October 29, 2009

This is a quote from the latest issue of Rolling Stone Magazine:

“ When I ask Lemmy if he has a positive or negative view of humanity, he doesn’t hesitate: “ Oh, negative. Human nature is to blame for everything, innit?  We’re just a disease on this planet. Its going to shrug us off like crabs. Its too late anyway, with what we have done to the environment. Our kids are gone be wearing gas masks. We’re all gonna fry. “

Earlier, while discussing drugs, he expressed similar sentiments.

“ There’s a lot of sh-t talked about what’s bad for you, especially in America.   Everyone wants to be safe. Well, I got news for you:  You can’t be safe. Life’s not safe. Your work isn’t safe. When you leave the house, it isn’t safe.  The air you breathe isn’t going to be safe, not for very long.  That’s why you have to enjoy the moment.”

This little piece of ersatz existential philosophy issues from the mouth of one Lemmy Kilmister, the lead guitarist of  heavy metal band Motörhead.    The 63-year -old guitarist, according to the article, drinks a bottle of Jack Daniels a day, consorts proudly with prostitutes and lives in an apartment festooned with original Nazi paraphernalia.

Motörhead, for those who don’t know, was and is one of the original heavy metal bands, formed in 1975, playing a version of  hard core thrash metal that was the predecessor to punk rock.  Now it would come as little surprise to those who know something about rock culture, that a character of Lemmy Kilmister’s orientation and milieu would be a nihilist who has little patience for exploring purpose and meaning in life.  His sense of alienation and fatalism might be said to be typical of a world-weary rock star who has spent most of his  adult life seeking gratification from loud music, women, bottles, pills and needles.

Lemmy Klimister might be a jaded rock star, but don’t think that his negative narcissism and rejection of human exceptionalism  is restricted to his goth rock contemporaries or that his interview is a mere reflection of the magazine’s penchant for showcasing outlaw personalities.  The same issue of Rolling Stone features an article  which bombastically claims that every ocean on the planet is filled to the brim with floating plastic – the result of human degradation of our environment;  It is followed  by an interview with Madonna,  who insists, after one of the most lascivious careers in pop history,  that changing one’s identity on a regular basis is healthy recipe for human contentment;  and  then another  full length article which parades  the old trope that our real enemies are not lurking in caves on the Afghan-Pakistan border but in the Pentagon.

Well, you say,  it  IS Rolling Stone, the flagship of the counterculture.  What do you expect?

Yes, its Rolling Stone, but if you think these views and attitudes reflect only a thin current in the underground press you are wrong.   Those attitudes have, in one way or another, percolated into our social vocabulary, into our attitudes toward government, into our suspicion of religious thought and practice, into the television programs we watch , into the nightly news  we view and into our academies of learning.

Rolling Stone, in other words, is an underground paper no longer.  It is the voice of the mainstream.

There can be little doubt that this self loathing, fatalism and nihilism has derived from the increasing distance the West has placed between itself and the foundational idea of our civilization  –  that human life has both purpose and meaning.    The rapid secularization of  our culture , which followed the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, the scientific discoveries which built upon Newtonian mechanics and the increasing role that  rationalism and science have played in forming our understanding our world , have  turned us away from exploring intentionality and purpose as key matters concerning our existence.   The question of ‘why  are we here?’  posed so adamantly by Aristotle, Plato and  some of the greatest philosophical minds in history  is today so loaded with angst, so distant from the focus of  modern scientific inquiry, so dangerously pregnant with the threat of violating the boundaries between ‘Church and state’, that few dare openly contemplate it.

There is also no doubt that 150 years ago, the Darwinian intellectual revolution played a key role in this transformation.  Darwin himself knew that his theory of evolution by natural selection would spur a burgeoning atheistic movement and that if  his theory gained hold, there would be no turning back.  For if natural processes alone, devoid of an intelligent mind or force, were responsible for life on earth , then the notion of a God , responsible for the creation and management of all life forms, could be dispensed with.

The neo- Darwinists, those who have inherited the mantle of the Darwinist thought, passed down from Thomas Huxley, via Herbert Spencer through the Scopes Trial and on toward our own time, have adopted the atheistic tradition, which has marched in step with Darwinism in its crusade to transform our understanding of the origins  and development of life.  Thus when Richard Dawkins, Darwin’s staunchest modern defender claims,
“ Darwin makes it possible to become an intellectually fulfilled atheist,”  he is really stating that he was now free of any obligation to contemplate  purpose and meaning for existence.  Darwin had fixed  it so that the question itself would have little impact on our appreciation of the mechanics of the universe – and that the investigation itself had become meaningless.

Today our magazines, television programs, scientific journals, academies and  even our political culture are suffused with notions which on the one hand, avoid entirely the question of meaning in life and on the other, deride the  attempt to grapple with it as an atavism, belonging to an age devoid of rationality.   In the process, of course,  they also castigate humanity as the source of  the earth’s problems, reject  democracy as a force for good in encouraging the spread of human liberty,  deny the absolute sanctity of human life and brazenly promote rampant sexual license.   The gradual secularization of our society has betokened a break with fundamental notions which underlie civilizational values.  Western civilization, in short, is rapidly ceasing to believe in itself.

Did Darwin intend to wreak such a wholesale transformation of society?   Probably not.  But the consequences are nevertheless with us and they are profound.

Need examples?   Here is Peter Singer, renowned Princeton professor and philosopher:

“ The life a new born baby is of less value  than the life of a pig, dog or chimpanzee.  All we are doing is catching up with Darwin. He showed us in the 19th Century that we are simply animals. Humans assumed we were a separate part of creation and that there was some kind of magical line between Us and Them. Darwin’s theory eradicated the foundations of that entire Western way of thinking about our species.”

Or Nobel Laureate, Steven Weinberg:

“ The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless.”

Or the Texas biologist Erik Pianka:

” We are no better and have no more rights to life than bacteria.”

(Pianka famously advocated, at a public lecture at St. Andrews University in 2006, that over population in the world should be addressed by the deliberate spread of the ebola virus which could effectively eradicate 90% of humanity)

Or this  slice of ineluctable pop culture wisdom from the Bloodhound Gang:

“ You and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals
So lets do it like the do (it) on the Discovery Channel.”

Given the shrinking acceptance of human exceptionalism and the belief  that human beings are on par with every other feature of nature,  is it really any wonder that the Spanish legislature has  recently passed a statute which extends certain human rights to apes;  that Ecuador’s new constitution extends legal rights to the environment or that Switzerland allows  biologists to be prosecuted for conducting research on plants which have been illegally harvested – the suits being brought on behalf of the plants themselves.

It is also not such a stretch to claim that the gradual erosion of  the belief in man’s uniqueness has contributed  to the spread of a radicalism, with its roots steeped in 60s liberation politics, which has redefined culture in the direction of  emancipation,  experimentation  and the casting off of  traditional assumptions abut family, education and sex.   The social thrust of our age  is to emphasize that human beings, with no purpose nor reason for existence, should, as the Nike ad says “just do it”   – satisfying any urge for individual gratification or personal fulfillment, regardless of the social costs.

