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November 23, 2014 / 1 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Ronald Reagan’

The Media Never Loved Reagan

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Is it not amazing that it’s taken the news media this long to discover that Ronald Reagan was a role model? While he lived and even after he died, they shot every arrow and dropped every bomb they could on this man and his reputation.

Now that we’ve been marking his 100th birthday and America is celebrating, they find him useful. They’re trying to rub Reagan’s magic all over a floundering Obama.

After Obama’s latest State of the Union speech – a dreary, boring spectacle for a normally riveting speaker – all three networks praised Obama as “Reaganesque,” as if he were one of the sunniest American exceptionalists. The cover of Time promised to explain “Why Obama [Hearts] Reagan,” and the story inside the magazine was titled “The Role Model,” oozing that Obama “realized long ago that Ronald Reagan was a transformational president.”

This is all a grand deception.

The multitude of Americans who were very young or yet unborn in the Reagan years might be misled from one enormous reality: in his prime, Reagan was deeply dispised by the the same media that now honor him. He was stupid, he was uncaring, he was evil, he was senile, and he was going to ruin America, if not destroy the world in a nuclear war.

The Media Research Center has assembled a Special Report to recount some of the most pernicious and false attacks on Reagan. Let’s consider just a few examples, among hundreds.

Take the class war. The “news” people were always waging it. ABC’s Richard Threlkeld went to a Miami riot scene in 1989 and announced: “There is an Overtown in every big city in America. Pockets of misery made even meaner and more desperate the past eight years.” NBC’s Bryant Gumbel proclaimed in 1989: “Largely as a result of the policies and priorities of the Reagan administration, more people are becoming poor and staying poor in this country than at any time since World War II.”

NBC reporter Keith Morrison took the cake in 1992: “Did we wear blinders? Did we think the ’80s just left behind the homeless? The fact is that almost nine in ten Americans actually saw their lifestyle decline.” Morrison completely ignored reality: Census Bureau data shows median family income increased in all income classes from 1981 to 1989.

The meanest attack was that Reagan’s lack of caring led to a pile of AIDS deaths. NBC’s Maria Shriver asked activist Elizabeth Glaser at the 1992 Democratic convention: “You place the responsibility for the death of your daughter squarely on the feet of the Reagan administration. Do you believe they’re responsible for that?”

A 1998 PBS program on Reagan claimed: “AIDS became an epidemic in the 1980s, nearly 50,000 died. Reagan largely ignored it.” CBS “Sunday Morning” TV critic John Leonard sneered that Reagan “took this plague less seriously than Gerald Ford had taken swine flu. After all, he didn’t need the ghettos and he didn’t want the gays.” He added, as Reagan’s legacy: “by 1992, 194,364 American men, women, and children were dead.”

(In reality, AIDS funding skyrocketed in the 1980s, almost doubling each year from 1983 – when the media started blaring headlines – from $44 million to $103 million, $205 million, $508 million, $922 million, and then $1.6 billion in 1988. This is what CBS calls “largely ignoring it.”)

But defense spending was, by contrast, an enormous waste. Take it from ABC’s Jim Wooten in 1990: “The dreaded federal deficit, created, for the most part, by the most massive peacetime military buildup in America’s history.” (But in 1990, defense spending was a fourth of the budget and had decreased 16 percent in the previous five years, while entitlements were half the budget and grew sharply.)

The reality of the Reagan years was a historic economic recovery, a strong defense posture that led to the demise of the Soviet empire, and an America that once more burst with pride. But media liberals were so obstinate in denying reality that CBS’s Morley Safer huffed just days after Reagan passed away: “When it gets down to the real substance, I don’t think history has any reason to be kind to him.”

All Reagan received was mudballs like this one from NBC’s Tom Brokaw at the end of 1989: “Reagan, as commander-in-chief, was the military’s best friend. He gave the Pentagon almost everything it wanted. That spending, combined with a broad tax cut, contributed to a trillion-dollar deficit…. Social programs? They suffered under Reagan. But he refused to see the cause and effect.”

President Carter’s ‘Superiority’ Complex

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Former president Jimmy Carter told NBC News last week that his work at home and abroad has been “superior” to other presidents.

“I feel that my role as a former president is probably superior to that of other presidents,” Carter assessed. “Primarily because of [my] activism and the injection of working at the Carter Center and in international affairs, and, to some degree, domestic affairs.”

In response to this boastful claim, we’ll hear the usual defenses: Carter misspoke. Carter is a good man. Carter has good intentions. I catch myself saying these things.

But even if well-intentioned, we shouldn’t avoid frank appraisals of Carter’s role.

In truth, and especially when it relates to foreign policy, Carter has done far worse than good. More, his failures have resulted from a remarkably strange trust in some awful dictators. Carter’s infamous naïveté has been destructive, long producing inferior results, not superior ones.

