Category Archives: History

Morally Dubious Israelis on the Big Screen

The new Hollywood thriller, The Debt, is another exercise in one of tinseltown’s favorite themes – moral relativism. In this film, a group of three Israeli agents, infiltrated into East Berlin in the mid 1960s in order to capture a notorious Nazi concentration camp butcher, lie to the world for 30 years about the outcome of their inglorious adventure. Torn by guilt to various degrees (from none to overwhelming), they bask in undeserved glory for a lifetime until, in the mid 1990s, the specter of their horrible secret being revealed leads to a desperate attempt to cover up their moral misbehavior.

The movie is very well done. The acting is superb, the sets are graphic and seemingly authentic, the dialog crisp and the action scenes – at which Hollywood is so expert – are taut and exciting. The seamless weave of past and present is extremely clever. The moral quandary in which the agents find themselves when their extraction plans go awry is starkly drawn, compelling to contemplate and completely believable. Oh there is much in the movie that is not believable: the small size of the Israeli team; the aging Nazi butcher overpowering the female agent even though earlier in the film she is shown outdueling her fellow male agents in hand-to-hand combat; the same Nazi butcher, now 90-something, winning a strenuous knife fight; and the despicable narcissism of one of the male agents – now elderly and crippled – portrayed as an unspecified member of the Israeli cabinet, perhaps even the Prime Minister, plotting to silence the other agents when their moral consciences are about to burst after 30 years.

Overall though, from the point of view of entertainment, the film certainly delivers. What about the message? It is – as is often true of Hollywood exercises in relativism – ambiguous and uncertain. The Nazi butcher is portrayed as inherently evil, but at the same time he expresses concern for his devoted and innocent wife who will be devastated by his disappearance. The female Israeli agent – 30 years later – although increasingly troubled by her lie, is conflicted by the fact that her daughter’s life has been successfully constructed on the basis of that lie. And of course, the agents themselves, confronted by monstrous evil and the opportunity to help heal some of the wounds inflicted by that evil – alas, only at the cost of moral dishonor – spend their lives tormented by what should have been – and still can be – the right choice.

I believe the ultimate message from Hollywood is that there is NO absolute good and evil. It all depends on the circumstances, the quirks of fate and the humanity of the players. In an earlier era, Hollywood presented in the film Exodus the Israeli hero Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman) as purely good; as good as Audie Murphy in To Hell and Back or Gary Cooper in High Noon or Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. Hollywood – representative of the American Left – now believes that such portrayals were false and unjust. There are always shades of grey. The ending of The Debt is symbolic as it leaves partially unresolved the final battle between the 50-something former Israeli female agent and the 90-something Nazi. I yearn for the day when it was totally clear who was the good guy and who was the bad guy.
This post also appeared in The American Thinker at:

The American Train has Jumped the Tracks

Unlike virtually all other countries, the United States of America was founded upon a set of ideas. Its people did not coalesce around a religion, race, ethnic heritage, language or geographical area in order to form itself into a coherent, recognizable nation. Rather the US was constituted by an amazingly astute and prescient group of Founders who created an entity that would maximize individual liberty and endow the people with the greatest chance to have a life of freedom, justice and prosperity. The ideals that undergird this nation, unique in the annals of world history, are enshrined in its founding documents – the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. To be an American is to subscribe to and strive to embody these ideals.

The founding documents laid out the track that Americans were to follow in order to preserve our freedoms, our just society and our unparalleled prosperity. Alas, America has jumped the tracks. It is my purpose here to explain the derailment more concretely and to pose an overarching strategy for returning to the rails.

In fact the tracks have three sets of rails as the American experience is grounded in three fundamental strains, all of which are crucial to the ongoing success of our grand experiment. The strains are political, moral and idealistic.

Political. The Founders established an unprecedented political system that has retained its uniqueness to this day. The Constitution provides for a federal Republic, whose government derives its powers purely from the consent of the people; it is made up of distinct branches with carefully delineated, complementary powers, replete with checks and balances – between the branches and between the national and State governments. The system was designed to establish a national government of VERY limited powers that would maximize individual liberty, establish the rule of law and dispense equal an unbiased justice. Moreover, it was intended to do so in perpetuity.

