My situation is a lot like the plot of the 1999 film “Bicentennial Man” (guest post by Senator Rand Paul)

We’re very fortunate to have been asked to provide space to Senator Rand Paul so that he may respond to recent allegations that he has been plagiarizing his speeches from Wikipedia. Here is Senator Paul’s statement in its entirety, unedited:

Recently it has been alleged that, while speaking at a rally for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken “The Cooch” Cuccinelli, portions of my speech in which I went on at length, for some reason, about the plot of the 1997 film “Gattaca” appear to have been plagiarized from the Wikipedia entry for that film. Earlier today it was also alleged that in a June speech on immigration, the inexplicably long and detailed description I provided of the plot of the 1988 film “Stand and Deliver” was similarly lifted from the Wikipedia entry for that film.

My friends, these charges are false and malicious. I am astonished at the lengths to which my political enemies will go to attempt to discredit me and the work I am doing on behalf of the American people. I must confess that I feel as though I am living the plot of the 1999 film “Bicentennial Man,” starring the irrepressible Robin Williams.

In the film, Williams plays an NDR series android named “Andrew,” who is introduced in April 2005 into the Martin family home to perform housekeeping and maintenance duties. The family’s reactions range from acceptance and curiosity to outright rejection and deliberate vandalism by Grace (Lindze Letherman), which leads to the discovery that Andrew can both identify emotions and reciprocate in kind. When Andrew accidentally breaks a figurine belonging to “Little Miss” Amanda (Hallie Kate Eisenberg), he carves a replacement out of wood. The family is astonished by this creativity and “Sir” Richard Martin (Sam Neill) takes Andrew to his manufacturer, to inquire if all the robots are like him. The company’s CEO (Stephen Root) sees this development as a problem and wishes to scrap Andrew. Angered, Martin takes Andrew home and allows him to pursue his own development, encouraging Andrew to educate himself in the humanities.

In 2025, Andrew has an accident in which his thumb is accidentally cut off so Martin again takes him to NorthAm Robotics for repairs, ensuring first that Andrew’s personality will remain unharmed. Andrew requests that while he is being repaired his face be upgraded to allow him to convey the emotions he feels but cannot fully express. The CEO informs them that upgrade modification will be very expensive—in fact, larger than the sum he earns in an entire year—but the price is well within the Martin family’s means, comprising a month of Andrew’s income from the sale of his carpentry and other woodworks and crafts.

After the wedding of Little Miss (Embeth Davidtz), Andrew realizes there are no more orders for him to run. In 2037, he asks for his freedom, much to Martin’s dismay. He grants the request, but banishes Andrew so he can be “completely” free. As Andrew leaves, Martin comments that he has stopped referring to himself as “one”. Andrew builds himself a home at the beach and lives alone. In 2053, Andrew sees Martin one last time on his deathbed. Martin apologizes for banishing Andrew knowing have his freedom was the right thing, as he bids farewell to Andrew, stating that it was an honor serving him.

Are you seeing the similarities to my own situation yet? The resemblance is uncanny.

Anyway, after Andrew gets help from Lloyd Charney (Bradley Whitford), Little Miss’s reluctant son, he goes on a quest to locate more NDR series robots to discover if others have also developed sentience. After more than a decade of futility, he finds Galatea (Kiersten Warren), an NDR robot that has been given feminine attributes and personality. These however are simply aspects of her programming and not something which she developed as Andrew did. Galatea is owned by Rupert Burns (Oliver Platt), son of the original NDR robot designer. Rupert works to create a more human look for robots, but is unable to attract funding. Andrew agrees to finance the research and the two join forces to give Andrew a superficial human appearance. In 2073, Andrew comes back to visit Little Miss but instead meets Portia Charney (Embeth Davidtz), her granddaughter (and Lloyd’s daughter) who looks nearly exactly like a younger version of Little Miss. Now aged, Little Miss explains to Andrew that it’s a genetic likeness that skipped a generation. As Andrew gets to know Portia, Little Miss is hospitalized after suffering a stroke. Andrew and Portia visit her, noticing that she is clutching the wooden horse he carved for her when she was young. She silently passes away, and Andrew feels the pain of not being able to cry and realizes that every human being he cares for will eventually die.

