‘The Oldest and Wisest,’ &c.

Ronald Reagan greets supporters in Columbia, S.C., during his 1980 presidential campaign (Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library)
On the age factor in presidential campaigns; Alexander Vindman; Jeffrey Epstein; fear on campus; and more

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE ‘D espite risks, Trump invests big in attacks on Biden’s age,” reads a headline from the Associated Press. The article says that, “in a kitchen-sink offensive backed by a mountain of campaign cash, the 74-year-old Trump has so far invested in one line of attack above all: the charge that his 77-year-old opponent is too old and mentally weak to be an effective president.”

If I were Team Trump, I would not argue from mental fitness. I would find other avenues of attack. But campaigning can be a mysterious science, or art.

Adenauer, they called “Der Alte” (The Oldster). I also remember “the O&W.” Do you?

Running in 1980, Reagan was just 69, but that was considered old, by many, and his opponents made hay of it. Even some of his supporters had concerns. “Reagan would turn 70 just two weeks after the inauguration!” people said.

Reagan’s staff took to calling him “the Oldest and Wisest,” or “O&W,” for short.

Then there was 1984 — when the Gipper had a terribly faltering first debate against Mondale, and made up for it with a quip in the second: a quip about age. But I should not get too far down Memory Lane . . .

Earlier this week, Trump tweeted,

A vote for Democrats in November is a vote to let MS-13 run wild in our communities, to let drugs pour into our cities, and to take jobs and benefits away from hardworking Americans. Democrats want anarchy, amnesty and chaos – Republicans want LAW, ORDER and JUSTICE!

Well, there’s a campaign message, unvarnished. “Anarchy, amnesty and chaos.” More Memory Lane, if you don’t mind: In 1972, versus McGovern, Republicans went with “Amnesty, abortion, and acid.”

• Over the years, I have written about “real people” and “real Americans” (or “real America”). I did so as recently as Monday. When I was growing up, the Left tended to talk about “real people” (versus country-clubbers, let’s say). Now I’m more apt to hear the phrase from the Right.

Well, have you ever heard of “real polls”? Specifically, “REAL polls”? I give you another Trump tweet, from last Sunday:

.@FoxNews gladly puts up the phony suppression polls as soon as they come out. We are leading in the REAL polls because people are sick & tired of watching the Democrat run cities, in all cases, falling apart. Also, now 96% Approval Rating in the Republican Party. Another 2016!

There you have it.

• On June 23, Eliot Engel, the longtime Democratic congressman from the Bronx, lost to Jamaal Bowman in a primary. Indeed, Bowman crushed him. I did a little writing about Engel the day before the primary (here) and would like to do just a little more.

Engel is now chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He is pretty much the last of the JFK Democrats, or “Cold War liberals.” He is out of step with his party. Out of step with the country, in a way (and I mean this admiringly).

(Sidney Hook, whom I admired greatly, titled his memoirs “Out of Step.”)

“I have always felt strongly about America’s role in the world,” Engel told me in a 2005 interview. “We, as a country, aren’t perfect. We’re all human, we all make mistakes. But I think our vision — what we want to share, what can be taken from our experience — is overwhelmingly positive. I don’t agree with the Blame America crowd.”

Engel was always ticking off the “activists,” as he called them. He ticked them off in the realm of foreign policy, and he ticked them off in the realm of domestic policy. “If the activists aren’t happy with me, they’re not happy with me,” he told me. “So be it.”

They finally got him in that primary last month. The winner, Bowman, is a radical, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. (I’m not so sure about the “Democratic.”) This is the trend. But I salute the old, in the person of Engel.

• I also salute Alexander Vindman. He has decided to retire from the Army, as you can read here. I will excerpt the article to which I have linked.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a national security aide who played a central role in President Donald Trump’s impeachment case, announced his retirement from the Army on Wednesday in a scathing statement that accused the president of running a “campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation.”

The statement from attorney David Pressman said Vindman, 45, was leaving the Army after more than 21 years after it had been made clear “that his future within the institution he has dutifully served will forever be limited.”

“Through a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation, the President of the United States attempted to force LTC Vindman to choose: Between adhering to the law or pleasing a President. Between honoring his oath or protecting his career”

Etc.

