I am told that on that this day in 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt opened diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. Despite Walter Duranty’s protestations to the contrary in The New York Times, that was while Stalin was systematically starving millions—yes, millions—of his own people. He went so far as to seal the windows of trains running through the areas he wished to devastate so that passengers could not throw out food to the starving multitudes. FDR knew this. So: was his diplomatic action a good thing or a bad thing?
On this day in 1985, Ronald Reagan travelled to Geneva to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev. The Cold War was still raging. So: was Reagan’s action a good thing or a bad thing?
Fun archival project: go back to the 1980s and read what The New York Times (and kindred outlets) had to say about Ronald Reagan. He was a moron. He was a war monger. He was being played by Gorbachev.
Fast forward to today. Andrew Rosenthal, writing in The New York Times, wants us to know how “grown-ups” deal with Vladimir Putin. His proffered adult is Prime Minister Theresa May, who, in her address at the Lord Mayor’s banquet, gave a tart (and accurate) assessment of Putin’s hostile actions, from his annexation of Crimea to his propaganda war and “weaponization” of information technology. Spot on, Mrs. May!
Andrew Rosenthal contrasts May’s blast against Putin with Donald Trump’s diplomatic efforts.
Let’s leave aside the hypocrisy of a reporter for The New York Times stepping onto his high horse to deliver anti-Russian salvos. Shameless: he even invokes Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech in Berlin. Go back and read what the Times had to say about that phrase at the time.
You do not have to convince me that Vladimir Putin is a nasty piece of work. Indeed (commercial break), I am just about to publish Putin on the March, Douglas Schoen’s brilliant book on that subject.
The world is full of bad guys. But if you are president of the United States, you should understand that the interests of peace and the interests of prosperity demand that you get along with other nations, if at all possible, especially powerful nations. Donald Trump was quite right when he tweeted a few days ago that “having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. . . . I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!”
It is “a good thing, not a bad thing” to have a good relationship with Russia. Ditto on China, Vietnam, South Korea, and the Philippines.
Yesterday, just back from his 12-day, 20,000-mile whirlwind trip through Asia, the president gave what posterity will regard as a turning-point speech. The master word of this speech was “confidence.” “When we are confident in ourselves,” the president said, confident in
our strength, our flag, our history, our values—other nations are confident in us. And when we treat our citizens with the respect they deserve, other countries treat America with the respect that our country so richly deserves.
During our travels, this is exactly what the world saw: a strong, proud, and confident America.
Donald Trump displayed, in a way we have not seen since the heyday of Ronald Reagan, what foreign-policy leadership looks like. We have serious differences with Russia and China. We also have areas of agreement and potential agreement. To address the former a canny leader endeavors to exploit the latter. This Donald Trump is doing.
The president returned from his trip to Asia having secured a renewed commitment from Chinese President Xi and other leaders to help deal with the threat of a nuclear North Korea. “Throughout the trip, we asked all nations to support our campaign of maximum pressure for North Korean denuclearization,” Trump noted.
And they are responding by cutting trade with North Korea, restricting financial ties to the regime, and expelling North Korean diplomats and workers.
Over the last two weeks, we have made historic strides in reasserting American leadership, restoring American security, and reawakening American confidence.
The president also came back from Asia with billions of dollars in trade deals. “Fair trade and reciprocal trade.” That is Trump’s mantra. “We can no longer tolerate unfair trading practices that steal American jobs, wealth, and intellectual property. The days of the United States being taken advantage of are over.”
The anti-Trump chihuahuas keep yammering about his tweets, his being in cahoots with Putin, and his not understanding the complexities of foreign affairs. But this summary of Donald Trump’s achievements in just 10 months is difficult to gainsay:
Economic growth has been over 3 percent the last two quarters and is going higher. Unemployment is at its lowest level in 17 years. The stock market has gained trillions of dollars in value since my election and has reached record highs. We are massively increasing our military budget to historic levels. The House has just passed a nearly $700 billion defense package, and it could not come at a better time for our nation. Once again our country is optimistic about the future, confident in our values, and proud of our history and role in the world.
Bill and Hillary Clinton in Iowa, February 1, 2016 (AP)
Why are Democrats turning on the Clintons? Same reason Khrushchev turned on Stalin. They’re purging the Clintons for the same reasons that they defended them. They’re calling out Bill Clinton for his sexual assaults for the same reasons that they covered them up. It’s about power and money.
The Democrats smeared Bill Clinton’s accusers then. Now they’ll exploit them to throw the Clintons out.
The #MeToo campaign provided an opening. But if you really want to understand why the left is disavowing Bill Clinton, ignore the hashtags and look at the bigger picture.
Earlier this month, the rollout of Donna Brazile’s book raked Hillary Clinton and her campaign over the coals. The former interim DNC boss made the case that the Clinton campaign had rigged the primaries.
