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).
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. *
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).
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. *
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).
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. *
"In Bin Laden Announcement, Echoes of 2007 Obama Speech," declared the headline in The New York Times. It's difficult to find a newspaper that has demonstrated a more pro-Obama and anti-Bush bias than The New York Times, especially when dealing with the War on Terror. And so, I expected a headline like this in the Times. When I searched Google this morning, looking for a text of President Obama's statement on the death of Osama Bin Laden, the Times headline was the first thing that popped up.
That's too bad. A better banner would have been, "In Bin Laden Announcement, Echoes of 2001 Bush Speech." That's what I immediately thought when I heard the stunning statement by President Obama announcing the killing of Osama Bin Laden. President Obama stated:
Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama Bin Laden. . . .
The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores, and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens. . . . Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to Al-Qaeda's terror: Justice has been done. . . .
Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.
For President Obama, it was a refreshing and surprising expression of American exceptionalism.
More than that, President Obama's words read like an exclamation point, on what President George W. Bush had said on September 14, 2001, during an unforgettable 9/11 memorial service at the majestic National Cathedral. Bush himself had organized the service. He picked the music, selected speakers, and carefully chose the words he delivered that afternoon.
Bush had declared the day a "National Day of Prayer and Remembrance." In preparing for his speech, he literally prayed that he could rise to the occasion and deliver his talk meaningfully in keeping with the somberness of the occasion. "I prayed a lot before the speech," he later told reporter Bill Sammon, "because I felt like it was a moment where I needed, well, frankly, for the good Lord to shine through."
Everyone in elite Washington was there: Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford sat in the third pew, as did Al Gore. The Clinton family sat in the front pew. An ailing Billy Graham, in a poignant display, struggled to address those gathered. President Bush approached the platform at 1:00 PM. He stated:
We are here in the middle hour of our grief. So many have suffered so great a loss, and today we express our nation's sorrow. We come before God to pray for the missing and the dead and for those who love them.
On Tuesday our country was attacked with deliberate and massive cruelty. We have seen the images of fire and ashes and bent steel. Now come the names, the list of casualties we are only beginning to read. . . .
Just three days removed from these events, Americans do not yet have the distance of history. But our responsibility to history is already clear: To answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.
War has been waged against us by stealth and deceit and murder. This nation is peaceful, but fierce when stirred to anger. This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way, and at an hour, of our choosing.
Note that last word, "choosing." Indeed, here is where both President Bush and President Obama - not to mention America and history - found common ground: This war, and that awful attack on September 11, 2001, crafted by the diabolical Osama Bin Laden, had not been our choice. Both Bush and Obama pledged that justice against Osama would come at a time of our choosing.
That time arrived, at long last, on May 1, 2011. Justice, indeed, has been done, and on America's terms, not Osama Bin Laden's.
It was 65 years ago, March 5, 1946, when Winston Churchill delivered his "Iron Curtain" speech in Fulton, Missouri. It was a speech that rocked the world and changed history.
By then Churchill was no longer British prime minister. He and his conservatives had been replaced by Clement Attlee and the Labour Party, which busily nationalized everything under the sun, from car companies to healthcare, pursued Keynesian economic policies with reckless abandon, exploded the public sector, and piled debts that buried Britain for a generation. Churchill was out, and Britain's giant lunge leftward was in, enabled by an electorate that voted for "change."
Churchill and his work, however, were hardly finished. He had been called upon to save Western civilization at the start of the decade, when Hitler's Germany was at the gates. Now, he saw new vandals, equally dangerous, already inside the gates, and colored red. Stalin was their dictator.
Worse, the West, complacent and tired of war, had no clue of the threat; it could not see the wolf at the door. The former prime minister travelled to America to issue a wake-up call to the free world.
So, at little Westminster College, on March 5, 1946, at the invitation of President Harry Truman, Churchill cut loose:
Nobody knows what Soviet Russia and its Communist international organization intends to do in the immediate future, or what are the limits, if any, to their expansive and proselytizing tendencies . . . .
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest, Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in the Soviet sphere and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and increasing measure of control from Moscow.
Churchill conceded these were tough words to hear on the "morrow of a great victory" over Nazism, one where Stalin's Russia had been an ally. Nonetheless, we could not be blind to reality, and simply wish away the dangers.
Of course, Churchill was exactly right, as anyone paying attention should have noticed. A month earlier, Stalin had delivered his Bolshoi Theater speech, which followed blatant Soviet violations of the Yalta agreement signed a year earlier. Moscow was installing puppet governments and refusing promises of free elections throughout Eastern Europe, all the while committing countless war crimes, especially in eastern Germany, where Red Army soldiers committed two million rapes.
The former prime minister spoke the truth.
Naturally, Stalin responded by blasting Churchill: "To all intents and purposes, Mr. Churchill now takes his stand among the warmongers."
Churchill expected Stalin's reaction. He also would not have been surprised to learn that members of Communist Party USA had gathered at Fourth Avenue in New York to prepare a P.R. strategy to smear his plans to launch "a new world war." The international Communist movement wasted little time.
Yet, Churchill was taken aback by the response of many progressive Americans. Eleanor Roosevelt was furious. She accused the courageous prime minister of "desecrating the ideals for which my husband gave his life." She took a personal swipe: "Perhaps it's just as well," she publicly sneered at Churchill, "that he [FDR] is not alive today to see how you have turned against his principles."
President Truman was stunned by the outrage among the liberal/progressive left. He had read the speech ahead of time, and seemed fine with it. Nonetheless, once confronted by angry reporters, Truman distanced himself from the former prime minister. According to historian James Humes, Churchill was so troubled by Truman's disappointment that he did not recover until he found a friendly smile (and a drink) at the Gettysburg home of World War II pal Dwight Eisenhower.
Journalist David Brinkley, who covered the speech, recalled that his fellow press people were appalled; they thought Churchill had lost his mind.
Of course, we know the rest of the story.
In the next few years, the Soviets blockaded Berlin, sponsored a coup in Czechoslovakia, and swallowed up Eastern Europe. According to the seminal work by Harvard University Press, The Black Book of Communism, at least 100 million people were killed by Communist governments - a conservative figure that, even then, is double the combined deaths of World War I and II. Soviet authorities like Alexander Yakovlev maintain that Stalin alone was responsible for 60-70 million deaths.
It took the rest of the world a while to awaken to Churchill's reality. When it did, it recognized the prime minister as a political prophet. But on March 5, 1946, Winston Churchill was a voice in the wilderness.
Editor's note: A longer version of this article first appeared at American Thinker.
Another round of declassified FBI files on Senator Ted Kennedy has been released. Fittingly, in Kennedy's case, they once again raise all sorts of questions, from the moral to the political, to issues of national security.
First, however, allow me to pause with a sympathetic note. Among the documents within Kennedy's 2,200-page FBI file are materials from the mid-1960s on various lunatics threatening to shoot the young senator. Reading those pages is sad, particularly as they move from not only Ted as a target but also his brother Bobby. And then, it all struck home - like a punch to the gut - when I suddenly happened upon a June 6, 1968 Western Union telegram, sent directly to J. Edgar Hoover, which stated simply:
PLEASE MAKE CERTAIN THAT TED KENNEDY GETS ALL THE PROTECTION HE NEEDS WE ARE DOWN TO ONE KENNEDY.
Bobby was gone, in the same manner as John before him, and now Ted was left as a living target. I don't care how much of a beef you have against Ted Kennedy and his actions and politics; that telegram chills your bones.
As to the politics, however, once again we have more declassified files on Ted Kennedy producing yet more unsettling questions. As readers of my previous columns and books know, Ted Kennedy made a confidential outreach to Soviet despot Yuri Andropov in May 1983, evidenced by a stunning KGB memo. The goal was to undermine Ronald Reagan's defense policies and, in my view, Reagan's re-election prospects as well. That document, which has since been resealed in Russian archives, is published in full in Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century, by Paul Kengor.
Do the latest FBI files produce anything at this level? Well, it's hard to equate degrees of outrage, but these items jump out:
Most serious are the documents relating to a July-August 1961 "familiarization tour" by Kennedy of several Latin American countries. Throughout, Kennedy expressed a curious desire to meet with "Leftists," wanting to know what made them "think the way they do." The documents note that Kennedy "met with a number of individuals" with "Communist sympathies." Kennedy asked ambassadors and State Department officials in these countries to help arrange interviews. One official was annoyed, describing Kennedy as a "pompous and spoiled brat."
Ted's behavior was not exactly angelic. Among his unique extracurricular activities, according to two of these documents (dated December 28, 1961, and October 20, 1964), was to attempt to "'rent' a brothel for an entire night."
This aspect of the files fits with the roguish-philandering image of the late senator. More serious, however, is a particularly sobering item: Among the Leftists that Kennedy reportedly met with was none other than Lauchlin Currie, former close aide to FDR. As one of these documents dryly notes, "Currie's name had been mentioned in Washington investigations of Soviet spy rings."
That's an understatement. As we now know, Currie was one of the most duplicitous Roosevelt advisers, widely suspected of Soviet espionage.
Why did Ted Kennedy want to meet with Lauchlin Currie?
Unfortunately, the FBI files provide no answers.
But that doesn't mean there aren't witnesses who could be contacted for further information. Among the living is John Tunney, a former Democratic senator from California who was Ted Kennedy's law-school roommate and close pal. Tunney was Kennedy's liaison to the Soviets in May 1983. In this FBI file, he is listed as one of the individuals who joined Kennedy on this Latin America tour.
Tunney likewise might be able to comment on another stunner in these files: A claim that Ted and his brother Bobby were looking to parade around America a group of 100 Vietnamese children maimed by American napalm. A March 1967 memo contends that the Kennedy brothers were "plotting" such a scheme as a way to humiliate President Lyndon Johnson.
