Roundup: Media's Take
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
Molly Ivins, in her column for Creators Syndicate (Feb. 10, 2004):
Just for the record, since the record is in considerable peril. These are Orwellian days, my friends, as the Bush administration attempts to either shove the history of the second Gulf War down the memory hole or to rewrite it entirely. Keeping a firm grip on actual historical fact, all of it easily within our imperfect memories, is not that easy amid the swirling storms of misinformation, misremembering and misstatement. But since the war itself stands as a monument to what happens when we let ourselves get stampeded by a chorus of disinformation, let's draw the line right now.
According to the 500-man American team that spent hundreds of millions of dollars looking for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, there aren't any and have not been any since 1991.
Both President Bush and Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, now claim Saddam Hussein provoked this war by refusing to allow United Nations weapons inspectors into his country. That is not true. Bush said Sunday: "I had no choice when I looked at the intelligence. ... The evidence we have discovered this far says we had no choice."
No, it doesn't. Last week, CIA director George Tenet said intelligence analysts never told the White House "that Iraq posed an imminent threat."
Let's start with the absurd quibble over the word "imminent." The word was, in fact, used by three administration spokesmen to describe the Iraqi threat, while Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld variously described it as "immediate," "urgent," "serious and growing," "terrible," "real and dangerous," "significant," "grave," "serious and mounting," "the unique and urgent threat," "no question of the threat," "most dangerous threat of our time," "a threat of unique urgency," "much graver than anybody could possibly have imagined," and so forth and so on. So, could we can that issue?
A second emerging thesis of defense by the administration in light of no weapons is, as David Kay said, "We were all wrong."
No, in fact, we weren't all wrong.
Bush said Sunday, "The international community thought he had weapons." Actually, the U.N. and the International Atomic Energy Agency both repeatedly told the administration there was no evidence Iraq had WMD. Before the war, Rumsfeld not only claimed Iraq had WMD but that "we know where they are." U.N. inspectors began openly complaining that U.S. tips on WMD were "garbage upon garbage." Hans Blix, head of the U.N. inspections team, had 250 inspectors from 60 nations on the ground in Iraq, and the United States thwarted efforts to double the size of his team. You may recall that during this period, the administration repeatedly dismissed the United Nations as incompetent and irrelevant. But containment had worked.
Nor does the "everybody thought they had WMD" argument wash on the domestic front. Perhaps the administration thought peaceniks could be ignored, but you will recall that this was a war opposed by an extraordinary number of generals. Among them, Anthony Zinni, who has extensive experience in the Middle East, who said, "We are about to do something that will ignite a fuse in this region that we will rue the day we ever started." After listening to Paul Wolfowitz at a conference, Zinni said, "In other words, we are going to go to war over another intelligence failure." Give that man the Cassandra Award for being right in depressing circumstances.
Marine Gen. John J. Sheehan was equally blunt. Any serving general who got out of line, like Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, was openly dissed by the administration.
Michael Novak, in National Review (Feb. 2, 2004):
The news media, which constantly accuse the Bush administration of exaggerating the threat in Iraq, are constantly exaggerating the number of U.S. combat deaths. I first pointed this out last August [in www.nationalreview.com]. For a while, the exaggeration stopped, but early in January it recommenced. The round number "500" was apparently irresistible.
Yet as of January 15, exactly ten months after the war began on March 16, 2003, the official number of US combat deaths listed by the Defense Department was 343. Another 155 had died from non- hostile causes, including 100 in accidents and others from illness, etc. Since non-hostile causes are responsible for army deaths in peacetime as well as wartime, in bases at home as well as in war zones, many of the non-hostile deaths ought not to be counted as specific to Iraq, although of course a portion of them are.
These 343 (not 500) combat deaths, furthermore, need to be set in context. During 2003, the number of homicides in Chicago was 599, in New York City 596, in Los Angeles 505, in Detroit 361, in Philadelphia 347, in Baltimore 271, in Houston 276, and in Washington 247. That makes 3002 deaths in only eight cities.
The least the media could do is print the number of combat deaths in Iraq in two columns. The first would show the number of days since the war began (as of January 15, 305). The second column might show the number of combat deaths as of the same date (343).
Gregory Kane, in the Baltimore Sun (Feb. 11, 2004):
RUN THAT ONE by me again, Thomas G. Duncan. I don't think I quite got it.
Duncan, for those of you who don't read The Sun every day, is a county councilman in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore. A quote of his appeared in Monday's edition of The Sun, in a story written by reporter Chris Guy. It seems Duncan has a problem with a statue of Talbot County's most famous resident, abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass, being placed on the courthouse lawn in Easton. That honor, Duncan feels, should only be for those who served in the armed forces, even"The Talbot Boys," who fought for the Confederacy.
Here's how Duncan summed it up, according to Guy:
"I think that ground is hallowed ground. People there either served or died for their country."
It's at this point that Duncan needs to run it by me again. A statue paying tribute to"The Talbot Boys" stands on the courthouse lawn. They most assuredly did not"serve their country." The country they served was the Confederate States of America - Maryland was never a member of that country, the last time I checked my history - which should not be confused with the United States of America.
Bret Stephens, editor in chief of the Jerusalem Post, in the WSJ (Feb. 11, 2004):
In Israel, where I live and work, suicide bombings are commonly understood by the foreign press as acts of desperation by a people who have lost all hope for a better future. Ease the economic hardships of Palestinians and end the occupation, so the thinking goes, and terrorism will be deprived of its motive.
It's a convenient notion, which more or less excuses mass murder as the deeds of men who have been robbed of their property, pride and patrimony. But is it right? What if suicide bombings aren't an act of despair at all but something approaching the opposite: a supreme demonstration of contempt for everything Westerners hold dear, not least life itself? What if, too, suicide bombers are no poor-man's F-16 but a robust expression of confidence that the Palestinians are infinitely more ruthless than Israelis in what amounts to a zero-sum game?
Lee Harris believes that these are exactly the sorts of questions that we should be asking today, and not only about the war in the Mideast. In" Civilization and Its Enemies " (Free Press, 231 pages, $26),he argues, brilliantly at times, that if you want to understand your enemy, you must understand him on his terms, not yours.
Take 9/11. Everyone from George W. Bush to Noam Chomsky agreed that the attacks were acts of war, even if they disagreed about exactly which political aims the acts were meant to further. But Mr. Harris takes a different view: 9/11, he says, was"a spectacular piece of theater."
"The targets were chosen by al-Qaeda not for their military value -- in contrast, for example, to the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor -- but entirely because they stood as symbols of American power universally recognized on the Arab street. They were gigantic props in a grandiose spectacle in which the collective fantasy of radical Islam was brought vividly to life."
Steven Aftergood, in Secrecy News, the newsletter of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy (Volume 2004, Issue No. 17 February 11, 2004):
It is often noted that espionage is an ancient enterprise with roots at least as old as the Bible.
