Politics & Policy

Obama and Reagan, &c.

I was rather fascinated by something President Obama said the other day. You remember that he walked out of budget talks, with some sharp words. According to Rep. Eric Cantor, he said, “Ronald Reagan wouldn’t sit here like this,” negotiating with you congressmen. The president’s implication was: Reagan was too big, too much a lion, for that. At least that is a possible interpretation.

Obama has spoken complimentary words about Reagan before. And, of course, he was a bitter, condemnatory opponent of Reagan’s, as all the Left was. I have a piece on Reagan in the current National Review. And I say, “The passage of time is a remarkable animal.” Are we all Reaganites now, or at least respecters of Reagan? It wasn’t always so, as you certainly know.

Let me relate something else I say in that NR piece. Throughout the 1980s, the Nobel peace committee handed out prizes to people who despised and worked against Reagan. Unilateral disarmers and the like. (Remember Alva Myrdal?) Committee members outright told the 1987 winner, Oscar Arias, that they were giving him the prize so that he would have an additional, and potent, weapon against Reagan. Arias told the historian Robert Kagan, “Reagan was responsible for my prize.”

Okay, jump forward to 2009: The committee is giving Barack Obama the Nobel. And the chairman, in his presentation speech, quotes Reagan, holding him up as a president who embodied universal values. (Obama does the same, in the committee’s mind.)

Now, consider the George W. Bush years: In a replay of the 1980s, the committee handed out prizes to those who despised and worked against the controversial Republican president. Count ’em: Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Mohamed ElBaradei, Al Gore. You could count Obama as well. And you may recall that the Nobel chairman said that the prize to Carter, in particular, was meant as a rebuke to Bush.

Okay — what will chairmen in the future say? Will they be quoting Bush and upholding him as a president who embodied universal values?

These days, you hardly ever hear a good word about Bush 43. The Left has always hated him, of course, and the Right habitually snorts at him. I have a feeling that Bush’s time will come. And that the haters and the snorters will look pretty small.

‐In the past few years, I have written a lot about the Internet and its effect on dissident movements. (See this piece, for example.) New technology helps both sides, of course: It helps democrats under a tyranny, and it helps the tyrants themselves. Which way does the balance tip?

I was quite interested in this news report: “Iran’s intelligence minister said Friday that his country has found a way to block the so-called ‘Internet in a suitcase,’ a program reportedly developed by the U.S. to bring online access to dissidents around the world.”

I hope that one thing is true, and one thing is false: I hope that we have, indeed, developed an “Internet in a suitcase.” And that the Iranian regime has not, in fact, found a way to block it.

To be continued . . .

‐The other day, I had a note about Communist Cuba, and the several myths surrounding it (health care, literacy, racial harmony). A reader felt inspired to write in about Santiago Valdeolla Pérez, one of the Castros’ prisoners. He is a pacifist and a democrat who is, of course, a deadly threat to the regime. In his own blood, he wrote statements on a Cuban flag: “The country belongs to all of us.” “For Cuba, now is the time.” “Long live a free and democratic Cuba.” Etc. This flag was sent to Marta Beatriz Roque, a well-known dissident and economist.

Think what would drive a person to write those statements, in his own blood. I don’t know, but if I were the American president, I think I’d find a way to acknowledge Valdeolla, and many others.

(If you care to see the flag, I will provide a link to “Google images”: here.)

‐I meant to write something more than a month ago: Rejoice over Cynthia Tucker, and say a little prayer of gratitude for what she did. She is an acclaimed columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution — liberal, of course. And what she did was very hard. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things to do: She changed her mind about an important issue, and said so. What’s more, the issue has to do with race. What’s more, the columnist is black.

Do you think this column was easy to write? I’m sure you don’t.

Tucker said, “I was wrong. I was shortsighted, naïve and narrow-minded to endorse the concept of drawing Congressional districts to take racial demographics into account.” She went on to say that “majority minority” districts “discourage moderation” and lend themselves to “crude racial gamesmanship and left-wing histrionics.” They also leave surrounding districts “bleached” (which a lot of conservatives like just fine).