Carter has been so unique in this regard, and worse than other presidents, Democrat and Republican, that, in my latest book, Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century, we placed him on the cover as a symbol of duped Americans during the Cold War; specifically, the June 1979 photo of a smiling Carter kissing Soviet dictator Leonid Brezhnev. Carter did this as the Soviets were rapidly picking up more satellites worldwide than any time since the 1940s, and mere months before they invaded Afghanistan.

Sure, but Carter, in his NBC interview, was talking about his work as a former president, right? Yes, but that record isn’t much better.

If you think Carter was misled by Brezhnev, consider his statements in recent decades regarding Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung, Fidel Castro, Yasir Arafat, Hamas, Iraq, Iran, and on and on. They take your breath away. I can’t list them all, but one case stands out – namely, Carter’s visit to the world’s most repressive state: Kim’s North Korea.

Carter made a June 1994 trip to this prison state, where he was manipulated on a grand scale. Other Westerners have made that trip and were subject to manipulation. The difference, however, is few took the bait, and none like Carter. Worse, Carter magnified the manipulation in reports at press conferences, in interviews, and in a piece for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

For starters, Carter dispelled speculation that Kim was dying. He found the aging despot “vigorous, alert, intelligent.” Kim died mere days after Carter’s visit.

Carter questioned the consensus that Kim was even a despot, telling Americans he observed a Kim engaged in “very free discussions with his ministers.” I’m sure that’s precisely what he saw.

Kim spearheaded a militantly atheistic regime. Yet, Carter, the born-again Baptist, found Kim “very friendly toward Christianity.”

Kim’s handlers marched Carter through their Potemkin village. Carter was totally hoodwinked, filing this incredible account of life in North Korea:

People are busy. They work 48 hours a week . We found Pyongyang to be a bustling city. The only difference is that during working hours there are very few people on the street. They all have jobs or go to school. And after working hours, they pack the department stores, which Rosalynn visited. I went in one of them. It’s like Wal-Mart in American stores on a Saturday afternoon. They all walk around in there, and they seem in fairly good spirits. Pyongyang at night looks like Times Square. They are really heavily into bright neon lights and pictures and things like that.

In truth, North Korea is a sea of darkness. The country at night is draped in black – that is, when the lights are not ablaze to fool high-profile visitors like President Carter – in empty contrast to South Korea, which is awash in the glow of freedom.

Within one year of Carter’s gushing appraisal, two to three million North Koreans (out of a population of 20 million) starved to death. They weren’t packing Wal-Mart; they were eating grass, bark from trees, and, in some cases, human corpses.

Recall, too, the nuclear agreement Carter brokered while there, and not exactly with the enthusiastic go-ahead of the Clinton administration. Carter stood outside the Clinton White House and triumphantly assured us that “the [nuclear] crisis is over” – words headlined by The New York Times and Washington Post. A few years later, North Korea announced it was a nuclear state, in direct violation of the “Agreed Framework.”

Where There’s A Will…

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

If George F. Will comes across to some as a starchy combination of ministerial and professorial, he can blame it on his genes: The longtime columnist is, after all, the grandson of a Lutheran minister and the son of a philosophy professor.

He is also as unflinching a defender of Israel as they come in the American media.

Will first came to public attention in the 1970s as an articulate, polished representative of the emerging backlash against political and cultural liberalism. He always evinced a strong sympathy for Israel.

Writing in 1977 when the Carter administration was blaming Israel for its alleged intransigence, Will framed the issue in terms that resonate 32 years later:

“[T]he contagious crossness between Washington and Jerusalem that originated in Washington is a compound of Washington impatience and Israeli anxiety. The anxiety is more reasonable than the impatience…. The secure are always exhorting Israel to be daring.”

In a 1987 Newsweek column titled “A Just War Remembered,” Will cut through the muck of leftists who were using the 20th anniversary of the Six-Day War to lament Israel’s lopsided victory:

“It has been 20 years since those six days that shook the world,” he wrote. “Because of what happened then, a united Jerusalem is capital of Israel, and Israel never again will be 12 miles wide at the waist…. And, because of the echoing thunderclap from Israel 20 Junes ago, the security of Israel and hence the spiritual well-being of world Jewry have been enhanced. The Holocaust ended in 1945, but the Holocaust as aspiration was not destroyed until June 1967, when Israel smashed encircling armies that had the inescapably genocidal mission of obliterating the national gathering of Jews.”

Last month Will was the featured speaker at a dinner celebrating the Claremont Review of Books. According to Jewish Current Issues blogger and occasional Jewish Press op-ed contributor Rick Richman, Will “gave a masterful speech that included a mixture of political insight, conservative philosophy, humor and baseball stories.”