Brazile’s outrage at the rigging is laughable. Not only was she caught passing a debate question to Hillary, but the only reason she was allowed to replace Debbie Wasserman Schultz is that she was a Clintonista who had served as a Clinton adviser and was promoted to head Gore’s campaign.
After Hillary’s collapse, Brazile was left out in the cold. Like Schultz, she was one of Hillary’s fall girls. And unlike Schultz, she didn’t have a cozy congressional district to call her own. Her CNN contract was torn up after the debate question leak. (Though if you think CNN was actually surprised that a Clinton ally leaked it to the Clintons, you’re also shocked that there’s gambling going on at Rick's Cafe Americain. CNN had disavow Donna who then had to disavow Hillary. Now the Dems are disavowing the Clintons.)
Brazile’s book tour was Act 1 in purging the Clintons from the Dem establishment. Talking about Bill Clinton’s sexual harassment and abuses is Act 2. And the odds are very good that there’s an Act 3.
Why get rid of the Clintons? Let’s look at what the First Grifters have been doing to the Dems.
In May, Hillary rolled out Onward Together. The new SuperPAC was supposed to fundraise for lefty groups. But the groups don’t actually appear to be getting the cash.
Understandable. The flat broke Clintons always have lots of bills to pay and private jets to book. And good chardonnay doesn’t come cheap. A 1787 vintage Chateau d'Yquem runs to $100K a bottle.
Fresh from that success, a paid advisor to Hillary co-launched something being called Party Majority. This wonderful new organization would “act as a parallel structure to Democratic Party committees at the national and state levels”, vacuuming up a whole lot of cash while putting its boot on the DNC.
The Clintons were once again trying to displace the DNC. And that would let them skim a lot of cash from the DNC to fund their political operation and lifestyle. And, even once again, rig the process.
Who’s up for Hillary in 2020?
Party Majority rolled out in early November. Since then the Clintons are suddenly being hit from all sides by their own.
Funny how that works.
If President Hillary Clinton were in the White House, the First Gentleman could work his way through an entire nunnery and every media outlet in the country would praise him as our greatest feminist.
If the Clintons had done the decent thing (for the first time in their miserable grifter lives) and stepped away from politics, Bill could have been a bitter, bigoted and befuddled Democrat elder statesman.
Just like Jimmy Carter.
But the Clintons just wouldn’t stop. And so the circular firing squad has finally been convened. Its members are hypocritically pretending that they’re purging Bill because they suddenly care about the women he had sexually assaulted over the years.
It only took the Dems an entire generation to figure out that rape is wrong.
Hillary Clinton’s approval ratings are terrible. Every time she goes on television, more people are likely to vote Republican. Her entire existence is a reminder of why the Democrats lost so badly in ’16.
Hillary Clinton’s book, What Happened, took numerous shots at Bernie Sanders. And her entire book tour appeared designed to sabotage his book tour. Then she began attacking Joe Biden.
Both Bernie and Joe, unlike her, are viable 2020 candidates. (Which says nothing good about the Dems.)
The media doesn’t suddenly “believe Juanita”. Or rather it always knew that Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones and the other women were telling the truth. It didn’t silence them because it thought they were lying. It silenced them because they were telling the truth about its guy.
Now Bill Clinton isn’t the media’s guy anymore. He’s a problem.
And what the media does “believe” is that the Clintons will continue to be a liability that might cost them victories in 2018 and 2020. The DNC badly needs money. The Clintons are once again posing a threat to the DNC’s financial viability. And the Dems have become less willing to lose House and Senate seats to sate the insatiable greed of the grifters from Hope.
Then there’s 2020. The Dems don’t want to risk their nominee facing passive aggressive attacks by Hillary Clinton. Nor do they even want to see Hillary Clinton on the air for the entire election.
The Clintons could have had a nice retirement. Seats on boards and foundations. Occasional smaller scale speaking gigs. Bill would have been a featured speaker at the next DNC convention.
And maybe even Hillary in a lesser role.
But they wouldn’t go quietly. And now the left is making it a mandatory retirement.
Act 1 blames Hillary for rigging the primaries. Act 2 calls out Bill’s abuse of women. Acts 3, 4 and 5 will delve into some other Clinton scandals that Democrats have been denying for over a generation. If the Clintons don’t get the message, the final act will plant a big red boot in their behinds.
And this won’t even be the first time that the Dems tried to get rid of the Clintons.
After Bill’s time was up, the Dems and the media tried to head off a Hillary political career at the pass. Let’s flip through the pages of the New York Times in 2001 that describes Hillary's “calamitous Senate debut” and cautions that “talk about her presidential prospects has ground to a halt.”
“The man is so thoroughly corrupt it's frightening,” a Times column reads. “The Clintons may or may not be led away in handcuffs someday.”