But what is rarely if ever recalled is that intelligence oversight and accountability are *also* part of the Biblical record, and that the Deity imposed a severe penalty upon those who distorted intelligence and inflated threats.
A Washington Times op-ed writer today attempted to defend the CIA by citing the first half of the Biblical precedent.
"Some Americans find in the CIA a convenient scapegoat, failing to recognize that throughout history espionage has been used to protect peoples from their enemies. Ancient Israel had spies:
'Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan [to see] whether the cities they dwell in are camps or strongholds.'
(Numbers 13:17-19)," wrote Ernest W. Lefever of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in the Washington Times, Feb. 11, p. A18.
What Dr. Lefever failed to mention is that the spies sent by Moses came back with a hyped National Intelligence Estimate, with unhappy results.
"The land, through which we have gone, to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants... and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them." (Numbers 13: 32-33).
Only Joshua and Caleb dissented from this majority view.
Because they wittingly or unwittingly exaggerated the capabilities of the Canaanites, God sentenced the spies to death, displaying no judicial deference to the intelligence agencies.
"The men who brought an unfavorable report about the land died by a plague before the Lord," we are told.
"But Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh alone remained alive, of those men who went to spy out the land." (Numbers
Russell Shorto, in the NYT (Feb. 9, 2004):
Acre for acre, Lower Manhattan may be the most historic piece of real estate in America. Here the Sons of Liberty plotted revolution, the Stamp Act Congress met to defy taxation without representation, colonists exchanged fire with British ships in the harbor, and General Washington and his officers celebrated their victory. The first president was inaugurated here, and Congress, meeting at Federal Hall, wrote the Bill of Rights. In one remarkable moment in time, Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton all lived and worked in these narrow streets. For two centuries, this tiny quadrant was New York — and the gateway to America for millions of immigrants.
It was also, of course, the site of the World Trade Center. Both the building of the twin towers and their destruction flow from that deep history, for the events that occurred here contributed not only to the nation's growth but to the rise in might of New York as global capital and lower-case world trade center.
It would seem natural, then, to connect the site to its past. But neither the winning design for the World Trade Center memorial nor any of the public conversation or press attention surrounding it have attempted to do so. A sense of history has been absent from the whole process.
Maybe that shouldn't be a surprise. The fact is, Lower Manhattan — which after all is America's financial capital, and has business to do — has never had the reflective, carefully tended atmosphere of Boston's historic center, Philadelphia's Independence Hall, or the memorials in Washington. Monuments that anywhere else would serve as a city's cherished heart are lost in the Wall Street shuffle. Many historic events that took place here don't even rate a plaque. Over the past three years, while working on a book about Manhattan's founding, I spent a lot of time in and around the historic sites of Lower Manhattan, and routinely encountered clusters of tourists zigzagging haphazardly through the area, guidebooks in hand, knowing that they were walking streets redolent of the past but having a hard time sniffing it out.
The reason for the city's offhand approach to its most elemental history goes all the way back to the beginning, and has to do with New York's unique development. While the colonies to the north and south were English, the population of New York, dating from its beginnings as the Dutch city of New Amsterdam, was mixed,"foreign." For all New York's power, the Brahmins in Boston and the planters of Virginia kept it at arm's length. New York's image of itself has always reflected this. From early on, the city ceded patriotic sentiment to others and put its energy into the present. New York, the feeling goes, is too big, too chaotic, too jazzed and hustling and busy to turn itself into a museum.
Editorial in the NYT (Feb. 11, 2004):
If President Bush thought that his release of selected payroll and service records would quell the growing controversy over whether he ducked some of his required service in the Air National Guard three decades ago, he is clearly mistaken. The payroll records released yesterday document that he performed no guard duties at all for more than half a year in 1972 and raise questions about how he could be credited with at least 14 days of duty during subsequent periods when his superior officers in two units said they had not seen him.
Investigative reporting by The Boston Globe, our sibling newspaper, revealed in 2000 that Mr. Bush had reported for duty and flown regularly in his first four Texas Guard years but dropped off the Guard's radar screen when he went to Alabama to work on a senatorial campaign. The payroll records show that he was paid for many days of duty in the first four months of 1972, when he was in Texas, but then went more than six months without being paid, virtually the entire time he was working on the Senate campaign in Alabama. That presumably means he never reported for duty during that period.
Mr. Bush was credited with 14 days of service at unspecified locations between Oct. 28, 1972, and the end of April 1973. The commanding officer of the Alabama unit to which Mr. Bush was supposed to report long ago said that he had never seen him appear for duty, and Mr. Bush's superiors at the Texas unit to which he returned wrote in May 1973 that they could not write an annual evaluation of him because he had not been seen there during that year. Those statements are so jarringly at odds with the payroll data that they demand further elaboration. A Guard memo prepared for the White House by a former Guard official says Mr. Bush earned enough points to fulfill his duty but leaves it unclear whether he got special treatment.
The issue is not whether Mr. Bush, like many sons of the elite in his generation, sought refuge in the Guard to avoid combat in Vietnam. The public knew about that during the 2000 campaign. Whether Mr. Bush actually performed his Guard service to the full is a different matter. It bears on presidential character because the president has continually rejected claims that there was anything amiss about his Guard performance during the Alabama period. Mr. Bush himself also made the issue of military service fair game by posturing as a swashbuckling pilot when welcoming a carrier home from Iraq. Now, the president needs to make a fuller explanation of how he spent his last two years in the Guard.
Greg Tate, in the Village Voice (Feb. 4-10, 2004):
We African Americans lead strange and conflicted lives at the movies. For this reason, the Internet was recently abuzz with calls by actor and self-described semiotician Erik Todd Dellums to boycott Cold Mountain , a Civil War film noticeably lacking in melanin content. Charles Frazier's novel hardly avoids African Americans as concertedly as the Anthony Minghella film starring Jude Law and Nicole Kidman. The versions share some key erasures, though—the opening scene, a re-creation of the legendary Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, Virginia, is perhaps the most egregious. On that July 1864 morning, Union soldiers exploded the ground underneath a drowsy Confederate regiment. Novel and film fail to mention how specially trained African American troops had been poised to attack the Crater (now a historical tour site) and the Southerners it swallowed. Historians claim that the African Americans were withdrawn due to fears of Northern political fallout if they were used as cannon fodder. Whatever, dude. Methinks the sight of armed African Americans freely picking off shocked and awed white Southern troops was too avant-garde for 1864. In any event, the upshot of the switch was that untrained white Unionists didn't flank the Crater as the brothers were trained to, but rushed in and got shot up like fish in a barrel. At which point all the bloods got thrown in as cannon fodder anyhow. The Confederates, already peeved at being sneak-attacked, lost it when they saw armed and uniformed men of African descent. One need only imagine the language they used. A military adviser on the film recalls Minghella shooting a scene in which a crazed Confederate soldier slaughters a wounded African American. The adviser believes the scene got cut because it was"too over-the-top" and"too painful." Minghella has similarly explained away the film's eschewing the immorality of slavery. Since that would entail having Nicole Kidman's snow-pure love object reflect on being a slave owner, one can see why. Once again liberal guilt goes belly-up in the guts sweepstakes.