Responding to a post-speech question from the floor, Will delivered a rousing discourse on Israel, President Obama and recent Middle East history, which included the following highlights as recorded by Richman:

[I]n the 61 years since Israel was founded on one-sixth of one percent of land in that area described as land of the Arab world, there has not been a moment of peace for Israel, not as peace is properly understood.How many Americans understand that when Israel was founded in 1948, no Palestinian state was invaded, no Palestinian state was destroyed? There had not been a Palestinian geographic entity since between the departure of the Romans and the arrival of British rule.

How many know that the West Bank, referred to by the president as “occupied territory,” inferentially as occupied Palestinian territory, is under international law [an] unallocated portion of the Palestine Mandate rightfully occupied by Israel, because it occupied it in repelling aggression that came from that territory in 1967? [Applause]

How the president believes that if we return to the 1967 borders, the antipathy to Israel, which predated the 1967 borders, will disappear, I do not know….

I remember – if I could go back to an autobiographical moment – in 1979 I was invited to talk to the B’nai B’rith of Beverly Hills – not a nest of conservatives – and they said, “Who should be the Republican nominee?” And I said, pick Howard Baker, George Bush, Ronald Reagan. And they said “Well, who would be best for Israel?” And I responded, “Of course it would be Ronald Reagan.” They said, “Why?”

I said – “Two reasons: he believes in aircraft carriers. He believes in the projection of American power. Second, he is a romantic. He’s got the story of Israel, plucky little Israel.”

You need both. You need aircraft carriers and you need to appreciate the fact that Israel is an embattled salient of our values in a bad neighborhood. [Applause] It is unworthy of the United States to aspire to be even-handed between those who would destroy and those who would preserve the only democracy in that region. [Applause]

“Will,” Richman notes, “was speaking extemporaneously, without notes, to an unanticipated question.”

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

‘The Highest Office’

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

     The recent presidential election has caused terrible angst for some voters and incredible joy for others. However, American history has shown that no matter who is elected to the oval office, the fundamental principles of the country are sound, and life carries on. 

     Power in the United States regularly bounces from Republican to Democrat like a lively ping-pong game. Many new presidents are, in fact, elected as a protest vote against the previous regime. In a country that is governed by checks and balances, the volley of parties does not do permanent harm. 

    The United States staggered under the shock of Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal and consequently elected Jimmy Carter. It was humiliated by Carter’s inept handling of the hostages in Iran and elected Ronald Reagan. It was scandalized by the shenanigans of Bill Clinton’s high-risk, inappropriate romances and elected George W. Bush. Yet, through it all, the nation remained strong.

    The people of America reeled under the attack of 9/11 and its aftermath. Perhaps everything that followed was not handled to perfection. It is very easy to be a Monday- morning quarterback. However, despite the mistakes of the president or officials in charge, our country has pulled through a terrible trauma. We are intact.   

   There seems to be a pattern to life, which belies the idea that we, alone, decide our destiny. Perhaps the answer is that we are not the sole arbitrator of what happens, despite our greatest efforts. Of course, we are mandated to do our best to put things in place.  However, it seems that man can never really hold the “highest office.”

    So hang in there. There are lessons to be learned. There are experiences to be had.  There is a lot to process.  Gam zu l’tovah, everything is for the best! 

Religion and The Presidency

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

With Presidents Day coming up next Monday, it seemed like the ideal time to chat with Paul Kengor, associate professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

Professor Kengor has devoted years to studying, writing and lecturing about the spiritual roots of the American republic and the influence of religion on the presidency. He is the author of several books, including, most recently, The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (HarperCollins, 2006) and also God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life and God and George W. Bush: A Spiritual Life.

The Jewish Press: Why does the U.S. differ from other Western countries when it comes to the professed piety of its leaders?

Kengor: The United States is simply a more religious country, and has been from the outset, always with a strong sense of the place of Providence in the founding and continuation of the American republic, and of this special experiment in representative democracy. The great sociologist Peter Berger once said that the two most religious nations in the world are India and the United States, which may well be true.

Today, Western Europe has undergone a stunning secularization by which it has cast aside its Christian roots. It is a rather fascinating development, actually. Consider that the continent that is the home of both the Vatican and the Reformation, of Catholicism and Protestantism, of Aquinas and Calvin, of G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, of Rome and Wittenberg, is abandoning its Christian identity, and it does so voluntarily, eagerly, under no threat from vandals at the gate.

When Nietzsche a century ago surveyed his surroundings and proclaimed that “God is dead,” he might have in retrospect judged himself only slightly premature.

By the way, Michael Medved, the radio talk show host and Orthodox Jew, makes the interesting point that a de-Christianized Western Europe could be a very bad Europe for Jews; that’s another argument, but obviously a very significant point.