But even as the movement to debunk human purpose spreads, enormous gaps in Darwinian theory continue to be exposed.  In the field of micro-biology, the investigation of cellular structure has revealed  DNA,  the informational building block of the universe, to be so complex as to be almost beyond human understanding;   In geology and paleontology, the sudden appearance of species  without  a discovered ancestry, continues to perplex ( just as it  did Darwin in the instance of the Cambrian Explosion); in astrophysics, big bang theorists are unable to approach their subject without embracing some level of cosmology  which suggests purpose.  As science probes deeper into the origins of the universe, the questions themselves about  ultimate cause and development of life grow more confounding and complex.

Perhaps at the root of this issue is not we know of the world and the universe, but rather what we don’t.  As humans have increasingly developed theories and tools to probe the universe’s deepest secrets, we are correspondingly confronted with the frustrating awareness that the human mind may not be capable of grasping the deepest mysteries of the universe’s beginnings.  This notion, that we simply can’t know everything, that we are too limited and too restricted by our physiognomy to appreciate the physical and metaphysical dimensions of the universe, is apostasy to the scientific community.   That is because over the past 150 years that community has elevated  the human mind as the supreme arbiter of universal knowledge and truth –  with science to be employed as its ultimate barometer.

But hubris and self reverence will never serve us humans well in advancing science or increasing our understanding of the mechanisms of the universe.  We should never forget that  Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, were among our first scientists  but, as they would have defiantly underlined themselves  – they were philosophers first,  concerned as much with why things work, as with questions of how.    The great tragedy of our age is that we have lost the desire, and perhaps even the ability, to ask why.  And that failure may leave us vulnerable to the assault of ideologies and movements that have no problem in asking that question and offering answers that are at complete odds with our views on the sanctity of human life and the necessity for human progress.

The  AFA Darwin Debates, to be held in the month celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of the Species, is, then, an attempt to bring the question of purpose and intentionality back into public discussion.   It is not, frankly,  important to us whether  a God (or Gods) emerges from the debates as the source of  universe’s laws and their application.  Nor is it our desire to discredit evolutionary theory,  which we believe has played an enormously important role in elevating our understanding and appreciation of our origins.

But we are concerned that without such a debate, without informed discussion which embraces a range of options for understanding life, we run the risk of  allowing  our civilization to slide into a swamp of intellectual and spiritual stagnation,  convinced that we are a blight on this earth and that we have no more reason for living than trees, stones or birds.

Nothing, in the end, can be more deadly to a civilization than its own recognition that it has no reason for being. Yet while we struggle with these issues, we shouldn’t forget that the certainty that there is a purpose to life, is really not so far behind us.

After all, Lemmy Klimister’s father was a vicar.


October 29, 2009

Leftist academics are quite fond of proclaiming that freedom of speech in America is an illusion.  Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Ward Churchill, Tariq Ali and many of their  acolytes have consistently argued that their views are not given sufficient coverage in the press and that the doors of many institutions remain closed to the expression of their views.

The charge itself is notoriously off  the mark.   For not only are these doyens of the far left free to catapult their poisonous cocktail of anti- Americanism, anti-Semitism and general contempt for American exceptionalism into our academic institutions, they have also become campus media darlings, their pronouncements taken with the utmost seriousness and afforded standing ovations for their most prolix and incendiary comments.

Rather, it would seem that those who stand for true Western values of openness and debate have a much better case for alleging creeping censorship in the United States.

Cases in point:

  • On July 9, Robert Spencer was scheduled to speak at the American Library Association convention in Chicago but was canceled at the last minute after pressure from the Council on American-Islamic.  Spencer, the editor of JihadWatch.com and an associate fellow of the American Freedom Alliance, was invited to join a panel forum at the ALA’s annual General Meeting on the topic “Perspectives on Islam: Beyond the Stereotyping.” According to his attorney, William J. Becker Jr., as he was leaving to catch a plane for the event, Spencer learned that it had been cancelled. According to reports he later read on the Internet, Ahmed Rehab, Chicago executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), was responsible for bringing about the cancellation. In a letter to ALA, Rehab wrote: “I ask you to rescind the invitation to Mr. Spencer in order to maintain the integrity of the panel and the reputation of the ALA.” Mr. Spencer, he argued, offered “grotesque viewpoints that lie well outside the bounds of reason and civilized debate.”
  • On September 20, an appearance the Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia by Brigitte Gabriel, a Christian Lebanese advocate for the rights of Muslim women and the President of Act for America! was cancelled.   It appears that the decision was made after  pressure was exerted by members of the Naval Academy amidst concerns about offending Muslims.  It was not the first time Ms. Gabriel has been confronted by hostility to  her appearances.  In April 2006  she was invited to give a lecture sponsored by Professor David Patterson of the Judaic Studies Program. When news about of her appearance spread, the Muslim community both on and off campus launched a full-scale campaign to stop her lecture. They demanded that Dr. Patterson cancel  her speech. E-mails flooded the University of Memphis administration and Dr. Patterson from Muslim students on campus and Muslims in the community and mosques.  
  • On October 8,  the well known blogger Pamela Geller was scheduled to appear on The Eddie Burke Show on WBYR, “the best news and talk in Alaska,” to debate the “freelance journalist” and anti-Semite Alison Weir.  Because Weir made known her displeasure at the appearance of Geller known, Geller’s appearance was cancelled.  Weir appeared on the show alone.
  • On October 12  David Horowitz,  President of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, was scheduled to speak at St. Louis University  but because of the title of his speech,  “Islamo-Fascism Awareness and Civil Rights., he too was cancelled.  Horowitz commented: “I have spoken at 400 universities. This is the first time my speech has been censored and stopped by an administration. And they are supposed to be the guardians of intellectual discourse.” Cary Nelson, the president of the American Association of University Professors, said that with this cancellation, St. Louis University “joins the small group of campuses that are universities in name only…. The free exchange of ideas is not just a comforting offshoot of higher education; it defines the fundamental nature of the enterprise.”

All of this follows hot on the heels of another outrage, this time perpetrated at Yale University.   Just two weeks ago, on October 1,  the University hosted both Kurt Westergaard, the cartoonist who had penned the notorious “Bomber turban cartoon,”  as well as Brandeis Prof. Jytte Klausen , author of  The Cartoons that Shook the World.   The latter had been subject in August to a last minute decision by Yale University Press to remove not only the reprinted 12 cartoons but also all representations of Muhammad.   What was the reaction of the Yale Faculty to the appearances?  As Peter Berkowitz recounts in Saturday’s weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, while Westergaard’s appearance prompted a small faculty-led panel, the same faculty remained entirely silent and unmoved by Yale’s censorship of Ms. Klausen’s book.  Not one word of support was spoken on her behalf.

These acts of censorship, which smack of  the violation of free speech in its most egregious form, may be endemic to the kind of  intolerance we  now see metastizing  unchecked throughout our elite institutions.

