It Isn’t Easy Being FDR, And Other Early Morning Musings…

FDR at State Capitol, Topeka KA 9.14.42. Source: FDRL

After the requisite grandstanding and obstruction that the Democratic Party’s hard left base demanded, a deal was finally struck for a Wuhan pandemic rescue bill. Some complexities in getting it done remain, but it looks like there will be vital government support for the most vulnerable in this bizarre disruption.


  • Nobody is going to talk about it now, but this is why the irresponsible spending presided over by both parties throughout the past many administrations was spectacularly wrong. The nation will suffer for it too. The debt was already unsustainable; the reason political leadership has to address that problem when there isn’t a crisis is because it’s impossible to address it when there is one. The new “stimulus” bill now inflates that debt by 2 trillion dollars. It isn’t that the amount may not be worth it: sure it is, psychologically if for no other reason. The problem is that we can’t afford it. Nor will any party have the guts to raise taxes to pay for the bill any time soon.

Meanwhile, our roads, bridges, waterways, railroad tracks, sewer systems and water pipes need urgent repair and expansion that will also cost a couple of trillion dollars or so. Adding Medicare for All, college loan forgiveness and free tuition to that…well, it’s fiscal fantasy land, and wildly dishonest and irresponsible for any political leaders to imply it can be done without making a dire situation worse. Continue reading

Vox’s Hypocritical Attack On President McKinley

Mckinley ButtonNow we get to it: William McKinley doesn’t “deserve” to have a mountain named after him. That’s the hilarious argument of progressive-mouthpiece Vox, and it really is the height of hypocrisy, naked partyism, and a window into the corrupt and shameless mentality of the liberal pundit establishment.

President McKinley led the nation out of a terrible depression, and Vox explains that he deserves no credit for it at all because he was lucky. Well, in leadership and history, you get credit for luck,  because doing everything brilliantly and still seeing your army, organization or nation go down the tubes isn’t being a great leader no matter how you spin it. This, as I have written before, is the central, operating myth being drummed into Americans’ minds by President Obama’s minions and journalist-enablers: it isn’t what really happens that matters, it’s what the President wanted to happen. It’s not the bad consequences of policies that we should pay attention to, but the good intentions under which they were undertaken.

That is, in a word, batty. But that’s what the echo chamber wants us to believe. It has reached its apotheosis of absurdity with the proposed Iran deal, which is being defended on the grounds that it is aimed at preventing a nuclear armed Iran, even though that is a goal it can’t plausibly achieve. But it is intended to make the world less dangerous, and that’s what matters.

I have tried to assess how many past Presidents would respond to this theory with “What?,” how many with “You must be joking!” and how many with, “Oh, sure, it’s worth a shot.” In the latter category, so far, I have Carter, Pierce, because he’d be drunk, maybe Ford, because he might not understand the question, and perhaps Wilson—certainly after his stroke. Continue reading

Ebola, Trust, Competence, and “The Only Thing We HaveTo Fear Is Fear Itself” Ethics

On the 4th of March, 1933, newly elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, taking over the Presidency in the teeth of the Great Depression, intoned his famous words, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself!”  It was bravado, of course, and in essence a lie: there was a lot to fear. Roosevelt knew it, and the public certainly knew it. The whole economic system seemed to be falling apart. Anti-capitalist evolutionaries were looking for an opportunity to revolt. Nobody was sure what to do.

The statement was effective, however, in focusing the nation on the challenges at hand and riveting the pubic attention on solving problems rather than cringing in terror in fear of them. Roosevelt was a magnificent speaker, warm and charismatic, and that contributed to the force of his rhetoric, but what was most important is that he was trusted. Every new President  can draw on a full, newly-replenished  account of trust, or at least could, in FDR’s time. A new President’s promises haven’t proven to be air; his political skills and talents, honesty and character have not shown themselves to be inadequate or a fraudulent pose.  In rare cases, and FDR was certainly one, they never do. The President, for good or ill, is the human face of the U.S. Government. If he is trusted, it is trusted. Continue reading

Shirley Temple Black (1928-2014)


Shirley Temple Black, perhaps best known to most of us as Little Miss Marker, Curly Top,the Littlest Rebel, Heidi, or, most of all, Shirley Temple, died overnight. I learned of her passing this morning in a Facebook update from child performer advocate Paul Petersen, like Shirley a distinguished and successful former child star who has dedicated his post-performing career to important causes. He wrote:

SHIRLEY TEMPLE passed in the night. She was 85…and no age at all. What a life. What a treasure. A woman of amazing courage and dignity.The world was enriched by her accomplishments. She will always be a part of us. Rest now, Shirley Temple. We love you.