The difference seems to go all the way back to the American and French revolutions.

Yes. When you compare the American Revolution to the French Revolution, the contrast is extraordinary. The historian Paul Johnson wrote that the American Revolution was a “religious event,” whereas the French Revolution was an “anti-religious event,” which is absolutely true. And it was that difference, notes Johnson, that defined the two revolutions from start to finish, and which explains the horrific violence, chaos, and bloodshed of the French Revolution.

John Adams was certainly cognizant of the contrast. He had written to Thomas Jefferson about his concerns over the French Revolution, warning Jefferson that there was no reason to get excited about a revolution of 30 million atheists.

You can go even earlier than the American Revolution. Take John Winthrop aboard the Arabella in 1630, standing on the deck, off the Massachusetts coast. Winthrop said of this new land that it “shall be as a city upon a hill.” He said, “The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and cause him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.” That became a favorite phrase of Ronald Reagan’s, of course.

Reagan loved these images. He called the image of George Washington praying in the snow of Valley Forge “the most sublime image in American history.”

You can draw a straight line from Winthrop to Washington to Woodrow Wilson to Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. This piety is embedded in the very fabric of this nation.

Not a few historians claim that the Founding Fathers, as well as many early American presidents, were not Christians but deists – they believed in a Creator but did not subscribe to any specific religious dogma.

First, let me underscore that few to none were deists, even Jefferson, I would say. The faith of the founders has been badly butchered by modern historians. The vast majority of them were Christians. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 34 were Anglicans, 13 were Congregationalists, 6 were Presbyterians, one was a Baptist, one was a Quaker, and one was Catholic.

That said, there are some founders where it is difficult to say definitively that they were absolutely Christians, and thus were indeed, generally speaking, theists. Some say that this applies to George Washington, which it may.

Has there been a president who was publicly indifferent or hostile to religious expression?

I can’t think of a single such president. The concern now is that there is a secular culture in America that is hostile to religious expression by our presidents, at least in the case of a conservative Republican president like George W. Bush. And it really is a double standard. Liberals never complain about religious expression by their own, whether a Jimmy Carter or a Reverend Jesse Jackson or, as we shall soon see, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I will predict right now: Expect Hillary to run for president as the most religious Democrat since Jimmy Carter, and expect the liberal press to not only not protest but to swoon and to suddenly “get religion.” She will be able to say things like Dick Gephardt said in Iowa in December 2004, “Jesus was a Democrat, I think,” or like Jesse Jackson said at the 2004 Democratic national convention, “Jesus was a liberal and Herod was a conservative,” and get away with it.

Expect Hillary, like her husband before her, to campaign like crazy in churches, and to be able to do so with complete impunity from the press, in a way that George W. Bush would never be permitted to do.

You write, in God and Ronald Reagan, of seeing, when you went over Ronald Reagan’s presidential papers, many examples of “Reagan’s intense religious thinking.” Can you elaborate?

It was everywhere. Countless letters, and in the margins of numerous speeches. I’ll give just one example: When a friend or associate died, Reagan often fired off a letter to the widow in which he offered words of comfort about “God’s plan,” and how it is not “up to us to decide the where and how of things.” We can only trust, Reagan would say, that God knows best and works everything according to His plan and for His greater good.

You also write, “In order to understand Reagan’s lifelong enmity toward communism, it is crucial to review the role of atheism in Soviet philosophy.”

What we did not realize in the 1980′s was that Reagan considered the Soviet Union an Evil Empire not merely because it robbed people of the most basic civil liberties, and because it killed upwards of 30-60 million people, but also because the founders of the Soviet state pursued what Mikhail Gorbachev rightly called a brutal “war on religion: against people of all faiths – Christians, Jews, Muslims.” Karl Marx had dubbed religion the “opiate of the masses.” That phrase stuck. It would become a sage slogan in the Communist Party.

To cite merely one casual reference, Natan Sharansky, who was jailed from 1977-1986, recalls a conversation with one of his interrogators, who said flatly: “According to Marx, religion is the opiate of the masses. We won’t permit anyone to poison our children.” That phrase became gospel truth to countless communists. According to Marx himself, “Communism begins where atheism begins.”

Vladimir Lenin, the godfather of the Bolshevik state, said far worse. “There can be nothing more abominable than religion,” he wrote in a letter to Maxim Gorky in January 1913. Alexander Yakovlev recently found a new Lenin letter, dated December 25, 1919, in which he issued an order: “To put up with ‘Nikola’ [the religious holiday commemorating the relics of St. Nikolai] would be stupid – the entire Cheka must be on the alert to see to it that those who do not show up for work because of ‘Nikola’ are shot.”