In AmSoc, history is constantly being rewritten. A few years later, no criticism of the Clintons could be allowed. And everyone forgot that Carter’s chief-of-staff had called them, “The First Grifters.”
Or at least they pretended to forget.
It’s not the first time that the Dems have tried to get rid of the Clintons. But it might be the last.
Like Stalin’s Communist successors, Democrats should not be allowed to pretend that they knew nothing or that their purge of the Clintons is motivated by a sudden attack of integrity.
They’re purging the Clintons for the same reason that they covered up for them.
They’re calling out Bill Clinton for his sexual assaults for the same reason that they covered them up.
They did it out of political self-interest then. And they’re doing it out of political self-interest now. There’s nothing clean or honest about what they’re doing. There’s no moral reckoning here. Only a political reckoning. It’s not about the women Bill abused. It’s about DNC cash and the 2020 election.
That’s the dirty, ugly truth. And it’s as dirty and ugly as the Clintons and the Democrats.
Not many years separate sexual predators Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore and Bill Clinton, but it was the activities of the former POTUS that justified -- symbolically and metaphorically -- the despicable behavior of the other two, not to mention an escalating number of repellent individuals from entertainment to politics and beyond.
President Clinton established an atmosphere of permissiveness in this country that allowed many things to slip by -- straight and gay -- without criticism, essentially changing our culture.
The Democratic Party -- with the notable exception of Joe Lieberman -- gave Clinton a pass for having sexual relations with a 22-year-old intern in the Oval Office and in so doing gave a subliminal message to America. If you had the right politics, if you were sufficiently "progressive" (whatever that means), everything was okay, especially if you were "cool," played the sax, and wore shades.
Well, you might lose the right to practice law in Arkansas, but who needs that? When it comes to separating the public from the private, we could out-French the French. How sophisticated could you get!
Not very, as we now know, unless you consider masturbating in a flower pot the height of sophistication. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton's, shall we say, lifestyle was essentially encouraged (enabled is insufficient) by his ambitious wife Hillary, the putative feminist, the same woman who was going to "break the glass ceiling" on the presidency. She attacked his accusers as liars even as she blamed her husband's serial adulteries and even rape allegations on the "vast right-wing conspiracy." Can you imagine Golda Meir or Margaret Tatcher, women who really did break that ceiling, having so little self-respect that they would put up with behavior like Bill's even for a second?
That all this could have been overlooked by the hundreds of thousands of women who signed up for Facebook's "Pantsuit Nation" in support of Hillary or later marched in the streets with those absurd hats is close to a mass cognitive disorder. They turned feminism into farce, disrespecting, most of all, women.
Now I don't mean Weinstein or Moore or Kevin Spacey or Louis C.K. or... or... would not have done what they did if Bill was never born. I'm just saying the climate was set. Entitlement was in the air.
The New York Times, apparently, is finally waking up to this reality for which that paper has significant culpability. In an oped entitled "I Believe Juanita" -- Broaddrick, obviously -- Michelle Goldberg wrote:
Yet despite the right’s evident bad faith [in trying to distract from Moore], I agree with [MSNBC host] Hayes. In this #MeToo moment, when we’re reassessing decades of male misbehavior and turning open secrets into exposes, we should look clearly at the credible evidence that Juanita Broaddrick told the truth when she accused Clinton of raping her.
But the right's "bad faith"? Not so fast, Michelle. To the extent there was mauvaise foi, that was two days ago (Nov. 13) when the article appeared. Now the right is virtually unanimous in it's condemnation of the wretched Moore. It took the left years, actually decades, to face up to Clinton.
And therein lies the problem. In the midst of this pandemic of sexual predation, whom do you trust? Most of this behavior is not governed by politics of the right or left but by far more primal forces than mere ideology. It's closer to cave man (and woman) behavior. But following that great Roman principle falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus -- false in one thing, false in everything -- it's hard not to make a connection when a Harvey Weinstein claims to espouse every liberal cause on the planet while acting out like, well, a caveman attempting a series of very temporary "marriages by capture." This is moral narcissism and virtue signaling written on a billboard in neon. Who really believes what the say they believe? Maybe it's all about power and aggression, after all.
SOME FINAL POINTS: I am well aware Roy Moore is not as bad as, say, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey or even Bubba, assuming the rape charge to be true, as Goldberg does. But Moore is running for Senate and would be making decisions affecting all our lives. Ironically, his excuses about an ever-increasing number of women, most of whom seem to be Republicans, mirror Hillary Clinton's, but this time it's a "vast left-wing conspiracy" out to get him. Yet, the bizarre allegations continue to come in. When, as a thirty-year-old, Moore called one of the teenage girls at school, she had to be taken out of trigonometry class to speak with him. Later he was banned from a mall, allegedly for chasing teens. What normal adult gets banned from a mall? This sounds like one sick puppy to me and Ivanka Trump's analysis seems spot on. Let's hope her father does the right thing and completely cuts the man off. My guess is, behind the scenes, they're trying to get Moore to withdraw voluntarily. As they say, good luck with that.