As Abraham Lincoln's birthday approaches Republicans around the nation gather together in country clubs and halls for their annual Lincoln Day banquets. Dressed in their finest, the loan officer of the branch bank sips his gimlet while the cross-wearing locksmith intones the virtues of home schooling to the party faithful gathered around the table. The rank and file eye each other warily occasionally straining a smile during the dinner. After desert a speaker arises who, after repeating some old Clinton jokes he remembers and praising the candidates strung along the front table as the only hope for America, will remind the assembly that Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president and proclaim that the party of Lincoln is marching on to victory with his spirit guiding their footsteps.
Fortified with those words, the party stalwarts depart, carrying away the souvenir crepe paper centerpieces to their foreign made cars. But behind the facade of the Republican party's claim to be the party of Lincoln is the unpleasant but undeniable truth that if Abraham Lincoln were alive today he would be a Democrat. History and his story along with his views on government strongly support it.
Abraham Lincoln was not in fact much of a Republican when he was alive. Lincoln was for most of his life a proud member of the Whig party whose platform of harnessing the power of the government to invest in the public good is not greatly different in substance than of modern mainstream Democrats. As the Whig party fell apart in the 185Os over the issue of the expansion of slavery into Kansas and Nebraska Lincoln tried to hold the party together. In 1854 he ran for the state legislature identifying himself as an Anti-Nebraska Whig. During the campaign a group of Republicans named Lincoln to the central committee of the new party without his consent or knowledge."I have been perplexed some to understand why my name was placed on that committee," he wrote.
In 1856 Lincoln, as recorded in his writings, reluctantly joined the Republican presidential campaign of John Fremont. In the campaign Lincoln preferred to be identified as a Fremont man or simply Anti-Nebraska, still finding the Republican label distasteful. The party was tainted in Lincoln's view by the alliance with the former members of the bigoted American or"Know-Nothing" party whose anti-immigrant rhetoric foreshadowed the far right faction of present day Republicans.
Lincoln ran on a Republican ticket only one time: his 186O election as President. In his famous but unsuccessful campaign for the Senate against Stephen Douglas in 1858 Lincoln technically did not run as a Republican, although he was widely known as their candidate. At that time neither he nor Douglas appeared on the voters' ballots under the old system of indirect selection of Senators by state legislators. Lincoln's last campaign, the re-election in 1864, was under the banner of the Union Party bringing together pro-Union Democrats including vice president Andrew Johnson along with Republicans.
Although the names have remained the same the parties have changed their principles and positions, in many ways flipping to the same degree that regions have flipped their party strengths in the last 150 years. Lincoln's reticence about the Republican party of his day would be more than matched by the sheer rejection the modern GOP would have for a Lincoln living in these times. Lincoln was a deeply devout and spiritual man but was not a churchgoer. On that basis alone the Christian Coalition, which exercises a disproportional power within the Republican party, would effectively veto his chances for public office, distributing fliers in church parking lots denouncing him on the Sunday before the election, much as what happened to John McCain. And what over blown scandal could Ken Starr have made out of Ann Rutledge?
A reincarnated Lincoln would relive part of his past life listening to the states' rights arguments contemporary Republican use against any proposal to help working families. The man who created the Department of Agriculture would recoil at the anti-government diatribes of House Republicans. The president who levied an income tax on the wealthy would have be shocked at George W. Bush's disproportionate tax cut to the wealthiest one percent. The chief executive who believed in practical action to regulate the marketplace such as standardizing railroad gauges across the country would face a barrage of paranoia about big government from the right wing think tanks and media. But above all the president who did everything he could to avoid a war would not have sent Americans into battle on false or faulty pretenses based on slanted intelligence.
Everything Lincoln stood for, if stripped of its nineteenth century labels, places him within the modern day Democratic Party. The man who in 1858 spoke of the"eternal struggle" between right and wrong, the"two principles that have stood face to face since the beginning of time...The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings," would not be a Republican today. He made his choice long ago. It would not have been for a party that has tarnished and misused his name, and could more accurately call itself the party of Richard Nixon or Trent Lott or Dick Army or Tom Delay or Rush Limbaugh, but not Abraham Lincoln.
Brenden Miniter, assistant editor of OpinionJournal.com, in WSJ (Feb. 10, 2004):
Unlike most families, the federal government can perpetually spend more than it takes in and still remain fiscally sound. That's because unlike us mortals, Uncle Sam isn't going to retire. His income isn't going to top off in middle age and slip in his golden years. The occasional but short-lived downturn notwithstanding, it will continue to grow with the economy, forever.
With that in mind, President Bush made a reasonable gamble early in his administration--that deficits matter less than economic growth. When he took office the country was already in a recession, and less than nine months later it was plunged unexpectedly into war. Mr. Bush remembered the experience of Ronald Reagan, who faced down an even steeper recession with tax cuts. During Mr. Reagan's administration Washington ran large deficits too, but he is now revered for winning the Cold War and restoring the economy (not to mention the country's sense of optimism).
So why is Mr. Reagan a hero, while President Bush is taking so many hits even from the right for running up the government's tab?
Part of the reason is that ex-presidents are judged differently. While seeking the presidency and while in office, Mr. Reagan was attacked by plenty of Republicans. It was, after all, George Bush père who dubbed Mr. Reagan's tax-cutting proposals"voodoo economics." And David Stockman, Mr. Reagan's budget director, looked at his president's proposed budgets and pronounced"deficits as far as the eye can see."
Mr. Reagan managed to remake the Republican Party into an instrument for limited government and lower taxes. Conservatives hoped his landslide victory in 1980 would mean a similar remaking of the political establishment. After all, the GOP also won control of the Senate that year and gained enough House seats to have an"ideological majority" with the support of conservative Southern Democrats, today a dying breed. Soon, however, Republican pragmatists and"moderates" were sprinkled throughout the administration, forcing Mr. Reagan to overcome opposition from within his own party. And course, the Democrats, led by Massachusetts liberal Tip O'Neill, still controlled the House. Winning several large issues against these odds made Mr. Reagan even more of a hero on the right. Conservatives consoled themselves with his defense increases and tax cuts, excusing uncontrolled domestic spending as the price of doing business with House Democrats.
That bargain made sense in the 1980s. But now Republicans hold the White House and have controlled Congress since 1994 (except for a brief Senate interlude thanks to Jim Jeffords). Yet somehow spending seemed easier to control when Newt Gingrich was imposing discipline on Bill Clinton. The excuse now--"if only the Senate weren't so evenly divided"--isn't holding up to scrutiny. It's all giving many Republicans the sense that we have met the enemy and he is us .