Reagan knew about this war on religion, this institutionalized atheism. And he knew the Kremlin wanted to spread communism worldwide. For Reagan, this wasn’t just a bad empire, it was an evil empire. And, as Reagan said in the Evil Empire speech, he as a Christian was required to “oppose sin and evil” with all of his might.

Reagan was appalled at the Soviet persecution of all believers, and especially Jews. He constantly pressured Gorbachev to allow for free emigration of Soviet Jews. This annoyed Gorbachev, because Reagan pushed it so hard and so constantly.

Reagan wrote in his memoirs, “No conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.” Was there a religious motivation or a geo-strategic one behind that sentiment?

Both. He had tremendous respect for Israel. I could go into the political and strategic reasons, but those are probably clear to readers of this publication. What I found in my research on Reagan’s early religious life was that he learned religious and ethnic tolerance at a very young age, from both his devout Protestant mother and (apparently) apathetic Catholic father.

He never forgot when his father refused to register at a hotel upon realizing that Jews were denied lodging there. Jack Reagan told the clerk that he would be sleeping outside in his car, which he did.

He also learned tolerance of Jews at his church, the First Christian Church on S. Hennepin Avenue in Dixon, Illinois. I learned from church records that on November 11, 1928, the congregation hosted a Russian Jew who spoke on the modern history of Jews and their relations with other people and nations.

You write, in God and George W. Bush, that Bush “practices a non-judgmental brand of Christianity that prompts him simultaneously to concede that ‘men and women can be good without faith,’ and to assert that all believers need not be Christians.”

There has never been a more ecumenical president.

In his first year in office, Bush observed eight separate Jewish holy days, including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, and Chanukah. In December 2001, he lit a Chanukah menorah at the White House Residence as a symbol that the White House is “the people’s house” and that it belongs to people of all faiths. It was the first time in history that had been done.

This supposedly rigid fundamentalist Protestant has likewise embraced Catholics. For his most cherished domestic project, his Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, he appointed James Towey, a one-time attorney for Mother Teresa.

He’s also gone out of his way to foster good relations with Muslims, to the dismay of not a few Evangelicals.

No president has spoken as glowingly as Bush has about Islam, which he calls a “religion of peace.” In fact, his claim that the Koran “teaches tolerance” is an assertion that truly rigid fundamentalists find laughable. Pat Robertson has referred to Mohammed as “an absolutely wild-eyed fanatic” and “a robber and a brigand.” He said of the Muslim holy book: “You read the Koran. It says wage war against your enemies. Kill them if you possibly can.”

Bush has said just the opposite, claiming that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. In fact, he reached out to Muslims before September 11, 2001. To my knowledge, George W. Bush was the first president ever to mention mosques in his first inaugural address – which, of course, was before September 11, 2001. In his Republican convention address in August 2000, he mentioned mosques, as he did in a March 1999 speech to a Baptist church in Houston.

He explains his ecumenism this way: “We’re all God’s children [and] we need to treat each other in a decent and civilized way.” It is precisely because he is a Christian, says Bush, that he must love all peoples of all faiths.

This is yet another side of Bush that his critics do not understand, and, frankly, probably don’t want to understand.

As you point out, Bush has been extraordinarily welcoming of Jews and Jewish events in the White House. Why, then, in your opinion, is he so unpopular with the American Jewish community?

I can’t answer that. You can probably provide a better explanation than I could. I believe that generally the American Jewish community divides with Bush not over religion but over politics and ideology. If Israel were the only issue, I would think they’d be thrilled with the fact that Bush has permanently removed Saddam Hussein, a man who once had a plaque on his desk which read: “Three Whom God Should Have Never Created: Persians, Jews, and Flies.”

It looks like Saddam, thanks to Bush, will never be able to follow through on his pledge to scorch half of Israel with chemical gas.

The Times’s Strange Potshot

Wednesday, April 5th, 2006

It’s not exactly news that The New York Times editorial page detested Ronald Reagan. But who would have thought that seventeen years after the end of his presidency and nearly two years after his death the Times would still seek to denigrate Reagan’s legacy, on its news pages, in a manner that can only be described as petty and inappropriate?

Of course, no one ever expected the Times’s liberal editorialists to endorse Reagan for president in 1980 and 1984. The last Republican presidential candidate endorsed by the Times had been Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 – a partisan run the Times has maintained since Reagan left office, making it a neat half-century that the paper has now been firmly in the Democratic camp.

And few were surprised at the relentless invective aimed Reagan’s way by Times editorialists throughout his two terms in Washington. In January 1983, barely two years into his presidency, a Times editorial declared that “The stench of failure hangs over Ronald Reagan’s White House” and warned that unless he came up with “better ideas” the country was doomed “to two more years of destructive confusion.” (Reagan sagely ignored the Times’s advice and was reelected 22 months later, winning 49 of 50 states in a historic landslide.)