The memo gives specific names and is grounded in what seems a very credible source.
Finally, a November 21, 1962, memo in these files reports a fascinating tidbit: the muckraking columnist Drew Pearson was planning to report that 19-year-old Teddy had been rejected from attending "a school at Fort Holabird, Maryland, while in the U.S. Army" because of "an adverse FBI report which linked him to a group of 'pinkos.'" According to this memo, when Teddy's dad, Joseph P. Kennedy, heard of this, he threatened to sue Pearson for libel if he dared to print one word.
Of course, Joseph P. Kennedy has been dead for decades. He's no longer a threat to our "journalists" doing their job. Will those journalists now, at long last, two years after Senator Ted Kennedy's death, pause to investigate some hard questions?
This latest FBI file begs yet more answers on the doings of Ted Kennedy.
Editor's note: A longer version of this article first appeared in American Spectator.
With the swearing in of the 112th Congress, an already endangered species is nearing extinction in the Capitol Building: the pro-life Democrat.
That the Democrats took a thumping last November is obvious. In the House of Representatives, over 60 seats changed from Democrat to Republican.
Less-remarked upon, however, was the equally dramatic switch to pro-life legislators, which, not coincidentally, accompanied that Democrat-to-Republican shift. Marjorie Dannenfelser, director of the Susan B. Anthony List, which seeks to elect pro-life women to Congress, counts 38 switches from "pro-choice" to pro-life legislators, plus another 14 seats where "unreliable" pro-lifers were replaced with "reliable" pro-life votes. In all, 52 seats were "strengthened" in a more pro-life position.
Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), longtime pro-life stalwart, celebrates that this January marks "the beginning of the arguably most pro-life House ever." Smith calls it
. . . another message to President Obama that the American people will not be fooled by the Obama administration's accounting gimmicks and phony executive orders. They expect their elected officials to stand up for life without backing down.
This is a reference to the "Bart Stupak Democrats," who voted yes on the "Obama-care" healthcare bill that provides taxpayer funding of abortion. They convinced themselves that President Obama's corresponding executive order will ban abortion funding. Most of those pro-life Democrats find themselves no longer in Congress. Some, like Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA), were defeated in landslides.
Particularly telling, leadership of the House goes from Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), a tectonic shift in the pro-life direction, from one lifelong Roman Catholic to another - but with only Boehner applying "social justice" (not to mention the Church's teaching) to the unborn.
Likewise, the U.S. Senate includes notable pro-life gains. In Florida, Republican Marco Rubio registered a remarkable victory in a three-candidate race in November, trouncing a turncoat ex-Republican endorsed by Bill Clinton, the president who vetoed partial-birth abortion bans. In Arkansas, pro-life Republican John Boozman defeated incumbent Democrat Blanche Lincoln. In a major upset in Wisconsin, pro-life Republican Ron Johnson defeated Democrat incumbent Russ Feingold, a dependable vote for the abortion lobby. Other significant pro-life wins occurred in North Dakota, Indiana, and elsewhere. In Pennsylvania, pro-lifer Pat Toomey edged out Democrat Joe Sestak, who was atrocious on human-life issues.
In short, the Democratic Party, which was already heading down this path, now has preciously few pro-lifers in the House or Senate. We're approaching the point where you can count them on two hands, potentially one hand.
Alas, I say this with regret. I honestly do. I'm a pro-life Republican, but I know that the parties, and what they stand for, change over time. I'm far more concerned with the lives of unborn babies than political lives of Republicans. I don't support "pro-choice" Republicans; in fact, I've actively worked for their defeat. I'm an American deeply saddened by the Death Culture thrust upon this nation through the evil of Roe v. Wade in January 1973.
For a time, in the early years after Roe, it wasn't completely clear where the two parties, Democrat and Republican, would align on the matter of unborn human life. It has taken time, but, ultimately, the progression has been steady toward the Republicans becoming the party of life. Importantly, there are exceptions to this, but, by and large, certainly in Congress, the vast majority of Republicans are pro-life while the vast majority of Democrats are not.
Consider a fascinating analysis of Roman Catholic members of Congress, done by the National Catholic Register and National Right to Life. Their church is adamantly against legal abortion. And yet, of those Catholics with a dismal 0 to 5 percent pro-life ranking, all are Democrats, whereas of those with a solid 95 to 100 percent pro-life ranking, all are Republicans. That's a stunning religious-political shift.
Along this descent, there were Democrats who tried to stop the train-wreck. One was a governor in my home state of Pennsylvania, the late Bob Casey, who was distraught that his party, which prided itself as defender of the "little guy," was turning its back on the most innocent among us: the unborn child. When Casey pleaded for a speaking spot at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, Bill and Hillary Clinton and the self-proclaimed apostles of "tolerance" and "diversity," refused him. Looking back, that was a telling moment.
It's a sad development for the culture and the country. It further polarizes the abortion issue, more starkly along party lines. For pro-life Republicans in Congress, it's a loss, as they need pro-life Democrats as precious allies. No one - Republicans included - should celebrate such a moral demise in a once great political party. *
This January 20 marks the anniversary of two unforgettable inaugural addresses from two beloved presidents, Democrat and Republican: John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. For Kennedy's speech, this is the golden anniversary, 50 years; for Reagan, 30 years.
Both speeches were extraordinary. Kennedy's lasting line was, of course, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Reagan's most memorable phrase was probably this one: "We're not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. . . . Let us begin an era of national renewal." Reagan's line struck the New York Times, which, the next day, thrust the words "era of national renewal" atop page one.
In both inaugurals, there was no mistaking the message, or the mood that followed. Both initiated a profound, palpable, quite immediate change in the nation's morale and sense of itself. The shift was dramatic. Of course, it wasn't just the speeches that made the difference, but the men who made them, with the inaugurals their starting points.
As evidence of the specialness of these two men and their presidencies, consider what happened in between. Between Kennedy and Reagan there was an extended bipartisan disaster, with two Democrats as bookends, Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter, and two Republicans in between, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Those four presidencies ended in defeat, despair, debilitation, or even ruin. LBJ was destroyed by Vietnam, and decided not to pursue reelection. Nixon resigned in disgrace and suffered a mental breakdown. Ford, not an inspiring figure, never won an election. Carter lost 44 states to Reagan. Harvard's renowned presidential scholar, the late Richard Neustadt, remarked that watching Jimmy Carter, one wondered if the presidency was "even possible."
Amid all this was Vietnam, the counter culture, Watergate, malaise, misery index, unemployment, double-digit inflation, 21-percent interest rates, energy crisis, oil shocks, the Soviets in Afghanistan, hostages in Iran, and on and on. It was a prolonged national nightmare.
Really, Kennedy's message of hope, so forceful on January 20, 1961, dissipated like dust in the wind.
But then came Reagan, precisely 20 years later, January 20, 1981.
The moment Reagan swore the oath, he committed himself to "national renewal." Unbeknownst to the press, those two words flowed directly from his personal pen. The theme pervaded the ceremony. On the reverse side of the tickets for the inaugural event was this promise: "America - A Great New Beginning, 1981."
It is not an exaggeration to say the change in mood began that instant, as the hostages were freed in Tehran - prompting The New York Times to double its top-of-the-fold headline: "Reagan Takes Oath as 40th President; Promises an 'Era of National Renewal;' Minutes Later, 52 U.S. Hostages in Iran Fly to Freedom After 444-Day Ordeal."
Those who experienced the moment, including presidential scholars in that era, agreed that Reagan achieved that renewal. As quick as the end of Reagan's first term, academic historians and political scientists - most of whom were on the political left - hailed Reagan for his "restoration of morale and trust" to the country and presidency. Specifically, a major 1985 survey by National Journal found scholars commending Reagan for "reviving trust and confidence" in an institution "that in the post-Vietnam era had been perceived as being unworkable." Harvard's Neustadt spoke for many of the scholars when he said that Reagan gave Americans a sense that "all was well," a sea-change from the Carter malaise.
Outside the academy, Time's dean of presidential correspondents, Hugh Sidey, said flatly: "No one can deny that Ronald Reagan restored morale to a country that needed it." Edmund Morris, Reagan's official biographer, and generally a cynic, went so far as to claim that Reagan transformed the national mood "overnight." The change was so rapid, said Morris, "that it can only be ascribed to him."
Most telling, similar assessments came even from the enemy's camp. If Ronald Reagan had read Russian, he would have been blown away by an assessment from the erstwhile Evil Empire. There, the publication, Literaturnaya Gazeta, informed Soviet citizens:
The years of [Reagan's] presidency have seen an unprecedented surge in America's self-belief, and quite a marked recovery in the economy. . . . Reagan restored America's belief that it is capable of achieving a lot.
The Communist publication closed glowingly: "Reagan is giving America what it has been yearning for. Optimism. Self-belief. Heroes."
Of course, Kennedy, too, gave that to America.
Today, it seems inconceivable that a president from either party would be universally seen as a hero, inspiring so much optimism and self-belief. Yet, in the last half-century, it happened twice, 50 years ago this January 20, with JFK's inauguration, and 30 years ago this January 20, with Reagan's inauguration. Those were good times, rare times - worth preserving, maybe even recovering.
This February marks the birth centennial of Ronald Reagan. As a Reagan biographer, I'm often asked how Reagan was different from his predecessors, Republican and Democrat, and especially in the area of foreign policy. There were many ways, but here are two of the most fundamental:
First, Reagan actually believed he could win the Cold War. He committed himself to that goal early and unequivocally. To cite just one example, Richard V. Allen, his first national security adviser, recalls a discussion in January 1977, four years before the presidency, when Reagan told him flatly: "Dick, my idea of American policy toward the Soviet Union is simple, and some would say simplistic. It is this: We win and they lose."
