Media's Take on the News: 9-30-03 to 10-9-03

Media's Take on the News

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Bob Graham Now Has to Face His Senate Colleagues (posted 10-9-03)

Carl Hulse, writing in the NYT (Oct. 9, 2003):

Senator Bob Graham and the other presidential candidates who follow him back to Capitol Hill after their campaigns founder should brace for re-entry. By past accounts, it can be scorching.

"Psychologically, it is a little bit of an adjustment because, after all, you tried to break out of there to be president and now you are back again," said Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, who won primary caucuses in three states in 1992 before he ran out of money and quit the race. "A period of depression sets in."

On Monday, Mr. Graham became the first casualty of the current Democratic field. But he has plenty of company. Over the years, the Senate has welcomed back would-be presidents like Edmund S. Muskie of Maine, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Phil Gramm of Texas and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana. All tried to use the Senate as a springboard to the White House.

It has proved to be a flimsy platform. Barry C. Burden, a Harvard professor who studied the phenomenon of senators running for president, counted 139 serious presidential contenders from 1960 to 1996. Of them, Mr. Burden said, 51 held a Senate seat as their most recent office. But only John F. Kennedy rose directly from the ranks. Others who became party nominees, like George McGovern, suffered some of the most crushing defeats.

So Mr. Graham will follow in the grand tradition of presidential aspirants who rejoin the Senate and soldier on, rebuilding their relationships with colleagues and undoing any damage they may have suffered in pursuing a lost cause.

It is not always smooth.

"It really depends on how the campaign goes whether they can reintegrate themselves back into the Senate," said Ross K. Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers who was a speechwriter for Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana during his 1976 bid.

Mr. Baker remembers waiting for an elevator with the senator on Mr. Bayh's first day back in the Capitol after halting his campaign.

"The door opened up and from the back of this group, someone said to him, `Good morning, Mr. President,' in an extremely sardonic tone," Mr. Baker said. "They really turned the knife."

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Americans Are Growing Tolerant of the Idea of Gay Marriage (posted 10-8-03)

Jim Norman, writing in USA Today (Oct. 7 2003):

The nation essentially is split in half over whether to accept gay and lesbian marriage, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll finds.

While 48% of those surveyed say allowing gay unions "will change our society for the worse," 50% say they would be an improvement or have no effect....

"Marriage has changed more in roles and function in the last 30 years than in the last 3,000," says historian Stephanie Coontz of the Evergreen State College-Olympia, Wash. She is writing a book on the history of marriage.

Driving the changes in marriage are changes in views on sex and spirituality.

American couples increasingly are choosing civil wedding ceremonies over clergy-performed ones, according to a USA TODAY analysis of marriage licenses, and that may affect the debate over gay marriage.

The trend reflects the loosening hold that traditional religion has on the most personal choices in people's lives, experts say. A society that increasingly sees God's blessing on marriage as optional may be more likely to accept same-sex unions.

Sex and spirituality are becoming a private matter to many people, "not something you have to announce to the world or require God's approval," Coontz says. "But there remains a significant minority who say, 'By God, we are going to defend against this relativism of personal choice.' "

Coontz says efforts to focus on traditional religious views of marriage are a "last-ditch attempt to say this is as far as we can go."

But "when I see the battle lines drawn around gay and lesbian unions, (opponents) are locking the barn door after the horses are gone," Coontz says.

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Bush Has His Eye on the Election Calendar: Run! (posted 10-8-03)

Warren Fernandez, writing in the Singapore Straits Times (Oct. 4, 2003):

EIGHTEEN months, or two years tops, is all the time American presidents get to govern.

Their first year is spent finding their way around the Washington government machinery, appointing staff, waiting for them to be confirmed by Congress and getting used to the power they wield.

By the end of their third year in office, the top minds in the administration become focused on, and constrained by, the need to do what it takes to keep their jobs.

Going by this scenario, spelt out by presidential historians and political watchers alike, we are now in the crucial final phase of Mr George W. Bush's first term.

For Singaporeans and others looking on, this period should carry a political watchers' health warning: Treacherous ground ahead. Expect heightened politicking, diminished goodwill and even less good sense.

Such a view would help explain some extraordinary developments in recent weeks, from the stunning six-month deadline set by US Secretary of State Colin Powell for Iraqi officials to come up with a new Constitution, to the relentless pressure from US Treasury Secretary John Snow for China to revalue its yuan.

Both developments came from out of the blue. Both represent good politics, but bad policy.

The Iraqi deadline took many by surprise, not least since Mr Powell and other US leaders have been busy dismissing the French idea of a speedy handover of power to the Iraqis as 'unrealistic'.

So why the U-turn?

The most charitable view of this change of heart is that the United States has listened to its critics and is seeking room for compromise.

A more cynical interpretation - one to which I tend - goes like this: Mr Bush and his team know only too well that they need an exit strategy on Iraq, given that all is not going according to the America playbook.

The Iraqis are not hailing US soldiers as liberators, the situation on the ground has not stabilised and Iraqi oil is not flowing in abundance to pay for cleaning up the mess.

If this sorry state remains a year from now - the presidential election on Nov 2, 2004 is just 390 days away - Mr Bush knows that 'regime change' might well come to Washington.

So, doing the 'Afghanistan quickstep' must be a tempting option. This would be a replay of the hurried handover of power to Afghan leader Hamid Karzai soon after the Taleban had been routed, leaving him to pick up the pieces as the US - and its media - moved on.

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Allow Foreigners to Run for President? (posted 10-7-03)

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, writing in the LA imes (Oct. 3, 2003):

Since the founding of the United States, the office of president has carried a qualification not required for any other elected federal post. Under the Constitution, only a "natural born citizen" can be president.

Now, as Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger chases the governorship of the most populous state, the House and Senate are weighing proposals for a constitutional amendment that would allow a naturalized citizen to become president. But Schwarzenegger's candidacy is only a side issue in the debate.

The question turns on whether a decision by the framers of the Constitution more than 200 years ago remains relevant in today's more inclusive America, one in which the foreign-born population is at an all-time high....