Moral. By placing the onus for the continued success of the American experiment on the people’s shoulders, not the government’s, the Founders understood that the desired success would depend upon the maintenance of a high moral fabric among the people. The system would only work if the people were generally “good” – meaning that they had a clear understanding of and could distinguish between good and evil, just and unjust, honesty and dishonesty, responsibility and irresponsibility. If the people made the right choices when confronted with moral opposites, the system would work well and the nation would thrive; if not, then corruption, vice and malfeasance would surely follow, with tyranny the ultimate outcome. The people would learn to make the right choices because they were embedded in a society that prized strong families and communities, charity and good works, universal education, a powerful work ethic and the fear of God.

Idealistic. The Founders also understood that they were creating something unique and revolutionary. They expected that their descendants would guard it zealously and hold it up as a beacon for the peoples of the world to emulate. In short the Founders were the first believers in American exceptionalism. They saw the American people as the “new Hebrews,” a people chosen by God to provide, by their example, a light unto the nations in regard to how a just and free society should be organized and governed. Without that type of faith and pride to complement their upstanding morals, the Founders feared that it might prove difficult to sustain the experiment in limited government.

Americans rode those rails for more than a century. But beginning in the so-called Progressive Era a century ago, continuing through the New Deal and the Great Society, and culminating today under the Prophet Obama, the American people have been abandoning these tracks. In all three strains, the train has been diverted onto a route that bears less and less resemblance to the path laid out by the Founders. We might ask:

  1. How and why did this happen?
  2. The loss of which track poses the greatest danger to the Republic?
  3. How can we get back on the rails?

How and why? It didn’t happen by accident. Inspired by ideas imported from Europe, “social reformers” at the turn of the 20th century decided that America’s founding philosophy was flawed. These statist revolutionaries envisioned an America where: fairness trumped liberty; equality of result is more important than equality of opportunity; a benign yet powerful government could achieve more for the health and welfare of the people than individuals could achieve when left to their own devices; change and progress is more important than stability and tradition; order and security outweigh freedom; morals are relative, not absolute. They also argued that there was nothing wonderfully special about a nation that condoned slavery, practiced genocide against its Native inhabitants and imprisoned its own (Japanese-American) citizens in camps.

The progressives and their philosophical offspring, through a relentless assault on many fronts, captured the media, academia, the legal profession, foundations and libraries – indeed, almost all of the opinion-molding organs of American society. The result is a brainwashed electorate that willingly – and unwittingly – aids the progressives in their goal of remaking America into a society that would be anathema to our Founders.

Which track is most important? I warrant that if one queried a progressive in 1905 as to this question, his answer would have been unequivocally #1. He believed that the fundamental political structure of America was wrongly conceived and that it had to be radically altered. He probably felt that going to church was a waste of time and that pride in America was silly; thus he might not focus on the latter two tracks. It was the levers of American governmental power that he sought to control, not the inclinations of the American heart or mind. Alas, to the misfortune of our beloved Republic, there were more astute progressives who understood that the Left could never achieve the political power it sought unless it first undermined the moral and idealistic foundation that made possible the American experiment in freedom and limited government.

The bastards succeeded. Look around. The debauched American culture, the ruptured American family, the President who grovels before and apologizes to world tyrants and miscreants for American misbehavior; all these bear testimony to how far off the second and third rails we have fallen. It is not surprising then that the people are insecure and without confidence, and that they look to government – rather than themselves, their families and communities – for the succor that they seek.

In summary, the first track is the key to controlling society, but the Left realized and acted upon the fact that one had to subvert tracks two and three first in order to achieve their dastardly goal of derailing society from the first track.