Amity Shlaes, writing in the Financial Times (London) (Feb. 9, 2004)
John Kerry, Howard Dean, George W. Bush and Joe Lieberman all have something in common, and it is not merely that they spent January running for the US presidency. They are all Yale men.
But then Bush v Clinton was also a Yale v Yale event. A Yale graduate has occupied the Oval Office for a decade and a half now. Assuming Hillary Clinton (Yale Law School, 1973) is all her fans hope, the reign of Yale could stretch to 2012.
Observers argue that Yale's dominance reveals something shameful: moneyed dynasties rule the US. The fact that several of the politicians (both Bushes, John Kerry) belonged to a Yale senior society, Skull and Bones, seems to underscore the claim of exclusivity.
But we can also argue the opposite: that Yale's dominance today proves the value of adopting a conscious policy to effect meritocratic change.
This is a story that starts with old Yale, founded in 1701. That Yale enjoyed bright periods and distinguished graduates. But it also suffered long stretches of mediocrity, during which it was known principally for its peculiar rallying cry,"Boola, Boola". Compared with the University of Chicago after the second world war, for example - or the University of Wisconsin before it - Yale was not so exciting. The only president Yale produced for a century and a half was William Howard Taft - remembered by most Americans as the president so corpulent that he is reported to have got stuck in a White House bathtub.
Yale's problem was that it cared more about class than quality. The college excluded all qualified women, nearly all qualified blacks, many qualified Jews and some qualified Catholics. It routinely rejected pupils from public schools - the state schools of towns and cities - on principle. It lagged behind Harvard when it came to accepting outstanding students. Eugene Rostow, who later became Lyndon Johnson's under-secretary of state, was a Yale undergraduate in the 1930s. In a student publication, the Harkness Hoot, Rostow noted that there were no Jewish faculty members. This was a message to the serious Jewish student that"his academic ambitions can never be realised".
In the 1960s, however, two successive Yale presidents, A. Whitney Griswold and Kingman Brewster, set about making a new Yale. As Dan Oren writes in his book, Joining the Club, the pair hired Arthur Howe and R. Inslee Clark as admissions officers, who insisted that Yale must open its gates wider if it wanted to achieve greatness. By 1964, the share of freshmen admitted from public schools stood at 56 per cent, compared with 36 per cent in 1950.
In the early 1970s Yale admitted its first women to the college. The new arrivals were quicker and tried harder than the old Yale boys. Admissions policy became"need blind"; the university picked students first, then figured out how much financial support they required, and delivered much of it.
Today this outcome looks as though it must always have been inevitable. But it was not."Let me get down to basics," a member of the Yale Corporation told"Inky" Clark."You're admitting an entirely different kind of class than we're used to. You're admitting them for a different purpose than training leaders." Mr Clark insisted that admitting talent and creating leaders were one and the same. The Corporation official disagreed."You're talking about Jews and public school graduates. Look around you at this table. These are America's leaders. There are no Jews here. There are no public school graduates here."
In the 1960s and 1970s it was Yalies marching for the Black Panthers or protesting against the invasion of Cambodia who garnered national attention. But in retrospect, the bigger news was the internal revolution."This was a switch to a meritocracy both for students and faculty," recalls Donald Kagan, the Yale classicist and historian. The new Yale made everything seem possible, and this in turn made the university enormously attractive. Its environment inspired new Yalies such as Senator Joe Lieberman, who came from public high school in Stamford, Connecticut. George Pataki, New York's governor (Yale, 1967), recalled how Yale showed his Hungarian family they might rise in America. When Mr Pataki's brother was admitted to Yale without a scholarship, his postman father went to the admissions office and told them:"There must be something wrong here. You denied him a scholarship." As Mr Pataki noted:"In a matter of days, Yale worked out a significant scholarship for my brother."
At the new Yale, the children of older money - John Kerry (Yale, 1966), Howard Dean (Yale, 1971) - were forced to compete with students from very different backgrounds. As for George W. (Yale, 1968), he simultaneously partook of the Old Yale and, as a cowboy populist, rejected it. For students from these privileged backgrounds, the new policy raised questions that their predecessors would not have had to consider and produced complicated, thoughtful men and women - in short, leaders.
To focus on Yale too much, however, misses the point. For the positive consequences of the 1960s' emphasis on opportunity are visible across the country. What this nearly-all-Yale campaign year reveals is the long-lasting power of a discrete and beneficial policy shift, even when that shift comes lamentably late. Or, as a Yalie would put it:"Boola, Boola."
Charles R. Morris, author of Money, Greed and Risk, in the NYT (Feb. 7, 2004):
If President Bush can maintain the recovery through his re-election campaign, he will be in rarefied company. Richard M. Nixon, in fact, may be the only recent president to accomplish this feat, timing a recovery from a midterm recession to coincide with his 1972 race. The reason this is so hard is that, despite all the bragging about creating jobs or speeding growth, presidents really have few economic tools at their disposal. Most federal spending is outside a president's direct control locked up in things like retirement programs that chug along pretty much by themselves. The same is true of taxes and interest rates. A president can set the agenda, but taxes are ultimately controlled by Congress. Interest rates fall under the domain of the independent Federal Reserve.
Yet Nixon proved that if a president plays his weak hand ruthlessly without restraint or regard for long-term consequences he can make the economy sit up and roll over at his command. In the end, of course, the Nixon "recovery" was short-lived and America soon paid a steep price for it. Unfortunately, Mr. Bush's economic performance so far is eerily similar.
Back in the early 1970's, with both high inflation and slow growth, Nixon's economic challenge may have been even more intractable than Mr. Bush's. So, with his re-election in jeopardy, Nixon and his Treasury secretary, John B. Connally, bludgeoned both the Congress and Federal Reserve into a truly radical experiment. Congress passed wage and price controls and the Federal Reserve simultaneously increased the money supply.
The gamble was that a big jolt of money would rev up the economy while the price controls would suppress inflation. It worked, allowing Nixon to win in 1972. But success came at a huge cost. Once the price controls were removed through 1973 and 1974, all the suppressed inflation came roaring out, hitting the double digits and plaguing the second half of the 1970's. Worse, the resulting collapse of the dollar led to the 1973 OPEC "oil price shock." Altogether, it was one of history's most expensive election campaigns.
Many analysts worry that a Bush-style recovery could be similarly catastrophic. Taking a page from the Nixon playbook, Mr. Bush has wielded his fiscal tools aggressively. Over the last two years, there has been a half-trillion dollar swing in the federal books, from a $100 billion surplus in 2001 to a deficit of about $400 billion in 2003, and an expected $521 trillion in red ink for 2004.
Frank Rich, in the NYT (Feb. 8, 2004):
To survey the progress of America's political culture over four decades, you need rerun only two TV shows, each starring a Massachusetts Democrat with the initials J.F.K.