Historian Forrest McDonald, a professor at the University of Alabama, said the framers were very familiar with the example of 18th century Poland, where foreign powers had subverted the election of a monarch and installed their own puppet, allowing them to carve up the country. In America, rumors swirled that the Constitutional Convention intended to invite a relative of English King George III to reign over the just-liberated colonies.

Against this background, and without dissent or discussion, the Constitutional Convention adopted language stating that "No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."

The citizenship requirement remains just as valid in the age of globalization, McDonald said, and should not be changed.

"I don't think you ever just get over the place where you were born," McDonald said. "If you're a refugee and you're getting out of some horrible place, maybe. But if you're just coming here from another country, it's always likely that you're going to be hyphenated in your own mind."

Even if a foreign-born president judged fairly in a dispute between the United States and a home country, that president might still have to contend with a public perception of bias, McDonald said. He raised the specter of a foreign government planting an agent in the United States with the intention of grooming the operative for commander in chief of the world's sole remaining superpower.

"People who think in very long-range terms have lots of patience," McDonald said.

Supporters of the amendment dismiss such fears.

"The history of the United States is replete with scores of great and patriotic Americans whose dedication to this country is beyond reproach, but who happen to have been born outside of her borders," Hatch said in introducing his amendment July 10. He noted former secretaries of State such as Henry A. Kissinger and Madeleine Albright and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat.

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California Is Suffering from the Malaise Thing (posted 10-7-03)

Vicki Haddock, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle (Oct. 5, 2003):

[I]t will be up to the post-recall governor to restore order and help California feel good about itself again.

This ability to influence the public mood for the better is the essence of politics. It is actually more critical than mastering the intricacies of, say, the workers' compensation system. Consider two of the most successful presidents of the last century, each an optimist extraordinaire: Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Republican Ronald Reagan.

Brushing past incumbents who failed to grasp the importance of instilling public confidence, FDR and Reagan soared by making enough people believe the best times were yet to be. Despite the Great Depression and World War II, Winston Churchill compared talking to FDR with uncorking champagne. It's no coincidence that Roosevelt said if he hadn't gone into politics, he might have become an ad man, and Reagan actually did become a pitch man for laundry soap.

Both presidents were quick to seize the day.

It was at his first inauguration that FDR made his epochal warning: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." He went on to utter what might serve as a credo for California today: "Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money. It lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men."

Reagan, who campaigned in 1980 during stepped-up inflation and the humiliating captivity of American hostages in Iran, ran ads that famously declared, "It's morning in America." He used his inaugural address to reassure Americans, "I did not take the oath I have just taken with the intention of presiding over the dissolution of the world's strongest economy."

This is not to suggest that sound-bite slogans, let alone campaign hucksterism, are enough or that core principles and a keen intellect aren't important qualities in a politician.

To the contrary, one of the reasons FDR and Reagan were effective is that their rhetoric was coupled with swift, vigorous action.

FDR used fireside chats to build public support for more than a dozen revolutionary New Deal federal programs, creating public works jobs for the unemployed and enacting bank guarantees to keep people's money safe. Reagan's ideology tilted the opposite direction. He used his first months in office to push fat tax cuts, 25 percent over three years, to lift the economy out of the stagflation of the Jimmy Carter years.

Now, in this tumultuous time, California needs a savvy statesperson who can inspire us beyond the petty, the mundane, the factional.

Californians always have been united by a sense of limitless possibilities, reaching even for grandeur. Historian Kevin Starr observed that the majesty of Yosemite is the ideal symbol for how we see ourselves: "We are a people animated by heroic imperatives."

We're looking high and low, and perhaps in vain, for a governor who can calm our exaggerated sense of anxiety while channeling our exaggerated sense of optimism into a new and greater California.

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That's Rich: Candidates Who Claim the Populist Mantle (posted 10-7-03)

Rick Lyman, writing in the NYT (Oct. 5, 2003):

IN 1908, the populist presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan had an idea: he'd expose the Republican nominee, the rotund Ohioan Robert Taft, as a rich elitist by using pictures of him playing golf. Golf! The sport of blue bloods.

In 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt was castigated by fellow upper-crusters as a traitor to his class for using federal tax revenues to aid the impoverished.

And as recently as 1992, Democrats mercilessly lampooned the first President Bush as an out-of-touch patrician. His crime? During a visit to a national grocers' convention in Orlando, Fla., he appeared almost giddy about the wondrous technology of supermarket scanners, apparently unaware that they had been quite familiar to American shoppers for more than a decade.

Americans famously like to think of themselves as members of a classless society, where merit and hard work determine fate, while at the same time, they scoop up magazines with the latest gossip about Britain's royals.

In Europe, "there's always an angry left and people responding to arguments about rich conservatives," said Robert Frank, an economist at Cornell University. "Here, there doesn't seem to be so much of a resentment towards the rich."

This time around, with a sluggish economy and a bogged-down war effort in Iraq, Democrats are hoping to find more traction on the class issue, particularly in light of the administration's tax cuts, which rivals will try to paint as a looting of the Treasury on behalf of the president's super-rich cronies.

But the mix of backgrounds among the candidates assembling for the coming presidential race has many wondering whether class warfare can become an issue in 2004.

Howard Dean, who has led the tirades against the current President Bush, is himself the scion of an established New York family that lived on Park Avenue, summered in East Hampton and went to all the right schools. John Kerry, who also attended the right schools and had affected a Boston Brahmin demeanor, married into a vast fortune and finds himself struggling on the campaign trail to redefine himself as a man of the masses. John Edwards, on the other hand, is a multimillionaire lawyer born into the working class, whose campaign message is liberally, perhaps even bitterly, sprinkled with reminders that his father was a factory worker who didn't get all the breaks that some other candidates' families enjoyed.....

Certainly, the track record of invoking class in presidential elections is a dismal one.