Can we recover? This is a grave question with enormous consequences. (For a glimpse into what’s in store if we don’t, the reader might have a look at Mark Steyn’s dire predictions in his brand new book After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. It’s very scary.) In fact, there have been only three previous attempts at recovery in the last century that bear mentioning: Coolidge, Reagan, Gingrich. Coolidge focused almost exclusively on the economy – with great success. But actually, the nature of the nation’s economy is determined as a consequence of the three tracks. As long as America was steady on the rails, it was inconceivable that it would implement any economic system other than free market capitalism – an economy that is most compatible with the tents of the three tracks. Indeed I think that Coolidge had no inkling of the assault on tracks #2 and #3. He probably believed that he and Mellon had undone the damage of the Progressive Era, but he did not appreciate the magnitude of the assault that America faced.

Reagan understood. But he only engaged on tracks #1 & #3. Like Coolidge, he had significant success: restoring America’s pride and military strength, defeating Soviet Communism and jump starting the economy. But, perhaps because he didn’t address #2, and perhaps because too much of the country did not yet understand the extent of the nation’s surrender to the Progressive assault, his successes proved ephemeral. Gingrich was a total flop. He might have understood, but he and his minions were co-opted before they ever got out of the barracks.

The rise of the Tea Party movement shows that a significant portion – albeit still a minority – of the people is coming to understand the nature of the radical assault on America, and what its consequences will be. Is it too late? Can we reverse course – at least on some of the tracks? I believe that the experience of Reagan proves that we can recover only if we counterattack on all three tracks. That’s the overarching strategy promised at the beginning of the article. More concrete details will be presented on another occasion.
This post also appeared in The Intellectual Conservative at:

What Would the Founders Say Back on the Road to Serfdom?

The title refers to two recent books: What Would the Founders Say, by Larry Schweikart and Back on the Road to Serfdom: The Resurgence of Statism, edited by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. On the surface, these are very different books that treat distinct topics in unlike styles. Schweikart identifies ten fundamental questions concerning the role of government – ranging from “Should the government stimulate the economy and otherwise ensure full employment?” to “Should…governments…have the authority to regulate gun ownership?” He then presents ten essays, each addressed to one question, in which he strives to explain how he believes the Founders would have answered the question. He does this by meticulously consulting original sources (of course including America’s founding documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers), but also pamphlets, letters and newspaper articles penned by the Founders. His findings are neatly encapsulated in these paragraphs from his final summary chapter.

It should be apparent from what the Founders said and how they acted that such current practices as bailing out banks and auto companies, having the federal government dictate diet and health practices, requiring the government to provide jobs, and sending the nation spiraling into astronomical levels of debt would all be anathema to them. Many modern government “functions” are so outrageously outside the powers that the founders permitted the government to have that, faced with modern society, they would certainly be revolutionaries, burning the whole structure down to start anew. In such a case, a new bill of rights would likely be double its current size, and deeper in specificity and the limitations on the power of the federal government would almost certainly be vastly expanded.


Jefferson wrote in the Declaration that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government.” Opposing tyranny and despotism are not only man’s right, Jefferson concluded, but it was “their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” The current administration and those in Congress today seldom refer to the Founders, and with good reason. The Founders would have utterly rejected their attitudes and direction.


What can we learn from the Founders, even when “our” problems weren’t “their” problems? A great deal. They operated on a set of principles that, like mathematics, was applicable in almost any situation, and across time. It is the genius of the Constitution that it provided flexibility to adapt to almost any modern problem, while at the same time containing the overall imperative of reducing or limiting the power of the national government and placing power in the hands of the people. Not surprisingly, virtually none of the modern Left – save when it comes to certain civil rights – ever refers to the Constitution. To them, it is a stumbling block, an impediment. To the Left, the Constitution must be overcome, flanked or ignored. When Martin Luther King Jr. led civil rights marchers in singing “We Shall Overcome,” he meant that they would overcome the barriers that denied them their constitutional rights. When modern leftists employ the phrase, they mean “We Shall Overcome the Constitution”! A better solution to the nation’s problems would be overcoming the Left and its deviant, perverse, and, yes, sinister ideas, once and for all.