In this, Reagan stood apart from not only Democrats like Jimmy Carter but Republicans like Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and their chief foreign-policy adviser, Henry Kissinger.
But there's another way Reagan was so different from the likes of Nixon and Kissinger in particular. It's a poignant example involving long-persecuted Soviet Jews. It was recently driven home to me, yet again, when I heard newly released comments by Nixon and Kissinger.
Kissinger and Nixon placed detente with the Soviets above all else. Their approach was pure Machiavellian realpolitik. They did not frame the U.S.-Soviet confrontation as good vs. evil, as Reagan did. Their goal wasn't to defeat the Soviet Union. Their prevailing priority was getting along with the Soviets. They pursued that objective at almost any expense, whether keeping Eastern Europeans captive behind the Iron Curtain or keeping Russian Jews from emigrating.
In the early 1970s, pressure had been building on the Nixon administration to lobby the Soviets to ease up on restrictions on Jews. Both Kissinger and Nixon were dismissive. How dismissive? The latest round of released tapes shows Kissinger offering an awful assessment to his White House boss on March 1, 1973.
"The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy," Kissinger stated coldly. "And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern."
Nixon responded: "I know. We can't blow up the world because of it."
Alas, here is a painfully instructive example of how Ronald Reagan so differed even from intensely anti-Communist Republicans of his era. Reagan would have been aghast at these comments. In fact, Reagan was willing to "blow up" negotiations with the Soviets over matters like Jewish emigration.
Reagan hounded Mikhail Gorbachev on this issue. About 10 years ago, the official "MemCons," or Memoranda of Conversation, from the various Reagan-Gorbachev one-on-ones were declassified, from the Geneva to Moscow summits. In these, Reagan repeatedly dug at Gorbachev on emigration of Jews, to the point where Gorbachev snapped at the president.
Such persecuted Russians (Jews and non-Jews) were constantly on Reagan's mind. Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci recalled that the president "would walk around with lists in his pocket of people who were in prison in the Soviet Union." Each time Secretary of State George Shultz prepared to meet with a Soviet official, Reagan pulled out the names - "some of whom we'd heard of but most of whom we hadn't," said Carlucci - and say, "I want you to raise these names with the Soviets." And sure enough, said Carlucci, "George would raise them and one by one they would be released or allowed to leave."
Reagan advisers confirmed this to me, including Shultz. When I asked Shultz about it, his typical understated expression widened into a giant grin. "Oh, yes," he told me. "He always had that list and never hesitated to give me a few names."
I believe that Ronald Reagan's feelings for Russian Jews might be traceable as far back as November 1928, when his devout Christian mother, head of the Missions Committee at their little church in Dixon, Illinois, brought in a Russian Jew named B. E. Kertchman. Kertchman spoke about persecution he faced. That empathy never left Reagan. Two decades later, in 1947, I discovered Reagan, as a young actor in Hollywood, a liberal Democrat, working with Eleanor Roosevelt to find safe haven for Europe's "Displaced Persons" (mostly Jews) after World War II.
Again, this is a striking contrast with Kissinger-Nixon, but it's more than that.
Reagan was seen as the ultimate Cold Warrior, giving no quarter to the "Evil Empire." Yet, his care for the everyday lives of human beings languishing in the USSR went largely unnoticed. That's too bad, as that concern is a moving testimony of where this president's heart guided him. That's something worth remembering as a nation remembers the life of Ronald Reagan this February 2011.
Editor's note: This article first appeared at FOXNews.com.
Ron Reagan, son of the late president, continues to get attention because of speculation in his new book that his father may have begun experiencing Alzheimer's Disease during his presidency. Ron cites two examples where his father seemed confused or forgetful, one as early as 1984 and another from 1986.
Ron's speculation ignited a very strong response from his brother, Mike Reagan, who called Ron an "embarrassment."
The issue isn't going away, and is sure to be debated in the next two weeks leading to the centennial of Ronald Reagan's birth on February 6.
We've been down this road before. This is not the first time such speculation was raised, only to be quickly struck down by Reagan's personal physicians, specialists, and experts on the disease.
As a biographer of Reagan, I've dealt with this question many times. It's a matter best left to the clinicians who closely inspected the president.
For the record, the actual diagnosis of the disease, made public by Reagan's moving handwritten letter, did not come until November 1994, nearly six years after he left the White House - not to mention two years after a wonderful (and quite lucid) Reagan speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention. Reagan was not in the throes of the disease until well after his presidency.
That said, there are perhaps some helpful observations I can add to this subject. I offer them as someone who has interviewed hundreds of people who knew and worked with Reagan and as someone who spent countless hours at the Reagan Library studying the gigantic Presidential Handwriting File, a very illuminating archive of letters, speeches, and other documents featuring Reagan's actual handwriting. I never encountered any evidence - on paper or from eyewitnesses - suggesting that the president was "losing it."
But rather than just say this, I'd like to offer a viewable example to readers: a March 1986 exchange between Reagan and Secretary of Education Bill Bennett regarding an education report. This example occurred during one of the exact years cited by Ron Reagan as an episode when his father seemed "bewildered."
As Bennett knew, Ronald Reagan's memory was not only good but exceptional. In fact, several of Reagan's closest advisers, two of whom dated back to the gubernatorial days in Sacramento, have told me that they believe Reagan had a photographic memory. Knowing that Reagan's 75-year-old brain remained sharp, Bennett confidently put Reagan on the spot in front of a group of educators in the East Room of the White House. Bennett asked the president if he recalled a verse from a certain poem. Here's a direct transcript from the official Presidential Papers:
Secretary Bennett: Mr. President, I was telling the audience before you came that memorization figures in this book fairly prominently, and I am told that you're the world champion memorizer. Do you recall something that starts "There are strange things done in the midnight sun. . ." ?
The President: " . . . by the men who moil for gold." [Laughter]
Secretary Bennett: "The Arctic trails have their secret tales . . ."
The President: ". . . that would make your blood run cold." [Laughter]
Secretary Bennett: I give up. I give up. I give up. Do you want to finish, Mr. President?
The President: I don't know whether in school they still read Robert W. Service but to just conclude that particular stanza, it would then be: "There are strange things" - No, we've done that. All right.
Secretary Bennett: "The North Lights have seen . . ."
The President: "The Northern Lights have seen queer sights, but the queerest they ever did see was that night in the marge of Lake Lebarge I cremated Sam McGee."
This exchange doesn't strike me as evidence of an addled brain. This clip needs to be watched to be appreciated. Reagan had no notes, no TelePrompter - and no onset of Alzheimer's. I've seen innumerable examples like this over the years.
Nonetheless, this is an issue not likely to go away.
Reagan himself would have probably simply smiled and shrugged, perhaps with a gentle, "Well, there they go again. . . ."
Editor's note: This article first appeared at FOXNews.com.
This February 6, 2011 marks the centennial of Ronald Reagan's birth. Reagan died June 5, 2004 at the ripe old age of 93. Ironically, throughout that long life, he had been a model of fitness. If not for Alzheimer's disease, it is quite possible we might be watching news clips of an elderly Reagan blowing out a bunch of candles on a huge birthday cake.
That Reagan lost his life to the scourge of Alzheimer's is, of course, well-known. The issue has re-emerged with the comments by his son, Ron, speculating that Reagan might have begun experiencing the disease earlier than disclosed, during his presidency even. That speculation is not new, and has been vigorously debated before, including by experts on the disease and Reagan's physicians. I'm not going to rehash the debate here.
What I would like to do, however, is use this as an opportunity to report something on Reagan and Alzheimer's that has been missed over the years. Indeed, less known were Reagan's quite significant, and rather moving, private actions, during his presidency, on behalf of those suffering the disease. As a Reagan biographer who spent several summers researching presidential papers at the Reagan Library, I swerved into these actions unexpectedly.
Remarkably, Reagan had been highly active in confronting Alzheimer's from the start of his presidency. He would make eight separate statements on the disease, averaging one for each year in the White House. In these, he called Alzheimer's "devastating," an "indiscriminate killer of mind and life."
His final presidential statement came November 5, 1988. It is chilling to read now, as it foretells Reagan's own condition in his final years, and given that it came precisely six years to the day (November 5, 1994) when Reagan would announce to the world that he himself had the disease,
Alzheimer's disease ranks among the most severe of afflictions, because it strips people of their memory and judgment and robs them of the essence of their personalities,
. . . explained Reagan.
As the brain progressively deteriorates, tasks familiar for a lifetime, such as tying a shoelace or making a bed, become bewildering. Spouses and children become strangers. Slowly, victims of the disease enter profound dementia.
That was Reagan himself in the end - robbed of his essence. It was an eerie harbinger of what was to come.
While those presidential statements fell through the cracks of history, less-known still, but quite poignant, was Reagan's behind-the-scenes correspondence with Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, daughter of beautiful Hollywood star, Rita Hayworth. Hayworth was suffering a premature decline due to, of all things, Alzheimer's disease.
Reagan was concerned about Hayworth, who he had known since his days as head of the Screen Actors Guild in the 1940s. Tucked away in the Presidential Handwriting File at the Reagan Library are touching letters exchanged between Reagan and Yasmin Aga Khan.
The first was dated November 15, 1982, in which Khan thanked Reagan for signing a proclamation creating National Alzheimer's Awareness Week. She detailed her mother's condition and how it had early on damaged the actress's emotional well-being, leading to bouts with alcohol, which made her "very difficult" as a mother.
Reagan responded immediately. His two-page letter on White House stationary was dated November 19 - an impressive turnaround given major demands in the world at the time. The 40th president referenced his own parents, including his father's "very great drinking problem" and how his mother,
. . . bless her soul, continually told my brother and me that this was a sickness and that he could not help it, so we must not hate him but understand and love him.
Reagan said he was grateful that "today we have real knowledge of Alzheimer's disease," and hoped for a cure. He thanked Khan for her efforts: "God bless you for what you are doing. You will be in my prayers."