She ended,

The political landscape has been transformed since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 and amended 17 years later. The election of a black president shows that American voters are willing to look beyond a candidate’s skin color. It’s time to give up racial gerrymandering, which turned out not to be quite so benign.

The temptation for people like me is to say, “Well, what took you so long? A little late, isn’t it? For decades, we Reagan-style conservatives have been called nasty names — ‘racist,’ above all — for holding a principled position that you have come to embrace. Maybe we could get an apology?”

This temptation is to be resisted (say my better angels). When a Cynthia Tucker comes over to your side — you just say, “Great.” Such a conversion is hugely helpful. Let me quote something I had occasion to write earlier this year:

I remember when Martin Amis published his book Koba the Dread, about Stalin. This was in 2002. A lot of people said, “Gee, Stalin was bad? A mass murderer? A monster? Martin Amis recognizes that now? A little late, don’t you think? What will he next say, that the bubonic plague was unfortunate?” My view was a little different. I thought it was good that such a “cool,” stylish, and acclaimed novelist had made a statement about Stalin and Communism. There are lots of people willing to listen to Amis who are not willing to listen to — well, me, or you.

I thought the book was welcome.


‐Reader wrote me a funny letter. He said he had been Googling, looking for something I had written. And he came across Nordlinger v. Hahn. He thought, “It’s one thing if Jay doesn’t think very much of Hilary Hahn [the violinist]. But did he have to take her to court?”

Nordlinger v. Hahn, as I understand it, is the Supreme Court case that declared Prop 13, the property-tax measure in California, constitutional. I don’t know who either that Nordlinger or that Hahn is. I do know that I regard Hilary Hahn as one of the finest musicians in the world. Also, she is just about the most articulate person alive. I interviewed her when she was 20, or something like that — frightening. Scary bright, ultra-gifted.

‐A little language? I’m afraid this item will concern abortion, too, so if you’re squeamish on the subject, please skip. In a recent NR piece, I wrote the following:

The question of language and politics is an old and freighted one, and I’ll just say a quick something about abortion. Years ago, on television, Kate Michelman, the famous pro-choice activist, was debating a pro-lifer, a woman whose name I forget. The pro-lifer spoke first, and, discussing pregnancy, referred to a “mother” and her “baby.” When it was Michelman’s turn, she said (as I recall), “First, let’s get the language right: It’s not a ‘mother’ and her ‘baby,’ it’s a ‘woman’ and the ‘fetus.’”

A reader writes,

When someone like Kate Michelman insists on saying “woman” and “fetus,” rather than “mother” and “baby,” the response should be something like, “Oh? When a pregnant woman says to you, ‘Hey, I felt the baby kick!’ do you correct her by saying, ‘No, no, you ignorant wretch: You felt the fetus kick’? And if a friend of yours suffered a miscarriage and came to you and wailed, ‘I lost the baby!’ would you console her by saying, ‘Oh, don’t worry, dear, it wasn’t a baby, it was just a fetus’?”

Hard, horrible stuff — so’s the subject.

‐I keep cheerleading for my friend Ted Cruz, the Republican Senate candidate in Texas. I have yet more to cheer about: He’s been endorsed by Sen. Jim DeMint — who said, “Ted Cruz has a deep appreciation for the U.S. Constitution, and he’s someone conservatives can count on to fight for the principles of freedom that make America great.”

Well said, senator.

‐Shall we end with a little Che Guevara? Reader writes,


I have a Memorial Day story for you. I live in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, which has a decidedly liberal bent (nuclear-free zone, domestic-partner registry, etc.). Well, I was present at the traditional Memorial Day event, and, as is the custom, they invited all the veterans who were present to walk across the stage, introduce themselves, and say where and when they served. . . .

On this Memorial Day, one of the men who spoke said that he had been with the U.S. advisory forces in Bolivia that “chased Che.” He added, “And we got him.” Then he walked off the stage and went through the line of city officials, all of whom shook his hand for the cameras.

I found myself wondering: How many of those councilmen, and how many of the people listening, approved of this man’s service?

I do! Thanks, dear readers, and see you.




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