By Rick Perlstein on September 25, 2007 - 3:02pm.
Here's a big question that I want to start addressing in upcoming posts: what is conservative rule doing to our nation's soul? How is it rewiring our hearts and minds? What kind of damage are they doing to the American character? And can we ever recover?
So: what is the American character? Hard to say, of course. But I daresay we know it when we see it. Let me put before you an illustrative example: one week in September of 1959, when, much like one week in September of 2007, American soil supported a visit by what many, if not most Americans agreed was the most evil and dangerous man on the planet.
Nikita Khrushchev disembarked from his plane at Andrews Air Force Base to a 21-gun salute and a receiving line of 63 officials and bureaucrats, ending with President Eisenhower. He rode 13 miles with Ike in an open limousine to his guest quarters across from the White House. Then he met for two hours with Ike and his foreign policy team. Then came a white-tie state dinner. (The Soviets then put one on at the embassy for Ike.) He joshed with the CIA chief about pooling their intelligence data, since it probably all came from the same people—then was ushered upstairs to the East Wing for a leisurely gander at the Eisenhowers' family quarters. Visited the Agriculture Department's 12,000 acre research station ("If you didn't give a turkey a passport you couldn't tell the difference between a Communist and capitalist turkey"), spoke to the National Press Club, toured Manhattan, San Francisco (where he debated Walter Reuther on Stalin's crimes before a retinue of AFL-CIO leaders, or in K's words, "capitalist lackeys"), and Los Angeles (there he supped at the 20th Century Fox commissary, visited the set of the Frank Sinatra picture Can Can but to his great disappointment did not get to visit Disneyland), and sat down one more with the president, at Camp David. Mrs. K did the ladies-who-lunch circuit, with Pat Nixon as guide. Eleanor Roosevelt toured them through Hyde Park. It's not like it was all hearts and flowers. He bellowed that America, as Time magazine reported, "must close down its worldwide deterrent bases and disarm." Reporters asked him what he'd been doing during Stalin's blood purges, and the 1956 invasion of Hungary. A banquet of 27 industrialists tried to impress upon him the merits of capitalism. Nelson Rockefeller rapped with him about the Bible.
Had America suddenly succumbed to a fever of weak-kneed appeasement? Had the general running the country—the man who had faced down Hitler!—proven himself what the John Birch Society claimed he was: a conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy?
No. Nikita Khrushchev simply visited a nation that had character. That was mature, well-adjusted. A nation confident we were great. We had our neuroses, to be sure—plenty of them.
But look now what we have lost. Now when a bad guy crosses our threshhold, America becomes a pants-piddling mess.
Iran's president speaks at a great American university. That university's president, in the act of introducing his lecture, whines like a baby bereft of his pacifier that his guest is a big meany poopy-head. City Council members, too, and a rabbi, make like ten-year-olds, giving their press conference in front of a sign with his face struck through and the legend "Go To Hell." Up in Albany, Democratic leader Sheldon Silver treat the students of this great university like ten years olds, threatening to defund Columbia University lest censors like himself prove unable to shut the poor children's ears to difficult speech. (What, was he worried they'd be convinced, join the jihad?) Then a Republican presidential candidate chimes in—bye, bye, federalism!—saying Washington should starve the school of funds, too. American diplomats used to have the gumption to spar face to face with dreaded foreign leaders. Now they go on cable TV and whine about what a "travesty" it would have been to visit a site which properly should belong to the world. Hundreds of foreign nationals died in the World Trade Center on 9/11 (maybe even some of the Iranian!). Yet we have to systematically repress that—as if our national ego would crack like fine crystal if we were forced to acknowledge the mingling of American blood with that of mere foreigners.
But—they sputter—Ahmadinejad has has promised to wipe Israel off the map!
Well, Khrushchev had promised to wipe the U.S. off the map. ("We will bury you.") And, unlike Mr. A, who has but some possible stores of fissile material, Mr. K very much had the means, motive, and opportunity to do it—thousands of nuclear-tipped rockets aimed at every city in the land.
How cowardly our conservative Republic of Fear has made us. How we tremble at the mere touch of a challenge. It's conservatives who started it, of course. Here's what they're reading in their own media: a letter from Human Events editor Tom Winter headlined "Are You Ready for a New Dark Ages?":
Dear Fellow Conservative:This stuff is mind-numbingly hysterical—literally. Such rhetoric is literally calculated to numb the mind, to render any rational calculus impossible, to reduce democratic deliberation on the most subtle and difficult issues of our time to mere grunts and snorts, turning readers' minds to mush. That's what the conservative media is all about.
Someday soon, you might
wake up to the call to prayer from a Muslim muezzin. Millions of Europeans
And liberals will still tell you that "diversity
is our strength" -- while Talibanic enforcers cruise our cities burning books
and barber shops... the Supreme Court decides sharia law doesn't violate the
"separation of church and state" ... and the Hollywood Left gives up gay rights
in favor of the much safer charms of polygamy.
If you think this can't happen, you haven't been
paying attention, as the hilarious and brilliant Mark Steyn -- the most popular
conservative columnist in the English-speaking world -- shows to devastating
effect in his New York Times bestseller, America Alone: The End of the World As
We Know It....
The worst thing about, however, is how many people who should know better have surrendered it. They've lowered us all to their own pants-piddling level. And somewhere, Nikita Khrushchev is smiling. For well and truly, he is right. We have been buried—by our own demobilizing.