On June 16, 1960, Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy, in a natty suit, sat next to the brilliant and much-mourned Jack Paar on NBC's "Tonight Show" and fielded more than 30 minutes' worth of questions from his host, the droll comedian Peggy Cass and the New York studio audience. The subjects were the U-2 incident, the failed Soviet summit, Cuba and "the Catholic question." Mr. Paar tried to elicit a laugh only once, asking the senator to recall amusing anecdotes from the primary campaign trail. Kennedy was stumped, and when his one example ("I was made an honorary Indian") landed with a thud, the two men scampered back for safety to the cold war.
On Nov. 11, 2003, Senator John Forbes Kerry appeared on the same NBC show, now presided over by Jay Leno from Burbank. But instead of strolling onstage in his senatorial uniform, the candidate arrived, via Harley-Davidson, attired in a brown leather jacket, black boots, a denim shirt and jeans. Mr. Kerry fielded a few questions about his then-lagging campaign, but that was secondary to his comic "material." The candidate mused that the show's other guest, the puppet Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, might be his pick as a ticket mate and quipped, "Can you imagine Triumph debating Dick Cheney?"
Well, you had to be there. Mr. Kerry doing comedy is cognitive dissonance run amok. Though the senator does ride a Harley-Davidson in real life (it was a less proletarian Ducati before the campaign), his entire performance reeked of phoniness. A dour Boston Brahmin was trying to pass himself off as a wisecracking biker. And he was doing so after having given an interview (to Julia Reed of Vogue) criticizing President Bush's handlers for identical theatrics: "They put him in a brown jacket and jeans and get him to move some hay or drive a truck, and all of a sudden he's the Marlboro Man."
But if the late-night TV performance intended to reveal the "authentic," non-Washington John Kerry was inauthenticity incarnate, Kennedy's "Tonight Show" turn of 11 election cycles earlier was nearly as bogus. By the standards of 1960, a presidential candidate's appearance on an entertainment program was considered a bit shocking; no politician had done it before. In his introduction, Mr. Paar felt it necessary to prep the audience at length. After noting that the host of NBC's "Meet the Press," Lawrence Spivak, did his job "very well," he added: "I have noticed if you watch political programs, they ask political questions and the answers are political. . . . When it's all over, no one's said anything. In this relaxed atmosphere of the `Tonight Show' you meet people who aren't on guard and not as tense and perhaps not as political."
Or so he wished. Though Paar was as charming and human and witty as ever (especially when he had to interrupt his guest to hawk such sponsors as Lip Quick and ReaLemon), Kennedy responded with fat paragraphs of well-practiced stump boilerplate. Paar would later commend the candidate for his "very brave and courageous" act of appearing on a show where "anything can happen," but the candidate made sure nothing would happen. He still didn't have the nomination locked up and his political agenda was not to appear too young. So he offered a phony persona that was exactly the inverse of Kerry's act 43 years later: he suppressed his natural wit and youthfulness to make himself seem as stolid and humorless as his opponent, Richard Nixon. In the debates yet to come Kennedy would prove far more up-to-speed than Nixon about how to manipulate the still young medium of TV. (He didn't hang with the Rat Pack for nothing.) The character he presented, however fictionalized, was golden. But whether we ever saw the "real" Kennedy in his public persona remains a subject of historical debate.
Henry Siegman, writing in the Financial Times (London) (Feb. 10th, 2004)
It would have been hard to imagine in the aftermath of the second world war that the issue of anti-Semitism would once again require the attention of decent men and women within the lifetime of Holocaust survivors. It would have been even harder to imagine that the state of Israel, whose creation was intended by its Zionist founders as a cure for the malignancy of anti-Semitism, would itself be seen as being at the heart of this disease's recrudescence.
These thoughts are occasioned by the European Commission's preparations for a conference on anti-Semitism next week, and by a recent essay by Omer Bartov, a professor of history at Brown University*. There is much in this essay that serves importantly to identify the dangers of a re-emerging cultural and political anti-Semitism. Particularly disturbing is tolerance of an anti-Semitism that has polluted much of the religious and political discourse in Islamic countries.
Nevertheless, Mr Bartov recognises the problem of confusing legitimate criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism. He finds that the"policies of the current Israeli government in the territories are indeed contrary to the strategic and moral interests of the Jewish state", a point that takes some courage to make these days.
Yet one has to ask whether criticism of objectionable Israeli policies is justified only if these policies are seen as damaging to Israel's"strategic and moral interests". That this would be a dangerously narrow view was illustrated recently by the astounding comments of Benny Morris, the Israeli historian of Israel's War of Independence, in an interview with the Ha'aretz newspaper (January 9).
Mr Morris said that David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, realised at the outset of the war that the new state of Israel would face impossible demographic problems unless the areas that came under Israeli control were" cleansed" of their Arab inhabitants. Ben Gurion, he said, issued"operational orders that state explicitly that (Israeli forces) were to uproot the villagers, expel them and destroy the villages themselves". Mr Morris concedes that these actions constituted war crimes, but insists they were justified by circumstances, for they served Israel's political and moral interests, namely securing the return of Jews to their historic patrimony.
To insist on the legitimacy of criticism of unjust Israeli policies is not to condone its transformation into blatant anti-Semitism. Those who preach the destruction of the Jewish state should not be allowed to hide behind the unfortunate policies of Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister. Supporting the cause of Palestinian nationhood does not require denial of the right of Jews to live in their own state.
It is important to add that the desire of Palestinians to return to territory they consider to be their patrimony is not to be construed as anti-Semitism. For most Palestinians a return to what they consider to be their legitimate home is no more motivated by an ideological imperative to destroy Jews and their homeland than the Jewish return to Zion is shaped by a Jewish desire to destroy the Arab community in Palestine. Rather, both sides have come up against the hard truth that return cannot be achieved without destroying the other unless they are prepared to divide the land equitably. This is an endlessly complicated task that will not be made easier by inappropriate accusations of Palestinian anti-Semitism or of Zionist hatred of Islam.
The struggle against anti-Semitism is not helped by wilful or misguided exaggeration. Prof Bartov recognises the danger from"hysterics" who seem not to know"that Hitler and the Third Reich are history". He notes that Jews are more prosperous, more successful and safer in the US than they have ever been, and"the same could even be said about the nervous Jews of western Europe".
The important question to be asked about criticism of unjust Israeli policies should not be how anti-Semites might exploit such criticism, but rather how these policies can be changed. Preventing injustice should hold a higher priority for friends of Israel, not to mention Israelis themselves, than preventing the exploitation of criticism of that injustice by anti-Semites, who in any event are never at a loss to find reasons for their hatred. Jews who do not regard this as a priority not only fail their Jewish heritage but also perversely help to make the anti-Semites' case.
President Bush's unusual appearance on"Meet the Press" yesterday underscored two important points about the coming election: Bush himself is likely to be the main issue and, despite the many advantages of incumbency, he is beginning the year in a defensive crouch.
His aggressive responses to moderator Tim Russert underscored both what his admirers and critics see in him - the resoluteness and the stubbornness - except this time he was answering questions that largely challenged his judgment, and the combativeness seemed strained.