Over the next few years, Andrew and Rupert begin to study medical designs capable of producing mechanical equivalents of human organs, including a central nervous system, which eventually allows Andrew to acquire tactile sensations and taste. Meanwhile, his friendship with Portia evolves into romance. At first, Portia is uncertain about “investing her emotions in a machine” and almost marries someone else, but Andrew confronts her about her emotions and they eventually engage in a relationship that is both romantic and sexual. But both Andrew and Portia realize that their relationship would never be socially accepted. Andrew petitions the World Congress to recognize him as a human being, which would allow him and Portia to be legally married. The Speaker of the Congress rejects the proposal, explaining that society can tolerate an everlasting machine, but argues that an immortal human would create too much jealousy and resentment.

In 2128, Portia is physically 50 years old due to Andrew’s medical breakthroughs but decides that she doesn’t want to have her life forever prolonged by them. Andrew realizes that he wouldn’t want to live on without her. He has Rupert to introduce blood into his system which will cause his brain to gradually decay, allowing him to age; his elderly friend welcomes him to the human condition, admitting that it is unknown when exactly Andrew will die. Years later (possibly during the 2160s or 2170s), Andrew’s aging has progressed while Portia aged further. Andrew attends the World Congress a second time to petition to be declared a human being again. However, the decision is postponed to a later date, as the World Congress decides to review the matter before making a final determination.

In 2205, Andrew and Portia are now in intermediate care with life support machines. The elderly couple watch a broadcast where the President of the World Congress acknowledges Andrew’s humanity, declaring him the oldest human being in recorded history at 200 years old and validates his marriage with Portia. Andrew dies while listening to the broadcast, and Portia orders their nurse Galatea (now human-looking and sentient) to unplug her from her life support machine. The film ends with Portia about to die hand-in-hand with Andrew, as she whispers to him “See you soon.”

See you soon, indeed. Thank you, my friends, and God Bless America.

— U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)

Newt Gingrich’s sugar daddy wants to nuke Iran

Thank you, Supreme Court, for giving totally not unhinged billionaires like Sheldon Adelson an even bigger role in American politics than they had before Citizen’s United. If you hadn’t done that, we might be denied such wise counsel as this:

The biggest donor to Republican Party political groups said Tuesday that the United States should drop a nuclear bomb on Iran to spur the country to end its own nuclear program.

Sheldon Anderson, the billionaire casino mogul, said on a panel at Yeshiva University in New York City that an initial blast, targeted to hit only desert area, would kill “maybe a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever,” according to video posted on the foreign policy news website Mondoweiss.

“Then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development.”

Obviously this is one obscenely rich person whose opinions are worth hearing!

Arabian frights

Still unpacking the past few days of erratic diplomacy coming out of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). First came the refusal to accept their election to the UN Security Council after they had actively campaigned for the seat, then the announcement that the kingdom would “reassess” its strategic relationship with the United States. David Ignatius at the Washington Post suggests that this is about attention; the Saudis, frustrated (as are other American allies) at recent American moves in the region (chiefly the decision not to lay waste to Syria and potentially not to lay waste to Iran either), are holding their breath until they turn blue or until America recognizes KSA’s importance and starts catering to their needs again:

The bad feeling that developed after Mubarak’s ouster deepened month by month: The U.S. supported Morsi’s election as president; opposed a crackdown by the monarchy in Bahrain against Shiites protesters; cut aid to the Egyptian military after it toppled Morsi and crushed the Brotherhood; promised covert aid to the Syrian rebels it never delivered; threatened to bomb Syria and then allied with Russia, instead; and finally embarked on a diplomatic opening to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s deadly rival in the Gulf.

The thing is, if you’re a fan of long-term peace and stability, not to mention America’s standing in the region, these are all good things. America should support free and fair elections in places that haven’t had them before. We should not be backing crackdowns by authoritarians against popular uprisings. We should cut aid to governments installed by military coup that then go on to kill a few hundred protesters. We probably shouldn’t be providing significant military aid to the increasingly radicalized Syrian opposition. We should be looking for resolutions to the problem of Middle Eastern WMD that don’t involve airstrikes. And, most importantly, we should be negotiating with Iran. But none of these things are in Saudi Arabia’s interests just now, and so they’re looking to leverage a policy shift or at least some recognition that they still matter to America.

