A reckless man and the promiscuous use of power 5

Today being the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, there will be many a paean of praise for him ringing through the land.

Though we deplore his assassination – most probably by the Communist arrested for the crime – we have found little to admire about JFK.

Which is why we were quite pleased to find this unenthusiastic review of his presidency and unflattering estimation of his character by Derek Hunter, who writes (in part) at Townhall:

President Kennedy remains popular with journalists and historians, but was not a popular president with the American people at the time. His re-election in 1964 was not certain. It was, in fact, a long shot at the time of his murder.

His presidency was, for the most part, a non-event. The Bay of Pigs was a fiasco, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought us to the brink of nuclear war, cost us missiles in Turkey and doomed Cuba to the underside of the Fidel Castro’s boot to this day.

On civil rights, something for which President Kennedy receives much credit and praise, he did little more than pay lip service to the concept. My friend and a host of the C4 Show … Clarence Mitchell IV, whose grandfather was Clarence Mitchell Jr., the chief lobbyist for the NAACP during the Kennedy years, tells me, “My grandfather always said President Kennedy, at the insistence of his brother Bobby, was not a champion of civil rights, that he was actually an obstacle. He kept things slow because he wanted the support of southern Democrats. It wasn’t about right and wrong with them, it was about what would get them the most votes.”

President Kennedy is given credit for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but he had little to do with it aside from having spoken on the subject a few times. In fact, C4 tells me that in August of 1963 there was a “big meeting” of civil rights leaders at the White House with the Kennedy brothers because there was talk that they might not endorse JFK’s reelection. They were promised what politicians always promise voting blocs they’re stringing along – action after the election. Tragedy intervened, so we’ll never know what he might have done, but we do know what he did do and that wasn’t much at all.

In fact, it seems nearly every positive development of that era is somehow credited to JFK – even those he had little to nothing to do with. It’s just been credited to him, or imposed on him, as part of the myth-making surrounding “Camelot.”

President Kennedy was a great orator and a master at public relations. He also had a press corps that adored him, thus insulating him from reality in the annals of history. (Sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it?)

The “Camelot” legend was myth, constructed to obscure the reality of a despicable man elected through fraud and an unholy alliance with the mafia in Chicago.

The real John F. Kennedy was a womanizing misogynist, a spoiled brat who ran for the U.S. Senate for lack of anything else to do and to feed his controlling [pro-Nazi] father’s ego. Just eight years and very few accomplishments later, he sought the presidency for much the same reason.

He was a reckless man, sleeping with interns, girlfriends of mafia bosses, Russian spies and seemingly anyone else willing. He took his job seriously enough, but in perhaps the most blatant act of corruption since Teapot Dome, appointed his own brother Attorney General of the United States. Kennedys are loyal to Kennedys first; there is no second. The idea that Robert Kennedy could be trusted to, if called for, investigate possible corrupt actions of President Kennedy is laughable.

After his tragic assassination, the Kennedy myth-making started and hasn’t stopped. It started with the coaching of 3-year-old John F. Kennedy Jr. to salute his father’s coffin for the cameras as the procession passed, and it continues to this day. Even his gravesite is a testament to that myth.

President Kennedy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and rightfully so. He did serve our country with honor in World War II. But real estate at Arlington is at a premium, with our heroes buried in close proximity to each other to accommodate all who deserve it. Yet the JFK gravesite sits alone in a large otherwise-vacant plot. I don’t begrudge him the eternal flame – though that seems a bit much. But his wife is buried next to him in spite of remarrying, and his brother, Robert, is buried there too, even though he did not serve in the military.

This “devout Catholic” family exemplifies hypocrisy on every level – from their bootlegging beginnings to their philandering lifestyle, there is very little about their legend that stands up to even the most cursory of scrutiny. Despite this fact, hours of television time, gallons of ink and gigabytes of web-space will be dedicated to how extraordinary JFK was, how they all were.

It’s simply not true.

We have little argument with all that. (But if they were not actually devout Catholics – and who can know? – it would be one thing in their favor in our eyes.)

For the rest, we would only comment that JFK and his brother Bobby were extraordinary of course as men of power. They are historical figures. But neither of them had an extraordinary mind, and neither left any great gifts to the world.

*

Steve Chapman writes (also at Townhall) that Kennedy …

… led people to imagine that their government had the boundless capacity to improve the world, and on the day he died, they could still believe that.