Even armed with his cross of golf, Bryan was unable to beat Taft in 1908. Earlier, Theodore Roosevelt did not deny his patrician roots but used them to highlight his reformist credentials. The attempts to paint Franklin Roosevelt as a class traitor resulted in his winning re-election three times. And while the first President Bush's grocery-scanner faux pas was followed by his loss to President Clinton, few regard it as anything more than a link in the chain that toppled him.

In the one election where class might have played a role -- the rich Senator John F. Kennedy versus the up-from-the-middle-class Richard M. Nixon in 1960 -- it was never really evoked. Kennedy opponents preferred to highlight his Roman Catholic roots over his bank balance. And besides, to true blue bloods, there was always something unsavory and arriviste about the Kennedy fortune; to attack him for being a member of their class would be to admit that he was one.

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Phillip Knightley: The Trouble with Spies (posted 10-7-03)

Phillip Knightley, writing in the <>London Independent (Oct. 5, 2003):

Iraq, far from being unusual, is merely another item in a long list of intelligence failures, not just British ones but American and Soviet ones as well. According to the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Western intelligence's success rate in predicting Soviet moves during the Cold War was no better than many a think-tank. SIS [ British Secret Intelligence Service] and the CIA failed to predict the first Soviet atom bomb, the Chinese invasion of Korea, the Hungarian revolt, the siting of Russian missiles in Cuba, the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. Above all, both services failed even to imagine the collapse of Soviet communism and the end of the Cold War, and had no idea that Saddam Hussein would invade Kuwait.

The KGB's overall performance was no better. The Russian historian Vladislav M Zubok said the KGB had "delusions of grandeur" about its work. One of its generals, Oleg Kalugin, admitted: "When people in the West say that Soviet intelligence penetrated the higher echelons of Western government, I know that this is not true."

The problem is a flaw at the heart of intelligence gathering which is difficult to eliminate. It was behind Sir Peter Heap's moan about spies - one shared by many an ambassador - that he was required to allow SIS officers pretending to be diplomats to work out of his embassy.

As an ambassador in Ankara once said to me, "I'm here trying to foster good relations between Britain and Turkey and I have to share my embassy with British spies who spend their time trying to persuade Turkish citizens to be traitors. Is it any wonder I'd like to see the back of them."

This situation arises because no matter how well-trained an SIS officer is, no matter how good his languages, he can hardly head off to Baghdad and go around asking Iraqis if they've seen any weapons of mass destruction recently.

So from his base in the embassy (and with diplomatic immunity if he is caught) he tries to recruit as agents Iraqis who might have access to the knowledge he seeks. Ideally, he tries to find someone who will do this (and risk his life) for ideological reasons. If he cannot, then he offers large sums of money.

But agents selling information are not the most reliable sources. Money tempts them to exaggerate, inflate the importance of their contacts, copy information from obscure journals that their controller is unlikely to have seen, and even make things up. This gives the SIS officer running them many a headache. He may claim in his reports to London that his agent has been reliable in the past but he may not really know whether he is on this occasion.

What SIS appears to have lacked in its intelligence assault on Iraq was an agent in Iraq's own intelligence service. This is the five-star coup that all spymasters dream about. George Blake (alive and well and living in Moscow) was an SIS officer who was recruited by the KGB. He became one of the most successful spies in history, negating several major Western intelligence operations by revealing them to the Russians in advance. Oleg Penkovsky was a Soviet military intelligence officer recruited by SIS. He brought to London Soviet missile manuals which enabled us to identify what Moscow was up to in Cuba during the missile crisis that nearly led to a third world war. Kim Philby was a British SIS officer recruited by the Russians who was able to keep them informed during the Second World War of German efforts to persuade Britain to negotiate a separate peace with Germany and unite in a war against the Soviet Union.

But again there is a flaw in such intelligence operations that tends to blow them apart. One of the major emotions in all intelligence services is paranoia. In a business riddled with double-cross and betrayal there is always the fear that you are being played for a sucker.

So it would have crossed the mind of some SIS officers that the 45-minute claim might have come from an Iraqi intelligence plant with the aim of lulling the West into a false sense of security and then pouncing - that actually the WMD could be ready in five minutes.

When spies begin to think like this, the flaw triumphs and intelligence becomes useless. For the better your spy in the enemy camp is, the less likely you are to trust and believe him. Thus Moscow ignored some of the Cambridge spies' best information because it could not believe they could have gathered it unless they were part of a devilish SIS plot to mislead the KGB.

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Darwin's Lessons Tom Ridge Needs to Study (posted 10-7-03)

Raphael Sagarin, writing in Foreign Policy (Sept/Oct. 2003):

For more than 3 billion years, biological evolution has guided the colonization of our planet by living organisms. Evolution's rules are simple: Creatures that adapt to threats and master the evolutionary game thrive; those that don't, become extinct. And so it is with the threat posed to the United States by terrorist networks such as al Qaeda. If the genus Americanus wants to overcome this latest challenge to its existence, it must adapt its defense mechanisms accordingly. What better way to do that than to harness time-tested Darwinian theory to the cause of homeland security?

Antagonistic interactions between organisms have driven much of evolution. These battles have taken a variety of forms, including symmetric conflicts, pitting closely matched competitors that fight for dominance but seek to avoid deadly clashes; and far more lethal asymmetric conflicts involving unequal opponents, in which the weaker combatant resorts to unanticipated, often insidious tactics.

The Cold War was a symmetric conflict in which the two rivals had enough weaponry to guarantee that a "hot" war would result in mutual destruction. Superpower tensions played out in what biologists call dominance displays. In evolutionary terms, the annual May Day parade of missiles in Moscow's Red Square and former U.S. President Richard Nixon's "madman" strategy—when he put the United States on secret nuclear alert in 1969 to rattle the Soviets—were no different than the ritualistic claw waving between competing male fiddler crabs.

Terrorist networks such as al Qaeda represent a decidedly asymmetric threat. Like a virus, al Qaeda is an infectious organism, capable of lying dormant for long periods of time. It then hijacks the critical machinery of its victims to weaken their evolutionary fitness. And just as the treatment for viruses is more complex than the remedy for blunt trauma, combating al Qaeda requires a more subtle approach than the chest puffing generally used to meet a symmetric challenge.