On May 14, 1987, Rita Hayworth died. The president telephoned Khan to offer condolences, and released a public statement expressing regret. Two months later, on July 28, Khan wrote to ask Reagan if he would be an honorary patron for the 1988 Rita Hayworth Gala, which had the goal of raising $1.5 million for Alzheimer's research. Not even a week later, Reagan responded, saying he would be "very pleased and honored. . . . Thanks for asking."
Rita Hayworth's case is just one example of President Reagan's concern, public and private, for this disease and its victims. Little did he know it would one day claim him, too.
The centennial of Reagan's birth brings all sorts of remembrances, from celebrations by conservative groups to symposia by academic centers and universities. These gatherings will discuss numerous aspects of Reagan's life and career, from the Cold War to tax cuts to Hollywood. And with Ron Reagan's recent comments, the role of Alzheimer's will be front and center. Alas, for Ronald Reagan, there was much more to that story. *
Former president Jimmy Carter told NBC News on Monday that his work at home and abroad has been "superior" to other presidents. "I feel that my role as a former president is probably superior to that of other presidents," Carter assessed. "Primarily because of [my] activism and the injection of working at the Carter Center and in international affairs, and, to some degree, domestic affairs."
In response to this boastful claim, we'll hear the usual defenses: Carter misspoke. Carter is a good man. Carter has good intentions. I catch myself saying these things.
But even if well-intentioned, we shouldn't avoid frank appraisals of Carter's role. In truth, and especially when it relates to foreign policy, Carter has done far worse than better. More, his failures have resulted from a remarkably strange trust in some awful dictators. Carter's infamous naivete has been destructive, long producing inferior results, not superior ones.
Carter has been so unique in this regard, and worse than other presidents, Democrat and Republican, that, in my latest book, we placed him on the cover as a symbol of duped Americans during the Cold War; specifically, the June 1979 photo of a smiling Carter kissing Soviet dictator Leonid Brezhnev. Carter did this as the Soviets were rapidly picking up more satellites worldwide than any time since the 1940s, and mere months before they invaded Afghanistan.
Sure, but Carter, in his NBC interview, was talking about his work as a former president, right? Yes, but that record isn't much better.
If you think Carter was misled by Brezhnev, consider his statements in recent decades regarding Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung, Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat, Hamas, Iraq, Iran, and on and on. I can't list them all, but one case stands out -- namely, Carter's visit to the world's most repressive state: Kim's North Korea.
Carter made a June 1994 trip to this prison state, where he was manipulated on a grand scale. Other Westerners have made that trip and were subject to manipulation. The difference, however, is few took the bait, and none like Carter. Worse, Carter magnified the manipulation in reports at press conferences, in interviews, and in a piece for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
For starters, Carter dispelled speculation that Kim was dying. He found the aging despot "vigorous, alert, intelligent." Kim died mere days after Carter's visit.
Carter questioned the consensus that Kim was even a despot, telling Americans he observed a Kim engaged in "very free discussions with his ministers." I'm sure that's precisely what he saw.
Kim spearheaded a militantly atheistic regime. Yet, Carter, the born-again Baptist, found Kim "very friendly toward Christianity."
Kim's handlers marched Carter through their phony Potemkin village. Carter was totally hoodwinked, filing this incredible account of life in North Korea:
People are busy. They work 48 hours a week. . . . We found Pyongyang to be a bustling city. The only difference is that during working hours there are very few people on the street. They all have jobs or go to school. And after working hours, they pack the department stores, which Rosalynn visited. I went in one of them. It's like Wal-Mart in American stores on a Saturday afternoon. They all walk around in there, and they seem in fairly good spirits. Pyongyang at night looks like Times Square. They are really heavily into bright neon lights and pictures and things like that.
In truth, North Korea is a sea of darkness. As a well-known satellite photo attests, the country at night is draped in black -- that is, when the lights are not ablaze to fool high-profile visitors like President Carter -- in empty contrast to South Korea, which is awash in the glow of freedom.
Within one year of Carter's gushing appraisal, two to three million North Koreans (out of a population of 20 million) starved to death. They weren't packing Wal-Mart; they were eating grass, bark from trees, and, in some cases, human corpses.
Recall, too, the nuclear agreement Carter brokered while there, and not exactly with the enthusiastic go-ahead of the Clinton administration. Carter stood outside the Clinton White House and triumphantly assured "the [nuclear] crisis is over" -- words headlined by the New York Times and Washington Post. A few years later, North Korea announced it was a nuclear state, in direct violation of the "Agreed Framework."
Such doings by Carter have continued into the War on Terror.
With Jimmy Carter, the duping by despots during his presidency has continued into his post-presidency. It is not a record of "superior" service.
Please understand, I'm not trying to be mean. But self-serving claims like Carter's should be answered. Intentions are one thing, but results are another. The Carter record should not be celebrated nor emulated.
It has been almost 50 years since Milton Friedman, Nobel economist, released his classic, Capitalism and Freedom. The book has slowly slipped from my course syllabus, not to mention that of the political elite. And why not? What Friedman said is now obvious. Surely, Americans, given the indisputable superiority of the free market over the statist model, no longer needed reminding of the abject failures of socialism, collectivism, wealth distribution, prime-the-pump "stimulus" spending, Keynesian deficit spending, and other discredited policy prescriptions?
Well, after a century of examples of what works and what doesn't, look at how America voted on November 4, 2008. As Ronald Reagan said, freedom is always a generation from extinction; it must be handed on again and again. The teaching process never ends.
So, I dusted off Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom. To be sure, Friedman had his faults, particularly in monetary policy, but, generally, his thoughts on economic freedom and the dangers of collectivism and central planning are timeless -- especially right now. Consider this nugget from Freidman, critically relevant to the fundamental misunderstandings being painfully reenacted before our very eyes by the progressives now running America:
In the 1920s and 1930s, intellectuals in the United States were overwhelmingly persuaded that capitalism was a defective system inhibiting economic well-being and thereby freedom, and that the hope for the future lay in a greater measure of deliberate control by political authorities over economic affairs. The conversion of the intellectuals was not achieved by the example of an actual collectivist society, though it undoubtedly was much hastened by the establishment of a Communist society in Russia and the glowing hopes placed in it. The conversion of the intellectuals was achieved by a comparison between the existing state of affairs, with all its injustices and defects, and a hypothetical state of affairs as it might be. The actual was compared with the ideal.
Tragically, the intellectuals are still striving for that ideal, certain that if only they can get in charge, they can apply all their collective wisdom, learned in their arcane graduate schools, where history's real lessons are sacrificed at the altar of fantasy and superstition. They can create a better, just society.
"The attitudes of that time are still with us," wrote Friedman.
There is still a tendency to regard any existing government intervention as desirable, to attribute all evils to the market, and to evaluate new proposals for government control in their ideal form, as they might work if run by able, disinterested men.
What Friedman added next is sobering. Writing in 1962, he noted that "conditions have changed," as we "now have several decades of experience with governmental intervention."
Indeed, it was clear then, way back in 1962, that free economies vastly outperform managed economies. And that was before the collapse of the Soviet/central-planning model, the economic explosion resulting from the Reagan-Thatcher tax cuts, the repudiation of Keynes even in Britain, the bankruptcy of the European welfare state, the rise of the Asian Tigers, and more. What was obvious in 1962 was beyond obvious in 2008 -- or should have been.
And yet, Friedman sensed a lingering threat, one that hadn't sauntered off into the night. It was a "subtle" threat, not from enemies outside but from do-gooders inside. He warned of an "internal threat" from those professing "good intentions and good will who wish to reform us," who "are anxious to use the power of the state to achieve their ends and confident of their own ability to do so."
It's so subtle that Americans voted for such reform, or "change," decisively, on November 4, 2008, without even knowing it, giving the threat vigor.
Thus, the managers and planners are in charge, with their hands on the ship of state, seizing the resources that feed the most dynamic, prosperous engine that capitalism and freedom ever produced. The Invisible Hand has been waved off by the visible hands of the reformers. And they are spending us into oblivion. Not only did we hit unprecedented deficits in the first year of the Obama administration, but we're at debt levels unseen since World War II. The record deficit left by George W. Bush suddenly looks desirable.
Interestingly, Milton Friedman offered this parting thought: He said that if these individuals ever actually gained the power they craved, they would ultimately "produce a collective state from which they would recoil in horror and of which they would be among the first victims."
Are they recoiling in horror? I see no evidence. The planners and "stimulus" pushers seem to think the problem hasn't been enough planning and stimulus. That being the case, if other data pans out -- such as the astonishing Gallup poll suggesting a GOP landslide in November -- they may nonetheless find themselves the "first victims:" victims of an electoral revolt that drives them from power.
Once again, capitalism would be preserved by freedom.
It was 35 years ago this summer that the conservative movement found itself in a defining moral struggle not with the liberal Left but with the establishment wing of the Republican Party.
Here was the context: Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn had published his majestic Gulag Archipelago, blowing the whistle on the brutality of the Soviet system, a chilling account by an eyewitness, himself a survivor. It was a stirring demonstration of the power of the pen and truth, casting light upon the darkness of an evil empire.
Pravda judged the masterful testimony "slanderous." For his transgression, Solzhenitsyn was arrested by the KGB, stripped of Soviet citizenship, and charged with treason. Unable to banish or shoot him because of his international celebrity, the Kremlin's thugs, repulsed as they were by decency, expelled the great moralist. The writer made his way west, eventually taking residence in the United States.
Of course, everyone in America wanted to hear from him. On June 30, 1975, Solzhenitsyn accepted a request from George Meany, the stalwart anti-Communist labor leader, to speak at an AFL-CIO dinner in Washington. There, the former prisoner cut loose, freely blasting away not merely at the USSR but at any effort to accommodate it, particularly through the prevailing policy of detente.