"I'm a war president," Bush declared at one point."I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign policy matters with war on my mind. And again, I wish it wasn't true, but it is true. And the American people need to know they've got a president who sees the world the way it is. And I see dangers that exist, and it's important for us to deal with them."
Statements like those won Bush many admirers after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but this time they were presented in the context of explaining a war he started because, he said at the time, there was"no doubt" that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Now, while Bush insisted his decisions were based on solid evidence, came about after full consideration of less-lethal options, and are still soundly justified, his very certitude seemed to suggest otherwise. The interview made clear that Bush is still absolutely sure of himself even as some around him, such as Secretary of State Colin Powell, acknowledged that lack of weapons of mass destruction would have changed the calculus on going to war.
Bush's current justification for the war is almost identical to his justification before the war, except he now stresses that Hussein had the" capacity to make a weapon" of mass destruction, rather than the actual weapons.
In fact, weapons inspector David Kay's interim report last fall alluded to"weapons of mass destruction-related activities" but made it clear that Hussein was far from being able to develop a nuclear weapon. The report quotes Iraqi scientists as discussing ways to make chemical and biological weapons, but offered no evidence yet of the agents that would be needed to make them.
Bush's justifications were probably strong enough to satisfy those disposed to support military action in the Middle East, but they seemed certain to unleash a round of questioning from skeptics.
Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry, the winner of 10 Democratic primaries or caucuses, issued a statement calling on Bush to"take responsibility for his actions and set the record straight."
The fact that Bush chose to appear on"Meet the Press" signaled to analysts that the Democratic campaign was drawing blood.
"There's been a constellation of events, some of which Bush can control and some of which he can't, that have put him on the defensive," said Boston University historian Michael Corgan."The White House obviously feels they can't just sit back and wait until September to ramp up their campaign."
Among the events cited by Corgan - and covered in Russert's interview - were Kay's testimony that"we were all wrong" about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; the insistence of Iraq's Shi'ite leaders on early elections, a potentially destabilizing move that jeopardizes Bush's promised changeover of power by June 30; criticism by many conservatives of the growing deficit; and slower-than-expected job creation.
Bush sought to lower expectations for a smooth road to democracy in Iraq, and expressed confidence in the economy.
When Russert confronted the president with a General Accounting Office report stating that rising debts would force the government either to cut half its discretionary spending by 2040 or institute a huge tax hike, Bush responded deftly: He portrayed his insistence on tax cuts as a sign of his empathy for the average person looking for a job.
Moments like those showed that Bush still carries an unusual ability to communicate his priorities in simple terms that register with average voters. It is an ability he will obviously put to use later in the campaign, when events may be more favorable.
Laura King, writing for the Los Angeles Times (Feb 8, 2004)
Years before he became prime minister, Ariel Sharon was fond of taking visitors to a bare, rocky West Bank hillside overlooking Israel's narrow but densely populated coastal plain. There, in a set-piece speech, with wind-ruffled maps at hand, he would forcefully insist on Israel's need in the name of self-defense to hold fast to this piece of strategic high ground -- never mentioning that this same stony earth was the heartland of the Palestinians' dreamed-of future state.
Sharon, a lifelong military man, has always viewed the world from a battlefield perspective. But now, in what could be the twilight of his political life, his notion of how to hold the high ground -- that is, how best to defend the Jewish state against all threats -- has fundamentally changed.
Sharon's vision of a Greater Israel, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, has given way to acceptance of the idea that the Palestinians will one day have a state of their own on part of that territory. But the Israeli leader, ever the tactician, has clearly demonstrated that he wants that to happen on his own terms -- not those of the Palestinians, probably not those of the American administration, and certainly not those of the rest of the outside world.
This evolution in the 75-year-old Sharon's thinking found its latest expression last week in a dramatic initiative that could result in Israel relinquishing nearly all the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip -- which the prime minister once described as a crucial line of defense that Israel would never give up.
In the months before that, Sharon put residents of remote West Bank Jewish settlements on notice that their communities, too, were marked for uprooting. He indirectly floated the once-heretical idea of officially sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinians and last year spoke for the first time of the massive Israeli military presence in the West Bank and Gaza as an"occupation."
One Israeli columnist has dubbed it Sharon's"Dance of the Seven Veils" -- a series of carefully stage-managed, incremental pronouncements, often swiftly softened afterward by underlings to make them more palatable to right-wing political allies and a domestic audience left wary and embittered by more than three years of ferocious warfare with the Palestinians.
But however couched and conditional they might be, Sharon's statements of the last 18 months, taken together, amount to an utter transformation of his political persona.
The onetime champion of the Jewish settlement movement is now regarded by settlers as perhaps the greatest threat to its existence. The man who always held that force was the only language the Palestinians understood now speaks calmly and philosophically of the need for two bloodied peoples to simply separate from one another.
The old general who has played some part in every one of his country's wars since Israel's founding in 1948 stands ready, it seems, to cede battle-won territory without so much as a treaty in return.
"I think Sharon did realize in these last two years that for many reasons, that he simply will not be able to hold on to the territories," said Yoram Peri, a political analyst at Tel Aviv University."He didn't really change his mind on peace issues, but he is confronting reality. A field commander doesn't come out and say, 'I withdraw,' but instead he finds a way to do this to his best advantage."
During the same period, though, Sharon has also displayed his blunt-edged side, the one that years ago earned him the sobriquet of"The Bulldozer." Sharon has embarked on the construction of a barrier in the West Bank that Palestinians denounce as the baldest of land grabs. Under him, Jewish settlements have continued to grow, despite strong American pressure to halt the expansion.
He is widely blamed for helping engineer the fall of one moderate Palestinian Authority prime minister, and for doing little to help the Palestinian successor stave off what many predict will be a similar fate.
Perhaps most significantly, the Israeli leader -- even while pledging himself to an American-backed blueprint for peace based on the premise that Israel and the Palestinians will negotiate terms for Palestinian statehood -- has been steadily laying the groundwork for an Israeli-imposed solution that he calls his disengagement plan.
Under this strategy's still-emerging outlines, Israel would unilaterally withdraw to what it considers defensible borders -- defined at least initially, by all indications, by the more than 400-mile West Bank barrier that is still under construction -- and discuss statehood terms with the Palestinians only when the Israeli government is ready to do so.
The Palestinians fear that such a course of action will predetermine the outcome of any negotiations, and ultimately leave them with a territory so truncated and fragmented as to be a state in name only.
"Sharon will evacuate Gaza, if he indeed does so, believing that doing so will make it easier for Israel to hold on to large swaths of the West Bank," the respected Haaretz newspaper predicted in an editorial last week."There is no place for negotiations with the Palestinians in such a narrow perspective ... nor is there any room in such a perspective for a viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel."