In 1987, biologist Geerat Vermeij published a provocative treatise titled Evolution and Escalation: An Ecological History of Life. The book focuses on the fossil history of snails and crabs, but it makes five observations about evolutionary strategies that can also serve as a blueprint for improving U.S. homeland security. [These include: Form good relationships. Never stop adapting. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Be redundant. Be flexible.]

The real challenge is to apply evolutionary thinking to homeland security in a more structured, broad-based manner. Evolutionary biologists, ecologists, and paleontologists understand better than anyone the evolutionary successes and failures of genes and species and what it takes to survive in the natural world. Officials prosecuting the war on terrorism should bring experts on evolution into the discussion.

The planet's diversity tells us that evolution works. But the number of failed life forms is sobering. Even once dominant organisms such as dinosaurs could not avoid extinction. The United States is the most dominant presence on Earth today, but terrorist networks such as al Qaeda represent a ruthless adversary. Terrorism poses an evolutionary challenge; it should be treated like one.

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Fred Barnes: Davis Is Making Reagan Look Better and Better (posted 10-7-03)

Fred Barnes, writing in the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 7, 2003):

Today's gubernatorial recall election reflects the sad condition of California, once the trendsetter in politics and governance in America. Gray Davis, the sad-sack governor and target of the recall, is blamed by many Californians for much of what's wrong.

And for good reason. Mr. Davis sits atop a governing class (largely Democratic) that's responsive chiefly to unions, state employees, trial lawyers and Indian casino operators. He let the budget deficit grow until, at one point, it was larger than the shortfalls of the other 49 states combined. Taxes have soared, hundreds of thousands of people have fled to neighboring states and California's reputation has soured.

What a difference a few years make. For decades after WorId War II, California was envied by the rest of America for its appealing open-mindedness, its expansive sense of opportunity and, not least, its prosperity. Now it's known for its weirdness. Late-night TV comics and most of the national media regard the recall -- with a 135-candidate field composed of, among others, a porn star and some clowns, not including Arianna Huffington -- as evidence that California has lost its grip. Or at least given up its status as the leading edge of political change for the nation.

So it figures that prior governors, compared with Mr. Davis anyway, would now be viewed in a more favorable light. And indeed, in "Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power" (PublicAffairs, 579 pages, $30), Lou Cannon treats the Reagan years -- 1966 to 1974 -- with new respect. In four earlier books on Mr. Reagan, Mr. Cannon often treated him with condescension. Now he refers to "Reagan's brilliance as a politician" and the "genius" of his governing style. Moreover, Mr. Reagan "roused the public and demonstrated, as no one had done before him, that it is possible to succeed as governor of a major state without abandoning conservative convictions."

Mr. Cannon's book will no doubt become the definitive history of the Reagan governorship, and it should. He has scoured the written records, including cabinet minutes and the unpublished notes of Reagan aides. He has interviewed practically everyone who matters, not least Bob Moretti, the liberal Democratic state assembly leader in Mr. Reagan's second term, who told Mr. Cannon in 1981 that Mr. Reagan was a good governor, "better than [his predecessor] Pat Brown, miles, and planets, and universes better than Jerry Brown." (Moretti died in 1984.)

Mr. Cannon knocks down many misunderstandings about Mr. Reagan that continued into his presidency. "On issues that mattered most to him," Mr. Cannon writes, "Reagan was forceful and not a creature of his aides." Nor was he merely a clever politician and gifted candidate. Mr. Reagan "was interested in ideas and policy, not political strategy." Mr. Cannon concedes it was "an overstatement" when he wrote in an earlier book that Mr. Reagan didn't emerge as an effective governor until he began negotiating with Moretti in his second term. "Even when he was a novice governor, Reagan had shown political skill in dealing with opposition legislators, particularly on the 1967 tax bill and in his maneuvering with the University of California Board of Regents on tuition."

One issue did bewilder Mr. Reagan -- abortion. Against his own instincts, he signed a measure in 1967 that, Mr. Cannon says, "permitted more legal abortions in California than occurred in any other state before the advent of Roe v. Wade." Mr. Reagan later told Mr. Cannon that he never would have signed the bill if he'd been more experienced as governor. It was the only time that "Reagan acknowledged a mistake on major legislation."

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The Appeal of Outsiders in Politics (posted 10-3-03)

Susan Page, writing in USA Today (Sept. 29, 2003):

Doctors have to go to medical school before treating patients. Lawyers must pass the bar exam before going to court. Even plumbers face an apprenticeship before gaining journeyman status.

But for those who want to be U.S. president or governor of the nation's most populous and most troubled state: No experience required.

Retired general Wesley Clark, who has never run in an election, led the Democratic presidential field and narrowly defeated President Bush in the latest USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll. Actor and former bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose only political job has been an appointment to a presidential fitness council, has been the candidate to beat in the gubernatorial race in California since he announced his campaign to Jay Leno on The Tonight Show.

Their lack of experience in politics has been no bar to running. In fact, it's an essential element of their appeal as political outsiders who aren't seen as compromised by the systems they want to lead. In a USA TODAY survey this weekend, 34% of likely California voters said that Schwarzenegger's lack of experience made them more likely to vote for him.

Once in office, how do generals, actors, athletes and billionaire business executives fare?

Analysts and historians say these newcomers tend to govern in ways that are different from those who methodically climb the political ladder, from campaign volunteer to city council member to Congress or the statehouse.

Officeholders who turn to politics after gaining celebrity status in another arena are likely to have a lot of self-confidence -- sometimes too much, critics say -- and to be comfortable trusting the gut instincts that got them this far.

They are usually risk-takers, willing to ignore the naysayers who question their qualifications. They're less beholden to the political establishment. They're more likely to focus on the big picture than the details of governance.

And, for better or worse, they often are willing to embrace ideas that seem too ambitious, unworkable or even loony to their veteran colleagues in government.