But the best you could say of Moore is he's no Jerry Lee Lewis. Jerry Lee had the honor to marry the girl -- and he's a million miles more talented than Moore. You see, I'm a hypocrite and there are some people whose sins I will excuse. Take it...
What’s wrong with the Roosevelts? What’s wrong is their shadow. The spotlight of history shines so brightly on Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt that most other presidents, especially conservative presidents, end up in semi-darkness. Whatever these interstitial figures gave the nation gets likewise obscured. While the Roosevelts tapdance across history’s stage, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and, of course, Herbert Hoover get locked backstage in a cabinet of “flawed figures.”
What’s more, with each passing year, the Roosevelt shadow deepens. McKinley, especially, is practically forgotten. Sometimes, the obscuring of these presidents is intentional; sometimes half-intentional. Whatever respect President Barack Obama demonstrated to Native Americans when he replaced the title of Alaska’s mighty Mount McKinley with the Native American name, Denali, the president was also doing his bit to intensify the obscurity of non-Roosevelts.
This is a shame, since of course the Roosevelts also featured flaws. And the examples of the non-Roosevelts provide more utility today than do those of many better known executives. The underrating of McKinley, which began while McKinley was still in office, should trouble us especially. (Theodore Roosevelt reportedly said that McKinley had “no more backbone than a chocolate éclair.”) For if the Roosevelts starred in the first half of what is now known as the American Century, that was only because McKinley set that stage for them. The quiet Ohioan served only a little over a term, from 1897 to 1901, when the assassin Leon Czolgosz shot him at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Still, contrary to American national memory, McKinley was a strong president who, whether the area was the economy, the currency, trade, or even America’s role abroad, established trends that ensured our move from isolated continent to world power. You cannot understand American predominance or even the Roosevelts without knowing McKinley.
A tantalizing glimpse of that knowledge was offered by Karl Rove when Rove published his review of McKinley’s presidential campaign in 1896, The Triumph of McKinley (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Now, however, the elusive president comes into full view in President McKinley: Architect of the American Century, a comprehensive and remarkable volume by the editor of this magazine, Robert Merry. In the process of explaining the forces McKinley set in motion, Merry reminds us of more than just the merit of McKinley’s policies. He also suggests that the president does not have to play the thunderer or demi-god. Different styles in the presidency can serve the people well. McKinley never trumpeted from a railcar, as William Jennings Bryan did, and McKinley took his time defining his own visions. McKinley did demonstrate a more subtle kind of leadership that is underrated in politics, though not business, today. That is the leadership of the manager: incremental, opportunistic, and constructive. The thing about McKinley, Merry notes, was that he followed policies, not impulses. McKinley was “a man of perception, who, once that focus has emerged, knew how to formulate the vision and execute it.”
What gave McKinley the qualities that rendered him an excellent president-manager? Experience is the short answer. His youth and middle age provided the equivalent of whole libraries of knowledge of war and government. The son of a foundry operator, McKinley spent his childhood in Ohio, and, at age 18, enlisted together with his cousin, William McKinley Osborne, serving in the Union Army all the way to General Edmund Kirby Smith’s surrender in 1865. First promoted to commissary sergeant, Company E of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, McKinley played a role on the Union side of the bloodiest day of the war, September 17, 1862. The 23rd Ohio found itself pinned down on the far side of Antietam Creek, without food or water. Ignoring orders, McKinley ran a blockade; the back of his carriage was shot away by a cannonball. But McKinley was able to deliver pork, beans, crackers, water, and coffee to the famished soldiers, enabling them, and General George McClellan, to call the day, at least in name, a Union victory. The dutiful, courageous young man caught the eye of Rutherford B. Hayes, who described McKinley as “one of the bravest and finest officers in the Army.” Promoted all the way to captain, then brevet major, McKinley also played a key role in General Philip Sheridan’s rallying of the troops in the Shenandoah Valley, enabling Sheridan to drive General Early and Robert E. Lee out of the valley. In other words, McKinley came to politics with more years of on-the-ground battlefield experience than all the presidents who succeeded him until General Eisenhower.