Sharon has promised that he will move ahead with his plan only if the American-backed"road map" fails. But the peace plan has achieved no traction in the nine months since its launch, and with the U.S. election season in full swing, there is strong skepticism among both Israeli and Palestinian officials that the United States will play any significant role in coming months -- the window during which Sharon has indicated his government will begin to act.
The prime minister has directed his national security advisor, Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, to chart security lines that Israel can militarily defend until there is a Palestinian government in place with which Israel is prepared to negotiate. Israel refuses to have any dealings with the Palestinian Authority president, Yasser Arafat, and has indicated that if the appointed Palestinian prime minister is unable to act independently, it will not engage him in serious dialogue either.
Those close to Sharon insist that he is acting in the interests of peace, and that the land hand-overs he has outlined are wrenchingly painful to him.
"He is entirely sincere, and anyone who does not believe that does not understand his character," said Eli Landau, a businessman and a longtime close friend of the prime minister.
"I watched him through the years, saw how he nurtured and watched over every Jewish settlement, so to be prepared now to do what he is prepared to do is for him a real tragedy," Landau said."But now he is the leader. He stands at the top of the pyramid, and he can see this is the only way forward."
Sharon's defenders scoff at the notion that the prime minister's timing for unveiling the Gaza initiative is intended to deflect attention from his interrogation by police in connection with bribery allegations involving a failed development venture. Both the disengagement plan and the scandal have been in play for months, they point out, insisting that the timing is coincidental.
However, the possibility of a bribery indictment still hangs over the prime minister, a contingency that might drive him from office, throw the Israeli political scene into disarray and probably scuttle his initiatives of recent months -- particularly if his hard-line heir apparent, Benjamin Netanyahu, is to take the reins. A complicated nexus of factors helped nudge Sharon toward the view that Palestinian statehood was inevitable, analysts said.
In more than three years of fighting, it has become apparent to all that Palestinian militants cannot achieve anything approaching a military victory over a vastly superior Israeli force. But they can and do continue to strike Israeli cities and towns, using a seemingly inexhaustible supply of suicide bombers to kill and maim Israeli civilians.
A battle-weary Israeli public last year was intrigued by and surprisingly supportive of several unofficial peace plans calling for large-scale territorial concessions in exchange for peace with the Palestinians.
Also galvanizing debate in recent months has been the premise that Palestinians in the territories and Arab citizens of Israel, with their faster population growth rate, will soon outnumber Jews in the area comprising Israel proper, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A parade of prominent Israelis, led by former parliament Speaker Avraham Burg, have bluntly warned that demographics will eventually make it impossible for Israel to retain both its democratic character and its Jewish nature -- unless it relinquishes the Palestinian territories.
"Look, Sharon is not [Yitzhak] Rabin," said Peri, the analyst, who was a political advisor to the assassinated prime minister."Late in his life, Rabin realized that the Palestinians are a nation, that we have to deal with them as partners. Sharon has not changed on that issue, but this is a matter of realpolitik -- he sees what is happening, and his aim is to achieve as much territory as possible."
Despite the tremendous difficulties that lie ahead, there are strong indications that Sharon is serious about proceeding with the evacuation of Gaza settlements and, later, isolated West Bank communities.
Already, the government is minutely calculating the costs of relocating settler families -- an issue expected to figure soon in talks with the Bush administration.
Right-wing allies have not yet pulled out of Sharon's government, but say they will do so as soon as it becomes clear he intends to proceed with the pullbacks he has outlined. In a scene that would have been unthinkable just months ago, a crowd of Gaza settlers gathered Friday outside Sharon's sheep ranch in the Negev desert, shouting angry slogans against him.
The prime minister has also been seeking to marshal the support of the defense establishment, an arena in which he is supremely comfortable but whose leading figures were reportedly caught off guard by his proposed Gaza initiative. Hawkish Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz backs the idea, and although some high-ranking field commanders reportedly harbor reservations, they have been ordered not to air them publicly.
Military historian Meir Pail, a longtime observer of Sharon, believes that unilateral moves in the absence of a political agreement with the Palestinians are a long-term recipe for disaster. But he also says Sharon is likely to stay the course he has set for himself.
"The political question -- the lack of any agreement -- is very dangerous, and I'm talking as a military man when I say this," Pail said."But Arik Sharon is a tough guy, very thick-skinned, and he will carry through what he has set out to do.
"He's behaving very, very much like himself."
Fred Kaplan, in Slate (Feb. 9, 2004):
[Tim] Russert asked [President Bush] whether he supported that war. Bush replied that he did, sort of. The president added:
The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me, as I look back, was it was a political war. We had politicians making military decisions, and it is a lesson that any president must learn, and that is to set the goal and the objective and allow the military to come up with the plans to achieve that objective. And those are essential lessons to be learned from the Vietnam War.
This is the great conservative shibboleth about the Vietnam War—that we lost the war because Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and to a lesser extent President Lyndon Johnson, put too many constraints on the generals, telling them which targets they could and could not hit. But it's very odd for George W. Bush to be reciting this case because the two wars he's commanded, in Afghanistan and Iraq, have been, in this sense, the most"political" wars in recent American history.
While Bush himself may not have done much micromanaging of the war, his defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, not only helped pick targets, but rearranged the structure of the units sent into battle. In preparing for Iraq, he ordered the removal of several heavy-artillery battalions from Army divisions. In the weeks leading up to the invasion of Afghanistan, he rejected several war plans submitted by Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. Central Command, until the general devised an unprecedented combination of troops and special operations commandos that conformed to Rumsfeld's concept of" military transformation " and smaller, lighter forces.
The interesting thing about this blatant intrusion into the nuts and bolts of military planning is that Rumsfeld was right . With the advent of very precise"smart bombs," aerial drones with real-time video transmissions, and computerized command-control networks that allowed for much greater coordination between air forces and ground troops, the Army didn't need so much artillery; air power could break up enemy defenses in a way that, in an earlier era, only artillery could. Or at least Rumsfeld was right in the battlefield phase of the war. He should have paid more attention to his generals in planning how many troops would be needed after victory was declared.
But the point here is that if civilian interference is"the thing about the Vietnam War that troubles" George W. Bush, why wasn't he troubled about the way his own wars were planned and fought, for better and for worse? Or has he ever really been troubled about the Vietnam War, back then or now? And was he aware of the intense internecine fighting between Rumsfeld and the Army over the war plans for Iraq? The main message that President Bush tried to send during his session with Russert was that he is a leader in command."I'm a war president," he said at the start."I make decisions here in the Oval Office on foreign policy matters with war on my mind." But in some of his remarks that followed, the president cast doubt on how much he's even in the loop.
Paul Waugh, writing in the Independant (London) (Feb. 7, 2004):
ONE WAS faced with an enemy that had the biggest army in history, had overrun half of Europe and was bombing British cities on a daily basis.
The other was faced with an enemy that couldn't use its air force in its own airspace, was crippled by sanctions and possessed weapons that it now turns out were more imagined than real.
Most historians wouldn't dare to compare Winston Churchill's wartime leadership with Tony Blair's experience in the run up to the war on Iraq.