Solzhenitsyn told the AFL-CIO that America was "a country of generosity; a country of magnanimity." He gravely warned America about "unprincipled compromises," about sacrificing "conscience," and about making "deals with evil." He was especially concerned that America would be duped into trusting phony Soviet human-rights promises at the Helsinki conference, just weeks away.
Again, given Solzhenitsyn's credibility, everyone in America wanted to meet with him in 1975, to gather his wisdom.
Well, maybe not everyone. The one exception was the president of the United States, Republican Gerald Ford.
With Solzhenitsyn in town to speak to the AFL-CIO, he was literally down the block from the White House. It was an opportune time for Ford to meet with him. Conservatives, from Republicans like Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, and Jesse Helms, to anti-Communist Democrats like Scoop Jackson, urged the president to do so.
Ford refused. He was backed by his right-hand man in foreign policy, Henry Kissinger. The Ford administration was so wedded to detente, and to getting along with the Soviets, that it dared not offend the Brezhnev regime by meeting with Kremlin Public Enemy No. 1. And so, Solzhenitsyn was thrown under the bus. Ford desired to please Leonid Brezhnev more than displease Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
On Ford's refusal, several items of evidence have since emerged, including minutes from two specific Cabinet meetings. Those minutes are painful to read, as Ford made clear he would not jeopardize "progress" and the "continuation of detente" because of the dissident.
More distasteful, as recorded by historian Douglas Brinkley, Ford privately slammed Solzhenitsyn as "a god d--n horse's ass." Brinkley stated: "Ford complained that the dissident Russian writer wanted to visit the White House primarily to publicize his books and drum up lecture dates."
To be blunt, this was a stunningly idiotic assessment of a man who was both moralist and recluse.
If you want a gauge of how awful was Ford's snub, consider that it angered even the New York Times and Jimmy Carter. "Does President Ford know the difference between detente and appeasement?" asked the liberal Times in an editorial. As for Carter, he openly criticized Ford during a presidential debate.
Generally, Gerald Ford had been so bad that the editorial board at William F. Buckley's National Review actually considered endorsing Jimmy Carter in 1976. As Lee Edwards notes in his excellent new biography of Buckley, NR's editors (specifically James Burnham) at least considered that endorsement.
Likewise, Ronald Reagan was so upset that he challenged Ford for the Republican presidential nomination the next summer. The Solzhenitsyn snub was one of the final straws for Reagan.
Alas, one saving grace from this sad episode is that it helped produce the death of detente and the birth of the Reagan presidency, but only after an even more painful period, namely four horrendous years under President Jimmy Carter -- made possible by Gerald Ford. Ford gave way to Reagan. And with the advent of that seachange at the head of the GOP, accommodation was out and "rollback"-- i.e., the goal of undermining the USSR -- was in. It was that tectonic shift at the Republican helm that sealed the fate of the Soviet empire.
What a difference four years can make, especially for conservatives who stick to principle. Could history soon repeat itself?
Call it another Twilight Zone moment; another ignominious contribution to the "you-can't-make-this-up" category. First, Mao Tse-tung was honored by oblivious New Yorkers, with their Empire State Building aglow in red and yellow in October, 2009, to commemorate the birth of Red China. Mao's nearest rival for trophy of top mass murderer in history was Joseph Stalin. Perhaps other clueless Americans could find a way to honor Stalin, too -- maybe closer to Washington, DC, the nation's capital?
Hey, don't laugh. The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, has done just that, erecting a statue of Stalin. No, I'm not kidding.
Predictably, the mainstream press is not talking about this. The press is dominated by the same people who dominate our educational system; they are largely uninterested in the horrors of Communism. It is Joe McCarthy, not Joe Stalin, who consumes their Cold War outrage.
The only reason I know about this travesty is the vigilant work of Lee Edwards' Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which has the heroic goal of trying -- desperately -- to educate Americans about the forgotten holocaust committed by Communists in the 20th century, which exceeded 100 million deaths, double the combined death total of the two world wars. Likewise worthy endeavors, such as the National Holocaust Memorial, do crucial work reminding us of Hitler's genocide. But aside from Edwards' organization, no other has formally assumed the task of reminding the world of the unparalleled carnage caused by Communist governments -- where, incidentally, Joseph Stalin led the pack.
As for the Stalin statue, Edwards' group has a website (www.StalinStatue.com) to call attention to this moral-historical slander. The site features a petition to remove the statue, with over 3,000 signatures from every state and over 40 countries, including some really upset folks from the former Soviet empire. Addressed to the National D-Day Memorial Foundation and President Obama's secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar, the petition demands that the "true history of World War II must be protected from distortion and misinformation which threaten to erase or alter well-established and documented facts."
Among those facts is a rather vital one, noted in the petition's next line: "neither Joseph Stalin nor Soviet forces played any part in the D-Day landing at Normandy."
Indeed, ironically, such disinformation was once the crass domain of Kremlin propagandists, cooked up to dupe gullible Westerners. Stalin himself had his in-house stooges retroactively invent him a gallant wartime role. Imagine that his arch-rival from the Cold War -- the United States of America -- would earnestly pick up that charge, under no threat of execution or imprisonment by the long-dead tyrant. Stalin is surely howling from his tomb.
Even then, the statue represents far graver distortion. Consider:
Stalin was morally complicit in the indescribable deaths of all those boys (non-Russian) who stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Five years earlier, during the dark of night August 23-24, 1939, Stalin's USSR and Hitler's Germany signed a secret pact. One week later, in keeping with that pact, Hitler invaded Poland from the west. Two and a half weeks later, the Red Army, likewise in keeping with that pact, invaded Poland from the east. World War II was on. The catalyst for Europe's ultimate liberation would come June 6, 1944, D-Day -- no thanks whatsoever to Stalin.
Importantly, Russian soldiers (not Stalin) deserve commendation for Hitler's defeat. In June 1941, Hitler betrayed Stalin, invading the USSR. It was a bloody rout. No country suffered as many dead as the USSR -- 40 times the combined death toll of America and Britain. A major reason for Russia's staggering losses was Stalin's Great Purge, where the tyrant murdered the nation's high command, leaving novices in charge of opposing Hitler's blitzkrieg. This was so irresponsibly, wickedly disastrous that Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, rightly blamed Stalin for the millions of Russian boys killed by the Nazis.
If this history is new to you, then you, too, are a victim. You're a casualty of America's educational system, from public schools to our woefully biased, scandalously over-priced universities. That likewise applies to those responsible for honoring Stalin at the National D-Day Memorial, who are probably oblivious. Really, their monument to Stalin is a monument to American education.
It's time to purge the architect of the Great Purge. The statue should be dismembered not peacefully but violently, befitting Stalin's character. I suggest a sledgehammer, with survivors of the dictator's savage campaigns, from Poland to the Ukraine to Siberia, each getting a whack. *
"A good government implies two things; first, fidelity to the objects of the government; secondly, a knowledge of the means, by which those objects can be best attained." --Joseph Story
The Williwaw War: The Arkansas National Guard in the Aleutians in World War II, by Donald Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon. University of Arkansas Press, 1992.
Every Memorial Day presents an opportunity to commemorate those who served in some faraway place long ago, many who paid that ultimate sacrifice. World War II offers its share of remembrances: Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941; Normandy, June 6, 1944; the Battle of the Bulge, December 16, 1944; to name a few.
Sadly, however, one series of battles continues to be ignored.
On June 3, 1942, the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor, located at the Aleutian Islands, west of the Alaskan peninsula. Three days later, they landed on the islands of Kiska and Attu, culminating in the only battles of the war fought in North America. Many of the men there went through hell.
Remarkably, the battle is barely known.
One person who has not forgotten is renowned World War II historian, Donald Goldstein. Goldstein, a retired University of Pittsburgh professor, authored one of the only books on the campaign, called the "Williwaw War," named for the freezing, high-velocity winds flowing from Siberia and the Bering Sea, which made service in the Aleutians a constant misery.
"It was strategically very important who controlled those islands," says Goldstein. The Americans stationed there "kept the Japanese from the West Coast and from invading the U.S. mainland. . . . From a strategic point of view, you can't underestimate the situation there. Look at a map! The Aleutians aren't very far from Seattle."
In the Aleutians, American troops battled not only the Japanese, but debilitating weather and boredom. To combat the fierce and unpredictable williwaws, soldiers leaned forward as they walked, before falling on their faces as the winds abruptly ended. They battled blinding, waste-deep snow, dense fog, sleet that felt like a sandblaster.
To escape the climate, troops spent hours inside. The boredom was so bad that some drank anything they could find. There were stories of casualties from "torpedo juice." Morale was awful.
"War is boredom mixed with moments of stark terror," says Goldstein. "You sit and wait. And then all at once it comes."
And when it came to the Aleutians, it came with ferocity. Shortly after bombing Dutch Harbor, the Japanese took Attu and Kiska. Thirteen months later, in August 1943, American forces sought to drive them out. Kiska was easy, since Japanese forces had bailed out two weeks earlier. Attu, however, was another story.
Attu was taken back only after a horrible fight. Japan fought to the last man. Facing defeat, 500 Japanese soldiers committed suicide with their own grenades. Whereas Dutch Harbor witnessed fewer than 100 casualties, U.S. burial patrols at Attu counted 2,351 Japanese bodies. Total U.S. casualties were 3,829 -- 549 killed. Some believe it was the bloodiest battle of World War II.
And yet, few Americans have heard of the battle. Notes Goldstein: "Even [at the time] there was hardly any press coverage. If you ask most people today where Attu is they have no idea. . . . It's forgotten."
Do the veterans of this campaign feel neglected?
"Oh, yes," says Goldstein. "They're bitter. These guys never got the credit they deserve."