There really isn’t too much more that needs to be said.  Few human beings ever began having a positive impact on society so soon in life (she began making adults smile at the age of three, when she made her first film) and continued to do so for so long. From show business, a profession that so often leads to ethical rot,  and a rarefied corner of it infamous for leaving its practitioners spoiled, narcissistic, addicted to fame and dysfunctional, Shirley Temple emerged as an adult who was industrious, courageous, intelligent, compassionate, and dedicated to public service. Often dismissed and mocked as a washed-up child star, she proved again and again that her detractors were not just wrong to pre-judge her, but spectacularly wrong. She excelled as a diplomat, serving as U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, using her Hollywood fame to open doors and hearts, and also as the U.S. delegate to the United Nations. Temple never played the celebrity: my favorite Shirley moment was when she returned, in her seventies, to join a large group of former Oscar winners (hers was a special award, at the age of six) on the stage of the Academy Awards. As they announced the names of the famous performers and the camera panned the group, it was Shirley who received the most loving response from the Hollywood crowd, which stood and cheered. Shirley looked genuinely surprised, beamed, showed those famous dimples, and handled it, as she always handled everything, with charm and poise.

A proto-feminist, Shirley Temple was one of the first celebrities to go public with a diagnosis of breast cancer, and raised national awareness by promoting a frank discussion of mastectomies. In her autobiography, she also had the courage to point out the predominance of sexual predators in the the Hollywood power structure and culture, recalling that MGM musical unit head Arthur Freed*, whose career is celebrated in “Singing in the Rain,” exposed himself to her in his office when she was barely 13. (She laughed at him; he threw her out of his office.)

Historians credit Shirley Temple with saving the movie studio RKO and raising America’s spirits during the Great Depression; she also was a Cold Warrior, a mother, the inspiration for a best-selling line of dolls as well as the alcohol-free cocktail that still bears her name, and one of a kind. It is fair to say we will never see her like again.

Late in life, she told an interviewer, “If I had it all to do over, I wouldn’t change a thing.” How many of us can say that sincerely?

Paul was right. What a life!

Take a curtain call, kid…

* The original version of the post incorrectly referred to Arthur Freed as Alan Freed, who was an  influential disc jockey in the early days of rock and roll. I apologize to both of them.

Closing the Memory Hole: Remembering the Dance Marathons

“Marathon ’33”

“Man lives by a lingering ember,

“And while there are beautiful things to remember,

The ugly things, one should forget.”

—-“Things to Remember” from the musical “The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd”  by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse

Jews sometimes are criticized for evoking the Holocaust at every opportunity. Their explanation is that we “must never forget,” an argument I once thought was bizarre. “Who could forget the Holocaust?,” I wondered. Something so unique and horrible would be impossible to forget; it would be like pretending the Grand Canyon didn’t exist.

That was ignorant of me. Nations, religions, cultures and groups of all kinds are stunningly effective at forgetting historical episodes which challenge their self-image and most cherished illusions. Jews are rightfully and wisely vigilant at reminding the world of what was done to them as the rest of humanity passively looked on in the 30’s and 40’s, because their extermination at the hands of the Nazis is a prime candidate for history’s memory hole, where good and sensitive people, along with their nations, communities and cultures, dispose of memories too ugly to remember. Once the memories are gone, they no longer haunt us, it is true. They no longer teach or warn us, either. The ethical course of action is to remember our worst moments, and evoke them as often as possible. We can only be our best by admitting our worst. Continue reading

Rahm Emanuel, History and Hyperbole Ethics

There are times when obvious exaggeration is nothing worse than politeness, nothing more than an expression of admiration and affection. “You’re the best boss anyone ever had,” is in this category, especially when the boss is retiring or dying. But when one is speaking in public about controversial and historical matters involving well-known public figures, the margin between excusable hyperbole and unethical dishonesty or worse is much smaller. Al Gore learned this when he played loyal Vice-President on the day his President was impeached by vote of the House of Representatives. Gore’s statement that Bill Clinton was “a man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest Presidents” was intended as supportive, but interpreted as a toadying endorsement of Clinton’s unsavory and dishonest conduct, impeachable or not. It probably cost Gore the Presidency.

Worse yet was Trent Lott’s clumsy effort to praise the ancient, infirm and mentally failing Sen. Strom Thurmond at his 100th birthday party. Lott said, “I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have all these problems over all these years, either.” Thurmond, running on the Dixiecrat ticket, had opposed segregation, and Lott’s comment, less fact than flattery, made him sound like he longed for the days of Jim Crow and “white only”rest rooms. The lessons of these hyperbolic gaffes are similar: if the well-intentioned compliment concerns a public figure in historical context, historical exaggerations either appear to be unjust to history or its important figures, seem to make inappropriate value judgments, or come off as a blatant effort to mislead the public.

Rahm Emanuel hit the Trifecta with his fawning farewell to President Obama, as he left the White House to run for Mayor of Chicago. Obama, he said, is “the toughest leader any country could ask for, in the toughest times any president has ever faced.”

Wow. Continue reading