If only we could go back to a simpler time, when a Saudi king and an American president could hold hands as they strolled through the garden together...

If only we could go back to a simpler time, when a Saudi king and an American president could hold hands as they strolled through the garden together…

But there’s more to KSA’s actions over the past week than simple frustration with American policy; there’s also the fear that they may be increasingly shunted to the side in regional and global geopolitics. I agree with Marcy Wheeler on this; the Saudis have a problem, which is that they’re running out of oil. There’s no consensus as to how quickly they’re running out, but there’s no question that they are. Wikileaks released cables in 2011 suggesting that the Saudi government had overstated its accessible oil reserves by as much as 40%. Saudi influence within the global oil market is on the decline as well, thanks to development of non-OPEC sources of oil and to skyrocketing demand for Saudi oil to meet domestic needs rather than to be exported. At least one estimate has KSA on course to become a net oil importer by 2030. The Saudis themselves dispute these kinds of assessments, but if they are anywhere close to accurate it presents two serious problems for the Saudi monarchy: one foreign, and one domestic.

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Lost to history

The thing about Americans not knowing their own history? It’s true even for family history, apparently. From the pages of the New York Times comes John G. Taft, pretending that his grandfather Robert was a Reasonable Republican:

As I write, a photograph of my grandfather, Senator Robert Alphonso Taft, looks across at me from the wall of my office. He led the Republican Party in the United States Senate in the 1940s and early 1950s, ran for the Republican nomination for president three times and was known as “Mr. Republican.” If he were alive today, I can assure you he wouldn’t even recognize the modern Republican Party, which has repeatedly brought the United States of America to the edge of a fiscal cliff — seemingly with every intention of pushing us off the edge.

Throughout my family’s more than 170-year legacy of public service, Republicans have represented the voice of fiscal conservatism. Republicans have been the adults in the room. Yet somehow the current generation of party activists has managed to do what no previous Republicans have been able to do — position the Democratic Party as the agents of fiscal responsibility.

Taft (John G.) compares the Ted Cruz-led GOP to the radical Republicans of the McCarthy era and concludes that just as Very Serious Republicans, like his grandfather, eventually suppressed and eliminated the stain of McCarthyism from the Republican Party, so must today’s Very Serious Republicans marginalize Cruz and his ilk:

There is more than a passing similarity between Joseph McCarthy and Ted Cruz, between McCarthyism and the Tea Party movement. The Republican Party survived McCarthyism because, ultimately, its excesses caused it to burn out. And eventually party elders in the mold of my grandfather were able to realign the party with its brand promise: The Republican Party is (or should be) the Stewardship Party. The Republican brand is (or should be) about responsible behavior. The Republican party is (or should be) at long last, about decency.

This is the Reagan Reinvention slightly adapted for an earlier generation of right-wing radical. You cannot remove politicians and ideologues from their social, political, and ideological context and imagine that they would somehow hew to exactly the same principles if they were alive today, in this political landscape. Ronald Reagan was an extremist for his time, not a moderate, and there’s no reason to assume he would not also be an extremist today. As far as Taft was concerned, Corey Robin did the honors (please go read the whole thing):

First, it’s important to remember that in 1946, the year McCarthy was elected to the Senate, Taft was the leader of the conservative Senate Republicans who were eager to use redbaiting to help Republicans get elected. Taft had no compunction about claiming that the legislative agenda of Democrats in Congress “bordered on Communism.”

In addition, the anticommunist provision of Taft-Hartley was one of the more potent pieces of legislation contributing to the developing atmosphere of Cold War hysteria around communism. That provision mandated that all unions seeking the protections of the Wagner Act had to have their leaders take an oath affirming that they were neither members nor supporters of the Communist Party or any other organization seeking the overthrow of the United States government. That provision provoked a wave of red-baiting and red-hunting within and around the labor movement, which proved to be a kind of social corollary to what the government was doing in and around the executive branch.

Taft was not the opponent or even just the helpmate of this repression; he was a leading agent of it. More than three years before anyone outside of Wisconsin had even heard of Joseph McCarthy.