As New York City mayor, media mogul Michael Bloomberg has overhauled the way the nation's biggest school system had been governed for more than a century. Actor-turned-president Ronald Reagan was intrigued by ideas about fundamentally changing the tax code and Social Security system. He proposed a still-controversial strategic defense system that skeptics derided as a space-age fantasy.

"Experience breeds caution," says Charles Cook, editor and publisher of the non-partisan Cook Political Report. "With experience, you can think of five different reasons not to do something. People who lack the experience lack the caution."

Presidential historian Robert Dallek says, "They can work outside the box."

If so many political amateurs struggle in public office, why do others soar?

Reagan followed his Hollywood career with terms as governor and president, leading a conservative wave that continues to influence American politics. Eisenhower is now seen as having governed with such political deftness that it took time for historians to recognize it.

The answer may be the distinction between being inexperienced and being unqualified.

Those who succeed don't have political experience, but they do have skills that translate effectively to politics. The ones accustomed to consulting others and handling public scrutiny generally do better than those who are used to barking orders to an obedient coterie.

Reagan's acting days helped make him the most effective communicator in American politics since John Kennedy. Aides say his work as president of the Screen Actors Guild laid the groundwork for his negotiations with Congress and the Soviet Union.

The dexterity that Eisenhower honed as a strategist, administrator and diplomat while planning the Allied invasion of Europe during World War II served him well in the Oval Office.

"You're at a level where to exercise independent military judgment really involves thinking about the political considerations," says Fred Greenstein, a Princeton political scientist who re-evaluated Eisenhower's leadership in his 1982 book, The Hidden-Hand Presidency.

Eisenhower didn't see much of a change between his two careers."My first day at the president's desk," he wrote in his diary the day after his inauguration in 1953."Plenty of worries and difficult problems but such as has been my portion for a long time -- The result is that this just seems (today) like a continuation of all I've been doing since July 1941 -- even before that."

General. Actor. Candidate. President. For some people and in some ways, the jobs may not be so different after all.

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Is France for Sissies? (posted 10-3-03)

Nina Bernstein, writing in the NYT (Sept. 28, 2003):

IT was on display again last week, that old double standard. On camera, Germany's chancellor got a muscular handshake from America's president and a meeting that let bygones be bygones. France's president got the official cold shoulder and columnists' heated denunciations.

Yet France and Germany had taken the same position on the Bush administration's policies in Iraq. Both were offering to help train Iraqi security forces, but not to send soldiers. Both argued that only accelerated Iraqi sovereignty and a larger United Nations role could secure peace.

Apparently, it sounded different in French. Somehow, to American ears, it always does. And at this point in strained trans-Atlantic relations, an obvious explanation comes to mind: in the American imagination, France is a woman, and Germany is just another guy....

American officials have long used sexist stereotyping as diplomatic strategy. Franklin Roosevelt once declared that Charles de Gaulle knew no more about economics "than a woman knows about a carburetor." In 1953, Life magazine likened the French government to "a big can-can chorus" and France itself to a showgirl slipping a billion-dollar bill's worth of American aid into her stocking.

Frank Costigliola, a historian at the University of Connecticut, gives many such examples in his book "France and the United States: The Cold Alliance Since World War II." He contends that giving France negative "feminine" traits has always served to delegitimize French points of view.

"Associated with France as a woman is France as hysterical, or France as crazy," he said. "It really is a knee-jerk reaction."

Robert O. Paxton, an emeritus professor of history at Columbia University, agreed. "It's an American stereotype and an American strategy," he stressed. "There are elements in our culture that the Bush people can play on in stereotyping France as feminine."

The paradox, added Mr. Paxton, the author of "Vichy France," is that the French hold a mirror stereotype about America. "They believe the American male has been completely emasculated, and American women rule the roost."

Others use similar categories to explain why France, not Germany, rubs Americans so raw. "I haven't used male and female, but I've used cat countries and dog countries," said Walter Russell Mead, the author of "Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World."

Mr. Mead sees France as a cat country, while Germany -- like America and Britain -- is a dog country, "the underdog baring its throat."

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Is the United States in a State of Decline? (posted 10-3-03)

Laura Secor, writig in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Sept. 28, 2003):

Addressing the nation on Sept. 7, President Bush offered the following explanation, not for the first time, of the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington:

"The terrorists became convinced that free nations were decadent and weak. And they grew bolder, thinking that history was on their side."

Over the last two years, many commentators have accepted the premise that al-Qaida attacked the United States because it believed the country was weak. Where they disagree is over the accuracy of the terrorists' presumed perception.

Was the United States, as the president implied, a sleeping giant that, once roused, would demonstrate a fearsome power? Or was the United States in fact tired, decadent, adrift, its military might only a hollow shell, inside of which its vaunted economy, culture and political system were rotting?

Even during the booming '90s, doubts about America's future were widespread.

Cultural critics as far flung as right-wing presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, neo-Victorian moralist Gertrude Himmelfarb, Cold War strategist Edward Luttwak and Nixon aide turned populist author Kevin Phillips argued that the United States had entered a decadent phase.

Whether it was multiculturalism, consumerism or economic inequality, some kind of centrifugal force was weakening American power and American values from within. After Sept. 11, talk of decline turned definitively to the arena of foreign affairs. The United States might look like an overweening superpower with an expanding empire, the declinists admonish, but its star is fading even now....

Many of those who argue that U.S. power is currently ebbing draw on the path-breaking work of Yale historian Paul Kennedy. In his 1987 classic, "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," Kennedy analyzed former great powers such as the Netherlands, Austria-Hungary and Spain.

He observed that historically, wars were won and empires sustained by those who possessed superior economic, rather than simply military, strength, and that an excess of foreign commitments left great powers particularly vulnerable.

The trouble was that military and economic priorities ended up clashing.

Kennedy wrote: "A low investment in armaments may, for a globally overstretched power like the United States, leave it feeling vulnerable everywhere; but a very heavy investment in armaments, while bringing greater security in the short term, may so erode the commercial competitiveness of the American economy that the nation will be less secure in the long term."

