Feckless politicians, if you will pardon the redundancy, have often self-destructed almost instantly in spectacular fashion. Names like Eliot Spitzer, Gary Hart, James McGreevey, Wilbur Mills, David Vitter, Larry Craig and Bill Clinton are but a few on a long list of public servants whose imprudent conduct resulted in ruinous, if not fatal, damage to their careers and reputations. While providing enormous entertainment value for political junkies and just plain voyeurs, this seemingly endless stream of personal conduct failures has rarely caused serious harm to the body politic, even taking into account the bitter partisan battle set off by Clinton’s indiscretions with a decidedly junior subordinate, the sort of predatory behavior that ordinarily results in a whopping sexual harassment suit when involving corporate chieftains and the like.
For that reason, last week’s media blitz of reporting on South Carolina governor Mark Sanford’s electoral self-immolation appealed more to the general public’s fascination with truly weird conduct than to its perception of the political implications of the episode. To the Left, however, while barely containing its delight with the spectacle of a Bible-quoting, patrician Southern governor doing a pretty good impersonation of a hormone-addled teenager, the real significance of Sanford’s blubbering mea culpa was the removal of an attractive and articulate candidate from the 2012 presidential election mix.
Regardless of any arguable impact on national politics, the state of South Carolina and the rest of the country surely will survive the implosion of Mark Sanford, a process that, from the moment of his furtive getaway in a government vehicle to his reappearance at the Atlanta airport via a figurative detour to the Appalachian Trail, took less than a week.
Coincidentally, almost at the same time that Sanford was pursuing la vida loca, another well-known elected official was involved in his own political drama, which consisted of a series of gradually modified statements delivered over the course of . . . well, just less than a week. In this instance, however, the fallout from a weak-willed judgment, an abject failure of principle, has seriously injured the interests and prestige of the United States, as well as undermining the always-fragile struggle for democracy under repressive, autocratic regimes. That political act, of course, was the waffling, pathetically irresolute response by Barack Obama to the brutality the Iranian government carried out on its own citizens.
The problems in our relationship with Iran, you will recall, were very much the product of America’s long-standing inability to be sufficiently understanding of and sensitive to religious and cultural differences, according to Mr. Obama. In fact, the thoughtless conduct of the United States toward the entire Muslim world is a root cause of many of the crises in the Middle East and elsewhere, as far as the president is concerned. Thus Mr. Obama spent a significant portion of his first trips abroad apologizing for America’s rude behavior to anyone who would listen. Thrown in for good measure was a deep bow to Saudi king Abdullah and a cheery book exchange with Venezuelan thug Hugo Chavez.
The president’s timid response in the face of the beatings, arrests, and murders of people protesting a rigged election was nothing more than an extension of that apologia. Rather than lending critical moral support to what could very well have been an incipient and powerful democratic movement in Iran, the president thought it more appropriate to reach over the bloodied heads of the protesters so he could hold out his “hand of friendship” to the mullahs. It was surprising that he forgot to send the “winner” of the election, the detestable Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a congratulatory note.
Only after nearly a week of gruesome scenes filling television screens around the world, including the horrific martyrdom of a young woman called Nada, was the president given a script by his careful handlers that contained any expressions of outrage. And he had already been beaten to the punch by such stalwarts as French president Nicolas Sarkozy, the leader of a country historically not known for intrepid intestinal fortitude.
This was not an isolated political act having little impact on the nation. This was a gutless, unprincipled failure of leadership by the so-called Leader of the Free World, the same world that the mullahs and their ilk target for destruction. While Iran continues to seethe below the surface, it appears that the mass protests, the overt demonstrations of contempt for a repressive theocracy, are quickly fading. It must give Mr. Obama some relief that he won’t soon be called upon again to take a principled stand and offer words of support to people who are struggling for freedom.
For all of his purported powers of articulation, the great speechifier and author of books about himself might want to become familiar with the inaugural address of one of his predecessors, surely one of the most inspirational speeches in the history of the Republic: Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
JFK exposed the nation to the Bay of Pigs disaster and then guided it safely through the Cuban missile crisis. His brief record as a statesman was decidedly mixed. But he meant what he said about standing up for freedom around the globe. He would not have betrayed the Iranian democrats and reached out to the mullahs.