This week the American Freedom Alliance learned of the spread of this disease through first hand experience.  A  premiere screening of the documentary  Darwin’s Dilemma,  at the Californa Science Center’s IMAX Theater, which was to be the kick off to our October Darwin Debates series, was cancelled by CSC on the claim that we had issued unapproved publicity for the event.   Nothing of the sort had occured.  The alleged publicity had been distributed by a third party, and, as we soon gleaned from emails and other sources, was a mere pretext for  the cancellation of a film whose message on intelligent design neither the California Science Center nor its national afilliate, the Smithsonian Institute, approves.  

The California Science Center,  I should remind my readers, is a public institution, paid by and for with tax payer dollars.  Its mission statement claims that the Center  “aspire(s) to ……inspire science learning in everyone….. because we value science as an indispensable tool for understanding our world, accessibility and inclusiveness….”

One would that such ‘inclusiveness’ would incorporate views it does not, as an institution, necessarily embrace.

Stated baldly, this public institution had a responsibility to  a California organization to allow free and open discussion of contoversial subjects of a scientifc nature, and no more so at an event that is actually labeled ‘a debate’, with both sides of the issue represented.

Needless to say, a law suit is pending.

AFA has found an alternative venue to replace the IMAX Theater, albeit at great expense and with a tinge of bitterness at being treated in such a reprehensible manner.

But the story is not over.

Those who live in the Los Angeles area now have an opportunity now to express their outrage, not just toward  the California Sceince Center, but to the entire throng of elite institutions who demonstrate consistent denial of First Amendment rights.   Join us in attending the new location for the screening on Sunday night, October 25 at the Davidson Conference Center at USC.   Make clear your disgust with the way an elite and high profile institution handled a freedom one might have thought it was pledged to protect.

Who knows,  if we cheer those films loudly enough maybe our voices will heard over the din of traffic at the California Science Center, just a quarter of a mile away.


October 29, 2009

By Avi Davis and Christian Whiton

Taken at face value, the decision by the Norwegian Nobel Committee to honor the American president with its Peace Prize would be a cause for celebration in the U.S.  But the circumstances surrounding this decision call into question not only the choice to honor President Obama, but whether the Nobel Committee is able to discern real achievements of peace from illusory ones.

In announcing its decision, the Committee noted the President’s “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”  Furthermore, it said the Committee “has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”

What exactly are these “extraordinary efforts”?  While the announcement does not go into detail, one presumes the Nobel Committee is cheering the Obama Administration’s offer to conduct direct negotiations with Iran, its ‘reset’ of relations with Russia, and the President’s tendency to note the purported flaws of the country he represents.  Has any of this led to actual accomplishments and  has it really contributed to a material expansion of peace?

Even the President’s political supporters would probably concede it is too early to judge the outcome of these policies.  This is true today and it certainly was true when Mr. Obama was nominated, which likely had to take place by the Committee’s deadline of February 1, 2009.  On that day, the President had been in office for all of twelve days.  That is a rather amazing fortnight’s work, considering some earlier recipients of the prize, such as Lech Walesa, toiled for years and risked everything they possessed—including their lives and freedom—before being recognized.

The reality is that the President’s policies have made long-term peace in the world less likely.  Prolonged international negotiations with Iran, which started not with Mr. Obama but in fact have gone on throughout the decade, have actually given the Tehran regime time to improve its nuclear and missile capabilities while wars are fought through proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.  Similarly, the rhetorical and real concessions the Obama Administration has made to Moscow have yet to yield anything tangible in return other than modest verbal praise.  The price paid for this volte face recently rose with the betrayal of two friendly governments—those of Poland and the Czech Republic – countries that had made the unpopular decision to host missile defense facilities at America’s earlier request.  They must now be content with an expanded future missile threat from Iran, and also an emboldened Russian neighbor.  It can’t be too far from the thoughts of  the Polish and Czech leadership that just last year Russia  invaded a country it borders.  Skeptics are right to wonder how any of this contributes to long-term peace and security.

Perhaps the Nobel Committee’s most unjustified claim is that because of President Obama, “[d]emocracy and human rights are to be strengthened.”  This is not even a claim typically made by the President’s most ardent supporters.  Indeed, the unapologetic promotion of human rights and democracy that has had a place in a long succession of U.S. administrations has been disavowed by the Obama Administration. Secretary of State Clinton spelled out the rationale for this in her inaugural trip to China in February: “Our pressing on [human rights] issues can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.”  Just this week the President refused to see the Dalai Lama during his visit to Washington, the first time in eighteen years the renowned human rights advocate has not been received by a president.  The President also refused to support pro-democracy protesters in Iran after the June elections there.  Whether one advocates or opposes these policies, it is hard to believe that one can strengthen human rights and democracy while ignoring those actually fighting for them.

What then was the Nobel Committee’s criteria, if not quantifiable achievements for peace?  Unfortunately, a look at more recent Nobel Prize recipients shows a bias toward trendy political causes and icons. 

In 2001, the award was split between the United Nations and its then-kingpin, Kofi Annan.  This was at a time when the UN was facilitating the largest instance of corruption in human history in the form of the Oil-for-Food Program, which also funneled billions of dollars to the Middle East’s most brutal and corrupt regime.  Meanwhile, the UN was continuing its traditional role of providing a prominent platform for corrupt dictators from around the world.  Did that help peace?

In 2002 it was awarded to Jimmy Carter, for  “persevering in conflict resolution on several continents, and  “ outstanding commitment to human rights.” They forgot to mention his apparently tireless coddling of dictators, tyrants and terrorists, his record of mocking the foreign policy of his own government and his avowed animus to the State of Israel.

In 2007, the awardees were Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  As a private organization, it is the Nobel Institute’s prerogative to expand its view of threats to peace to a definition broader than traditional war.  But in the year Gore won the prize, more than 800,000 people died of malaria.  How many people died of climate change?  But you can guess which issue was the zeitgeist that year.

Any true gauge of the reasons for this Award must necessarily produce some very disturbing truths:  The Norwegian parliamentarians awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama because they feel he is one of them.  His unwillingness to prosecute a vigorous American foreign policy; his apparent absence of belief in American exceptionalism and his penchant for apologizing for American actions abroad, all seem very much in keeping with a Euro-centric view of the world.  For this crowd he is the ultimate un-George Bush, less jingoistic, more calm in temperament and much more likely to act in the pacific, multicultural and appeasement vein they so appreciate.

So just as the prize went to Carter seven years ago as a “kick in the leg” to the Bush Administration and the award went to Gore in 2007 as a spur to reject the supposedly anti-environment policies of  that same gang, the Obama Award is designed as an attempt to enshrine the politics of “internationalization.”  It is aimed at isolating Obama and his Administration from the main thrust of American foreign and domestic policies since the Second World War – which has been to provide the world with vigorous leadership in the promotion of democracy, liberty and free enterprise.