His administration and that of his vice president and successor Lyndon B. Johnson are significant in the same way: They represent the pinnacle of ambitious, visionary government. What each president lacked was a sober sense of the limits of what it could do, at home or abroad. …

Kennedy came into office having roused unrealistic expectations. …

His inaugural address did nothing to dampen the mood. It cast the United States not just as the defender of its own security and freedom, but as guarantor for the entire planet. Kennedy declared that “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty (emphasis added).”

In case that promise did not seem sufficiently grandiose, he added, “The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.”

Kennedy gave the highest priority to the foreign arena. But Johnson’s domestic program grew out of initiatives begun by JFK. And LBJ was no more inclined to restrain his rhetoric.

He extolled his social welfare plan as though he were describing paradise: “The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. … It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community … beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.”

Neither president paused to consider whether and how the clumsy tools of government could actually fulfill these dreams. Kennedy took the first steps into a war in Vietnam – which proved that supporting friends did not assure the success of liberty and that there were some burdens Americans would not bear.

When Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act, he proclaimed that it represented nothing less than “a commitment to eradicate poverty. …  Like many Great Society programs, it did not live up to its billing. …

JFK and LBJ set out to prove how much the U.S. government could accomplish at home and abroad, a mission that endeared them to those who believe in the promiscuous use of power.

They ended up proving how much it could not accomplish, and how little extravagance can buy.

They may have proved it, but new generations of believers in the promiscuous use of power have arisen and take no heed of the lesson. Obama is proving it all over again, disastrously. But will the believers in the state as an ever-flowing fountain of money, and the president as an all-wise all-good father, ever learn it?

Cut the government 4

We hold personal liberty to be the highest value, which is why we are sympathetic to libertarianism.

One of our favorite libertarians  is John Stossel, who writes today at Townhall:

When Congress and President Obama agreed on a deal last week to raise the debt ceiling and resume government spending, people reacted as if a disaster was averted — instead of reacting as if a disaster had resumed. It has. And it continues.

Congratulating ourselves for raising the debt ceiling once again, the way we do every time this drama plays out, is like congratulating an alcoholic for talking the bartender out of cutting him off.

As with alcoholics, there’s a deeper problem here. It’s not just that America is addicted to debt. Everyone agrees we should pay our bills, just not when or how. The deeper addiction is to government.

For most of the history of America, federal spending never took up more than 5 percent of the economy. Spending increased during wars, but after World Wars I and II, spending dropped back to prewar levels.

Then came Presidents Johnson and Nixon and the “great society.” From then on, spending rose even in peacetime. Now, if you include local government, government spending makes up more than 40 percent of the economy.

When Obama campaigned for the presidency, he … complained, “The way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the bank of China. … We now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back. … That is irresponsible.”

I agree! $9 trillion in debt is totally irresponsible. That makes it all the more remarkable that just a few years later, under President Obama, debt increased to $17 trillion. But now, suddenly, this vast debt is no longer irresponsible. Today the president says what is irresponsible is for Congress not to constantly raise the debt ceiling.

Let me make some suggestions: Eliminate NPR and PBS funding. Cut foreign aid. End the war on drugs. Kill Fannie and Freddie, which financed America’s mortgages and helped cause the financial crisis. Eliminate cabinet departments like Commerce, Energy, Agriculture and Education, all activities that happen without any need for the federal government. (Education is a local function, and the department spending $100 billion a year hasn’t raised test scores one bit.)

Oh yes, all those should go.

Reform Social Security by raising the retirement age.

Or phase it out altogether, we would suggest.

And instead of increasing government involvement in health care, turn Medicare into a self-sustaining insurance program.

But with his next suggestion we do not entirely agree. It is a point on which we diverge from our libertarian friends:

Shrink the military by reducing our overseas commitments. …

We do not want to see a shrunken military (although we do think many of the soldiers stationed abroad – in Western Europe for instance – should be brought home*). We think much more should be spent on defense – and preparation for wars abroad that may very well become necessary. (Why not robot armies?)

We are emphatically against the “Responsibility to Protect” resolution of the UN (for which Samantha Power, the present US ambassador to that corrupt and ridiculous institution, was the inspiring muse). America has no responsibility to be the world’s policeman. But aggression against us – by the mullahs of Iran, for instance – should be met with overwhelming counter-force. No absurd notions of “proportionality” should ever be entertained.

But to return to domestic woes – John Stossel makes another suggestion:

To save America from bankruptcy … we could grow our way out of debt if Congress simply froze spending. They won’t do that either, but if they limited spending growth to 2 percent per year, we could balance the budget in just three years.

And he ends on a dramatic note with words that ought to be read not as a mere rhetorical flourish but as a real warning:

Limiting government growth is politically difficult, but if we don’t do it, America is doomed.

 

*Footnote: From Wikipedia: “The military of the United States is deployed in more than 150 countries around the world, with 172,966 of its 1,372,522 active-duty personnel serving outside the United States and its territories.” See the list.

Fattening the state 0

How does the seemingly benign campaign, figureheaded by Michelle Obama (see our post Great ideas from the pumpkin patch Janury 29, 2010), against childhood obesity, serve the socialist agenda of Barack Obama?

Michelle Malkin explains how. She writes:

Behind every seemingly good deed in the Obama White House, there’s a deep-pocketed, left-wing special interest. Take first lady Michelle Obama’s crusade against childhood obesity. Who really benefits from the ostensible push for improved nutrition in the schools? Think purple — as in the purple-shirted army of the Service Employees International Union. Big Labor bigwigs don’t care about slimming your kids’ waistlines. They care about beefing up their membership rolls and fattening their coffers….

The East Wing is now in full campaign mode — leaning on the nation’s mayors, traveling with the surgeon general and meeting with Congress and cabinet members to reauthorize the Lyndon Johnson-era Child Nutrition Act, which provides government-subsidized meals to more than 30 million children. It’s part of the Obama administration’s self-proclaimed “cradle-to-career” agenda for America’s youth.

For decades, school administrators have criticized this Great Society relic for outgrowing its initial conception. The program was originally created to use up post-World War II food surpluses… While spending on youth nutrition and wellness have ballooned, so have the kids. Nearly one-third of U.S. children are now overweight or obese. The feds spend $15 billion a year on nutrition in schools; the White House wants at least a $1 billion increase this coming fiscal year.

The well-intended program to feed poor kids has morphed into an untouchable universal entitlement with a powerful school-lunch lobbying coalition of Department of Agriculture bureaucrats, food-service industry executives and union bosses. Enter the SEIU. Headed by the White House’s most frequent visitor, Andy Stern, the powerful labor organization representing government and private service employees has an insatiable appetite for power and growth. Working alongside the first lady, the SEIU unveiled a major ad campaign this week demanding reauthorizing and funding increases in the Child Nutrition Act.

What’s in it for Big Labor? SEIU Executive Vice President Mitch Ackerman explains: “A more robust expansion of school lunch, breakfast, summer feeding, child care and WIC (the federal Women, Infants and Children nutrition program) is critical to reducing hunger, ending childhood obesity and providing fair wages and healthcare for front line food service workers” (emphasis added).

There are 400,000 workers who prepare and serve lunch to American schoolchildren. SEIU represents tens of thousands of those workers and is trying to unionize many more. “More robust expansion” of the federal school-lunch law means a mandate for higher wages, increased benefits and government-guaranteed health insurance coverage

They are casting food-services workers as indispensable saviors. The union has rallied behind P.R. efforts casting them as superheroes “serving justice, and serving lunch.” Opposing the union means opposing children’s health. SEIU propaganda features New Jersey school cafeteria workers like Leslie Williams of Orange, N.J., lamenting: “I love my work, but it’s getting harder to prepare nutritious meals on the low budget we’re working with. … It breaks my heart to see a child who’s hungry. As I see it, part of my job is to make sure the kids are well-fed.”

Actually, that’s the primary job of parents. Mom? Dad? Remember them? But the more responsibility we demand of parents, the less power and influence SEIU bosses are able to grab. Unionized school dietician and nutrition jobs are booming. And in addition to school breakfast and lunch, the SEIU is now pushing subsidized dinner plans and summer food service to create a “stronger nutrition safety net.” Translation: Perpetual employment for big government and its public employee union au pairs.

Cede the children, feed the state.

Suicide, not murder 1

In a must-read article, Mark Steyn writes in the National Review about the possibility of American decline, pointing out that it is a matter of choice, and that the Democrats now in power are offering that choice. Here are some paragraphs:

Permanence is an illusion – and you would be surprised at how fast mighty nations can be entirely transformed. But, more importantly, national decline is psychological – and therefore what matters is accepting the psychology of decline. Within two generations, for example, the German people became just as obnoxiously pacifist as they once were obnoxiously militarist, and as avowedly “European” as they once were menacingly nationalist. Well, who can blame ‘em? You’d hardly be receptive to pitches for national greatness after half-a-century of Kaiser Bill, Weimar, the Third Reich, and the Holocaust.

But what are we to make of the British? They were on the right side of all the great conflicts of the last century; and they have been, in the scales of history, a force for good in the world. Even as their colonies advanced to independence, they retained the English language, and English legal system, not to mention cricket and all kinds of other cultural ties. Even in imperial retreat, there is no rational basis for late 20th century Britain’s conclusion that it had no future other than as an outlying province of a centralized Euro nanny state dominated by nations whose political, legal and cultural traditions are entirely alien to its own. The embrace of such an alien fate is a psychological condition, not an economic one.

Is America set for decline? It’s been a grand run. The country’s been the leading economic power since it overtook Britain in the 1880s. That’s impressive. Nevertheless, over the course of that century and a quarter, Detroit went from the world’s industrial powerhouse to an urban wasteland, and the once golden state of California atrophied into a land of government run by the government for the government. What happens when the policies that brought ruin to Detroit and sclerosis to California became the basis for the nation at large? Strictly on the numbers, the United States is in the express lane to Declinistan: Unsustainable entitlements, the remorseless governmentalization of the American economy and individual liberty, and a centralization of power that will cripple a nation of this size. Decline is the way to bet. But what will ensure it is if the American people accept decline as a price worth paying for European social democracy.

Is that so hard to imagine? Every time I retail the latest indignity imposed upon the “citizen” by some or other Continental apparatchik, I receive e-mails from the heartland pointing out, with much reference to the Second Amendment, that it couldn’t happen here because Americans aren’t Euro-weenies. But nor were Euro-weenies once upon a time. Hayek’s greatest insight in The Road To Serfdom is psychological: “There is one aspect of the change in moral values brought about by the advance of collectivism which at the present time provides special food for thought,” he wrote with an immigrant’s eye on the Britain of 1944. “It is that the virtues which are held less and less in esteem and which consequently become rarer are precisely those on which the British people justly prided themselves and in which they were generally agreed to excel.

The virtues possessed by Anglo-Saxons in a higher degree than most other people, excepting only a few of the smaller nations, like the Swiss and the Dutch, were independence and self-reliance, individual initiative and local responsibility, the successful reliance on voluntary activity, non-interference with one’s neighbor and tolerance of the different and queer, respect for custom and tradition, and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.” Two-thirds of a century on, almost every item on the list has been abandoned, from “independence and self-reliance” (40 per cent of people receive state handouts) to “a healthy suspicion of power and authority” – the reflex response now to almost any passing inconvenience is to demand the government “do something”, the cost to individual liberty be damned. American exceptionalism would have to be awfully exceptional to suffer a similar expansion of government and not witness, in enough of the populace, the same descent into dependency and fatalism. As Europe demonstrates, a determined state can change the character of a people in the space of a generation or two. Look at what the Great Society did to the black family and imagine it applied to the general population: That’s what happened in Britain…

One sympathizes with Americans weary of global responsibilities that they, unlike the European empires, never sought. The United States now spends more on its military than the next 40 or so nations combined. In research and development, it spends more than the rest of the planet put together. Yet in two rinky-dink no-account semi-colonial policing campaigns, it doesn’t feel like that, does it? A lot of bucks, but not much of a bang. You can understand why the entire left and an increasing chunk of the right would rather vote for a quiet life. But that’s not an option. The first victims of American retreat will be the many corners of the world that have benefitted from an unusually benign hegemon. But the consequences of retreat will come home, too. In a more dangerous world, American decline will be steeper, faster and more devastating than Britain’s – and something far closer to Rome’s.

In the modern era, the two halves of “the west” form a mirror image. “The Old World” has thousand-year old churches and medieval street plans and ancient hedgerows, but has been distressingly susceptible to every insane political fad from Communism to Fascism to European Union. “The New World” has a superficial novelty – you can have your macchiato tweeted directly to your iPod – but underneath the surface noise it has remained truer to older political ideas than “the Old World” ever has. Economic dynamism and political continuity seem far more central to America’s sense of itself than they are to most nations. Which is why it’s easier to contemplate Spain or Germany as a backwater than America. In a fundamental sense, an America in eclipse would no longer be America.

But, as Charles Krauthammer said recently, “decline is a choice.” The Democrats are offering it to the American people, and a certain proportion of them seem minded to accept. Enough to make decline inevitable? … In the words of [the seldom so insightful historian] Arnold Toynbee: “Civilizations die from suicide, not from murder.”