After reading the law and finishing at Albany Law School, pursuing practice in business areas, and rising under the mentorship of his old acquaintance, Rutherford Hayes, McKinley was elected as a representative for Ohio in 1876. McKinley stayed in Congress for the long haul, rising to the powerful position of House Ways and Means chair, where he acquainted himself with the merits and demerits of tariffs. In those days Republicans did not merely support the tariff, they mythologized it as the best remedy for prosperity. The fact that tariffs were the main source of revenue for federal coffers intensified the myth. The young McKinley avidly supported protectionism. In 1890 he even fathered a tariff, the McKinley Tariff, a mixed bag that raised tariffs in some areas but abolished a tariff on sugar—for the wrong reasons: Washington’s concern that heavy sugar duties would increase the size of the U.S. government by swelling its coffers. Whatever the pretext, the shift pleased Cuban sugar growers. More than 85 percent of Cuban exports went to the United States. But in 1894, Washington then imposed a 40 percent ad valorem tariff on Cuban sugar, leaving beleaguered Cuba to adjust. In Congress, McKinley also learned the ins and outs of district politics. When in 1878 Democrats led a redistricting designed to force McKinley out by a gerrymander, the Ohioan won in his new district nonetheless. McKinley then capped off his career with two terms as governor of Ohio.
Two major issues confronted the nation when McKinley ran for president in 1896. The first was the economy. Though unemployment was not reckoned so precisely in those times, some modern estimates put joblessness of the early 1890s at over 10 percent. Thousands of farms failed, as did thousands of businesses. A share of that failure was due to events abroad. Investors, panicked that they might not be able to redeem their gold from troubled Argentine banks, began to nurse the same doubts about the United States, and pulled gold out of U.S. banks. Seen from Europe, after all, an observer might be forgiven for having trouble distinguishing between the investment potential of the United States and that of Argentina, which with its vast plains and new population of European immigrants boasted both the resources and the know-how to compete with and outgrow the United States. The effect of the gold withdrawal, as well as that of crippling strikes, was to put America into a deep recession. Stock prices moved down, but no one could quantify precisely by how much in the aggregate, so Charles Dow, one of the founders of Dow Jones, pulled together a new index of purely industrial stocks, the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
The American pro-tariff policy, which the candidate McKinley backed unreservedly, was exacerbating trouble at home by raising the prices of foreign goods. The tariff was also, in effect, rendering America provincial: Our defensive posture antagonized other nations and kept the nation from even seeing the potential of international trade. Related was the question of currency. William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic candidate who was McKinley’s opponent, sought to soften the gold standard, which automatically forced monetary contraction when gold left the country. All through the year Bryan coursed across the country arguing that America should not be crucified on a “cross of gold.”
Observers in London or Berlin, by contrast, along with Wall Street, believed that a more dramatic U.S. recovery would come only if the United States reaffirmed its commitment to gold; if gold were always redeemable at American banks, no one would redeem the gold. A solid gold standard would set the United States apart from Argentina and demonstrate that New York was more like London than like Buenos Aires. Uncertainty over the gold standard itself retarded recovery. As an 1896 column in the Wall Street Journal commented: “There can be no reasonable doubt that if people were satisfied that the gold standard would be maintained we should have before us a period of commercial and manufacturing activity and rising prices for securities.”
The second problem McKinley confronted in 1896 was the place of America among older or burgeoning empires: Britain, Spain, Japan. Spanish imperialism was particularly brutal. In Cuba, the Spanish General Valeriano Weyler had declared martial law and was moving thousands of Cubans into fortified towns, called reconcentration centers, and was shooting those who failed to obey. Even after the institution of this dread policy, Spain failed to control rebels and would shortly lose troops it needed in Cuba when they were redeployed to another troubled Spanish possession, the Philippines. In Hawaii, the grandsons of missionaries were perpetually at war with the Hawaiian Royal House, creating a power vacuum. Japan had just invaded Manchuria. Now Tokyo sent the cruiser Naniwa to protect Japanese interests in the islands; it seemed possible the Mikado, as the Japanese emperor was then known, would annex Hawaii.
In the McKinley-Bryan contest of 1896, Bryan played the flamboyant and thus commanded the headlines. Exploiting the new medium of his day, in that case the railroad whistle stop, Bryan reached millions, campaigning to wild acclaim across the country. In Decatur, Illinois, Bryan even rode in a Mueller-Benz automobile, becoming the first candidate to campaign in a car. Meanwhile McKinley stayed home in Canton, Ohio, issuing old-fashioned papers supporting the very forces that seemed to have caused the recent slump: hard currency and big business. Ridiculed as the tool of a handler, his political director and backer Mark Hanna, McKinley nonetheless impressed voters, perhaps because the few speeches McKinley did give rang clear. From his Canton base, McKinley made a practice of playing host to any group that would visit him, a campaign tactic that would later be emulated by Texas governor George W. Bush in Austin. In September 1896, McKinley gave an explanation, Reaganesque in its simplicity, of why a worker would support the plutocrat’s gold standard: He could buy more with a gold dollar. “The laboring men of this country whenever they give one day’s work to their employers, want to be paid in full dollars good anywhere in the world,” McKinley told a delegation of Pennsylvania iron workers. The McKinley arguments inspired a recent college grad, Calvin Coolidge, who argued for the gold standard in a small debate in his hometown of Plymouth Notch, Vermont. Come November, McKinley prevailed.