Many have argued that the Award’s prestige will burnish America’s international standing and build support for American intervention in other areas of conflict in the world.  But the reverse is actually the case. Constrained by his new image as a peace maker, Barack Obama will inevitably  struggle to meet the demands of upholding America’s international standards and leadership in regions of intense conflict such as Afghanistan, Israel and Iraq and in confronting the rising menace of a nuclear Iran.  It will necessarily befuddle any attempts of his Administration to reform the United Nations and will diminish respect for America’s military clout.

It is welcome that the Nobel Committee has honored the U.S. by giving an award to its president.  Unfortunately, every indication is that it did so for the wrong reasons.  As with other once-respected institutions of Western Europe, the Nobel Committee has moved from rewarding merit and advancing classical liberalism to celebrating fashionable trends and rewarding whichever icon of the left is most active in promoting them.


October 29, 2009

When is a law, not a law?    When you are a celebrity and have a body of work behind you which labels you a major world artist.

That is the divine word  that came down the pike this week after a petition, signed by some of the world’s most accomplished directors, actors and producers demanded that the director Roman Polanski be released from Swiss custody.  He is held after being apprehended in that country for the commission of a 32 -year -old crime  of statutory rape in the United States. 
The petition is long on names of men and women from whom we might  have expected better. French intellectuals Claude Lanzmann and  Bernard Henri Levy, two men who have made names for themselves in defending victims of outrageous crimes, signed this petition.  So did  Pedro Almodovar  whose Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down caused an international  uproar with its trivialization of rape.  And so did Salman Rushdie, who actually committed no crime but was nonetheless on the run for years from an adversary vowed to his elimination.

Where, I wonder , were these same tribunes of morality  after the decapitation of Dutch documentary film maker Theo Van Gogh in Amsterdam five years ago by a knife wielding jihadist?  Were they as overwhelmed with indignation when that  filmmaker lost his life for no other reason than speaking his mind?  Unfortunately the majority of the same cognoscenti,(Rushdie apart),so vocal in support of a rapist and pedophile, could not bring themselves to mumble much of a response to this unfathomably serious crime.

Polanski certainly has many friends – not just in the film industry  but among the elites of Europe.  He is the ultimate cosmopolitan and a renowned charmer. That perhaps accounts for a great deal of his support.   It  would be difficult indeed to ignore the plight of  a member of your own circle – particularly a man whose work  you admire and whose freedom to produce more masterpieces should, you believe, be protected – the same as you would receive should you find yourself in a similar predicament.

But this should not cloak reality.   Polanski is  an international fugitive whose crime was not simply to ply his 13-year-old victim with drugs and alcohol before sexually assaulting her.  Nor was it just that he skipped bail and spent 32 years on the lam.  His true crime is that he never took responsibility for any of it.   He never apologized for the actions that might  have ruined the life of the young girl in question;  He has never acknowledged that he then consciously re-established his own  life of glamour and artistic success as an  effective bulwark against the reach of the U.S. justice system.

Instead he did quite the opposite.   In 1979, in an interview with the British author Martin Amis, published in Tatler Magazine,  he sought to exculpate his actions by declaring himself an everyman who merely did what  everyone else wants to do:   “If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But… f—ing, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to f— young girls. Juries want to f— young girls. Everyone wants to f— young girls!”

This implied Lolita Syndrome does not exactly have its feet firmly planted in hard empirical data and personally I can’t remember ever experiencing or harboring such a desire.  If it holds true at all, it is only in that rarefied world of celebrity where ennui and tedium encourages the pursuit of any new thrill.

Which brings us to the question that must be asked – not about the correctness of the man’s extradition, but about the nature of the crime itself.   What led a 44- year-old man, lionized as one of the great filmmakers of his era , who sported the reputation of being able to seduce almost any woman of his fancy, decide to prey on a minor who had no resources to protect herself  and only a thin understanding of what Polanski was demanding of her? 

The answer is that to a man like Polanski, who had personally witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust and experienced the murder of  his wife and her friends in one of the most gruesome crimes in American history, rules and  conventional modes of personal conduct represent meaningless restrictions on personal freedom.  To seduce a minor might have seemed to him the ultimate thrill – not because the experience itself would be so elevating, but because Polanski, like many  contemporary entertainment, sporting  and political personalities, is driven by his sense of personal power. For men such as Polanski, the ultimate challenge is not to seduce a particular girl or boy, but to defy convention – to add one more shattered barrier to their scorecard, as if it is proof of personal invincibility.

In some ways Polanski’s case bares a striking resemblance to another long term fugitive who similarly evaded justice.   Ronald Biggs was a part of the conspiracy that resulted in the largest train heist in British history known as The Great Train Robbery. While his co-conspirators were eventually apprehended, the wily Biggs fled the country, becoming a high profile (and much  sought after) fugitive in Rio de Janeiro where he spent forty years foiling kidnapping attempts, raising a new family and proving that the law enforcement arm of the United Kingdom was no match for his guile.

But late in life Biggs recognized that the glamorous life of an international fugitive carried unexpected burdens of conscience.    In 2001, nearly forty years after the commission of the crime, sick and beaten, he gave himself up to British authorities.  Many reasons have been offered for Biggs’ decision , among them  the  availability of free British health care, ensuing poverty and pure homesickness.  But Biggs’ case perhaps tends to prove that one might be able to run from the law indefinitely but one cannot run from his own sense of guilt.

One of the main reasons  fugitives such as Roman Polanski and Ronald Biggs remain fascinating is precisely because of their ability to evade the law.  Just as murderers, thieves and hatchet men such as Al Capone, Jesse James and the Australian bushranger Ned Kelly have had legends spun from their confrontations with the law, so too Polanski and Biggs only added to their notoriety by  successfully dodging  their pursuers.     Living lives of celebrity, continuing to brazenly seduce women and attracting an ever flowing audience of international visitors, their plights became the stuff of legend, their stature elevated to that of the heroic. They became poster boys for the ineffectiveness of Western law and the ease with which it can be flouted.

For that reason, the extradition of Roman Polanski is an important test case for the West.  Already four separate countries are involved in the tussle over Polanski’s fate. Both the French and the Polish governments (of which the filmmaker is a dual citizen) at first expressed outrage at the arrest but have since lowered the volume on their protests.  Perhaps they realize it is not just the U.S justice system which is being mocked, but also their own.

As for the potentates of political correctness, those petitioners who see the need to circle the wagons around one of their own, no matter his culpability for a crime, they too may come to understand exactly what is at stake.  A glimmer of this was seen when the Wall Street Journal this Friday quoted Kevin Smith , the writer-director of Chasing Amy and Clerks. “ Look, I dig  Rosemary’s Baby but rape’s rape. Do the crime, do the time.”  Actress Kirstie Alley wrote on Twitter “Just for the record….rape is rape…this is one Hollywood star who does not celebrate or  defend  Roman Polanski..His ART did not rape her.”

You can bet that there are thousands of other Hollywood mums and dads out there who are looking at their 13- year- old daughters and recognizing  exactly how they would have reacted if Samantha Geimer had been their own child.  No niceties about Polanski’s great service to mankind.  No refrences to the long passage of time nor the forgiveness doled out by the victim.  Polanski’s act was a crime against not one person but against American society and our commonly held Western values.  

