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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Nixon’

The Inauthenticity Of Our Presidential Politics

Wednesday, November 24th, 2004

Every four years, it seems, we Americans must display infinite forbearance in the face of irrepressible foolishness. Transforming all serious meaning into manipulation and marketing, our presidential election process has now been reduced to an endless barrage of numbing cliches and empty witticisms. All this noise might be tolerable – perhaps even a conveniently humorous interlude – if the stakes were not so manifestly high. And right now, at an especially dangerous moment in our history, the stakes are nothing less than our physical survival as a nation.

The story is told of an admiring friend who tells a young mother, “My, that’s a beautiful baby you have there.” The mother replies, “Oh, that’s nothing – you should see his photograph!” In this strange colloquy lies the laughingly bitter truth of contemporary presidential politics: We Americans are presented not with authentic persons, but rather with contrived replications of genuine human beings – with professionally touched-up images that disguise a multitude of deep pathologies.

Ironically, we fully understand this demeaning substitution of image for reality – after all, politics is now little more than an extension of entertainment and commerce by other means – but we continue the dangerous charade nonetheless.

Everywhere fame is synthetic. It matters little whether a particular political personality has any intrinsic worth or promise. What matters is only that the public will be impressed by this figure because he or she is recognizable. It is a perverse tribute to the power of the image makers that even the most blatant nincompoop can readily be transformed into a serious person, indeed – even into a president or presidential candidate.

The celebrity politician draws huge audiences even though few expect to hear anything worthwhile. Even as the candidate’s spoken words seethe with vacant allusions and endless equivocations, the crowd nods approvingly or leaps with satisfaction. It is comforting enough for these audiences to bask in the warmth of someone “famous.” In the absurd theatre of American politics, the protagonists now play their part with great zeal and ambition, but “normally” without underlying capacity. As for the chorus, it has rehearsed its lines just as well, but utters them by rote. They are ritual incantations.

The historian Daniel J. Boorstin once wrote of the “celebrity,” of the person or product that is known for well-knownness. Offered as a thoughtful commodity, the object of celebrity triumphs via the pervasive alchemy of “public relations.” It matters not at all that a public figure may be without intellect or integrity. This fact is literally of no electoral consequence.

Once upon a time, many of our national heroes were created by achievement. Today, the celebrity politician is fashioned by a system that is refractory to all wisdom and that is openly sustained by empty chatter and half-knowledge. At a time when presidential incapability can clear the way to bio terror, “dirty bombs,” or even outright nuclear attack, the transformation of politics into amusement is much more than a bad joke.

In presidential politics, the sovereignty of the unqualified person could now yield an apocalyptic alloy of banality and power. If this should happen, we Americans could become vulnerable to unspeakable assaults. A similar fate could befall Israel, whose security and safety are now intimately intertwined with that of the United States.

We Americans live at an especially unstable moment. Confronted several years back by a then-vice-presidential candidate who unashamedly identified “major philosophical literature” with books by Richard Nixon, and who later boasted proudly about his qualifications with sober assurances that he would learn the members of the president’s Cabinet “by name,” we still refused to cry, “Enough!” Indeed, failing to recognize the 1988 Dan Quayle candidacy as the reductio ad absurdum of American politics, we went on later to still more embarrassing selections, including some recent presidents who are still inexplicably revered for their alleged “success.”

When will we learn to look behind the news, to acknowledge that our fragile political world has been cynically constructed upon ashes? Not until we learn to take ourselves seriously; until we begin to read and think with sincerity; until we stop amusing ourselves to death; until we seek rapport with genuine feeling and rediscover the dignified grace of real learning. And certainly not until we are reminded that authenticity in politics must always be preceded by an authentic love of G-d.

There can never be any direct salvation for us in politics. By virtue of our disfigured selection process, the American president, Democrat or Republican, can never really lead. This can change only after personal meaning in America is emphatically detached from marketing and after we recognize our captivity within the shallow world of empty appearances. Hopefully it can change before such time, when, as H.L. Mencken once observed, a much higher authority, “tired of the farce at last, obliterates the race with one great, final blast of fire, mustard gas and streptococci.”