But on the question of McCarthy himself, the record is clear: Taft did not merely “allow” the man and the ism to dominate; Taft actively coddled, encouraged, and supported him and it at every turn.

I imagine that John Taft’s fond recollection of his grandfather’s Serious Centrism and his glorious retaking of the GOP from the McCarthyite fringe is part wishful reminiscence/family lore, part conscious political myth, and part ignorance. But it would be great if the rest of us knew the real story.

To sum up, this guy was not a moderate. That is all.

To sum up, this guy was not a moderate. That is all.

Well, good luck with that, you crazy Saudis, you

I’ve written before about America’s narcissistic foreign policy, where every independent decision made by another country that doesn’t correspond directly to American interests is perceived as some kind of affront or insult. Well, we’re not the only ones who exhibit that particular tendency. Take our good friends, the Saudis, who last week turned down a seat on the UN Security Council for which they had been actively campaigning, then claimed that they did it because they’ve been insulted by recent American efforts in the Middle East (if you ask me, this is probably total BS but at least no better than a half-truth). Today, the chief of the Saudi Intelligence Agency, Bandar Bush b. Sultan (but, really, Bandar Bush), insists that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) will “reassess” its relationship with the United States on account of these perceived slights:

Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that Washington had failed to act effectively on the Syrian crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was growing closer to Tehran, and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed an anti-government revolt in 2011, the source said on Tuesday.

OK, let’s get the total garbage out of the way: Saudi Arabia is not reassessing its close ties with America, if such a thing is happening at all and this isn’t just rhetorical bluster, because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. KSA and Israel have probably never been tighter with one another, mostly because they’re on the same side with respect to Iran (the “let’s get America to bomb them!” side, to be specific) and generally on the anti-Assad side with respect to Syria (although they presumably have different opinions about who or what should succeed him there). Meanwhile, US-Israeli relations are ebbing at the hands of two leaders who pretty much hate each other’s rotten guts. So people are expected to believe that now, in 2013, after the conflict has gone on for decades, that the Saudis have finally had enough and are breaking their ties to America over it? No, sorry. I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I’m not that dull.

What you’re left with is a sort of plaintive whine that America isn’t taking KSA’s trash out for them as well as it used to, so KSA is irritated. The Saudis’ two major complaints are that we haven’t gone to war in Syria and that we’re backing off from bombing Iran. Hey, here’s an idea; fight your own wars, maybe? All the Gulf monarchies essentially depend on the US military to fight for them and defend them if need be; if Iran suddenly goes to war with Qatar, say, over control their shared South Pars/North Dome natural gas field, it won’t be the Qatari military taking on the Iranians. Or, heck, the next time some Iraqi leader gets the idea to roll into Kuwait and threaten Saudi oil fields, I’m betting the Saudi military response will be pretty much like the last time that happened. The thing is, Iran isn’t attacking anybody and doesn’t actually have the nuclear weapons program everybody’s so scared about. American interests are far better served by negotiating with the Rouhani government as long as they continue to be credible negotiating partners, because a peaceful resolution that lifts sanctions and boosts the Iranian economy can help to cement the current popular reform trend in Iranian politics. As far as Syria is concerned, the Saudis are providing massive aid to Sunni jihadis, who are nominally on the same “we hate Assad” team as America’s preferred Free Syrian Army but whose takeover of Syria would indisputably be worse, for US interests, than leaving Assad in power. Why would we want to rattle our sabers in either of these cases on KSA’s behalf, exactly?

The Saudis’ final complaint is that America didn’t enthusiastically support KSA’s move to crush the popular uprising in Bahrain. Well, gosh, that’s a missed opportunity there. Maybe give us some more lead time the next time you’re planning on brutalizing some protesters and we’ll be able to rearrange our schedule? Meanwhile, it’s just possible that our long-term goals in the Middle East are not going to be well served by supporting a violent crackdown against people protesting against an authoritarian regime. Maybe.