Even as Reagan’s stature steadily rose among historians in the years after he returned to private life, the Times continued to view him as essentially a mediocrity whose successes, the paper insisted in a churlish editorial on the occasion of his passing, were due largely to “good timing and good luck.”

What’s that, you say? A newspaper has every right in its editorial commentary to assess a public figure as harshly, even insultingly, as it cares to? No argument there, but what about when a paper like the Times takes a potshot at a deceased president not in an editorial but in a news story?

When longtime Reagan adviser Lyn Nofziger died last week, John M. Broder, the Times’s Los Angeles bureau chief, included the following paragraph in his article [emphasis added]:

Mr. Nofziger was at the hospital with Reagan after he was shot in March 1981 and relayed to the press the president’s memorable, if perhaps apocryphal, line to Mrs. Reagan at the hospital: “Honey, I forgot to duck.”

“Perhaps apocryphal”?

Reagan’s display of calmness and grace on the day he was very nearly killed cemented a bond between him and the American people that remained strong even through the darkest days of the Iran-Contra scandal in 1986 and 1987. His quips – in addition to “Honey, I forgot to duck,” he asked a nurse who was holding his hand, “Does Nancy know about us?” and said to operating room personnel, “Please tell me you’re all Republicans” – have been told and retold in hundreds of books and articles on the Reagan presidency, with nary a hint that they were, in Broder’s words, “perhaps apocryphal.”

But leave aside all those books and articles. Let’s look at how the Times itself reported Reagan’s remarks in the days following the assassination attempt. In the Times’s lead article of March 31, 1981, the day after John Hinckley Jr. fired his shots, then-reporter Howell Raines wrote: “ ‘Honey, I forgot to duck,’ Mr. Reagan was quoted as telling his wife.”

In the same edition, the Times’s Lynn Rosellini began her article, “Shortly before he was wheeled into the operating room, President Reagan looked up at his wife, Nancy, and told her: ‘Honey, I forgot to duck’.” The article, by the way, was headlined ‘Honey, I Forgot To Duck,’ Injured Reagan Tells Wife.

For good measure, reporter B. Drummond Ayres Jr. repeated the “I forgot to duck” quip in a sidebar piece that ran in the Times two days after the shooting. Titled Amid the Darkest Moments, a Leaven of Presidential Wit, the article described Reagan’s jocular statements as “good medicine, leavening the crisis, buoying an anxious nation and showing the wounded leader to be a man of genuine good humor and sunny disposition, even in deep adversity.”

Where, then, did John M. Broder get the idea that the “Honey, I forgot to duck” quip was “perhaps apocryphal”? Not, apparently, from his own newspaper. But doesn’t he, as every good Timesman should, consider the Times the nation’s “paper of record”?

Ronald Reagan and the Jews

Wednesday, July 7th, 2004

“Reagan I could trust.” – Yitzhak Shamir

“He was unshakable; a staunch supporter.” – Shimon Peres


For most of the 1980s, Ronald Wilson Reagan dominated the American political landscape as no man had since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The attitude of most Jews, however, was that Reagan’s presence in the White House was a not altogether pleasant fact of life, something about which they could do nothing and for which they bore little responsibility.

Although Reagan’s share of the Jewish vote in the 1980 election was 39 percent – the best showing among Jews for a Republican presidential candidate since Dwight Eisenhower’s 40 percent in 1956 – the number that really stands out all these years later is that while Reagan was winning a 44-state blowout victory in the nation at large, fully 61 percent of Jewish voters preferred either the incumbent, Democrat Jimmy Carter, or third-party candidate John Anderson.

If Reagan’s landslide victory over Carter was greeted by a less than enthusiastic response from American Jewry – then even more than now one of the Democratic party’s most loyal constituencies - the reaction was entirely different in Israel, where there were real fears of what another four years of a Carter administration would bring.

For Israeli officials, the fact that a candidate with strong pro-Israel credentials defeated Carter was merely icing on the cake; more important was the relief in at last being rid of a president they had long ceased viewing with anything but distrust. And they were equally pleased to bid adieu to the Carter foreign policy team, particularly the national security adviser, Zbiegnew Brzezinski, and the UN ambassador, Donald McHenry, who along with former Carter officials Cyrus Vance (secretary of state until mid-1980) and Andrew Young (McHenry’s predecessor at the UN until late 1979) had been a constant impediment to warmer U.S.-Israel relations.

