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).
President Carter's "Superiority" Complex
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.
A Dose of Capitalism and Freedom
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.
Thirty-five Years Ago: When Ford Snubbed Solzhenitsyn
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?
Newsflash: Stalin Liberates Normandy
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