And for that his punishment is long overdue.


October 29, 2009

One would think that an appearance by a president of the United States before the United Nations General Assembly would afford an unequalled opportunity for our Chief Executive to lay  it on the line:  to inform that august body that its chief financier and host was no longer going to tolerate the kind of graft, corruption or venality of office which had become the hallmark of the institution ; that it would reject entirely  the leadership of its Human Rights Council which is led by the most vile abusers of human rights on the planet and mocks the form of human dignity the U.N. was created to protect and enshrine;  that its obsession with the Arab-Israeli conflict and its inexhaustible demonization of the Jewish state has rendered it blind to the multiple depredations of other member states in flashpoints around the globe; that is has failed, signally, to address the plight of millions of women throughout the world who live shackled by primitive  rituals and social standards that enforce a form of slavery;  that its willingness to be admonished by tyrants and murderers who speak the soft language of peace and justice while exhibiting no interest whatsoever in embracing either  – all would have been concepts that one would expect might travel the distance from thought to words and form the bedrock of  an American president’s speech.

But if you had listened to Barack Obama’s address to the United Nations on Wednesday morning, you would have heard none of these things.   Nor would you have heard him fervently advocate for the benefits of democracy, the value of a free enterprise system, the social imperatives of bolstering the traditional family unit as the touchstone for civilizational survival, and the necessity for the West to arrest the alarming decline of birth rates in most developed countries.

Instead you would have heard the 44th President mouth meaningless platitudes about global cooperation;  insistent admonishments about  global warming and climate change;  you would heard apologies for American conduct on at least three occasions and  an address to the Palestinians as worthy of the bestowal of statehood, (ignoring their continuing refusal to recognize a neighboring state’s right to exist).  

Those of us who have come to view the proceedings of the United Nations with a jaundiced eye, dismissing its meaningless resolutions and proceedings as little more than a theater of the absurd, must see in Barack Obama’s new form of engagement,  not a signal of his statesmanship, but rather as evidence of a hapless naivety about the world’s realities.   The failure to grasp that the United States stands, almost alone, as a bulwark against civilizational collapse while its allies surrender to moral relativism, multicultural doctrine and defeatism can only lead us to hang our heads in utter dismay.

The president did as much as he could  within the bounds of decency to distance himself from the policies and legacy of his predecessor.  But the Obama Administration’s rejection of Bush unilateralism ( which is a conceit belied by the U.N’s endorsement of  the Afghan War and the fact that the Iraq War was joined by over 35 countries in an international coalition) fails to grasp that the former Administration’s impatience with a multilateral approach was the culmination of over half a century of the failure of such statecraft.  Since the early 1970s, the United Nations has been hijacked by special interests and been transformed into a bully pulpit for radicals and tyrants and a mouthpiece for a rabid form of antisemitism.   A succession of Administrations sought to restore balance to the institution, only to see their efforts defeated by an alliance of Muslim states and third world nations who used the United Nations as an effective club to wield against the developed world.

This week it fell to Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, to stand courageously for Western values and ideals, where Obama would or could not.  In identifying the rise of fundamentalist Islam as the greatest threat to Western civilization, Netanyahu encapsulated, better than any other speaker before or after him,  the true threats faced by the West:

“The primitivism of the 9th century,”  he declared, “ ought to be no match for the progress of the 21st century. The allure of freedom, the power of technology, the reach of communications should surely win the day. Ultimately, the past cannot triumph over the future. And the future offers all nations magnificent bounties of hope. The pace of progress is growing exponentially.”

“This conflict,” he added, “ pits civilization against barbarism, the 21st century against the 9th century, those who sanctify life against those who glorify death.”

In those words Netanyahu made clear that the threats to Israel from Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah are not simply threats to the State of Israel, but to all countries who seek to uphold human dignity and seek to preserve and protect hard won human freedoms.

Why these words appeared only in the speech of the prime minister of a tiny nation on the shores of the Mediterranean  and were not spoken or even alluded to by the leader of the Western world, might be a question for historians to ponder.

But  for now that silence  seems to augur a period in which Western civilization will be without an effective  leader or spokesman.  It will be  bereft of the kind of advocacy that affirms the value of democracy, the worth of free enterprise, the fragility of  human freedom and the necessity for all nations who seek to preserve these hard won assets,  to stand defiantly and resolutely united in their defense..


October 29, 2009

If there was any real doubt about where the Obama Administration’s foreign policy is heading, then Thursday’s events provided an important clue.  The Administration’s decision to cancel a long planned and heavily negotiated missile defense shield for both Poland and the Czech Republic pounded home a message that American allies can no longer rely on prior U.S. commitments and  that the hard necessities of confronting  aggression from rogue states will from now on give way to diplomatic expediency.

“Shameful” is a word which has been flung at the Administration by many on the right and it may be true that the cancellation of the early warning stations was a moral disgrace.  But the real damage done is not to our sense of pride, but the impact it has had on Russian and Iranian perceptions of American resolve.

The Russians knew perfectly well that they had nothing to seriously fear from an American presence in either Poland or the Czech Republic.  The anti- missile defense shield could only interdict incoming missiles and would  be incapable of  creating a  base  for the launch of  ballistic missiles of its own.   

The problem now appears to be that a major concession has been made to the Russians  without securing anything in return.  On Saturday the Los Angeles Times quoted Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as describing the cancellation of the program as “ a step in the right direction, with the hope that more would follow”  Translation:  “We have secured a victory at no cost to ourselves  and we will now press our advantage in other areas.”  That expectation will be fulfilled when Russia invades or intimidates one of the former Soviet satellites (Latvia, Estonia Lithuania, the Ukraine or Georgia) and demands U.S. acquiescence.   We shouldn’t forget that Russian diplomacy is largely a zero sum game which relies on projecting hard power in order to force diplomatic gains.  This was most clearly seen in operation last year in the invasion of Georgia and the gas dispute with the Ukraine. No doubt it will be employed again.

The Administration’s explanation for the cancellation of the program is similarly weak.  Claiming that Iran’s long range ballistic missile program is still years away from completion, the Administration has decided that  a more muscular ( and less expensive) short  and medium range  missile defense system in Europe   would help facilitate the defense of Europe.  But as many commentators have asked over the past few days – that might take care of the defense of Europe but what about the defense of  the United States?

It is no secret that the  anti-missile battery planned for  the Czech Republic and Poland would not only help defend those countries but would also impede the trajectory of a ballistic missile  launched into space from Iran and aimed at the United States.  Yet the protection of the  continental United States has already been significantly weakened by the cancellation of Kinetic Energy Inceptors ( designed to eliminate an enemy missile at an earlier stage of its trajectory ) which were to be located in Germany and Turkey. They were canceled as part of the $1.4 billion cuts in the missile defense budget. 