The Roots of His Commitment

Ronald Reagan had an instinctive affinity for Israel that Jimmy Carter plainly lacked. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood, and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, Reagan moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.When asked about his immunity to anti-Semitism, Reagan would credit his parents, often relating the story of how his father, a traveling salesman, was about to check in at a hotel in some remote area late one night when the desk clerk casually remarked, “I’m sure you’ll enjoy it here; we don’t allow any Jews.” Whereupon Jack Reagan brusquely informed the clerk that he most definitely would not enjoy it there, grabbed his bag and walked out the door. He spent the night sleeping in his car.

Few experiences touched Reagan as deeply as did his viewing of Nazi death-camp newsreels. “From then on,” he said, “I was concerned for the Jewish people.”

“The newsreels of the death camps he had seen in 1946,” wrote Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, “were such a vivid part of his memory that he was able to imagine… that he was actually at the site of the concentration camps when they were liberated by the Allied armies.”

Indeed, in separate conversations, Reagan told then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center that he had filmed the camps and their grisly evidence of Nazi atrocities and had even kept a copy of the film for himself in case anyone would voice doubt about what the Nazis had done.

Contrary to his recollection, Reagan, who spent the war years in Hollywood working on propaganda films for the U.S. military, could not have filmed the camps himself. Given the nature of his wartime responsibilities, though, he certainly would have been one of the first Americans with access to those films.

Reagan’s emotional reaction to the Holocaust sealed what would become a lifelong commitment to the Jewish state. And for better than four decades he never wavered in his certitude, even when, as president, he had his share of disagreements with Israeli leaders.

“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan stated in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United states must ensure the survival of Israel.”

Scrapping Carter’s Foreign Policy

“Few presidents,” wrote Steven Spiegel in The Other Arab-Israeli Conflict, a study of U.S. policy toward Israel, “have come to office with as specific a vision of the world as Ronald Reagan. The basic tenets of his policy could not have been more divergent from the principles of the Carter era: staunch anti-Communism, antagonism to the Soviet leadership, de-emphasis on the Third World as an object of U.S. concern, and a commitment to a dramatically increased defense budget.”

As his first secretary of the state Reagan chose General Alexander Haig, former chief of staff in the Nixon White House and more recently supreme commander of NATO forces in Europe. Haig was described as ‘a 100 percent supporter of Israel on all issues’ by Caspar Weinberger, the secretary of defense with whom he often clashed.

Reagan’s UN ambassador during his first term, the solidly pro-Israel Jeane Kirkpatrick, had been a professor of political science at Georgetown University. Her writings on the struggle between democracies and dictatorships caught Reagan’s eye as he campaigned for the White House, and the thought struck him that this was precisely the clear, pro-American voice he wanted for his administration.

For the Middle East, the Reagan team initially visualized an alliance of shared interest between Israel and anti-radical Arab states, a plan that for obvious reasons proved unworkable.

“The administration,” explained Spiegel, “planned to provide incentives to both the Israelis and Arabs so they would join the effort to block Russian expansion in the area. Reagan, who had gone further than any previous major candidate in celebrating the Jewish state as an important strategic asset to the United States, would offer the Israelis unprecedented cooperation and increased military assistance. Meanwhile, the Arabs, especially the Saudis, would be fortified with arms so that they could contribute to the effort. Each side would acquiesce in U.S. support for the other because of the assistance they were to be provided.”

The plan sounded sensible, but its implementation was stymied by the Saudis’ reluctance to be grouped, however loosely, with Israel. The administration, rather quickly, was forced to shelve its grandiose plan for an anti-Soviet alliance and concentrate instead on bolstering friendly nations in the region on an individual basis.

The Inevitability of Disagreement

Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman have termed the ‘Solid Gold Era’ in U.S.-Israel relations. Certainly the administration included individuals - most notably Weinberger – who were less than favorably disposed to Israel, but their influence was more than offset by the views of Haig, Kirkpatrick, a number of key non-cabinet level aides and, of course, Reagan himself.

Even so, Reagan – and this should underscore the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents – found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government, particularly during his first term.

The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action, and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but the reaction was basically a slap on the wrist, with no permanent ramifications.

“Technically,” Reagan wrote in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge…. I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Later in 1981, a bitter fight was played out in Congress between the White House and supporters of Israel over the administration’s decision to sell Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft (AWACS) to Saudi Arabia. The sale was finally approved by a narrow margin, but the confrontation left bruised feelings and egos on both sides.

The fears of those who opposed the AWACS sale would, over time, come to be seen as overblown. Ironically, Israeli military leaders were never in the forefront of the AWACS opposition; according to Raviv and Melman, “the commanders of the Israeli air force – the officers most directly concerned – were willing to live with AWACS flying over Saudi Arabia. They did not see them as a serious threat to Israel’s security.”