And so, even at the height of the bipolar rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, Kennedy believed the emergence of multiple centers of power was inevitable. The United States, he averred, must find a way to manage this transition, which it was helpless to prevent.

But barely had Kennedy published "The Rise and Fall" when the Soviet Union collapsed, the Japanese economy entered a terminal recession and the United States emerged stronger than ever....

In books released in the last 12 months, the leftist SUNY-Binghamton sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein, Clinton security advisor and Georgetown international relations specialist Charles A. Kupchan and French demographer Emmanuel Todd contend -- for very different reasons, but each with a debt to Kennedy -- that Pax Americana has come to a close.

America, writes Wallerstein in "The Decline of American Power", is "a lone superpower that lacks true power, a world leader nobody follows and few respect and a nation drifting dangerously amidst a global chaos it cannot control."

That the United States has come unmoored is evident, writes Kupchan in "The End of the American Era", from its "contradictory and incoherent behavior" since the end of the Cold War. And as Todd, author of the French bestseller "Apres l'Empire", told the British magazine Prospect, in Iraq the United States "used military means in response. I believe this shows it has lost its omnipotence."

Kupchan does not believe a unipolar system can last: Rival powers inevitably will emerge to balance American pre-eminence. But that is all the more reason America needs a grand strategy, which it has sorely lacked since the Cold War ended.

What we have now, and are wasting, writes Kupchan, is the opportunity to manage gracefully the return to a multipolar world at minimal loss to our interests.

Wallerstein's picture is darker. The world economy as a whole has stagnated but when the global slump ends, Europe and Japan will quickly surpass the United States. Meanwhile, Wallerstein contends that Sept. 11 itself, as well as the conflagrations in the Middle East and the Balkans, laid bare the real impotence of the U.S. military.

Todd, like Wallerstein, sees the trouble facing America as primarily economic. With its trade deficits, dependency on foreign capital and emerging plutocracy, the United States has squandered its "soft power" (that is, its ability to persuade by example) while becoming soft in other ways, economically dependent on a world that it increasingly antagonizes.

Soon enough, Todd argues, even the British will distance themselves from the United States and realize that they belong instead to the "European community of values."...

Conservative historian Arthur Herman begins his 1997 book, "The Idea of Decline in Western History," with a tale from "The Iliad": Homer relates that Ajax needed only one hand to lift a stone "which the sturdiest youngster of our generation would have found difficult to lift with both hands."

Herman traces the earliest declinism to the Greco-Roman cyclical vision of time. All things pass through the revolving stages of birth, flourishing, decline, death and rebirth. That wheel would reappear in the medieval era as a figure for fortune: Part of the wheel is up, part down, and their positions reverse as the wheel rotates.

There is something subjective, one suspects, and in the end too simple, about these notions of progress and strength, decline and weakness.

Is it really the case that al-Qaida attacked the United States because it perceived decadence and weakness? What about the point we so often heard stressed after the attacks -- that terrorism is the weapon of the weak against the strong? Even the strong, after all, have places of vulnerability. Sometimes, as we also often heard that autumn, strengths (civil liberties, say) can be exploited as weaknesses.

Maybe civilizations do not devolve, as theorists of decline fear, but rather evolve, as from Darwin's tangled bank where there is no perfection, merely complexity and flux and where there is always something growing where something else has died.

That might mean that what grows here is not the greatest, strongest, most perfect life that ever lived. But it also means that there's such a thing as change that's neither progress nor decline.

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No West Point Graduate Has Ever Been Convicted of Treason (posted 10-3-03)

James Gordon Meek, writing in the New York Daily News (Sept. 28, 2003):

The possibility of West Point grad Capt. Yousef Yee being charged with treason in the Guantanamo spy scandal has rattled the academy, which has not had a traitor from its ranks in its 201-year history.

Yee, 35, the Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo's Camp Delta prison, was arrested Sept. 10 at a Florida Air Force base after Customs inspectors allegedly found documents in his luggage with diagrams of cells and names of detainees and their interrogators.

He has not been charged with any crime, but he is being held in a military prison and is under investigation for sedition, aiding the enemy and other charges that could culminate in treason.

Suspicion and support

A U.S. airman and translator at Camp Delta, Ahmad al-Halabi, has been charged with 30 counts of spying for Syria and Qatar. And a Navy sailor and another airman who left Cuba also are under suspicion, sources said.

No U.S. military academy graduate has ever been tainted by espionage or treason, academy historian Stephen Grove said, and if Yee were charged it would be a "traumatic" blow to the sacred West Point code of "Duty, Honor, Country."

Yee's defense lawyers have refused comment, leaving only his friends from the class of 1990 to defend the reputation of an officer who converted to Islam while living in Syria between Army stints.

"He's just a tremendous guy," said Steven Butler, of Atlanta, who served with Yee in cadet Company F, 2nd Regiment. "The Jim Yee I knew would never do something like this."

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The Risk of a"Tet" in Iraq? (posted 10-3-03)

Michael Moran, writing in MSNBC (Oct. 2, 2003):

One of the few real vulnerabilities of the American military in the past 40 years, analysts and historians note, is the risk that major casualties or a single spectacular failure can cause public support to collapse. Such a collapse exposes elected leaders to enormous political pressure, particularly in election years and if U.S. casualties continue to mount.

America’s enemies know this well and in the past four decades have exploited it adroitly.

*In the 1968 Tet Offensive, simultaneous attacks on American and South Vietnamese positions by North Vietnam and its Viet Cong allies around the country led to huge casualties for the North, but also showed optimistic assessments of a “light at the end of the tunnel” to be hollow. American troops numbers in Vietnam began to fall immediately, and aides to President Lyndon Johnson say Tet played a big role in his decision chose not to seek another term. The term “Vietnamization,” a Nixonian reference to the need to get American forces out, became official U.S. policy soon afterward.