As president, McKinley at first struck observers as diffident, weak even—Theodore Roosevelt’s éclair comment. The proposals in the president’s early speeches represented compromises: restoring strong tariffs with a nod to free-trade agreements between the United States and individual nations, a strong gold standard at home, but only within the context of a new international agreement on looser bimetallism for leading nations. McKinley and his secretary of state also hesitated on the international front. McKinley told others he was not a “jingo”—he wanted to avoid war with Spain. “I have seen the dead piled up; and I do not want to see another,” he said.
Still, as Merry reveals, the McKinley pauses may have been more intentional timing than cowardice. McKinley knew that the nation did not feel itself entirely recovered from the economic distress of prior years, or clear on foreign intervention; the moment was not ripe for pure, strong stands by the executive.
The last portrait of President McKinley, Buffalo, N.Y. Sept. 5, 1901
Sudden catastrophes or foreign crises throw political leaders off balance. Asked by a reporter once what was the toughest challenge in government, Harold Macmillan of Britain replied “Events, dear boy, events.” Yet “events” were where McKinley demonstrated his secret mastery. He knew how to exploit events to strengthen policy. Often, politics might prevent an executive from promulgating a desired policy; but an event might align the desire of the crowd with the plan of the president. The domestic event that provided such an occasion was the expansion of the economy, by some measures more than 10 percent in 1897. McKinley was able, in the midst of such growth, to drop his compromise pose and push a strong gold standard into law. Thus did he ensure that Britain would never mistake the United States for Argentina again.
The news from abroad suggested that neither Cuba nor the Philippines nor even Hawaii would heal themselves. The Spanish abuses in Cuba continued: Cubans were being “torn from their homes, with foul earth, foul air, foul water, and foul food or none,” as Vermont’s Redfield Proctor announced in the Senate. All told, tens of thousands of Cubans would die because of the reconcentration policy. Something had to be done. February 1898 brought the necessary event: the U.S.S. Maineexploded in Havana Harbor, with shards of steel and cement flying in all directions. Hundreds of sailors died. It seemed clear who was to blame: Spain. “WAR! SURE! MAINE DESTROYED BY SPANISH,” shouted William Randolph Hearst’s paper, the Journal. McKinley promptly seized his moment and launched war against Spain. To McKinley, the Maine catastrophe was not the cause of the war; it was an opportunity to find political support for a necessary intervention. Once on the move, he demonstrated breathtaking audacity. In today’s history books Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Rider, owns the section on the Spanish-American war. But it was the affable man from Canton who seized the opportunity and snatched not only Cuba but also the Philippines and Hawaii for the United States. “These things didn’t just happen,” comments Merry. “They happened because McKinley wanted them to happen and because he possessed the political tools to nudge events where he wanted them to go.”
In all his interventions, McKinley, sounding very modern, stressed that his interventions were neutral, that it was not the U.S. intention to colonize these nations but rather to stabilize them. But what did stabilization entail? One component was trade. McKinley was now coming face to face with the greatest Republican hypocrisy, his tariff. One could not pretend to encourage nations to hope for prosperity while barricading oneself against the only thing that could help those nations achieve that prosperity, their exports. Gradually, McKinley began to move towards freer trade. As Richard Nixon had been to Chinese communism—tough—McKinley had been to tariffs. Now, like Nixon, McKinley shifted. The future of the Grand Old Party, but more importantly that of the United States, depended on the United States opening itself to goods. He named a commission to look into digging a canal across Central America; the Commission favored a Panama route.
In short, McKinley’s first term saw him settle on a doctrine that, for good or ill, would become the American doctrine: what Merry describes as “noncolonial imperialism based on unparalleled military and economic power and mixed with an underlying humanitarianism.” The “ill” consequences of noncolonial imperialism we can all enumerate: Cuba going to Castro, the current Middle East. But it’s important to recall there have been good results as well. Had not McKinley, the imperialist, secured Hawaii for the United States, the Japanese might have based an attack on the U.S. mainland from Pearl Harbor rather than attacking Pearl Harbor from Japan. Another example of the benefit of the McKinley doctrine would be Germany. Absent American postwar occupation, and absent our noncolonial formula of imperialism (resetting German governance) and humanitarianism (the Marshall Plan), Germany today would not be the envy destination of every Syrian refugee or the paradigm and leader that it is.