No nation that is obsessed with irreverence and imposture in its private life can expect authenticity in politics. Before we can speak truth to power and prevent further public degradations of our national leadership we will have to recall correct meanings. Although the dictionary has not been our forte, we may yet tire of proceeding from one political forfeiture to the next, agreeing instead to make the souls of our citizens better.

The next presidential election is upon us. In all likelihood, neither candidate possesses the requisite strengths to guide a greatly imperiled nation to safety and prosperity. Impresarios of a meticulously vague discourse, both candidates will carry on the obligatory blitz of balloons and bravado.

For their part, the voters will graze more or less contentedly at the margins of power, pleased that one candidate or the other seems to “make sense,” and that this candidate, somehow, will “make a good president.” For their part, the voters will remain convinced that “well-knownness” is enough, that the photographic image is more impressive than the actual human subject, and that real meanings are unimportant. But if this is the true meaning of our American democracy, our American future will quickly turn grey and cold.

(c) Copyright The Jewish Press, 2004. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Truman Diaries Expose Toothless Watchdog

Wednesday, August 20th, 2003

The Monitor really hadn’t planned on writing once again about Harry Truman. Last week’s column, which wondered why everyone was professing shock and surprise at the anti-Semitic statements expressed in a recently discovered diary of Truman’s, elicited plenty of debate and discussion on several popular websites, including FrontPageMag.com and FreeRepublic.com.

The Monitor’s main point was that 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) and Margaret Truman’s best-selling biography of her father (Harry S. Truman).

Thirty years and countless books later - David McCullough’s 1992 effort, Truman, was a colossal commercial success, but the best overview of the Truman presidency can be found in Robert J. Donovan?s two-volume opus, Conflict and Crisis and Tumultuous Years, published, respectively, in 1977 and 1982 - it’s simply unfathomable how any thinking, politically aware person can sincerely claim to be shocked at the very idea that Harry Truman had, shall we say, issues when it came to Jews.

All of which brings us to Abraham Foxman, the ever-visible national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Given all the information available about Truman’s feelings toward Jews, Foxman was either insincere or unthinking and politically unaware when he penned the op-ed column that appeared in last week’s Forward under the title “Harry Truman, My Flawed Hero.”

Here’s Foxman’s opening paragraph: “Okay, the Richard Nixon tapes were one thing. But Harry Truman - A heroic president to Jewish people, with institutes and forests in Israel named after him – and now we learn from the recently discovered Truman diaries of 1947 that he, too, was capable of the most sordid anti-Semitic attitudes.”

The first question that comes to mind upon reading this meaningless pastiche is why Foxman sets up what he hopes readers will accept as a meaningful contrast between Nixon and Truman. Foxman implies that with Nixon, well, what better could one expect anyway – but Truman, ah, now there was a giant, and who would have expected such impurities to cross his lips?

What Foxman seems to be saying is that the taped revelation of Nixon’s anti-Semitism was hardly a shock because he was, after all, Nixon – the very embodiment of evil to every good liberal of a certain age. But we know that Nixon harbored anti-Semitic feelings only because we’ve heard those White House tapes or read the transcripts, and the fact that Nixon’s anti-Semitism was as shocking when it was first revealed as Truman’s was when it first came to
light gives the lie to Foxman’s shrug-of-the-shoulders statement that “Okay, the Richard Nixon tapes were one thing.”

Probably even more disturbing is Foxman’s claim that “now we learn from the recently discovered Truman diaries” about Truman’s anti-Semitism. As argued above, this is clearly not the case, and if Foxman is only learning now, at this late date, of the anti-Semitism of a president of the United States, what in heaven’s name is he doing sitting atop an organization that bills itself the world’s foremost watchdog against anti-Semitism?

Nor was Foxman’s choice of words a careless slip. When news of Truman’s diary first broke earlier this month, the ADL put out a press release stating that it “was shocked [emphasis added] to learn that President Harry S. Truman…had given voice to anti-Semitism in his personal diary.”