*In 1983, after U.S. and French troops intervened in southern Lebanon to control the fallout of the Israeli invasion there, a Hezbollah truck bomb destroyed of the main U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Americans. The Marines were supposed to help stabilize a new Lebanese government and prevent the Lebanese and Palestinian guerrillas from re-engaging. But the bombing led to a quick withdrawal and the descent of Lebanon back into chaos.

*In 1993, the U.S. humanitarian intervention in Somalia deteriorated when American troops became embroiled in the country’s civil war. In October of that year, U.S. Army Rangers and other forces were lured into an ambush in the capital city of Mogadishu, leaving 18 American soldiers dead. By the end of the year, all U.S. forces had withdrawn.

In each of these attacks, the main objective was not a military victory per se, but rather the destruction of America’s will to fight by demonstrating to the American public that the progress being touted by its leadership was an illusion.

Gen. Montgomery Meigs, who retired recently as the U.S. Army’s top commander in Europe, worries about how this dynamic might play out in Iraq.
“With the pressure on the (Bush) administration from the changing political sentiment back home and an election around the bend, there will be a temptation to make the campaign look successful, to encourage commanders on the ground to minimize casualties, and to ‘turn security and governance’ over to the Iraqi’s well before they can handle the task,” he says.

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Paul Gillespie: In the Empire's Shadow (posted 10-1-03)

Paul Gillespie, writing in the Irish Times (Sept. 27, 2003):

The question of whether US power is imperial is no longer conducted mainly on the left-wing margins but has come to the centre of established debate. In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, for example, the conservative British historian Niall Ferguson reviews a comparative study of Britain from 1846-1914 and the US from 1941-2001 in the light of his own recent book Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power. He argues that the imperial analogy works, despite American reluctance to use the term.

Empire has never meant exclusively direct rule over foreign territories without any political representation of their inhabitants. It can be direct or indirect, formal or informal, so that the US can be classified as an imperial power that prefers indirect and informal ways of ruling. He points up some significant contrasts between the US and imperial Britain. While the US is decisively more powerful militarily and economically than Britain ever was, it suffers from three deficits which make its power vulnerable. Whereas Britain formally ruled a quarter of the world's territory and population, the US has a mere 14 direct dependencies. Compared to the 15 to 20 million (mainly Celtic) British subjects settled in its empire, fewer that four million Americans now reside abroad. And while Britain was a net exporter of capital, the US is a net importer of capital on as large a scale.

Joseph Nye, dean of the Kennedy School in Harvard, believes the term imperial is inaccurate and misleading if applied to the US, since "the paradox of American power is that world politics is changing in a way that means the strongest power since Rome cannot achieve some of its most crucial international goals acting alone".

He says the agenda of world politics has become like a three-dimensional chess game in which one can win only by playing vertically as well as horizontally.

On the top board of classic inter-state military issues, the US will remain dominant for years to come. But power is already multipolar between the US and the EU, for example, on the softer middle board of interstate economic issues, while on the bottom board of transnational issues, power is widely distributed, chaotically organised and certainly not subject to US control.

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Outing a CIA Agent Is Inexcusable (posted 10-2-03)

Jim Marcinkowski, a former case officer with the Central Intelligence Agency, writing in the LA Times (Oct. 2, 2003):

The United States government has never, to my knowledge, publicly identified one of its own undercover intelligence operatives as a deliberate political act. Although there were turncoats in the past — like Philip Agee, who in the 1970s launched a campaign to publish the names of purported CIA operatives — they were immediately labeled for what they were, traitors to the cause of freedom and this country.

The exposure of Valerie Plame — who I have reason to believe operated undercover — apparently by a senior administration official, is nothing less than a despicable act for which someone should be held accountable. This case is especially upsetting to me because she was my agency classmate as well as my friend.

The result of such exposure in the past has been the death of our own citizens and of foreign nationals around the world who similarly chose to work on behalf of the United States. It is believed, for instance, that Agee's high-profile campaign led to the 1975 assassination of Richard Welch, the CIA station chief in Athens. The men and women who take these jobs know there are dangers involved. Being an undercover operative overseas, as I was, always involves risk; working in a hostile country heightens the risk.

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Leaks Are Often Healthy for a Democracy (posted 10-2-03)

Steven Aftergood, writing in his newsletter, Secrecy News (Oct. 2, 2003):

Indignation, righteous or otherwise, continues to mount over the reported Bush Administration leak of the identity of an undercover CIA employee. The subject almost completely dominated yesterday's White House press briefing:

Under the circumstances, it is easy to forget that not all leaks are undesirable acts of political skullduggery. To the contrary, for better and for worse, they are an essential component of the overall economy of news and government information.

In many cases, leaks are the most expeditious remedy to arbitrary or irrational government information policies.

For example, it is the position of the Central Intelligence Agency that the national security of the United States would be damaged if intelligence spending information from half a century ago were publicly disclosed today.

No serious person believes this. But it is the official Agency position, reiterated in a December 2000 Freedom of Information Act denial letter (and now the subject of pending litigation):

Fortunately, however, the CIA's ability to impose its peculiar concept of information security is limited. It is limited, among other things, by other agency disclosures that are beyond CIA's awareness or control.

David Barrett, a scholar of intelligence history at Villanova University, found a number of documents on historical intelligence spending in the course of his archival research for an upcoming book on congressional oversight of intelligence in the early Cold War era.

One of the documents he discovered in the papers of Rep. George Mahon (D-TX), a member of the House Appropriations Committee in the 1950s and 1960s, identifies the amounts of money (and lists their "concealed" locations in the defense budget) that cumulatively comprised the CIA budget for fiscal year 1953.

See the CIA's 1953 budget, courtesy of David Barrett, here:

This is not exactly a "leak" in the ordinary sense. But it is an inadvertent disclosure of CIA information, unauthorized by CIA, and containing information that the Agency has taken trouble to keep classified, even to the point of litigating to uphold its continued secrecy.

For such unauthorized disclosures, and the unauthorized disclosers who disclose them, one can only be grateful.