In 1900, the Democrats launched Bryan again, hoping that this time the Nebraskan could beat McKinley. But the country was faring so well that Bryan’s edge was lost: “Four More Years of the Full Dinner Pail” was the Republican slogan, and that dinner pail was full. This time, too, the Grand Old Party enjoyed the advantage of its own energetic campaigner, Theodore Roosevelt; the vice-presidential candidate stumped on the enormously popular Spanish-American war. “Prosperity at Home: Prestige Abroad,” read McKinley’s poster. In those days before the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution, state legislatures selected U.S. senators. Following McKinley’s victory in November three states chose Republicans, giving McKinley a net gain of five in the Senate. In the House, the GOP gained 12 seats, winning a 201-151 majority. With Bryan and populism marginalized, and with the Republican Party united, McKinley looked set: “He is absolutely his own master,” wrote the Chicago Tribune.
McKinley chose the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, to unfold his new trade doctrine. Lit up by the recent advent of alternating current, the exhibition, all shining 350 acres, highlighted the benefits of not just American knowhow but also world knowhow. Here visitors, an international mix of farmers, scientists, diplomats, and American business people, could study a vast array of innovations, including an x-ray machine, the byproduct of the intellect of French scientists Pierre and Marie Curie. All this provided a perfect backdrop for McKinley to declare a new era of friendship among nations and freer trade. The Midwesterner arose and announced, “Isolation is no longer possible or desirable” for the United States. Instead of pure protectionism, the United States must pursue freer trade treaties with individual nations. “Reciprocity treaties are in harmony with the spirit of the times,” McKinley told the crowd. Then, with all the authority of a newly reelected incumbent, McKinley challenged—kicked at—Grand Old Party bedrock. “We must not repose in fancied security that we can forever sell everything and buy little or nothing.”
The line opened up the century for Republicans and the country both. McKinley made clear that the tariff, now lacking the unconditional support of both of the nation’s big parties, was 19th century detritus. That detritus would not easily be cleared: indeed Republicans when they had a chance would lead the nation in imposing new tariffs for the next quarter-century. But detritus the tariff had become still, something viewed generally as regrettable. And of course McKinley was ready to do more. In his second term he aimed to secure the prosperity that had been established in the first. All this was interrupted that afternoon by Czolgosz’s bullet.
Why then doesn’t McKinley hold a prominent spot in national memory? One reason is his imperfection. McKinley did support tariffs, and as such was co-architect of the international downturn of the early 1890s. His use of the Maine incident to launch a war places him, along with Lyndon Johnson and his use of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, or George Bush with chemical weapons in Iraq, into the category of presidents who pushed America into war on the basis of conveniently flawed and incomplete knowledge. For inquiries made from the 1890s on indeed suggested, and then proved conclusively, that the Maine sank not because of Spanish guns but because of an internal explosion.
The larger reason, however, that McKinley is not well-represented can be expressed in that single name: Roosevelt. From the moment he raced down to assume the presidency from a mountain peak, Theodore Roosevelt held the national stage, reminding his colleagues, just 24 hours after McKinley expired, “I am president and shall act in every word and deed precisely as if I and not McKinley had been the candidate for whom the electors cast the vote for president.” TR did not so much manage the presidency as bestride it like a battle horse, or exploit it as a platform—hence the famous TR description of the office as a “bully pulpit.” That McKinley had made possible the Panama Canal project that Roosevelt pursued was soon forgotten, as was the fact that Roosevelt, out of sheer egotism, tore apart the same party that McKinley had so assiduously mended. Roosevelt’s dynamic style—“get action”—captured so much attention as to give McKinley the appearance of being ineffectual. Perhaps the reality is that Americans prefer heroes to managers as presidents. It has been said of Theodore Roosevelt that he always hogged the stage: “Bride at every wedding, corpse at every funeral.” And, one might add, “president in every history.”
That second Roosevelt, Franklin, unwittingly ensured that McKinley would be locked in shadow for another seven decades. That is because of a newer American mythology as strong as the tariff myths in their day: the mythology of the Great Depression. In that mythology, the Great Depression of the 1930s was caused by free markets. And in Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, an active intervention gets elevated as salvation, and a more traditional course, Coolidge-style lower taxes and McKinley tight money, are correspondingly demonized.
This is a loss, not merely because of the value of policies, but also for the value of presidential style. Today both parties insist on “getting action,” as Theodore Roosevelt did, rather than exhibiting restraint. This despite the fact that restraint can often serve the country better. Those who do not leap into foreign conflicts might take note of the fact that Calvin Coolidge made non-intervention, even in civil-rights-abusing butchery such as Mexico’s Cristero conflict, arguable. At home, there are also lessons. Bernie Sanders followers would allow that entitlement cut-backs are necessary, their only quarrel being as to where the knife will be applied. Part of the problem, for all parties, is that touching entitlements is deemed politically impossible. Yet several of these obscure presidents cut budgets and at least one, Coolidge, won an election afterward.
Even if we cannot approve of every move made by presidents less known than the Roosevelts, knowledge of those moves is necessary. Merry’s President McKinley is a necessary contribution to a necessary campaign on the battlefield of history. What Merry says of McKinley’s critics holds true for the critics of so many presidents: “They insisted on judging him as unequal to his deeds.”
