• Michael Beschloss, the historian whose new book, Presidential Courage, played such a prominent role in the Monitor’s last offering, apparently has become a victim of Bush Derangement Syndrome, so named by columnist Charles Krauthammer in 2003 as he sought to give a name to “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency – nay, the very existence – of George W. Bush.”
In the Aug. 5 New York Times Book Review, Beschloss was asked by the Review’s editors “how George W. Bush fits his idea of presidential courage.” Here was the ideal opportunity for Beschloss to illustrate, by citing a sitting president in the midst of a currently unpopular war, exactly why historical perspective is necessary when judging a nation’s leaders.
Instead, he said, “Bush partisans will insist that the president was brave to go to war in Iraq because the outcome of his presidency would depend on whether or not America won. But presidential courage – as I define it in the book – is when a president risks his popularity for an important cause for which Americans of the future are grateful [emphasis added]. At the moment, it’s sadly hard to imagine that future Americans will feel that way about the Iraq war.”
Readers, you’ve just experienced a respected public figure twisting himself into the proverbial pretzel in order to avoid even the appearance of having a kind word to say about a president despised by the Times and most of its readers. And he did so though it meant contradicting the very thesis of his book, which is that at the moment the presidents of whom he writes made their decisions, it was difficult if not impossible to envision history validating them.
• In a recent interview on Salon.com, novelist Michael Chabon (The Yiddish Policemen’s Union; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) provides a textbook case of the deep alienation and historical illiteracy that has long been de rigueur for members of the literary left (and those who aspire thereto).
Asked why he’s such a fan of Barack Obama, Chabon described the senator as “being fully conscious of both what’s great and what’s terrible about America and American history. The ills, the evils, the massacres, the injustices that have been done, and at the same time a sense of pride and faith and optimism that’s coupled with a totally clear-eyed sense of the grimness that’s there as well.”
Note the litany of horrors: “ills,” “evils,” “massacres,” “injustices” – all offset not by mention of the nation’s myriad positive accomplishments, of its having provided unprecedented freedom and opportunity and sustenance to billions of people at home and abroad, but by an airy, non-descriptive “sense of pride and faith and optimism.”
And then, as though he senses some Salon readers might fear he isn’t being negative enough in his assessment of this evil, forsaken land (we elected the Fearsome Dictator Bush, after all), he polishes his progressive bona fides by proclaiming – with all the arrogant certainty liberals seem capable of mustering only when they find fault with America – “the grimness that’s there as well.”
• An interesting little story about the late master harmonica player Larry Adler, told by singer/actor Theodore Bikel in his 1994 autobiography Theo:
When [Larry] was a kid of about fifteen or sixteen, he was already beginning to be known as a musician of great talent and was hired to do jobs in grown-up places like nightclubs. He was hired as the opening act at a club in Chicago one day, and after the opening there was a big champagne party to celebrate a successful beginning of the engagement.Larry declined the champagne and drank Coca-Cola instead. A man came up to him and said, “You’re terrific when you play that thing. Where you from, kid?”
Larry told him that his home was Baltimore.
The man asked, “You a Jewish kid?”
Larry nodded yes.
The man continued: “You go to shul?”
“Not very often,” Larry replied.
“You should go to shul every week, kid, every week.”
Then he asked, “Is your mother alive?”
Larry said, “Sure.”
“You write to her?”
Larry admitted that he did not do that too often, either.
“Every day, you should write to her every day, you hear me?”
With that the man walked away.
Puzzled, young Larry Adler asked a man who was standing next to him, “Who was that?”
The man said, “You don’t know? That was Al Capone.”