You can add to this list, though Bandar left it off, the fact that America hasn’t played along on KSA’s Egyptian adventure, since we didn’t cut aid to Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood was freely elected but now seem to be planning to cut some aid to the military junta (and all it took was the government killing a thousand or so protesters for us to sort-of enforce our own laws, go figure). The Saudis, bitterly opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, have pledged serious aid to el-Sisi’s government and, aside from the ideological grip with America’s decision to scale back its assistance, they may be pissed at the possibility that they’ll have to shell out even more money to make up for whatever American aid is cut. Well, again, sorry, but compromising long-term American interests in the region (i.e., promoting democracy) just to keep the Saudi monarchy happy may not be worth it.

So, hey, if (and I stress if because this whole thing is probably bluster) the Saudis have had enough and are going to go shopping for a new heavy to project its power on their behalf and to fight their wars for them even to the detriment of its own national interests, then, like the title of this post says, good luck with that.

If a cow ever got the chance, he’d eat you and everyone you care about

"Then their plan was to replace me with an alien duplicate, like me in every way but devoid of all human emotion, or, in other words, exactly like me in every way."

“Then their plan was to replace me with an alien duplicate, similar to me but devoid of all human emotion–or, in other words, exactly like me in every way.”

So apparently our former vice president had the wireless capability in his implanted defibrilator turned off so that he wouldn’t wind up being the plot of the second season of “Homeland.” Sure, why not? Paul Waldman has a fair take on Cheney’s paranoia, but I do have to quibble with a couple of parts.

Did he also avoid sea travel, since the terrorists could use their nuclear-powered subs to send microwaves at him and fry his brains? What world was he living in?

The answer, in case you’ve forgotten, is that he and so many other Bush administration officials were basically enacting a fantasy in which the enemy—”the terrorists”—were not actually a bunch of semi-literate religious fanatics who got incredibly lucky one time with an extraordinarily low-tech attack, but were actually evil geniuses, had unlimited resources at their disposal, and could execute complex, highly technical schemes with multiple interlocking parts that enabled them to do things like get close enough to the Vice President to deliver him a fatal electric shock. And of course, we can’t close Guantanamo and house the prisoners now there in supermax prisons in the United States, from which no inmate has ever escaped, because they’re terrorists, and who knows what super-powers they might have developed in the fantastically well-equipped lab in their hollowed-out-mountain lair?

If it’s misguided to assume that the 9/11 hijackers were all evil geniuses with superpowers, then it’s also misguided to dismiss them as “a bunch of semi-literate religious fanatics.” For one thing, four of them successfully trained to fly large airliners well enough to successfully (I’m assuming, absent the actions of the passengers, in the case of Flight 93) crash them into their selected targets. That seems more sophisticated than “semi-literate religious fanatic” to me, but I’ve never flown anything so for all I know it’s not that hard to learn. But the hijackers were all learned men; the three members of the “Hamburg Cell” who were the pilots on three of the attacks–Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ziyad Jarrah–were all university students in Germany (al-Shahhi seems to have been a poor student, but there’s nothing to indicate that Jarrah was likewise, and Atta’s academic performance was adequate to good), and the fourth pilot, Hani Hanjour, didn’t turn to Islamic extremism until after he’d obtained his FAA license while on a visa in the US yet had still been unable to obtain employment as a pilot in Saudi Arabia. The rest of the hijackers, the ones for whom such information is known, range from college dropouts to teachers to imams to law students. A few were experienced jihadi fighters from Afghanistan, Chechnya, and/or Bosnia. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the plot, has an engineering degree from North Carolina A&T. These guys were not stupid, and as a group they were not uneducated. The 9/11 plot itself was low tech (the hijackers didn’t have to bring anything more than box cutters to the airport to pull it off) but it did suggest a degree of sophistication and patience in the planning and preparation stages. Sure, they were helped by America’s lax visa oversight, but even that could have been a deliberate exploitation of a studied weakness.

Back in the real world, actual terrorists were struggling unsuccessfully to make their shoes or their underwear explode. So why did people like Cheney want so badly to believe they were fighting Magneto or Dr. No? I think it’s because they all wanted to be Jack Ryan or Jack Bauer. The more terrifying your enemy is, the more courageous and heroic you are. While Bin Laden was holed up in a house in Abbottabad watching DVDs of Three’s Company reruns, Bush and Cheney were imagining that their foe was so unstoppable that at any moment he could penetrate the Secret Service perimeter and kill them with death rays.