That same press release quoted Foxman saying that “The diary entries reveal that, sadly, President Truman was a man of his times…. it is shocking [emphasis added] to learn that this great American leader was afflicted” with anti-Semitism.

So much shock and dismay over something that’s been common knowledge for so long. Doesn’t anybody over at the ADL read books?

Note to Readers: Nominations for the Monitor’s forthcoming ‘Favorite Websites’ list will be accepted for only two more weeks.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Bush, Jews And Democrats (Part VI)

Wednesday, November 27th, 2002

Although it played out more than two years after the fact, the 1976 presidential campaign was overshadowed by the Watergate scandal, with voters still angry over President Gerald Ford’s pardon of his predecessor, Richard Nixon, who resigned the presidency to escape impeachment.

Ford’s Democratic challenger was Jimmy Carter, a previously little-known governor of Georgia who promised a scandal-weary nation “a government as good and as honest and as decent and as competent and as compassionate and as filled with love as are the American people.”

As treacly as it sounds in retrospect, Carter’s mantra was perfect for the times, as was his much publicized “born again” religious experience and his repeated insistence to crowds along the campaign trail that he would never lie to them. In short, he was the anti-Nixon ? or so he and his aides would have had the country believe.

All was not freshness and light with the Carter campaign, however. A number of voices were raised during Carter’s long march to his party’s nomination and then the White House which, taken together, should have served as an early warning signal of problems to come:

* The respected Atlanta journalist Reg Murphy, who had closely followed Carter’s political career from its humble start, flatly declared that Carter was “one of the three or four phoniest men I ever met.”

* A young reporter named Steven Brill, who would go on to become a major media figure in the 1980′s and 90′s, wrote a detailed expose of Carter’s record in Georgia for Harper’s magazine. The title of the take-no-prisoners article? “Jimmy Carter’s Pathetic Lies.”

* Carter speechwriter Bob Shrum, who has since achieved no small measure of renown as a major Democratic strategist, quit the campaign in disgust over what he saw as Carter’s penchant for fudging the truth. (So much for the “I’ll never lie to you” pledge.)

Shrum also disclosed that Carter, convinced that the Jewish vote in the primaries would go to Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, instructed his staff to henceforth ignore Middle East-related issues. According to Shrum, this was how Carter put it: “Jackson has all the Jews anyway….We get the Christians.”

By Election Day, Carter’s wide-eyed sanctimony had begun to wear thin with American voters. What had been an immense lead over Ford in the polls throughout the summer and early fall all but evaporated, and Carter ended up with just a two point margin in the popular vote, 50 percent to 48 percent. (Such was Ford’s momentum in the final week of the campaign that pollsters agreed he likely would have won had the election taken place a couple of days after it did.)

In contrast to their fellow Americans, the preference of Jewish voters was never in doubt. Even the relatively small percentage of Jews for whom Israel and Jewish issues were top priorities – and whose knees therefore didn’t automatically jerk for the Democrats – found it difficult to work up much enthusiasm for Ford, whose Mideast policy, crafted by Nixon holdover Henry Kissinger, was widely seen as reverting back to the even-handedness that had defined the U.S. stance from the late 1940′s to the early 1970′s.

Carter swept the Jewish vote by 71 to 27 percent – not quite the lopsided margin that had once been the norm for Democratic presidential candidates, but several points better than George McGovern’s showing four years earlier.

Carter rewarded his Jewish supporters just weeks after assuming office by becoming the first American president to call for a “homeland” for the Palestinians – this at a time when the PLO had not even gone through the motions of rejecting terrorism or abrogating its call for Israel’s destruction.

Carter’s pro-Palestinian statement set the tone for what would become an increasingly rocky relationship between his administration and the American Jewish community. For once, Jews were politically in sync with the rest of the country as Carter’s approval ratings plunged below those of Nixon’s at the height of Watergate.

(Continued Next Week)

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/media-monitor-65/2002/11/27/

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