What does it all mean?    It means that the United States is wide open to a ballistic missile attack with only the continental anti- ballistic missile system in Fort Greely, Alaska and another at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for use in preventing a catastrophic nuclear attack upon the United States.  Without the German, Turkish, or Eastern European inceptors, the entire U.S Eastern seaboard is exposed to an Iranian ballistic missile attack, something that should worry any Administration and any American.

The argument that the Iranians are nowhere near the construction of an ICBM that could reach North America also falls flat.  Iran has already become the first Muslim country to launch a missile into space – which it achieved in 2005.   The capacity to launch a  rocket into space is not so dissimilar to the technology needed to launch an ICBM and it is therefore foolish for anyone to suggest that Iran could not achieve the latter capacity soon – particularly with Russian support.    

The Iranians themselves will view U.S. deference  to Russian demands with no small amount of satisfaction.    The attempt to mollify an aggrieved Russia will be read in Tehran as weakness and a further indication that the Obama Administration does not have the will to confront Iranian aggression. The laughable pursuit by the Administration of the Iranians for ‘dialogue’ has turned into a tragic-comedy  wherein, with each passing day, it becomes clear that the Iranians  have no intention whatsoever of negotiating away their potential nuclear arsenal.  The U.S retreat  over a missile defense shield  aimed at protecting Eastern Europe from that very same  Iranian threat, will not be lost on the mullahs who recognize cowardice when they see it.

Other nations who have a bone to pick with the United States should also be smirking.  North Korea, a country which has flouted all of its previous agreements on nuclear disarmament, will take heart from the Administration’s volte face and will recognize that such timidity  gives them an opening to move aggressively ahead with their own program.  Venezuela, the Latin American thorn in America’s side will use the episode to continue to stir Latin American antipathy to the United States, characterizing it as a toothless lion. 

Seventy years ago, another toothless lion failed to confront a nation with regional ambitions – resulting in catastrophe for the West.   The important lesson then, as now, is that nations often act like human beings and that they can be frightened or intimidated into taking actions which are clearly at  odds with their own and their friends’ best interests.  That era of appeasement, with the leader of the West firmly fixed in his belief that the German leader was adamantly opposed to the needless waste of innocent life, was the precursor to a conflagration.  Chamberlain came back from Munich with nothing but a piece of paper, having traded away the sovereignty of a fellow democratic nation in exchange for empty promises.  In this case, Obama did not even receive the promises.

Russia may not be a mirror of 1930s Germany but no one can doubt for a minute that it  has been itching for nearly two decades  to regain the superpower status it lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union.   It should also be clear that the humiliation of the United States is an important step upon that particular road to recovery.  How sad it is that the U.S. has now unwittingly opened up that road for a Russian advance.

The Obama Administration, in its naivety, may well believe that it is winning the hearts of the Russian leaders, but in fact it has achieved just the opposite.  Its policy of appeasement will make the Russian bear hungry for another morsel of Western flesh.  What a true disgrace it would be, that rather than having American troops stationed in Poland or the Czech Republic manning defensive weapons, they will end up, by necessity, on the Georgian, Latvian or Ukranian borders defending those countries from an aggression their government could have once deterred.

As we remember the capitulation at Munich the words of Neville Chamberlain should echo down  to us with an eerie resonance:  “How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.”

The same people of whom we once knew nothing  – the Czech and the Poles – could have once been the guarantors of own security.   In betraying them, we may have also betrayed ourselves.


October 29, 2009

On September 11 this year I was traveling on two connecting flights  on my way back from  our conference in upstate New York. .    As I boarded  a   Southwest flight from Chicago, the pilot, lowering his voice and dispensing with standard Southwest  banter ( a pleasant relief) , reminded all on board that we should spare a  thought for those who died  eight years before.   The passengers were indeed quiet for a few seconds but  within moments returned to their state of  general merriment as the pilot continued to roll out his ingratiating
(or just plain grating ) shtick.

There are only a few dates on the American calendar which prod national memory and inspire an annual  display of grief.    Count  Pearl Harbor Day  as one;  Martin Luther King Jr. Day as another.   The other two  –  Memorial Day,  and Veteran’s Day respectively,  have been swept away by the current of history,  no longer finding firm  footing in national memory and leaving us wondering whether the date commemorates anything significant at all.   . 

Although only eight years have now passed since the most deadly  single day attack  on the nation’s soil, September 11th seems to be passing into the same unhappy void- with few willing to grapple with the day’s importance as a watershed in American history .  No longer does it inspire anger at the heinousness of the unprovoked attack.   No longer does one see flags displayed on homes and on cars.  Newscasters quietly mention the attack and then , without too much comment, pass on to other news.   The President makes an appearance at  one of the scenes of the attack, but his speech is muted and it does not contain a rallying call for a vigorous national defense against an identified foe.  

What is left is a gaping black hole in the national consciousness that no one  these days seems quite prepared to fill.  As the years pass  9/11  remains little more than a catch word – remembered in tangible detail as if it was a natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina or the 2005 tsunami which devastated South Asia. 

How did this state of affairs come to pass?.   The answer might be found in 9/11’s bitter after taste,  namely the  war in Iraq,  which wrung so much wasted emotion and misdirected hatred from our media, professoriate and Democratic leadership, that its dark cloud has obscured, perhaps forever, the significance of  the very event which  served as the war’s catalyst. 

Fouad Ajami, in an op-ed in this Friday’s Wall Street Journal encapsulates the connection between 9/11 and everything that came after it  quite brilliantly:

  “  The impulse that took America from Kabul to Baghdad had been on the mark.  Those were not Afghans who had struck American soil on 9/11.  They were Arabs. Their terrorism came out of the pathologies of Arab political life.  Their financiers were Arabs; and so were those crowds in Cairo, Nablus and Amman that had winked at the terror and had seen those attacks as America getting its comeuppance on that terrible day.  It was important (for the U.S.) to take the war into the Arab world itself and the despot in Baghdad had drawn the short straw. The decapitation of his regime was a cautionary tale for his Arab brethren.” 

Here Ajami rams his point home.   Future historians will quickly dispatch the contemporary notion that the war in Iraq was ever prosecuted as an attempt for America  to control Iraqi oil, for George W. Bush to settle a nagging personal grudge or to give expression to the U.S. military’s  killer instinct.   Rather it was designed to re-assert American strength in a part of the world that had come to mock it and to deal a decisive psychological blow to tin pot terrorist organizations and their state sponsors who believed that American national defenses could be easily penetrated and with little fear of retribution.   

The consequence, of course, is that in the Age of Obama, it is now difficult to draw upon the memory of 9/11 as the single most important reason for defeating counter insurgencies in  Afghanistan and Iraq or for confronting terrorist groups.   So maligned  have the efforts of the Bush Administration become, that, as Ajami reminds us, “ the appeal to 9/11 today rings hollow and contrived. In these past eight years, American liberalism has distanced itself from American patriotism and the results are there to see.” 

Results indeed.    It appears that today that not only does the notion of prosecuting a vigorous offensive war smack of Bush jingoism( see Nancy Pelosi’s comments on the lack of congressional support for increasing troops in the Afghanistan) but even the argument for  building an effective missile defense, a worthy and urgent undertaking given the rapid proliferation of nuclear arsenals among rogue states – dismissed as just another carry over from discredited Bush policies.

