Friday, May 9, 2008

But Above All, Try Something.

A friend pointed me in the direction of Jack Kelly's piece today on Real Clear Politics entitled, "Obama Needs a History Lesson." Kelly found something in Barack Obama's Tuesday night speech "that is all the more remarkable for how little it has been remarked upon."

Here's what Kelly wrote:

In defending his stated intent to meet with America's enemies without preconditions, Sen. Obama said: "I trust the American people to understand that it is not weakness, but wisdom to talk not just to our friends, but to our enemies, like Roosevelt did, and Kennedy did, and Truman did."

That he made this statement, and that it passed without comment by the journalists covering his speech indicates either breathtaking ignorance of history on the part of both, or deceit.

The gist of what follows is that Roosevelt and Truman never talked to Germany or Japan, our WWII enemies. And if Obama meant the Soviet Union (as he obviously did), that's wrong because they were our ally at the time. No, really, that's what he wrote. Read it for yourself.

Then he wraps it up the way you knew he would, by comparing Obama to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French premier Eduoard Daladier.

Kelly's article is little more than a nice riff. It's a nice excuse for a history lesson, but ridiculous beyond that. Obama's reference to Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy talking to our enemies was as innocuous as it seemed.

Of course Obama was referring to those presidents having talked to the Soviet Union. Calling the Soviet Union our "ally" is only fair if you put it in context, which Kelly does not. The United States was hostile to the Soviet Union from the moment it came into being. The Jack Kellys of every decade of the 20th century told us the Soviet Union was our greatest enemy.

Kelly talks about Obama being historically-ignorant but makes an argument only someone truly ignorant of history would buy. Nice try, but no dice.

The United States can use its power in a lot of different ways. Withholding talks is one way to leverage it. Giving people a forum and, in effect, enough rope to hang themselves is another way. The real point, I think, is that a powerful nation can afford to be magnanimous. We don't always have to be the tough guy.

What has excited so many people about an Obama presidency is the possibility of trying something really different, daring to approach things in new ways, and letting our power translate itself into a different kind of courage and confidence.

It was Roosevelt, after all, who repudiated Hoover's inaction on the Depression saying, shortly after he took office, "It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."

It was also Roosevelt who said:

"Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough."

Of course, one has to consider the policies of the current administration a colossal failure to want something so radically new, but that's the way I feel and millions of other people feel that way too.

1 comment:


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