Although Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein were probably equally deranged, it is difficult to find any serious academic who would agree that the two posed similar threats to Britain.
But after a week in which the Government's case on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction appeared once more to be embarrassingly thin, it was perhaps not surprising that some cabinet ministers lashed out in frustration to defend the Prime Minister.
The exasperation of Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for Environment, with stories about the details of the so-called 45-minutes claim finally spilled over when she made the comparison between Mr Blair and his predecessor of 60 years earlier.
The final straw appeared to be Michael Howard's call for Mr Blair's resignation on the grounds that he had not known MI6's assessment that Saddam's chemical weapons were for the battlefield and not cities hundreds of miles away.
Ms Beckett, who fairly represented many of her colleagues' anger at the Tories' move, said that it was"nit-picking of the highest order"."Do you suppose Winston Churchill went round asking precisely the kind of munition they had in the Second World War and would that have been a valuable use of his time?" the Environment Secretary asked.
Unfortunately for Ms Beckett, there were plenty of people ready to step forward to declare that, yes, of course Churchill would have done precisely that.
Even more unfortunately, the former prime minister's grandson just happened to be Nicholas Soames, the shadow Secretary of State for Defence.
"Margaret Beckett has the impertinence to invoke the name of Winston Churchill in the same breath as Tony Blair, saying that Churchill would never have considered it his responsibility to have been informed of details of munitions and weaponry. She could not be more wrong. This is ignorance of the first order.
"My grandfather was obsessed with military detail and would have regarded it as his solemn duty as Prime Minister to have ensured that the reasons for going to war were detailed, valid, legal and honourable, and above all accurate," Mr Soames said.
"Blair and the No 10 machine were so obsessed with spin and hype that they were ignorant of, and disinterested in, the hard military realities. The difference between these weapons matters very much indeed in any careful and detailed military assessment."
It is true that Churchill frequently tried to micromanage many aspects of the military effort, from the response to the V1 and V2 rockets to equipment in the Far East.
The historian David Starkey told The Independent:"Unlike Mr Blair, Churchill had been a soldier and knew all about weapons. He also, of course, had Lord Cherwell as his special adviser and was kept right up to date with all the latest information."
He added:"Churchill actually worked - he didn't spend his time sitting on a sofa.
"It seems that this government has more in common with the Ottoman empire in decay - while the Ottoman empire was ruled from a divan, this government is ruled from a sofa."
Bill Eichenberger, writing in the Columbus Dispatch (Feb. 3, 2004):
In two best sellers, historian James Bradley has addressed conflict in the Pacific during World War II.
Flags of Our Fathers (2000) tells the story of the six "boys" who raised the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi during the battle for the island of Iwo Jima.
The photograph of the event is considered the most-reproduced image in history.
Flyboys (2003) tells the story of the eight airmen who were shot down on or near the island of Chichi Jima and captured by the Japanese near the end of the war. The airmen were executed and, later, their captors convicted of war crimes at a secret trial.
Not once in the combined 782 pages does Bradley use the words patriot or patriotism .
"I've interviewed hundreds of veterans of the Pacific, and I've never had one of them say the word patriotism, " the author said in a recent telephone interview. "The guys on Iwo Jima, the guys on the aircraft carrier didn't want to be there. They wanted to be at home. They were there because they had to be. They were truly fighting for their country."
He knows whereof he speaks: His father, John, helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima.
Patriotism, Bradley said, is a word not for his father's generation but for younger generations -- "a glean that someone who wasn't there puts on a horrific experience."
Responses to Flags of Our Fathers raised flags for him.
"I got a lot of letters that said, 'Wouldn't it be great to return to such a patriotic time?' Those letters turned my head. Iwo Jima was a massacre on both sides. I thought at the time I'd written a book about a time we'd never want to go back to."
He feels a kinship with historian Paul Fussell, who wrote in the book The Boys' Crusade :
"The historiography I've been drawn to abjures attractive cuteisms like 'the Big Red One,"Hell on Wheels,' and 'the Rainbow Division,' as well as charming troop-friendly allusions to things like 'the deuce-and-a-half truck.' The world of ground warfare can never be truly recalled by such stuff, which belongs to the history of sentimental show business, not the history of real human action and emotion, especially as triggered by intimate horror, death, and sorrow."
In Flags of Our Fathers and especially Flyboys, Bradley looks unflinchingly at such death and sorrow. And, controversially, he does so from the viewpoints of the Americans and the Japanese.
Flyboys recounts a scene in which the mother of Glenn Frazier, a flyboy beaten to death on Chichi Jima, asks one of his friends to point out the island on a map:
" 'Oh! It's so far away,' Mrs. Frazier said. Then she broke down and sobbed in Lyle's arms."
Kazuyo Funato, who lost two siblings when the United States dropped napalm on Tokyo, took his mother to the graves:
" 'She'd pour water on them and say: 'Hiroko-chan, you must have been hot. Teruko-chan, you must have been hot.' "
Bradley understands that not every World War II veteran appreciates the balance.
"They think I'm criticizing them, and I'm not," he said. "I told a veteran once: 'Sir, if I had been of age during World War II, I would have been fighting right beside you. Anybody would have. It was war.' "
Brad Knickerbocker, writing in the Christian Science Monitor (Feb. 4, 2004):
Fighting for the "little guy" against wealthy, powerful interests has been a staple of American politics since the first New England patriots railed against King George III's tax policies.
Today, in similar manner, the leading Democratic presidential contenders are trying to present their effort as a populist uprising against a plutocratic administration in which wealth is the basis of power. They remind voters incessantly that while Vice President Dick Cheney's old firm got large contracts for work in Iraq (some of them without bid), 3 million jobs have been lost on President Bush's watch. Or that the drug industry, oil companies, and HMOs are profiting at the expense of average Americans. Or that paychecks for middle-class and lower-income workers have lagged in comparison with managers and executives at the upper end of the pay scale.
It's not exactly class warfare, since unprecedented numbers of Americans now own stock and therefore are capitalists. But the rhetoric has taken a decidedly populist turn.
Does this message resonate with Americans, especially those who have yet to choose sides in the presidential race? A recent Time/CNN poll has 57 percent of the public (and 63 percent of independents) agreeing that Mr. Bush "pays too much attention to big business."
"A lot of Democrats see this as a new Gilded Age, with a widening gap between wage earners and the elites," says Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin. "Clearly, this sort of heightened populist rhetoric responds to [the perception that] the Bush administration is a throwback to the days before the New Deal. Bill Clinton, to a degree, revived that in 1992."
It didn't work, however, for Al Gore in 2000 (although there were other factors, like renegade Ralph Nader, not to mention a controversial Florida vote count). So why should it work for a Democrat this time?
One major difference: Mr. Gore was warning against the theoretical threat of a corporate takeover of the White House. This time, Democratic contenders say there's solid evidence that such a takeover already is under way.