I learned the depth of how truly vulnerable the United States is to a nuclear attack at our co-sponsored conference  Permanent Continental Shutdown, in Buffalo New York last week.  Over two and half days, 40 nuclear physicists, nuclear engineers, missile defense experts, commentators and politicians gathered to address  the absolute failure of the last three U.S. Administrations to seriously address the likelihood of an electro-magnetic pulse attack on the United States.  Simply put,  an electromagnetic pulse attack occurs when a  ballistic missile, loaded with a nuclear warhead, is launched at the United States and detonated at high altitude.  The extraordinary pulse from this attack could cause a shutdown of the U.S. electrical grid. It could potentially send the United States back to a pre-industrial economy and society and render the nation dependent for its survival on aid from abroad.

While this  sci-fi scenario might seem far fetched, it is in fact more real and  more omnipresent than at any time since the end of the Second World War.   America, similar to almost every Western country today, stands exposed and vulnerable to weapons of annihilation and nobody seems to want to hear the warnings.  

But the warnings must be heard.  

Those who live prosperous lives in the West and remain unworried by these  threats to their social framework, their economies and their political systems, stand in exactly the same shoes as Europeans at  turn of the century who could not fathom the outbreak of a continental war that would sweep away 60 million lives in the early years of the 20th Century.   And they remain fixed in the same in exactly the same position as the 1930s British leaders who failed to understand that any reticence in meeting Nazi aggression with aggression would lead to a catastrophic future confrontation in which the lives of millions of innocent citizens would  be needlessly lost.

At the American Freedom Alliance  we see this as one of the gravest perils  confronting Western civilization.  With the success of the Buffalo Conference we announce the formation of EMPACT  International–  an international  coalition of organizations pledged to promote awareness of the threats posed to Western civilization from an electromagnetic pulse attack.  

We are proud to be one of the leading organizations in this effort and hopeon this eighth anniversary of  a day that changed history, that from now on it will no longer  be commemorated  with only flowers, speeches and television specials, but  with  the construction of a muscular defense and  an aggressive foreign policy. 

 This will announce to the world that the United States will never again abide a realizablae threat to its national security or to its citizenry.   And never again will it be unprepared as it was on that warm September day in 2001.


October 29, 2009

The percentage of the world’s population people who still remember the events of September, 1939 may be rapidly diminishing, but even for those of us born long after that fateful month, its commemoration can still stir deep pain.  We might well imagine that  generation for whom the carnage of the First World War was still a relatively fresh memory,  hearing  Neville Chamberlain’s mournful  declaration of war against Germany on the morning of  September 3, 1939  with a feeling of deep dread.    They well understood that Britain was unprepared for a protracted armed conflict and were aware  of  the devastation that modern armaments could wreak on the home front.  For over a decade they had been schooled in the knowledge of ‘total’ war and  it was this awareness which had spurred the evacuation of children from England’s major cities.

It should have come as no surprise.   In March of that year, Hitler had completed the occupation of Czechoslovakia, violating, without a second thought,  the Munich Agreement he had signed six months earlier and  which Chamberlain had so assiduously promoted as a diplomatic safeguard against exactly the kind of armed conflict about to engulf Europe.  The Soviet-German Pact of  late August 1939, ensuring that  Germany would not be confronted with a two front war as it had been in 1914, must have only added to the British peoples’ sense of isolation. As August made way for September, the people of Britain were staring into the dark night of a very long and very costly conflict.

  The British Conservative government, which had led the ill-fated effort to stave off the eventuality of war, was now a defeated and discredited party – and it was revealed in the tone in Neville Chamberlain’s voice.   The radio recording of that moment captures  the sense of a man walking to his grave – which was literally the case:  within 14 months he would be dead from cancer.   But as his voice shifted into a low register, mumbling the famous words which consigned his country irrevocably to war, his self realization that it was his own failed policies which had driven his country to the brink of a catastrophe, seeped through the microphone, by the airwaves and into millions of British homes.   No one listening to that broadcast could have comfortably assumed that the British government was about to prosecute a war with vigor or was led by a leader who represented animated defiance of the Nazi threat. 

And in fact, the British government was not at all committed to that cause.   Over the next eight months, as Britain and France both stood idly by as Poland was dismembered, the British preparations for war remained lack luster.   In May 1940, as France, the Netherlands and Belgium were successively invaded,  Britain made a late and half hearted attempt to thwart the German advance to the English Channel , only to find its expeditionary force surrounded and, save for some very  good luck and tight planning, almost annihilated at Dunkirk.

Enter Winston Churchill, who was vaulted to power by Conservative bank benchers who refused to serve under Chamberlain.   But the same young men who had shepherded him to power were not to be rewarded with ministerial positions.   Instead, Churchill retained many of Chamberlain’s appeasers, a number of whom of whom continued to connive against him and plot a return to power of either Chamberlain or his foreign minister, Lord Halifax.  It was not to be for another six months, at the height of the Battle of Britain, that Churchill was finally able to rally the government and the population behind him. 

Not many today are quite aware what was at stake in the summer 1940 as England stood alone against the might of the Luftwaffe and the prospect of  a Nazi invasion.  Had Britain fallen in those three months,  the United States would have found itself eventually fighting a war on two fronts, with the Atlantic choked by unrestricted German submarine warfare and the Japanese, girding for a fight, having launched their long planned Pearl Harbor attack in December 1940, rather than 1941, seeking to ensure that the U.S. would not have the manpower nor the military hardware to successfully wage all out war.

What then stood between the United States and the likely world domination of fascism?   


Yet with such tepid and uninspired leadership, beset by a divided and incompetent parliament, how did that country finally prevail?

The obvious answers are Winston Churchill’s ebullient leadership coupled with the eventual arrival of American manpower and resources which combined  ultimately to tip the Second World War in Britain’s favor.   But that would ignore one of the truly heroic episodes in the history of Western culture and  civilization – and that is the fighting spirit  of the British people themselves.   The country that had given birth to liberal democracy and had  been regarded by the dictators as weak and pliable, proved itself nothing of the sort.   Hundreds of thousands of stories of  heroism, selflessness and resilience emerged  from the War,  that have made their way into best selling autobiographies, novels and movies.    What they reveal is that the country which originated the very concept of individual freedom had produced a populace willing to fight to the death in defending it.    From the dog fights by Spitfire pilots over the English Channel  to the immediate restoration of London buildings destroyed by the Luftwaffe, to the bravery of firefighters who risked their lives during intense aerial bombardments, there can be no doubt that the British were at their finest in the defense of their country in the crucial summer of 1940. 

One questions then, whether the same qualities the British were able to summon so defiantly in the summer of 1940, would rise to the surface under similar conditions today.  There is no certainty in any answer to that question.   In my piece England’s Multicultural Revolution, I wrote of what I witnessed on a visit  to the United Kingdom in the summer of 2008.   There I saw the developing modern “ Battle of Britain”  – the struggle to maintain English identity.   All over the country traditionalists are besieged by the pressures to conform to the multi-cultural creed.  This necessarily implies the subsuming of English traditions and the demonization of traditional values and those who would uphold them.