The AWACS battle highlighted what many in Washington – and Jerusalem – felt was the needlessly abrasive personality of Menachem Begin. Their concern was underscored in 1981 when, just weeks after the Reagan administration signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel for closer military and strategic ties, Begin rammed a bill through the Knesset that in effect annexed the Golan Heights. The U.S. responded by suspending the memorandum, whereupon Begin delivered a blistering – and highly undiplomatic – tongue-lashing to the American ambassador in Israel.

Reagan’s frustration with Begin reached a crisis point in June 1982 with Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, a promised ‘quick strike’ that became a Vietnam-like quagmire for the Israeli army and an unprecedented military and public-relations fiasco for the Israeli government.

To make matters worse, it was during this tense period that Alexander Haig resigned as U.S. secretary of state. Haig’s tenure had been marked by squabbles with other administration officials and his departure was hardly a shock, but the timing could not have been worse for Israel. (Haig’s replacement, George Shultz, initially viewed with some wariness by supporters of Israel, would develop a surprisingly warm rapport with Israeli and American Jewish leaders.)

The U.S.-Israel relationship had grown strong enough to survive a major disaster like Lebanon, just as it would survive what some viewed as the overbearing personality of Menachem Begin; the failure of the so-called Reagan Plan, which called for a freeze on Israeli settlements and the eventual creation of a quasi-independent Palestinian entity; the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Israel played a major role; the ill-advised visit by Reagan to a German cemetery where the remains of SS soldiers were buried; the arrest and conviction of an American citizen, Jonathan Pollard, on charges of spying for Israel; and the administration’s controversial 1988 decision to talk to the PLO after Yasir Arafat read some American-scripted lines about recognizing Israel.

Through it all, Reagan provided more military and financial aid to Israel than any of his predecessors, and the increased cooperation between American and Israeli intelligence services proved beneficial to both countries. Washington also worked closer with Israel on the economic front, and in 1985 the administration signed a landmark Free Trade Area agreement, long sought by Israel, which resulted in a hefty boost in Israeli exports to the U.S.

Soviet Jewry

The plight of Jews in the Soviet Union was bound to strike a sympathetic chord with someone as unbendingly anti-Communist as Ronald Reagan. Concern over the Russians’ decades-long repression of Jewish religious expression and their refusal to allow ‘refuseniks’ to emigrate to Israel was woven into U.S. policy during the Reagan years.

“Reagan’s interest in Soviet Jewry was immense; it was close to the first issue on the American agenda and was part of the confrontation between the two superpowers,” Yitzhak Shamir told authors Deborah and Gerald Strober.

“The Soviet leaders,” Shamir added, “told me that every time they met with Shultz, he raised the issue of Soviet Jewry, and they would ask him, ‘Why do you do this?’ Shultz answered that this was very important.”

Elliott Abrams, who served under Shultz as an assistant secretary of state, told the Strobers that “The Reagan administration kept beating the Soviet Union over the issue of the Soviet Jews and kept telling them, ‘You have to deal with this question. You will not be able to establish the kind of relationship you want with us unless you have dealt with this question…’ “

According to Richard Schifter, another assistant secretary of state, when Gorbachev came to Washington in December 1987 for a summit with Reagan, it was just a couple of days after a huge rally for Soviet Jews had been held in the nation’s capital and the person who was the note-taker at the meeting told me that Reagan started out by saying to Gorbachev, “You know, there was this rally on the Mall the other day.”

“And Gorbachev said, ‘Yes, I heard about it. Why don’t you go on and talk about arms control?” And for five minutes, Reagan kept on talking about the rally and the importance of the Jewish emigration issue to the United States, when Gorbachev wanted to talk about something else.”

The Reagan administration was instrumental in gaining the release in 1986 of prominent Jewish dissident Natan Sharansky, imprisoned for nine years on trumped-up treason charges. Now a government minister in Israel, Sharansky recalled his reaction when, in 1983, confined to a tiny cell in a prison near the Siberian border, he saw on the front page of Pravda that Reagan had labeled the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”

As Sharansky described it, “Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, word of Reagan’s ‘provocation’ quickly spread throughout the prison. We dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth – a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us. I never imagined that three years later I would be in the White House telling this story to the president….Reagan was right and his critics were wrong.”

* * * *

In 1984 Reagan was reelected in a landslide of historic proportions, but his share of the Jewish vote actually decreased by nearly eight points from 1980. When he left office in January 1989, it was with a higher approval rating than any president before him, but Jews – a majority of whom evidently consider a president?s fealty to liberalism more important than his support of Israel - gave him lower marks than any other voting bloc save African Americans.

It would take four years of the decidedly frosty relationship with Israel fostered by the first President Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker, for an appreciable number of Jews to begin looking back at the Reagan years with a new sense of appreciation.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/ronald-reagan-and-the-jews/2004/07/07/

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