Woods’ book also contains ten essays, but each by a different author. The essays treat the origins, development and consequences of massively expanded government in our so-called mixed economy. Topics treated include: protectionism, entrepreneurship (its practice and its vilification), crony capitalism, class warfare and cultural collapse. Whereas single authorship in Schweikart’s book leads, not surprisingly, to an enviable consistency in the content and style of the essays, the varied authorship in Woods’ book results in markedly different styles, organization and effectiveness. However, the ultimate conclusions are remarkably similar to Schweikart’s. Here are the telling passages from Woods’ introductory chapter:

The unifying theme of this book, though, is the brute fact that a shift toward statism is indeed occurring, and that it will not end happily. History is littered with foreign and domestic crises that became pretexts for the expansion of government power, and the present instance appears to be no exception.


The problems we face stem from the mixed economy, as opposed to the fully socialist ones that Hayek criticized. All over the world, the impossible promises governments have made to their populations are beginning to unravel. Millions of people have arranged their lives in the expectation of various forms of government support that will be mathematically impossible to provide.


What the rising generations across the developed world are facing is a genuine road to serfdom. They will have to work harder and longer than their parents just to tread water, if they can find work at all in artificial economies battered by years of “stimulus” and misdirected resources. Retirement will seem like something out of science fiction. And to add insult to injury, they will be putting in this effort on behalf of transfer programs that are going to collapse anyway – Social Security, Medicare, pensions, and so forth.


The more functions the state usurps from civil society, the more institutions of civil society will atrophy. Once supplanted by coercive government, tasks that people used to perform on a voluntary basis come to be viewed as impossible for civil society to manage in the absence of government – even though civil society did indeed perform these functions once upon a time. The spiritless population comes, in turn, to look for political solutions even to the most trivial problems.


Americans are taught a great deal of civics-book nonsense about the nature of the state, the benefits it confers, and the unbearable difficulties we would face without its careful custodianship of society. In reality, Americans are ruled by a patchwork of self-perpetuating fiefdoms, which beneath a veneer of public-interest rhetoric seek to pursue their own power and resources.

There is, one would think, another way for human beings to live than this. Ironically, it is government itself that is about to teach that very lesson. When its grandiose schemes and promises inevitably unravel, all that will be left is civil society managing its own affairs, the very thing we have been taught to believe is impossible.

Both books are thoroughly researched and very well written. However, like so many of the genre, it is unfortunately quite likely that they will be preaching to the converted. Conservatives will find much within these books with which they will heartily agree. They will also find new information and perspectives that will boost their arsenal in their fervent, if forlorn, verbal battles with their liberal colleagues and friends. Liberals, on the other hand, will find little of interest to them in these fine books. That is simply because liberals won’t read them. In both books it is immediately clear that the authors condemn the ongoing liberal assault on America’s economy and culture, and that they believe that said assault is bringing America to ruin. Liberals treat such beliefs as hogwash (when they are not branding them as treasonous) and they certainly will not expose themselves to that kind of thought by reading traitorous books.

Continuing to pursue the thread that – despite their apparent differences – the books are surprisingly similar, I wish to point out three subthemes that are present in both books, even if they are not emphasized.