  Perhaps Britain does not represent  the bulwark against fascism that it did in the 1940s, but the dangers of societal collapse remains as real as it did back then.  The American Freedom Alliance recognizes the vital role Britain plays in holding together Western civilization and  has therefore devoted considerable resources to identifying the threats  to British  society and building alliances to combat them.

That campaign is based on the notion that without British perseverance and commitment to the foundations of western civilization, the freedoms we enjoy in the West  – and here in America – will themselves be imperiled. 

How we now address these threats will be a test of our commitment to our common values.

But for now, suffice to say  the summer of 2009 is beginning to bear an eerie  resemblance to that summer 70 years ago when so much that we value and treasure in our own lives, is seen to be hanging in the balance.

Camelot’s Other Legacy

October 29, 2009

Over the past week the life of Edward Kennedy has been so scrupulously (and lovingly) scrubbed clean by such a swarm of journalists and memorialists, that you would think that the senator had commissioned his own posthumous hagiography. That certainly would not be beyond the reach of the Kennedy clan, who, for over three generations of Kennedy hi-jinks, became renown for their ability to manipulate public sentiment in any major event involving a Kennedy.

But for once that famous publicity machine has some substance to commemorate. Whereas the presidential record of John F. Kennedy was light on substantial accomplishment and the presidential candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy, little more than a memory of unfulfilled promise, the senatorial career of Edward M. Kennedy presents a record of unparalleled labor and perseverance. Over 47 years Kennedy had a hand in over 400 pieces of legislation, deeply affecting the trajectory of health care, immigration, education and electoral reform in this country. His willingness to compromise and his extraordinarily well honed persuasive skills, lent him a reverence from both sides of the political divide that few Senators may ever be able to match.

Well that’s the good part. There was, of course, another “ Ted” Kennedy – one for whom drunkenness, womanizing, carousing and other forms of bad behavior, made him a lightning rod for press attention and led to the collapse of his presidential ambitions.  The 1969 Chappaquiddick accident, in which Kennedy departed the scene leaving his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne to drown, permanently scarred the public perception of Kennedy as a man of character, leading to the calculation that he might fail the nation in a crisis. His woeful performance in 1980, when he challenged sitting president Jimmy Carter for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination and failed to adequately articulate why he should be the party’s nominee, only served to fuse the impression that Kennedy was not up to the task of national leadership.

That impression was probably right on. Personal crisis and the way a man responds to it are indeed telling indicators of character. There is little doubt in anyone’s mind that Kennedy drove off on that summer’s night in 1969 for a tryst with the 28- year-old Kopechne and it was the obviousness of this intent and his fear of it being discovered, that ultimately resulted in his failure to report the incident to police for ten hours following the plunge from the bridge. Similarly, his involvement in his nephew William Smith’s indictment for rape in 1993, after he roused his son and Smith for a late night drinking bout at a nearby Cape Cod tavern, was another example of irresponsibility that reinforced public understanding of Kennedy as an overgrown teenager whose private life was a sloven mess.

That impression was then reinforced in the 1990s with the publication of The Senator: My Ten Years with Ted Kennedy, by Richard Burke,which offers a scathing expose of Kennedy’s private life, written by a former aide who watched Kennedy’s descent into debauchery, even while he ascended the political ladder as an accomplished legislator. That book documents drug abuse, excessive alcoholic consumption and sexual escapades which make his father’s and his three brothers’ sexual antics seem somewhat tame.

Indeed, the Janus-faced persona of devoted public servant coupled with uninhibited libertine appears as a distinctly Kennedy generational trait passed successively down the family tree. Both Kennedy grandfathers were renown carousers and womanizers – the ebullient former mayor of Boston, John Francis “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald and the saloon owning Partrick Kennedy. Kennedy’s father, Joseph P., was the archetypal early 20th century “swinger,” completely faithless to his devoutly religious wife (despite siring nine children with her) and running through a series of mistresses for 50 years, which included the actress Gloria Swanson who at one time lived at the Kennedy Hyannisport compound in a virtual ménage-a-trois with Rose. Elder brother Joe, who died at 29 in the Second World War ,was consumed by an adulterous affair at the time of his death.  John F. Kennedy transformed the White House, posthumous accounts have revealed, into a virtual bordello, with hundreds of young women, among them numerous prostitutes, starlets and movie stars invited (some say, “commanded”) to share the favors of the presidential bedroom. Even the formerly pristine reputation of Bobby Kennedy (father of eleven) has been shredded by the knowledge that he had affairs with numerous women, including Marilyn Monroe, whom he allegedly visited shortly before her suicide in 1962.

Psycho-therapists and Kennedy boosters might contend that Ted’s raucous behavior was both predictable and perhaps even excusable given the weight of expectation which rested on his shoulders. And it might well be true that the surviving Kennedy possessed demons neither he, nor anybody, could readily exorcise, given the high toll of family tragedies with which he had to contend.

But the purpose of dredging up the history of this century-long family bacchanalia is not to explore the Kennedy family’s personal neurosis as much as it is to identify the kind of men and women who deserve to lead us. For the Kennedys, the conquest of women was the preamble to the conquest of men and they heartily endorsed an ethos in which faithlessness, adultery and personal deception could and should be characteristic tools of any successful politician. Success did, of course, follow the Kennedys, but it was won at an enormous cost to our own political culture. Succeeding presidencies read from the Kennedy handbook the rule that means justify ends. Hence, Lyndon Johnson’s mendacity to Congress over Vietnam, Richard Nixon’s farrago of lies concerning Watergate and Bill Clinton’s evasions and subterfuges regarding the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Since that latter event we have been bombarded by our media with the message that the private life and personal morals of our leaders should have nothing to do with our evaluation of them as our political representatives. The idea that personal conduct has nothing to do with political reputation has time and again been reinforced in recent years, as witnessed in the re-election of exposed serial adulterer Antony Villagairosa as mayor of Los Angeles, the seemingly unblemished career of Barney Frank ( implicated in a male prostitution ring) and the continuing rehabilitation of disgraced former New York governor, Elliot Spitzer.

How, one wonders, would men such as George Washington, John Adams and James Madison looked upon the antics of the Kennedy brothers and the current public obliviousness to moral laxity? Not kindly. It is certain they had in mind different models of leaders, men who believed that their public lives would, by necessity, reflect their moral purpose of their private lives.

Shame is a quality which is fast vanishing from our political culture. We are losing touch with the appreciation of goodness, discipline and probity which characterized the early leaders of this republic. Our willingness to tolerate aberrant behavior from our leaders or hold them accountable for it, will not lead to the strengthening of our democracy but to its inexorable weakening. For that the Kennedy brothers must take their share of responsibility and recognize it as one of the more significant and dire legacies of their fabled reign in Camelot.

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