Many of the unrecognized survivors suffered premature deaths once they got home. One was Andrew Boggs Covert, a tall, lanky fellow who had worked at Pullman Standard in Butler, Pennsylvania prior to the war. Boggs found himself drafted into the Marines Corps as a 30-year-old with seven children. His surviving son, Jim, recalls riding to Pittsburgh to say goodbye to his father in 1942.
It was not a permanent goodbye, as Andrew survived the brutal combat. "He told me about some of the hand-to-hand stuff," says his son today. "It was traumatic. But he was matter of fact: 'Do it, take care of it, serve your country, get over it.'"
Still, getting over it was not that easy. Andrew died in October 1966 at age 54.
A survivor who outlived Andrew was Leonard Levandoski of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a member of the 11th Fighter Squadron, who spent two grueling years at Attu.
A few years back, while writing for a newspaper, I tried to track down Leonard on a tip from the Department of Veterans Affairs: "This guy is perfect for you to interview," said the press person. "Every year he writes letters-to-the-editor trying to get people to remember what happened. He'll be thrilled to get your call."
When I called, Leonard's wife, Geraldine, answered. "Who is this?" she said slowly. When I gave my name and purpose, Geraldine began to cry. "Leonard just passed away," she told me. "He waited years for someone to call."
Many of those veterans have now passed away. The years have slowly faded, with no one calling about the Aleutians. It is about time we remember.
Veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas announced her sudden "retirement" [in early June]. The source was an insight shared by Thomas outside the White House during a Jewish-American Heritage Month celebration. Asked about her feelings toward Jews and Israel, the 89-year-old conscience of the White House press corps opined that the Palestinian people "are occupied" by Jews, and that "Palestine" is "their land" and Israelis ought to "go home" to Poland, Germany, "and everywhere else." More pointedly, Thomas averred that Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine."
Thomas's statements are obscene in their historical, political, and moral ignorance and callousness. Jews, of course, lived in those areas prior to the founding of the modern nation-state of Israel. In fact, in large part because of what happened to Jews in those areas -- "liquidation" by Hitler -- Israel was created in May 1948. Thomas, more than any member of the White House press corps, should know this, as she actually lived through the tragic history.
No matter. Thomas believes what she believes, and now no longer works for Hearst Corporation, which responded by announcing her "retirement"--"effective immediately."
I won't dance on Thomas's grave. I'm fascinated, however, by her colleagues' sudden disapproval. In truth, Helen Thomas has been saying outrageous things for years. When she insulted Republican presidents like George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, liberals hailed her as "dean of White House correspondents," deserving of the opening question at press conferences. They adored her when she was a walking, talking Nickelodeon snapping at conservatives. Here are two memorable examples:
In his first week in office, George W. Bush launched his Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, providing federal money to local "helpers and healers." Importantly, these faith-based organizations were prohibited from proselytizing; they could assist the needy, but couldn't seek to convert them to a particular faith. Precisely because of that prohibition, many conservatives rejected the concept, fearing that it neutered these organizations.
But that wasn't how Helen Thomas saw it, as she made clear to the new president in his first press conference:
Thomas: Mr. President, why do you refuse to respect the wall between the church and state? And you know that the mixing of religion and government for centuries has led to slaughter. I mean, the very fact that our country has stood in good stead by having the separation -- why do you break it down?
Bush: Helen, I strongly respect the separation of church and state . . .
Thomas: Well, you wouldn't have a religious office in the White House if you did. . . . [Y]ou are a secular official. . . . [A]nd not a missionary.
To Helen Thomas, Bush had created not an Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, but an Office of Christian Apologetics and Crusading.
Another unforgettable Thomas moment -- much more damaging -- occurred two decades earlier at a Reagan press conference. At issue was the Strategic Defense Initiative, which, we now know, terrified the Soviets, and was decisive in the Soviet collapse. Thomas, however, saw SDI as a target for ridicule. Quite unprofessionally, she seized Senator Ted Kennedy's pejorative for the system: "Star Wars."
To this day, the damage caused by that term isn't appreciated. Ronald Reagan found that the Soviets employed the language to suggest that Reagan desired not a defensive system but an offensive system to launch war in space. Reagan privately complained that he "bristled" each time the media used the label. Here's an exchange with Helen Thomas:
Thomas: Mr. President, if you are flexible, are you willing to trade off research on "Star Wars" ... or are you against any negotiations on "Star Wars"?
Reagan: Well, let me say, what has been called "Star Wars"-- and, Helen, I wish whoever coined that expression would take it back again . . .
Thomas: Well, Strategic Defense . . .
Reagan: . . . because it gives a false impression of what it is we're talking about.
Thomas immediately rebuffed the president: "Even if you don't like the term, it's quite popular."
Reagan's request was reasonable: the program's name was the Strategic Defense Initiative. Professional reporters should use its proper name, not a name of political derision.
Of course, the Soviets were elated. From Pravda to Izvestia, they ran with the label. TASS, the official Soviet news agency, adopted it, commending the likes of Thomas (and Kennedy) for "getting it right" on SDI, for calling Reagan's "bluff." It was a coup for the Kremlin, a gem of a propaganda tool.
Similarly, Helen Thomas's recent comments -- on Israel -- again thrilled the enemy. In calling for Jews to leave Israel, Thomas (no exaggeration) toed the party line of Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, of Osama Bin Laden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
That's a dubious achievement for the dean of White House correspondents. I'm impressed that her liberal colleagues are finally offended.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death/I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. (Psalm 23:4)
My family and I drove aside the Mall in Washington, D.C., creeping along Independence Avenue in search of a parking spot. We were beyond the Washington Monument, further south near our ultimate destination: the Lincoln Memorial. It was part of an educational field trip to teach our children about the Civil War, and to embrace a teachable moment on how the nation's Civil War president fought for the basic rights and dignity of every human being, including those that the culture and law of the day considered not fully human.
Finally, we found an open meter next to the Department of the Interior. We put the baby in a stroller and crossed the street. At a fork in the path, I suggested we go left, while my wife said we should head right. We went right -- good call.
Before we knew it, we encountered more people heading in the same direction. Suddenly, we descended into a dip in the walkway, and then I noticed it, for the first time, completely caught off guard, truly taken aback: I was staring at the Vietnam War Memorial.
I'm embarrassed to say I had never seen it before. I always wanted to see it. Now, we had happened upon it, and it isn't the kind of thing you want to happen upon.
The scene was absolutely somber, just as everyone says. It's the spirit of the place. All those names, cast against the black -- all those boys whose lives were cut short in that war in Southeast Asia decades ago.
The mood is remarkably sad for anyone -- even those of us with no recollection of a single person on that wall -- but it's devastating for those lonely visitors who have a connection, who have intimate knowledge of someone on that wall; they see a face, and memories, when they see the name. There they are: touching the chiseled name, caressing it, speaking to it, praying for it, crying over it, or placing a piece of paper atop it and rubbing a crayon to bring it home. It's the only physical remainder left from their loved one, and so they want to be with it and take it back where it belongs.
I glimpsed an old man, kneeling, weeping, as he rested his hand on what must have been his long-deceased son. For a younger dad, like myself, to witness that sheer sense of loss, aside my own young boys, alive and well, not yet of age for military service, is jarring.
We poked along gradually, haltingly, speechlessly, taking in scene upon scene. We were in the valley of death.
Alas, as I neared the end, having lagged behind in a daze, sauntering past the dead, it suddenly dawned on me that I had been clutching the hand of my precious three-year-old, Abigail Joy, the entire time.
"Good Lord," I thought to myself, "what have I just done to this child?" This sweet, innocent girl. What had I exposed her to? Had I just traumatized this beautiful little girl?
In that flash, I expected to look down and see a sobbing, troubled, confused child, who would need explanations and parental counseling. Instead, I was amazed when she looked up at me, beamed, cocked her head to the side, blushed, and smiled. She was filled with joy over simply being with her dad, holding his hand in a leisurely walk down a path on a pretty day. She hadn't seen a thing on that dark, grim wall.
Abigail had been shielded, protected, with her dad. All she knew, in her universe, was that she was with her father, and all was right with the world. She had walked through the valley of the shadow of death with her father, and feared no evil, because she was with him.
Yes, the Psalm fits. It had also once fit for those same boys on that wall, as they crept through the rice paddies and jungles, as gunfire and grenades and landmines surrounded them, and, most poignantly, as they met their own final moments in their own valley. It fits today, too, for their parents, peering at that wall, reminiscing back to when their children were three-year-olds.
All of them: those soldiers, their parents, and passersby who happen upon that wall; they all have a Father to lead them, to be with them, who they can hold on to and look up to, as they enter the valley. Sometimes, it takes the vantage of a child to bring the message home. *
"A just security to property is not afforded by that government, under which unequal taxes oppress one species of property and reward another species." --James Madison
The most frustrating thing I've dealt with in professional life was eight years of outrageous, baseless charges against President George W. Bush on matters of faith. Even when Bush was simply asked about his faith, and responded with utterly benign statements, like saying he couldn't imagine surviving the presidency "without faith in the Lord," or noting he prayed before committing troops, echoing every president from Washington to Lincoln to Wilson to Carter to Clinton, he was viciously assaulted.
"We are dealing with a messianic militarist!" thundered Ralph Nader.
"He should not be praying," intoned Lawrence O'Donnell to the MSNBC faithful.
Repeatedly, I was called to respond to this nonsense. My retort was agonizingly simple: I merely ran through example after example of American Founders, presidents -- Democrats and Republicans -- saying either precisely what Bush said or something far more extreme, like Woodrow Wilson claiming God called upon him to found the League of Nations, or FDR mounting a battleship leading troops in a rendition of "Onward Christian Soldiers."