  1. Both books inherently assume that America began to seriously lose sight of the wisdom of the Founders, and started its unwise trek down the road to serfdom during the so-called Progressive Era, which began in earnest in 1900 with the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt.
  2. With rare exception (under Coolidge and Reagan, e.g.), the country has moved steadily over the last century and a decade to the Left. It experienced extreme lurches to port during the eras of Wilson, FDR, LBJ and between 2008 and 2010 under Obama-Pelosi-Reid. Through its domination of the media, educational establishment, legal profession, government bureaucracies, libraries and foundations, the Left has been able to monopolize the national conversation, presenting (even egregiously) leftist policies as mainstream while demonizing (even modestly) conservative ideas as perverse, dangerous and out of the mainstream.
  3. A century of damage is not going to be undone overnight – if it is going to be undone at all. To think – even if the Republicans recapture the White House and Senate in 2012 – that 18th and 19th century-style America is going to rapidly reemerge is the height of folly. No second coming of Reagan is going to balance the budget, retire the debt, free up our markets, restore the concept of American exceptionalism, re-instill traditional values, deregulate the government bureaucracy and restore prosperity – all in the space of four or eight years. It will take at least two generations. Alas, it is far from clear that the American people can sustain the will over that long a period to accomplish the task.
Which brings me to my last point about the books. Both tracts contain more a description of “what went wrong” rather than a prescription of “how to make it right.” Recipes for fixes are scarce in either book and what suggestions are made are actually quite minor – a step in the right direction, rather than a radical global fix. What stratagems appear are more in the vogue of “a camel’s nose under the tent” as opposed to a second American Revolution. This is in some sense ironic because it mimics the Left’s “successful” 20th century game plan, that is, the slow, steady, inexorable expansion of government control of the economy, politics and culture. It pains me to recommend that conservatives take a page from the liberal playbook – as these books implicitly do – but that might be the only winning strategy.
This article also appeared in The Intellectual Conservative at:

America Abdicates

The story in July 29th’s Wall Street Journal about the death of a Libyan rebel leader also describes the unending ebb and flow of the battle lines between Kaddafi’s forces and those of the rag-tag group of “patriots” who oppose them. More generally, the situation in virtually all of the countries convulsed over the last half year by Arab spring uprisings (i.e., Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and others) remains confused at best. With the exception of Libya and Egypt, the US has played no role in these potentially monumental events – it seems content to sit idly by while upheavals that could dramatically affect the US and its allies play out according to a dynamic that is ill understood. Incidentally, the US role in Libya was to goad the Europeans to intervene with absolutely minimal assistance from us; and its role in Egypt was to toss overboard our main asset on the ground and then withdraw and hope for the best.

Thus the new Obama Doctrine as explained in the July/August issue of Commentary by Feith and Cropsey. In a nutshell: America’s role in world affairs has been aggressive and arrogant; America owes the world an apology for failing to understand the needs of the people who have been negatively impacted by our assertiveness; and the US must defer to multilateral organizations in order to work for the world’s general good. Our belief in American exceptionalsim has done more harm than good.

This new doctrine is completely at odds with how America has seen its role in the world since it emerged as a global power approximately a century ago. The US has intervened – overtly and covertly – in numerous regional conflicts around the globe in that time. Many of the interventions were successful (Grenada, Taiwan, Korea [we didn’t win, but we prevented a Communist takeover], the Philippines, Israel [Nixon’s airlift], the Falklands [in support of the Brits], Chile, Afghanistan [helped drive out the Soviets], Dominican Republic). Some led to various degrees of failure (Vietnam, Iran [Carter’s rescue mission], Lebanon). A few remain unresolved (Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans). The point is that we saw ourselves as a force for good in the world. We took our role as a world superpower seriously and when our interests or those of our allies were threatened, we acted – with force, if necessary – to protect those interests.

No more. According to the wise one, those interventions reflected American arrogance, self-indulgence, insensitivity and almost always damaged the people whose needs we ignored in our ignoble desire to demonstrate our might. But the wise one now asserts that we have overcome such wanton disregard for our fellow citizens of the Earth. Henceforth, we shall constrain ourselves from actions that are not endorsed by the “world community”; we shall reign in and rarely display our power; we shall engage even our most implacable foes in dialog; and we shall reorient our focus toward ameliorating the ills that plague our own society before we assume the moral authority to address the plight of others.

Thus the Arab world careens further down the road to jihadist violence; Iran surmounts the final obstacles toward achieving nuclear power status; Russia sinks further into a degenerate gangster state; Latin America veers sharply left; Israel is threatened with annihilation; Western Civilization continues its dance with death in Europe; and America accelerates its inexorable slide toward financial Armageddon. The US is not only abdicating its role as a world leader; it is surrendering to the dark forces – external and internal – that threaten its existence.
This post also appeared in The American Thinker at:

Who is the Worse President: Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama?