Vindman was born in the Soviet Union in 1975. He has a twin brother, Yevgeny, who is also a lieutenant colonel in the Army. When they were three, their mother died. They came to America when they were four. Both served in the Iraq War, and both are decorated. Alexander received a Purple Heart for wounds suffered in an IED attack. Both Vindmans served at the National Security Council, and both were fired, the same day. (Yevgeny was “guilty” by association, apparently.)

I hope we will get Vindmans in the future. This country needs them.

• John Rood was the undersecretary of defense for policy until February 2020. Trump asked for his resignation. The Defense Department had certified to Congress that Ukraine had made sufficient strides against corruption to merit receipt of military aid. Rood was involved in the certification. Also, he had warned the administration against withholding the aid.

Trump has a new nominee for the job: Anthony J. Tata, a retired brigadier general who became a Fox News commentator. (That’s the ticket.) His nomination has run into some trouble. Tata called President Obama a “Muslim” who “normalized Islam for America.” On Twitter, someone said, “Obama was not a terrorist sympathizer.” Tata replied, “No he was just a terrorist leader.”

I’m for the return of Rood, actually.

• Speaking of retired generals, what about Michael Flynn? What’s he up to? This makes curious reading: “Michael Flynn recites oath of office using slogan associated with QAnon.”

• Before it is too late, I hope we will know the truth about Jeffrey Epstein and his circle. Not for prurient reasons. But a lot of powerful people ran with Epstein, including the 42nd president, Clinton, and the 45th, Trump.

In 2002, Trump said, “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

Epstein is dead, by suicide (though some have theories). Now his apparent sidekick and enabler, Ghislaine Maxwell, has been arrested. Again, I hope the truth comes out, whatever it is, wherever it lands.

News from Vietnam — bad: “A Vietnamese man accused of ‘defaming’ the country’s leaders for broadcasting his pro-democracy views on Facebook was jailed for eight years on Tuesday after a lightning-quick trial.” Yup — that’s the way it happens.

• I appreciated a tweet from Ryan D. Enos, a political scientist:

For what it’s worth, I’m a tenured professor at Harvard (and a Marxist Quaker) and often feel pressure to self-censor because of fear of social or professional sanction. Hard for me to imagine those with less professional security or non-leftist views don’t feel this even more.

I was reminded of a post typed by a professor, anonymously, about five years ago. I have quoted it, or bits of it, often:

Personally, liberal students scare the sh** out of me. I know how to get conservative students to question their beliefs and confront awful truths, and I know that, should one of these conservative students make a facebook page calling me a communist or else seek to formally protest my liberal lies, the university would have my back. I would not get fired for pissing off a Republican, so long as I did so respectfully, and so long as it happened in the course of legitimate classroom instruction.

The same cannot be said of liberal students. All it takes is one slip — not even an outright challenging of their beliefs, but even momentarily exposing them to any uncomfortable thought or imagery — and that’s it, your classroom is triggering, you are insensitive, kids are bringing mattresses to your office hours and there’s a twitter petition out demanding you chop off your hand in repentance.

You would be lucky to get away with merely the loss of a hand . . .

• “Trump to US schools: Reopen or you may lose federal funds.” (Article here.) This sounds pretty coercive to me, sort of like blackmail. I would cut people some slack. There’s a plague on. There are legitimate concerns. It’s very hard to know what to do, to know what to decide, given that people’s health is at stake.

Again, slack . . .

• The president likes to give his opponents insulting nicknames, and he has done the same for the coronavirus: “kung flu.” Get it? The virus originated in China. This may appeal to the fans at rallies, but it does nothing to defeat the pandemic, which has killed over 130,000 Americans so far.

You know? I mean, come on.

• There is news from the natural world — I don’t look in on that often enough — and it’s good news. This report out of Dakar begins,

Conservationists have captured the first images of a group of rare Cross River gorillas with multiple babies in Nigeria’s Mbe mountains, proof that the subspecies once feared to be extinct is reproducing amid protection efforts.

Cool.

• A four-year-old girl of my acquaintance left me an audio-text. “I hope you’re having a good time,” she said. Then there was a pause and some gum-smacking. Then: “Um, what thoughts are you having? I hope you tell me . . .”

What thoughts are you having? I believe I will incorporate that into my repertoire. A nice opener.

See you, my friends. Have a good weekend. Strength to your hands.

If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

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