What I said rarely mattered. Every Bush mention of God was a signal, somehow, that this Bible-quoting "simpleton" was trying to transform America into a "theocracy."
Alas, there was another tactic I used: I quoted current Democrats on the campaign trail, from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama, invoking the Almighty. I knew that if these politicians reached the White House, they'd say the same as Bush, or much more -- with no backlash from the secular media. Quite the contrary, liberals would roll out the red carpet, enthusiastically welcoming faith into the public square.
All of that is prelude to my point here today:
The Religious Left, from "social justice" Catholic nuns and Protestant ministers to the Democratic Speaker of the House and president of the United States, have been incessantly claiming God's advocacy of their healthcare reform. That's no surprise, just as it's no surprise that the press is not only not outraged but silently supportive. There's nary a whimper, let alone howls, of "separation of church and state"!
Consider a few examples, most telling in light of passage of the healthcare bill:
Last August, President Obama addressed a virtual gathering of 140,000 Religious Left individuals. He told them he was "going to need your help" in passing healthcare. Obama penitently invoked a period of "40 Days," a trial of deliverance from conservative tormentors, from temptation by evildoers. He lifted up the brethren, assuring them, "We are God's partner in matters of life and death."
Like a great commissioning, in the 40 Days that followed the Religious Left was filled with the spirit, confidently spreading the word, pushing for -- among other things -- abortion funding as part of an eternally widening "social justice" agenda. The Religious Institute, which represents 4,800 clergy, urged Congress to include abortion funding in "healthcare" reform, adamantly rejecting amendments that prohibited funding. To not help poor women secure their reproductive rights was unjust, declared the progressive pastors. As the Rev. Debra Hafner, executive director of the Religious Institute, complained, federal policy already "unfairly prevents low-income women and federal employees from receiving subsidized" abortions.
Here we see the Religious Left's continued perversion of "social justice." Behold: social justice abortions.
Early last week, a group of 59 nuns sent Congress a letter urging passage of the healthcare bill. This came in direct defiance of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which insisted the bill "must be opposed" because of its refusal to explicitly ban abortion funding. What the bishops said didn't matter, one nun told Fox's Neil Cavuto -- supporting the bill is what "Jesus would do."
The liberal media cheered on the nuns, gleefully exaggerating the sisters' influence. In a breathtaking display, the Los Angeles Times beamed, "Nuns' support for healthcare bill shows [Catholic] Church split." Quoting the nuns, the Times reported that the letter represented not more than 50 nuns but over 50,000. Like Jesus with the loaves, the militantly secular/liberal Times had displayed miraculous powers of multiplication.
Finally, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Roman Catholic, invoked the Solemnity of the Feast of St. Joseph on behalf of the healthcare bill. She urged American Catholics to "pray to St. Joseph the Worker." Such overtures are hardly new for Pelosi, who routinely exhorts Democratic disciples to vote the liberal/progressive agenda as an "act of worship."
All of that is prelude, of course, to what happened the evening of March 21, 2010, A.D., with a rare vote not merely on a Sunday -- God's day -- but the final Sunday in Lent, the week before Palm Sunday that initiates the Lord's Passion. To President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and the Religious Left faithful, Jesus, presumably, has gotten his healthcare package.
Amid that process, secular liberals got religion, as their political soulmates spearheaded this "change" in the name of Jesus Christ. It's a quite radical departure from eight years of scourging George W. Bush every time he confessed he prayed. At long last, there is room for Jesus in the inn, so long as the Savior "supports" a certain agenda. Who says conversions don't happen?
This spring 2010 marks some sordid anniversaries: 65 years since the discovery of the Nazi concentration camps that facilitated the slaughter of six million Jews and four million various others deemed "misfits" and "undesirables" by Hitler and his henchmen.
The ugly footage of corpses left behind is a visual reminder of the in-your-face insanity and inhumanity of Nazi fascism. Yet, less obvious is how seamlessly that form of totalitarianism was supplanted by another, one that haunted the scene even longer. For much of Europe in the spring of 1945, an Iron Curtain quickly descended across the continent, as Central and Eastern Europe was again gobbled up, this time by vicious Soviets who replaced vicious Nazis.
That changing of the guard took place at the level of the soldiers, the secret police, the local officials, and, yes, even the concentration camps themselves.
Consider: When Hitler's goons fled the concentration camps at the site of Allied guns in the spring of 1945, it was left to the Allies -- the United States, the United Kingdom, and the USSR -- to grapple with what they suddenly confronted. Once the survivors were freed and carefully transported, what would the Allies do with the camps?
For nations like America and Britain, steeped in Judeo-Christian notions of fairness and justice, the options for the camps ranged from the legal, meaning document them as evidence of Nazi war crimes for the Nuremberg trials, to the theological: exorcise them.
For the USSR, however, the next step was a no-brainer: use the camps. Indeed, fling the doors open and get 'em back in business. The Communists were not about to waste a perfectly functional, German-built concentration camp. If the Soviet system knew how to do one thing, it was to collectivize and redistribute squalor and death.
In truth, that unique Soviet solution ought not to be a surprise, as totalitarians like Vladimir Lenin had not only constructed similar facilities but had used the phrase "concentration camp" two decades before Hitler appropriated the term. Lenin's replacement, Joe Stalin, had annihilated tens of millions in such camps well before Hitler ramped up.
Thus, in the spring of 1945, the Russians saw an opening at the Nazi camps, tailor-fit to Communist ideology.
A crass case in point was Buchenwald, one of the more infamous Nazi camps, where hundreds of thousands had been incarcerated and upwards of 50,000 perished, some in the most sadistic fashion, from Jews who were gassed to priests who were crucified upside down. Americans liberated Buchenwald on April 11, 1945.
Not long thereafter, Buchenwald (located near Weimar, Germany) ended up in the Soviet zone of occupation. Knowing how to run a concentration camp, the Russians were eager to crank the wheels -- especially on Germans now at their feet rather than at their throat. For Stalin, Beria, Molotov, and a disturbingly high number of malicious colonels and lieutenants and common soldiers, it was payback time. Payback would be done according to Lenin's definition of morality: there is no morality, except that which furthers Soviet interests.
A witness to this poisonous worldview was a 22-year-old American citizen named John Noble, who lived in the Weimar area and got caught in the crossfire. He observed Red Army soldiers ransacking his neighborhood, rounding up innocents, and imbibing in special displays of depravity toward women: "In the house next to ours," Noble told Laurence Rees in Rees' outstanding book, World War II Behind Closed Doors,
Soviet troops went in and pulled the women out on the street, had mattresses that they pulled out, and raped the women. The men had to watch, and then they were shot. Right at the end of our street a woman was tied to a wagon wheel and was terribly misused.
The poor souls who survived this torment were shipped to various German-turned-Soviet hellholes for long-term incarceration. Noble was tossed into Buchenwald, which was conveniently renamed Soviet Special Camp No. 2.
The story of Buchenwald under Nazi management is bad enough; it was reproduced from Auschwitz to Dachau. But the 20th century is rich in unforgettable lessons. Among them, the world would do well to remember that Buchenwald was liberated only temporarily in 1945. Its demons did not rest, ready to leap into a new set of vessels. Stalinism provided them by the tank load.
Buchenwald and its ilk are cold, gray markers of the menace of totalitarianism. It is a headstone standing astride the 20th century like a giant grim reaper, robbing the world of 50 million lives in World War II and 100 million more under Communist regimes -- unprecedented carnage. It's an old story, a familiar evil, one born of an ancient source that every generation must be prepared to meet and defeat.
I'm not one to bother with the latest alleged blockbuster buzzing from the salons of Hollywood high culture. Over the course of two valuable hours, I can only take so many car chases, explosions, and run-of-the-mill depravity. Alas, I had a welcome respite from all of that last weekend when I joined a crowd of about 700 at Grove City College's Crawford Auditorium for a special screening of the newly released "The Perfect Game," made possible by Jim Van Eerden, a wonderful, talented man who graduated from Grove City College over two decades ago and who is the film's executive producer.
I will not attempt to don the hat of critic, assessing various esoteric elements of the work as "film." There were, however, some things that really stood out as I watched this moving story -- things in keeping with my normal hat as an observer of faith, politics, and history.
The movie is based on the true story of nine boys from Monterrey, Mexico, who made it all the way to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1957, where they won the legendary Little League World Series, and by no less than a perfect game tossed by pitcher Angel Macias. They were led by the inspiring tandem of a coach named Cesar Faz and a priest named Padre Estaban.
I saw a movie that should appeal to both sides of the political fence and, spiritually speaking, to an even wider audience.
Of course, this isn't a political movie. The message is one of faith and hope, a general principle that applies to every member of the human race. Nonetheless, here's a movie that liberals and conservatives alike can applaud. It embodies the American dream, pursued by poor Mexican kids, who struggle to make it out of their village, over the border, and across America, from Corpus Christi to Kentucky to I-80. They persevere on hard work and prayer. They endure the ugliness of the segregated South. They are underdogs, discriminated against, as are the African-Americans they encounter, not to mention the female sportswriter who follows them.
From a faith perspective, the movie is warmly ecumenical. The boys are first shepherded by their devoted priest, who blesses everything from Holy Communion to baseball gloves. When the priest returns to the parish mid-way through the boys' successful run, the team is fostered by another fatherly spiritual mentor: an African-American Baptist preacher, who encourages the boys and offers selfless service, as does his lovable wife. Intercessors range from Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe to the Book of Psalms.
The movie's unafraid, unapologetic commitment to faith is splendid. It is commitment, frankly, that risks the wrath of the apostles of American secular culture. This will be the film's highest hurdle in achieving popular acclaim. Hey, so be it.
Yet, what most impressed me was the film's faithfulness to truth and history.