In the previous post, entitled Obscure, Unanticipated and Undistinguished Presidents, I produced a relatively short list of US presidents who earned these three epithets. To be on the list the person must have arrived at the White House far less well-known than the average entering chief executive; said arrival must have come as a surprise to most Americans; and the person must have been booted out of office as quickly as possible by the electorate following a wretched performance that yielded seriously deleterious consequences for the people and the country.

I pointed out that exactly which names were on the list was less important than the answers to the following four questions – which I attempted to supply:

  • Is the third unpleasant feature, i.e., undistinguished, a highly likely consequence of the first two?
  • A large number of the names on the list were VPs who ascended to the presidency upon the death of the incumbent. Was that a sufficient condition for a failed presidency?
  • Between Jimmy Carter and the preceding president on the list, nearly a century passed. Why the long gap?
  • What had changed in America in the 1960s and 1970s that allowed the phenomenon to reappear?

The reader is referred to the post below for the answers, the names on my list, and – for the pre-Carter names – the rationale for their appearance. However, perhaps overconfident about the reader’s agreement, I took it as virtually self-evident that Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama (who almost certainly will be booted in 2012) belong on the list. My goal here is to correct that oversight and enumerate the reasons why it is legitimate to consider both Carter and Obama to be obscure, unanticipated and undistinguished presidents. Then I’ll consider which of these two ranks lower than the other.

Carter. Obscure. Jimmy Carter had a career in the Navy, followed by a time as an entrepreneurial peanut farmer and then a stint in the Georgia State Legislature. He ran for Governor in 1966 and lost in the Democratic primary. Partly as a consequence, the arch-segregationist Lester Maddox became Governor. Maddox’s antics helped to prepare the people of Georgia for a more “moderate” candidate and Jimmy succeeded in 1970 to gain the Governor’s mansion. He served one term. In all four endeavors (naval officer, peanut farmer, State Legislator, Governor), Jimmy did satisfactorily. But in none of these pursuits did he amass an outstanding record as an innovator, exceptional leader, brilliant strategist or original thinker. Thus when he began his presidential quest in 1975, it was not surprising that he had a national name recognition rating of 2% among US voters. He might not have been the most obscure candidate to eventually reach the Oval Office (a title that I awarded to Chester Arthur in the previous article), but he was certainly in the top five.

Unanticipated. Among Carter’s competitors for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 1976 were: Scoop Jackson, Walter Mondale, Birch Bayh, Lloyd Bentsen, Robert Byrd, Frank Church, Sargent Shriver, Morris Udall, Gerry Brown and George Wallace. All of these rivals were far better known than was Carter. But an obscure Governor from Georgia defeated six US Senators, the Governor of California and a distinguished member of the House. To say that no political handicapper gave Carter a snowball’s chance in hell of garnering the nomination is to understate any expectation in any quarter that the peanut farmer from Plains would be the next president. But, as an outsider untainted by Washington politics, Jimmy had something that none of his rivals possessed – namely, an immunity from the ill feelings felt by a huge percentage of Americans toward establishment candidates, due largely to the immense sour taste in the people’s mouths left by Watergate. Carter rode that bad taste all the way to the White House. Unanticipated, unexpected, unforeseen…these adjectives don’t do justice to the surprise Americans felt – based on what they knew of him scarcely a year earlier – when Jimmy took the oath of office in January, 1977.

Undistinguished. Carter’s list of negative achievements in the White House is long and painful to recite. But here goes:

  1. Carter created the Departments of Education and Energy – two rat holes down which the American people have poured something in the neighborhood of one trillion dollars in the last thirty years.
  2. He bailed out Chrysler Corp. Yes, that paragon of American business should have failed 30 years before it should have failed a few years ago.
  3. His Keynesian economic policies of enhanced regulation, high taxes, easy money and extravagant government spending created an economic mess that became known as stagflation – a stagnant economy accompanied by high inflation.
  4. Another term coined during Carter’s presidency was the misery index – the sum of the inflation rate and the unemployment rate. Carter’s misery index topped 20%, a rate rarely seen in the nation’s history.
  5. His policies of energy deprivation and misallocation of scarce resources brought us the infamous gas lines.
  6. His program for dealing with the energy crisis was to put on a cardigan sweater, turn down the heat in the White House and instruct Americans to get used to a lower standard of living.
  7. He topped that bad advice by telling Americans that they suffered from “malaise” and that America’s day in the sun was over.
  8. He signed the Community Reinvestment Act – whose poisonous bounty would not appear for another 30 years.
  9. He surrendered the Panama Canal.
  10. He counseled Americans to get over their “inordinate fear of Communism” as the Soviets advanced from Afghanistan to Angola and everywhere else on the planet.
  11. He engineered the fall of the Shah – a staunch American ally; abetted the formation of the terrorist, Islamic regime in Iran led by the Ayatollah Khomeini; and then watched helplessly as Khomeini’s thugs imprisoned innocent American hostages in Teheran – thereby ignoring an act of war upon the United States.
  12. He belatedly authorized a rescue mission, which, due in part to his having hollowed out the military, failed spectacularly.
  13. Carter’s boldest step in foreign policy was to have the US boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics as a pathetic protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Jimmy did enjoy one signature success: the Camp David accords that achieved a cold, but enduring peace between Israel and Egypt – although recent events in the region call into question just how enduring. It garnered for him the Nobel Peace Prize – a rare occasion when said prize was truly earned. However, that achievement pales in comparison to the avalanche of failure encompassed in the above 13 items.

Obama. Obscure. In truth, mysterious is a better adjective to describe Obama’s background. We know so little about: his youth, how his remarkable educational opportunities became available to him, how he financed that education, what warranted his selection as president of the Harvard Law Review, who really guided his path in Chicago in the 1990s and why in the few elections he contested his opponents always seemed to disappear. What little we know is: his childhood was spent in Hawaii and Indonesia; his father deserted him when he was a toddler and paid him only one visit thereafter (when Obama was about 10); his flake of a mother also essentially abandoned him and he was raised by her parents; he attended Occidental College and Columbia University; then worked for a time in two public interest firms in NY; then three years in Chicago as a community organizer; then Harvard Law; followed by another period in Chicago doing community development-type stuff and teaching as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Chicago Law School. We know virtually nothing of substance about any of these activities, exactly what he did or how well he performed. He served in the Illinois State Senate for a few terms, with little note. He won a strange race for the Senate seat in Illinois in 2004 and spent almost all of his time in the Senate running for President. Prior to his speech to the Democratic convention in 2004, he was totally unknown. Four years later he was elected President. Obscure, mysterious, enigmatic…perhaps the Manchurian candidate. I think Arthur must cede to Obama the title that I granted to him.

Unanticipated. Given his obscure and nebulous background, it would be natural that his ascension to the presidency would be unanticipated. But it was so in a way somewhat different from Carter’s. Carter had to overcome a formidable array of qualified and well-known competitors. Obama only had to vanquish one – Hillary Clinton. The nomination was widely viewed as hers for the asking, and indeed her competition was extraordinarily weak. In addition to Obama, it consisted primarily of Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, John Edwards, Chris Dodd and Joe Biden – a pathetically feeble field, almost laughable. The Clinton machine was geared up and the result was considered foreordained. But Barack had other ideas. He ran a brilliant campaign aided by Hillary’s ongoing inability to break out of the 40s in voter approval, a sinister media cover-up of Obama’s shortcomings, a sense of guilt felt by a huge number of Americans that it was time to lay to rest the country’s bleak history of racial oppression by electing a black man president, and the attendant unwillingness to truthfully consider Obama’s past, his associates, his disturbing utterances and his unabashedly extreme left-wing voting record (meager as it was). Then he had the good fortune of encountering a weak, old, out of touch opponent who enjoyed little support in the conservative base of the Republican Party. All that said, if you had asked most Americans in 2007 who would be the next president, hardly anyone would have anticipated Barack Obama.