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Do Generals Have an Advantage in Politics? Sometimes. (posted 9-30-03)

Sheryl Stolberg, writing in the NYT (Sept. 28, 2003):

Those who hope, or fear, that the title "general" will catapult Wesley K. Clark into the White House might want to look up Adm. George Dewey, whose defense of the American occupation of the Philippines made him the media darling of his time.

On April 3, 1900, with the public clamoring for him to run for president, a newspaper reporter knocked on the admiral's door. Dewey invited him in and declared his candidacy, saying, "I am convinced that the office of the president is not such a very difficult one to fill."

That was the beginning and the end of Dewey's presidential prospects. Today he is a footnote in the annals of American politics. He is hardly the only soldier to find himself there. For all the comparisons to Dwight D. Eisenhower that General Clark's entry into the presidential race has evoked, history is littered with the failed presidential bids of military men.

Gen. Winfield Scott, the hero of the Mexican War of 1846, lost to Franklin Pierce in 1852. In a sense, he lost twice; in 1880 the Civil War hero Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, who was named after the first General Scott, lost to another Civil War campaigner, James A. Garfield.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur hoped to run for the presidency after President Harry S. Truman relieved him of commanding the American-led coalition fighting in Korea in 1951. But despite his fame as a soldier, his bid for the White House ended before it began. George S. McGovern had a brilliant record as a bomber pilot in World War II. Robert J. Dole and John McCain rode their dramatic war biographies to the United States Senate. But none of them became commander-in-chief.

"There is a whole tradition of the importance of military service and military heroics in American politics," said James MacGregor Burns, a historian at the University of Richmond. "It can be helpful, but I don't think it's decisive anymore."

Before there were sports heroes or Hollywood heroes, there were war heroes, and Americans have been enchanted with soldiers since the birth of the nation.

"It's the aura of heroism, the idea that this is someone who is prepared to sacrifice, someone who has demonstrated bravery," said Ross K. Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University. "Those are qualities that are esteemed by Americans, and these qualities can be transferred to politics."

George Washington understood that, and assiduously avoided flaunting his Revolutionary War credentials, in part, historians say, to ensure that the presidency was not dominated by a succession of soldiers.

"He regarded Cincinnatus as his model," said the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. "Cincinnatus saved Rome, then retired to his farm."

Washington, though, is an exception; rare is the politician who does not try to use military service to his advantage. One would-be presidential candidate, Lyndon Baines Johnson, went so far as to drum up what the historian Robert Dallek called "a kind of ersatz military career." In 1941, while a member of the House of Representatives, Johnson took leave to join the Navy for six months, installing his wife, Lady Bird, as his congressional surrogate. He went into combat and was awarded a Silver Star.

But the medal was of little use to Johnson when he ran against John F. Kennedy, who, as a dashing young Navy captain, survived a Japanese attack on his PT boat during World War II. Nor did it help Johnson as president in dealing with Vietnam.

"Nobody saw him as having real military experience," Mr. Dallek said.

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Which Recent Presidents Lied the Most? (posted 9-30-03)

From the Washington Monthly (Sept. 2003):

This summer, after it became clear that President George W. Bush had made false statements about Iraq's nuclear weapons capacity and links to al Qaeda in his January State of the Union address, some commentators accused him of being the most dishonest president in recent American history. There has been, however, no scientifically serious attempt to test such accusations--until now.

To come up with our Mendacity Index, we asked a nominating committee* of noted journalists and pundits to pick the most serious fibs, deceptions, and untruths spoken by each of the four most recent presidents. We selected the top six for each commander-in-chief, then presented the list to a panel of judges** with longtime experience in Washington. Panel members were instructed to rate each deception on a scale of 1 (least serious) to 5 (most serious). Then we averaged the scores for each deception and for each president. We believe their validity rests somewhere between the Periodic Table and the U.S. News & World Report college rankings.


Reagan: 3.3
Bush I: 3.2
Clinton: 3.1
Bush II: 3.6

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Elia Kazan Was a Hero for Testifying Against Communists (posted 9-30-03)

Robert Tracinski, a senior editor at the Ayn Rand Institute, writing on (Sept. 30, 2003):

Almost without exception, the obituaries of Elia Kazan -- while praising his enormous talent as a director -- are critical of his testimony against Hollywood Communists. According to some, Kazan, a former member of the Communist Party, should never be forgiven for naming names of fellow party-members before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

But Kazan deserves to be honored, not despite his testimony, but because of it. He is worthy of respect and admiration not because we should separate his politics from his art, but because his politics helped preserve artistic freedom for everyone in America. Kazan was the one defending freedom--while it was the Hollywood Communists who were betraying their fellow man.

The search for Hollywood Communists was not a hysterical witch-hunt. There were real Communists in Hollywood (as numerous reports, such as Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley's recent book, Hollywood Party, have shown). Thus, the injustice of which Kazan is accused is not that he made false accusations -- but that he was an anti-Communist.

Yet there is nothing unjust about exposing the supporters of dictatorship. The Communist Party was not merely a political organization like the Democratic or Republican Party. It was a totalitarian network. Its goal was not to win an electoral majority but to eliminate free elections and institute a one-party dictatorship. The Party's charter called for the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, and its officials took orders from Soviet despots.

With brazen effrontery, however, the Hollywood Communists painted themselves as martyrs for freedom. In an attempt to conceal their dirty secrets, they claimed that their political rights -- the very rights that had been systematically exterminated in the slave state they admired and worked for -- were being violated by the House investigations and the Hollywood "blacklist." And, amazingly enough, history has believed them.

It is perfectly legitimate for Congress to investigate any organization that declares its active intent to overthrow a free society on behalf of a foreign dictatorship. It was not the Communists' ideas which were the inquiry's target, but their actions, or threatened actions.

As to the "blacklist," why shouldn't private employers, such as the Hollywood studios, refuse to give platforms to people whose views they find repugnant? The Communists claimed the right to free association in order to shield themselves from the disapproval of others. Didn't the studio-owners have the same right not to associate with advocates of totalitarianism?

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