How many times have you watched a movie intended to inspire, that deals with a certain era, and find no mention of faith? You sense, given your knowledge of the way things used to be, that a church, a minister, a devout parent, a Sunday school teacher had to have been involved somewhere. You do a little research, only to find it was indeed a matter of faith that propelled the hero to greatness. And yet, tragically, the post-modern mavens expunged this "faith angle" from the script. It was just too "religious."
Instead, then, the final product is, in reality, a deceptive perversion of truth -- and not worthy of inspiration. The creators airbrushed the Creator who, in point of fact, made the entire drama possible to begin with. That's another kind of game: a quite imperfect one, a form of cinematic and historical fraud, produced by a dominant culture that violates trust.
Mercifully, that isn't what happened with "The Perfect Game." Here was a crew -- from writers to producers -- that spoke the truth. Truth was valued and honored. Whatever else you might say about the movie, from technical merits to some pretentious, impressive-sounding mumbo-jumbo, that's an artistic achievement as special as a perfect game. *
"To be prepared for war, is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace." --George Washington
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 website 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).
Twice in this space last summer, I wrote about Iran -- specifically, the dramatic June protests against the theocratic-totalitarian regime of Holocaust-denying despot Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. More than that, I focused on President Obama's reaction to the Iranian cry for freedom.
Obama's initial response was outrageous. It improved only after widespread criticism. Still, even given the improvement in his rhetoric, it was a telling display of our new president's tragic lack of recognition of what presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush termed the "March of Freedom."
I concluded those articles by emphasizing the need for Obama to employ the bully pulpit of the presidency to promote this vital groundswell of freedom in Iran. I noted how Reagan had done precisely that in places like Poland in the 1980s, with grand historical results. For Obama, this means not simply reacting to occasional incidents in Iran -- when they rarely present themselves -- but to be proactive, creative, to regularly call out the tyrants and encourage the dissidents. Obama must do this if he wants to push the freedom tide, if he wants to try to change the status quo in a dungeon like Iran, which for 30 years has been the world's worst terrorist state.
If I may, I'd like to offer a specific example from the Reagan playbook. It happened 28 years ago -- Christmas time -- this week. You will not hear about it in our public schools and liberal universities. That's a loss for liberals, too; they're missing a moving lesson that their guy -- President Obama -- could benefit from considerably.
The moment was December 1981. In the Evil Empire, "church watchers" were on duty, sitting in chapels monitoring the "stupid people" entering to worship. The Communist "war on religion" (Mikhail Gorbachev's apt description) was in full riot, as was the ugliness of Communist repression generally.
The prospects for shining light upon that darkness seemed bleak. The Soviets were on the march, having added 11 proxy states as allies since 1974. The new man in Washington, President Ronald Reagan, was sure he could reverse Moscow's surge. He would jump-start the process in Poland, a repressed Communist Bloc state -- but one where hope survived.
Just then, on December 13, the lights went out again. At midnight, as a soft snow fell on Warsaw, secret police raided Lech Walesa's Solidarity labor union. The Polish Communist government, consenting to orders from Moscow, declared martial law. Solidarity's freedom fighters were shot or imprisoned.
But as Poles prayed for light to pierce the shadows, some remarkable things began to transpire. A week and a half later, the Polish ambassador defected to the United States. Right away, President Reagan welcomed the ambassador and his wife into the Oval Office. They were overwhelmed. The ambassador's wife wept, as Vice President George H. W. Bush put an arm around her shoulders to comfort her.
The ambassador then made an extraordinary request:
May I ask you a favor, Mr. President? Would you light a candle and put it in the window tonight for the people of Poland?
Ronald Reagan rose and walked to the second floor, lit a candle, and put it in the White House window.
But Reagan wanted to do more. He saw a window of opportunity. So, on December 23, with Christmas only two days away, speaking to all of America in a nationwide address, the president connected the spirit of the season with events in Poland: "For a thousand years," he told his fellow Americans:
. . . Christmas has been celebrated in Poland, a land of deep religious faith, but this Christmas brings little joy to the courageous Polish people. They have been betrayed by their own government.
The president then took a remarkable liberty: He asked Americans that Christmas to light a candle for freedom in Poland.
It was a significant gesture, for Poland, for America, for a free world. Poles heard about it, and took it to heart; they talk about it still today.
What does this have to do with President Obama and Iran? Everything. To wit: How about doing something similar for Iranians today? Why not light a candle as a sign of hope for Iran's freedom fighters? If not a candle, then something -- some kind of overt public display.
Would such an action offend the Iranian leadership? Of course -- just as the light of day and light of truth repels a vampire.
The point, again, is for the American president to be proactive, creative, encouraging, to advance positive change. He can make these simple but profound gestures even as he proceeds with his domestic agenda. Reagan did.
Of course, there's an interesting juxtaposition: Both domestically and in foreign policy, Reagan sought to remove power from the state and transfer it to the individual -- whether through tax cuts for Americans or through undermining the Communist totalitarianism shackling Poles. Obama is looking to empower the state domestically, while not undermining the theocratic totalitarianism shackling Iranians. It's an instructive contrast.
And so, President Obama, I go back to my conclusion in my earlier articles: If you want to employ America as that light, as that beacon of freedom, then get going.
Bring a flicker of hope to freedom's dungeon. Shine it into the terror state of Iran.
Of course, proclaiming liberty to the captives means desiring it to be so. A proclaimer must first be a believer. Like Reagan, and, yes, like George W. Bush, you need to believe in the American ideal -- in the heart, the soul, the gut. You need to believe, as Ronald Reagan did, that America is less a place than an idea. Is Obama a believer? I said six months ago that time will tell. So far, the story isn't promising.
America honors its deceased presidents, its fallen troops, its late senators, and even its musicians and movie stars. But what about its veterinarians?
Well, there's one veterinarian who deserves pause for recognition. His name was Nels Konnerup. He recently passed away at age 92.
Born in Everett, Washington, on December 4, 1916, Konnerup was shaped by the crucible of the Great Depression. He survived it the old-fashioned, American way: faith and family, himself and his parents, hard work, rugged individualism. For the remainder of his life, he would lament Americans' slow surrender of responsibility from the self to the federal government.
Konnerup put himself through college at Washington State University. His subsequent contributions were numerous, with a resume of rich distinctions, including uniquely valuable service during the Cold War.
While many players fought for freedom during the Cold War -- ambassadors and admirals, soldiers and secretaries of defense -- Konnerup served the way he knew best: veterinary medicine. Circling the globe at a rate of 50,000 miles per year, he developed remarkable methods for pest control that saved the crucial livestock that fed billions from Asia to Africa to Central America.
In China from 1946-47, Konnerup boosted Chiang Kai-Shek's attempts to prevent Mao Tse-Tung from transforming the world's most populous nation into a giant killing field. He arrived with thousands of doses of vaccine for Rinderpest, a cattle disease with very high mortality. He quickly discovered a fatal problem missed by the bureaucrats in Washington: the lack of refrigeration at Chinese villages and farms. On the spot, Konnerup developed a clever method for preservation and delivery of the vaccine, applying a "rabbit-adapted attenuated vaccine," which he had been employing in Australia. It worked. He established a vaccine production laboratory in Nanking.
Unfortunately, other factors eventually triumphed in China, as Mao emerged victorious. The Communists kicked out Konnerup and his colleagues -- but kept his vaccine. Of course, they implemented something far more destructive than Rinderpest: Mao's Sinification of Marxism. Through collectivism and wealth redistribution -- a triumph of ignorance that was the antithesis of Nels Konnerup's creativity -- Red China exterminated tens of millions of human beings. Communism slaughtered what Rinderpest could not -- by leaps and bounds.
Konnerup went elsewhere, serving the U.S. government in several capacities. He was a secret weapon in ensuring that Marshall Plan aid to Europe, once delivered, was not eaten by flies and ticks. Think about it: American aid saved a starving post-World War II Europe. At the political and diplomatic level, it was the product of President Harry Truman, of Secretary of State George Marshall, of an isolationist Republican Congress that stepped to the plate and cut a badly needed check to our allies; all of this not only fed Western Europe but kept it out of the throes of Soviet Communism.
And yet, once that vital aid was underway, it would have died if the livestock it sought to replenish were destroyed by disease. Here, too, Nels Konnerup did what he did best: He had responsibility for the health of over 60,000 head of livestock destined to Europe by steamship. No small task -- but one he pulled off.
After that, Konnerup served Douglas MacArthur and the U.S. military government in Japan. Like MacArthur, he also went to the Philippines; there, he helped resolve the malnutrition wreaked by rodent damage. Both Japan and the Philippines were crucial Cold War allies.
In retirement, Konnerup kept his fertile mind busy. He wrote letters to editors and columnists who raised his ire. Somewhat of a curmudgeon, among his pet peeves was the junk science and "flawed sophism" of un-scrutinizing "self-proclaimed and self-anointed environmentalists." He was a man of real science and real environmentalism, not given to the bandwagon. He had little patience for the latest "crisis/emergency" treaty destined to shut down an industry or economy. He was skeptical of the newest claims of Armageddon by partisan politicians, amateur environmentalists, and assorted "nefarious nabobs."
"Let there be integrity in definitions!" urged a frustrated Nels Konnerup.
Alas, an aging Konnerup continued to battle the eternal, insatiable progressive push for centralization and federal-government dependency that had vexed him since the 1930s. A eulogist at his funeral said:
Nels looked forward to the afterlife . . . because he expected to see FDR after he died, and gleefully anticipated poking him in the backside with his pitch fork.
Nels Konnerup died where he began: in his native Washington state. There was no statue erected, no statement from the White House, no obituary in the New York Times, no CNN headline. There were, however, a lot of people, from Berlin to Beijing, who owed their health to this unheralded veteran of the veterinarian sciences, who showed that there are many ways to fight the good fight and serve your Maker. *
"All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree." --James Madison