Undistinguished. Here one must be more subjective. History has not had a chance to render its verdict on Obama yet. Even for Carter, the record is still relatively fresh, but he was so bad that history has rendered its verdict quickly and it is summarized above. Now what about Obama? Given that he is still in office, it would normally not be feasible to assess – especially from a historical point of view – the quality of his presidency. But I submit that although one cannot be as specific as in the case of Carter, one can provide broad brush indictments that I believe earn Obama an honored place among the most undistinguished presidents of the Republic:

  • Dealt a bad economic hand, he doubled down on all the policies that gave rise to the economic problems, thereby making a bad situation even worse; he has set us on a path of chronic high unemployment, miniscule or non-existent economic growth, incipient inflation and a lower standard of living for the foreseeable future for most Americans.
  • Faced with a gargantuan federal government, wracked by unsustainable debt, he ratcheted up spending, corporate statism, federal regulation (Dodd-Franks), taxes (where he could) and union favoritism; he exploded the debt and has accelerated America’s declining economic and social fortunes.
  • Against the manifestly expressed will of the people, he jammed universal health care down their throats, simultaneously damaging the quality of America’s outstanding health care enterprise and exacerbating the economic problems mentioned above.
  • In those instances in which he and his Congressional allies failed to enact legislation to implement other egregiously bad policies – e.g., card check, cap and trade, amnesty for illegal aliens – he engaged the assistance of his unconfirmed White House czars and the leftwing henchmen that he selected to head various federal agencies in order to bypass Congress and implement his disastrous policies by dubious executive actions.
  • He denigrated our allies, coddled our foes, diminished our military arsenal and cast American world leadership out the window, thereby crippling America’s prestige and empowering the forces of darkness on the planet.
  • His treatment of arguably our staunchest ally, Israel, bears special mention. Aside from the appalling manner in which he has backstabbed the Jewish State and purposefully humiliated its Prime Minister, his behavior toward Israel accurately reflects his anti-American, anti-Western, anti-liberty, anti-free market (and some would add anti-Semitic) world view. He is the first American president who is not a patriot. He is ashamed of the United States, asserts that American exceptionalism does not exist, subjugates America to “international law,” and even more egregiously than Carter, seeks to arrange and manage America’s decline from its unique standing as the most successful model of freedom and prosperity the world has ever seen into just another Euro-style, ordinary welfare state. He is committed not to Jefferson’s “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” but more to Robespierre’s, “liberté, egalité, fraternité.”

As with Carter, Obama does have one positive notch on his belt: the killing of Bin Laden. But also like Carter, that signal achievement is drowned by the tsunami of disasters that he has caused.

It remains to answer the question posed in the title – who is worse: Jimmy or Barack? Actually, that gruesome choice reminds me of the familiar, unanswerable query: would you rather live your life without eyes or without ears? Personally, as bad as Carter was, I think Obama is worse (see below). But whatever the current assessment, given that Barack still has 18 months to screw up, I have no doubt that he will win and strongly contest for the title of worst president in the history of these United States. More seriously, I would add that the American people, in an act of munificent atonement, elected Barack Obama to be president and finally laid to rest the country’s sordid history of mistreatment of its black population. Barack mistook atonement for endorsement. In fact, it was an act of reckless irresponsibility by the American people to elect an unknown community organizer, with a mysterious past and friends, associates and mentors of highly dubious morals. Americans elected a man whose policies fly in the face of his nation’s center-right proclivities; moreover, his misunderstanding of that fact is breathtaking. Americans elected a man who does not share the vision of America’s Founders, who does not subscribe to the ideals enumerated in the documents that they bequeathed to us, who is so obsessed with America’s past sins – both real and imagined – that it blinds him to the enormous good and hope that America has bestowed upon the world, and who is determined to alter the fundamental character of the American Republic in line with his statist, egalitarian, one-world mindset. Move over Jimmy; Barack takes the crown.
This article aslo appeared in The Intellectual Conservative at: