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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Presidential Courage’

Points To Ponder

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

• 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.”

Vindication, Late But Sweet

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

Forgive the Monitor a little self-indulgence this week. In its May 14 issue, Newsweek magazine published a chapter from historian Michael Beschloss’s new book, Presidential Courage (Simon & Schuster). The excerpt centered on Harry Truman’s role in the establishment of Israel, and Beschloss had no compunction about highlighting Truman’s nasty anti-Semitic streak or that after leaving office Truman admitted to the late television impresario David Susskind that his wife, Bess, had never allowed a Jew into their Independence, Missouri home.

In the book’s footnotes, Beschloss credits the latter information to a story related by Susskind to a former White House speechwriter named James Humes, who duly recorded it for posterity in his 1997 book Confessions of a White House Ghostwriter (Regnery).

In the spring of 1998 your humble scrivener wrote a series of weekly features for The Jewish Press on American presidents and Israel. Humes’s story about Truman and Susskind was included in the piece on Truman, much to the surprise and dismay of many readers.

In July 2003, a librarian at the Truman Library in Independence discovered a 1947 diary of Truman’s that had been sitting unopened on a shelf for some four decades and that contained several derogatory references to Jews. Some so-called experts immediately professed shock at the very idea that Truman could have harbored dark thoughts toward Jews.

Sara Bloomfield, director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, reacted with a particularly appalling display of ignorance: “Wow!” she said. “It did surprise me because of what I know about Truman’s record.”

As the Monitor commented at the time, Ms. Bloomfield obviously didn’t know very much.

Evidence of Truman’s anti-Semitism had been in abundant supply for at least three decades, beginning with the release in the early 1970’s of Merle Miller’s popular Truman oral biography (Plain Speaking, in which the widow of Truman’s close friend Eddie Jacobson told Miller that the Trumans had never invited her or her husband to their home) and Margaret Truman’s biography of her father (Harry S. Truman) and continuing with Robert J. Donovan’s two-part study of the Truman presidency (Conflict and Crisis and Tumultuous Years, published, respectively, in 1977 and 1982) and David McCullough’s massive 1992 bestseller Truman.

It was “simply unfathomable” as the Monitor put it, “how any thinking, politically aware person [could] sincerely claim to be shocked at the very idea that Harry Truman had, shall we say, issues when it came to Jews.” Your helpful scribbler then proceeded to list several examples of anti-Semitic statements made by Truman and for good measure recounted the Susskind-Truman story.

As was the case five years earlier, that story in particular seemed to rile Truman devotees, as many of them made very clear in faxes, letters and e-mails, some going so far as to question both its accuracy and the Monitor’s integrity for repeating it.

Last winter, your modest correspondent buffed, polished, and updated the aforementioned 1998 Truman article where needed and it ran as a front-page essay in the Dec. 31 issue of The Jewish Press under the title “Harry Truman Without Fanfare.” The Susskind/Truman anecdote was prominently featured. The piece was picked up by a number of websites and blogs, and the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle in Truman’s home state reprinted it on its front page.

Again, not a few readers took umbrage at the Susskind story and did not hesitate to make their feelings known.

And then, lo and behold, five months later – and a full nine years after your faithful servant first wrote about it – a major historian recounted the story in a book put out by a major publishing house and a chapter excerpted in a major magazine. Sweet vindication, indeed – though not one letter, fax or e-mail expressing regrets, remorse, or repentance from any of your suffering reporter’s erstwhile critics.

But at least the issue finally has been laid to rest, right? Truman’s anti-Semitism is no longer in dispute, correct? His outbursts against Jews no longer have any news value, do they? The answers might seem obvious to Jewish Press readers, but not necessarily to those souls who look for their Jewish news solely in the pages of the New York Jewish Week, which came a little late to this particular party.

In its July 13 issue, two months after publication of Presidential Courage, the Jewish Week’s Washington correspondent, in tones suggesting this was all an unpleasant revelation to him, first got around to reporting the juicier details about Truman found in Beschloss’s book, including, first and foremost, the shocking Susskind/Truman story.

Something tells the Monitor such tardiness would not have been the case had Truman been a Republican.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/vindication-late-but-sweet/2007/08/01/

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