Amity Shlaes, chairman of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation, is the author of Coolidge and The Forgotten Man. A presidential scholar at the King’s College, she is at work on a new history of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
Phyllis Chesler's new collection of articles, Islamic Gender Apartheid: Exposing a Veiled War against Woman, is shot through with a notes-from-the-front-lines urgency and a righteous rage. The earliest of these pieces date back to 2003; the most recent are a few months old. Together, they form a chronicle of the post-9/11 era as observed by the only top-tier second-wave American feminist who – as the pernicious patriarchy of the Muslim world was increasingly introduced into the West – remained true to her values, consistent in ideology and in principles. Other feminists, including the entire academic Women's Studies establishment, have linked arms with the sharia crowd. They've preached that it's wrong for Westerners, operating from positions of post-colonialist privilege and power, to profess to “save the brown woman from the brown man.” They've made a heroine out of the vile, hijab-clad Linda Sarsour, a booster of sharia and apologist for jihad whose star turn at the Women's March on Washington last January catapulted her to international fame. Even to suggest that such a person can be a feminist in any reasonable sense of the word is, of course, right out of 1984: war is peace, freedom is slavery, Sarsour is a feminist.
But that's the consensus now. And Chesler? Well, Chesler, in the eyes of her former sisters, is a traitor to the movement. Just ask feminist blogger Ellen Keim, who in a 2011 rant called Chesler “a rabid Islamophobe” and pronounced her “ignorant” of the very subject on which Chesler is, in fact, a walking encyclopedia. Quoting factual statements by Chesler about women under Islam, Keim said they were “typical of a person who cares more about justifying her own prejudice than in adding something constructive to the debate.” As for Chesler's account of Muslim sex slavery and trafficking, Keim flat-out refused to buy them: “Where does she get her ideas??” In the same year, another feminist blogger similarly mocked Chesler's “ideas” about women and Islam. Triumphantly, the blogger cited a recent lecture in which an “Islamist Feminist” explained it all: Egypt's January 25, 2011, revolution had actually been spearheaded by “highly-educated, professional, working women” who helped install Morsi's “Islamic, patriarchal society” because they knew the latter would afford better protection “from gropings on the street” – plus better health care and day care – than Mubarak's secular state did. (No, this is not a joke.)
This foolishness, this madness – this outright patriarchy-worship in the guise of feminism, this perverse insistence that political virtue always consists in taking the side of “the other,” even if “the other” is out to oppress or rape or even kill you – this is what Chesler is up against. And her only weapon is the facts. That's what this book is – 462 pages of facts about a culture whose systematic abuse of women she refuses to stop talking about. In these pieces, she takes us to Iran and Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Syria and Turkey, Nigeria and Pakistan, and France and Britain and the U.S. She attends to such phenomena as forced marriage, underage brides, honor killings, female genital mutilation (FGM), Muslim family rapes, female suicide bombers (and their Western defenders), splenetic Muslim cabdrivers in New York, slaveholding by a Muslim millionaire on Long Island, and much else. Not to mention plenty about burkas – about a burka ban in Syria, proposals for burka bans in the West, opponents of burka bans in the West, fights over the burka in Nantes, riots over the burka in Paris, and so on.
It's all there in Chesler's book. But the people who most need to read this stuff and take it to heart – the Women's March marchers, the pussy-hat wearers, the would-be glass-ceiling-breakers like Lena Dunham and self-described “nasty women” like Ashley Judd – they'll probably never go near this book. As for Women's Studies, of which Chesler is one of the founding mothers, it has – as Chesler herself laments in these pages – been “Stalinized,” shifting its concern from “the 'occupation' of women's bodies worldwide” to “the alleged occupation of a country that has never existed: 'Palestine.'” In 2015, the Women's Studies Association (WSA) actually voted to boycott Israel, the only country in the Middle East where women actually enjoy full equality. Meanwhile, as Chesler points out, the WSA hasn't bothered to condemn the brutal treatment of women by Hamas, ISIS, Boko Haram, or the Taliban. It hasn't condemned forced veiling in Saudi Arabia or FGM in Egypt. Across the Muslim world, little girls are forced into “marriages” with elderly men who already have other wives – but the WSA considers it inappropriate for Western women to comment on the practices of non-Western men.
This is official feminism in 2017. It is a mark of her strength of character, her enduring warrior spirit, and her fierce, abiding devotion to freedom and equality for all women that Phyllis Chesler refuses to be a part of it and isn't cowed for a moment by any of the noxious name-calling she's routinely subjected to. Islamic Gender Apartheid is an informative and illuminating piece of work; it is also a noble work – an act of moral duty and, yes, of love by a woman who (make no mistake) is the real thing.