cash or other contributions like fuel.
For the record, other accounts have been more generous, claiming Uncle Sam was reimbursed entirely.
As for the Iraq War in 2003, that, no doubt, was far more costly. The Bush team had a handle on initial costs; costs rose not with the initial invasion, which went far better than planned, but with the nasty occupation and reconstruction that followed.
Yet, one aspect of the 2003 war that again far surpasses Obama's work in Libya is the coalition George W. Bush put together.
Remarkably, by March 18, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced a coalition of 30 to 45 nations. That number depended on the form of support, which ranged from a vocal 30 nations to a discreet 15 nations, the latter largely Arab. This Bush coalition was one of the biggest in history. Such a multilateral stamp of approval was precisely what critics had clamored for, and Bush delivered. It even included Afghanistan, a nation once run by the Taliban, and once Osama Bin Laden's home.
And yet, rather than commend the Bush team, Democratic Congressmen like Lloyd Doggett ridiculed the coalition. He sneered that "the posse announced today is mighty weak." It included "such military powerhouses as Eritrea and Estonia," two nations the administration considered a sign of the worldwide opposition to Saddam. The coalition, said Doggett, was "embarrassing" and signaled a "foreign policy failure."
The day after Powell announced the vast coalition, Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times: "We're riding into Baghdad pretty much alone and hoping to round up a posse after we get there."
The frustrated president said repeatedly that the coalition was multinational, but to critics it didn't matter.
Nonetheless, these are facts. In both cases, the Bush coalitions were far superior to President Obama's in Libya.
Frankly, that doesn't matter much to me. I supported President Reagan's unilateral run on Tripoli in April 1986. This multilateral thing isn't my standard.
But it is the standard of the American Left; or at least when the Bushs are in charge.
And as I kept reminding my liberal friends when the Bushs were in charge: be careful about the standards you're demanding to demonize the Republican president, because someday your guys will be back in charge.
On March 30, 1981, Ronald Reagan, president for merely 10 weeks, stepped outside the Washington Hilton. What happened next was an image millions would soon witness on their TV screens: America's 40th president raised his arm to ward off a question from a reporter and then, seconds later, bullets crackled the air.
Chaos ensued. More than one man hit the ground. The president was thrust into his limousine by a secret service agent who immediately ordered the driver to nearby George Washington University Hospital, where emergency surgery discovered a dime-shaped, razor-thin bullet centimeters from Reagan's 70-year-old heart. He nearly died.
Yet, there was one image we never saw, which Ronald Reagan privately shared several times in the days to come, always with sources he knew to be devoutly religious: his son, Michael; his new pastor at the National Presbyterian Church, Louis Evans; and, among others, some high-profile Catholics - Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, New York's Terence Cardinal Cooke.
The Cooke moment was particularly poignant. It was Good Friday, April 1981, and Reagan sensed a feeling of rebirth. He was certain his life had been spared for a special purpose, one that, he discerned, struck at the epicenter of the Cold War conflict: the epic battle against atheistic Communism. Marx had called religion the "opiate of the masses." Lenin called it "a necrophilia." Communists everywhere pursued what Mikhail Gorbachev described as a "wholesale war on religion."
Ronald Reagan always knew that about Communism, and didn't like it one bit. Maybe God had intervened to ensure Reagan might intervene.
So, that Good Friday, back in the saddle at the Oval Office, Reagan felt a need for something more. His aide, Mike Deaver, summoned Cardinal Cooke to the White House. "The hand of God was upon you," Cooke told Reagan. "I know," a solemn Reagan replied. "I have decided that whatever time I have left is for Him."
Two days after this encounter with a prominent Catholic, Reagan met with a prominent Presbyterian on Easter Sunday. He asked Pastor Louis Evans to serve him communion in the Yellow Room. Evans agreed, and did not speak of the moment for 25 years, until he called me one day in February 2006.
As the president gazed out the Yellow Room window toward the Jefferson Memorial, he told Evans that as he struggled for breath on that ER table, he felt that if he did not forgive his would-be assassin at that very moment, he would not be healed. He forgave John Hinckley on the spot.
Ultimately, struggling with conflicting emotions - a feeling of grand calling and the inheritance of his mother's faith-based humility - Reagan would conclude that God had chosen his "team" to defeat Soviet Communism. It was a sense of larger purpose he possessed since he was a boy sitting next to his mother in the pew at Rev. Ben Cleaver's First Christian Church in Dixon, Illinois, not to mention as he sat perched at a lifeguard stand at the Rock River in Dixon, where he assumed a duty of rescuer that never left him.
For the record, Reagan committed himself to the great moral good of taking down a genuinely Evil Empire responsible for the deaths of tens of millions, infused by an ideology that killed over 100 million worldwide in Reagan's century. It's a moving story of one convicted man vs. one pernicious ideology.
In retrospect, Reagan seemed to first publicly telegraph that private ambition in a major speech at Notre Dame University on May 17, 1981, where, among other things, he sent his best wishes to Pope John Paul II, who had been shot four days earlier, and likewise nearly died, surviving to become a vital Cold War partner to the president. "The years ahead are great ones for this country, for the cause of freedom and the spread of civilization," promised Reagan:
The West won't contain Communism, it will transcend Communism. . . . It will dismiss it as some bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written.
Although no one else said it, certainly as audaciously, nor expected it, those last pages were at that time being written. In fact, that statement foreshadowed Reagan policy: he would not seek to contain Communism; he would undermine Communism.
For Reagan, this was a cause and a calling inseparable from a faith that carried him from February 1911 to June 2004, both outliving and transcending the atheistic ideology that Lenin and his Bolshevik minions had thrust upon the world and the 20th century. Ronald Reagan's religion was at the crux of his crusade for freedom and against a very real evil.
And for Reagan, it was a bullet fired 30 years ago, March 30, 1981, that provided sharp clarity to that sense of direction and purpose. *