I guess what I’m saying is that, on some level, I don’t blame the Bush folks for assuming, after 9/11, that Al-Qaeda had the potential to carry out reasonably sophisticated attacks. In hindsight, attacks like the bombing of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (both truck bombs) and the attack on the USS Cole (the nautical equivalent of one) were not great strategic or tactical feats, but in hindsight such as it was right after 9/11, which kind of was a significant feat, you can understand how those earlier attacks might seem greater than they were. The failure was (and still is in some respects) to catch on to the fact that 9/11 was the last (first and last, really) plot of that magnitude that Al-Qaeda was able to pull off. Madrid and London were significant attacks, but both were carried out by local cells with little evident planning from “AQ-Main” and neither required the months of preparation (obtaining visas, flight training, etc.) to carry out that marked 9/11.

We need to recognize what “Al-Qaeda” is, mostly, nowadays: a rallying point in the Muslim World for the kind of disaffected fringe elements that have always existed, everywhere. Some foreign group or “mastermind” may provide these guys with inspiration or training, but instead of large-scale, fairly intricate hijacking plots you get some dude trying to blow up the dud of a bomb he put in his car in Times Square, or some guy trying to make his underpants explode on a plane–potential dangers, for sure, but not of the scale or type for which we geared up after 9/11. This, I suppose, represents a success on the part of American counter-measures put into place after the attack, but because we’ve mostly failed to recognize and react to this shift we also don’t really know which elements of those counter-measures actually work and which are either unhelpful or downright counter-productive/dangerous. Worse, by continuing to assume that we’re dealing with a complex global network capable of the most destructive attacks we are putting ourselves at risk of preventing the last attack but failing to see the next one. We’re focusing, say, on the international WMD attack that we’re sure is coming or on some terrorist hacker wunderkind remotely giving the vice president a heart attack, when meanwhile the real danger is probably something much less grand.

Waldman gets this right:

There’s a practical side to this, which is that the more people thought 24 represented the reality of terrorism, the more willing they’d be to shrug their shoulders at things like vastly expanded surveillance and the use of torture. In the real world, “ticking time bombs” are so rare as to be essentially non-existent, and the torture policy (and even the actual torture techniques) were designed by people who knew virtually nothing about how to get information from a prisoner who doesn’t want to give it to you. But hey, on 24, not only did torture always work, it worked fast—60 seconds was about average—and everything a terrorist said under torture turned out to be true. How could you not use it?

Our continued treatment of large-scale Islamic terrorism as an existential and ever-present threat serves a number of political aims, and that’s why it continues despite there being precious little real-world evidence to support our supposed fears. I suspect that Obama understands this on some level, but it’s going to be hard to make our security institutions understand it, let alone to get them to change accordingly.

(Mis)Appropriating history

One of the “great” things about being a pundit in America is that, since most US Americans can’t be bothered to learn (or aren’t ever really taught, I’m flexible on this point) their own history, you can play with that history a lot. I mean, a lot. Peggy Noonan apparently knows this, which is why she writes bizarre columns where she pretends to have real conversations with long-dead Republican politicians (in this case Robert Taft) who just happen to say all the things Peggy would say if she were them. Why not? You can probably count the number of Republicans in 2013 who remember Robert Taft on zero fingers, so she’s free to put whatever words she wants into the guy’s mouth. Liberals/Democrats do this kind of thing too, with their too-often repeated talking point about how “Reagan would be too moderate for today’s Republican Party,” or “Reagan would be a Democrat today,” as though you could somehow divorce the arch-conservative Reagan from his 1970s-80s context, transport him to today, and expect his political views to remain exactly the same. This is silly, and it’s also self-defeating; if folks on the left are going to start claiming that Ronald Reagan was some kind of centrist moderate, then the ideological war is over and us lefties lost.

Noted Arch-Conservative John F. Kennedy. Right here he's thinking, "God, I just wish there were a food stamp program so that I could cut its benefits."

Noted Arch-Conservative John F. Kennedy. Right here he’s thinking, “God, I just wish there were a food stamp program so that I could cut its benefits.”

The conservative apex for this kind of thing has long been the dream of appropriating John F. Kennedy as some sort of conservative icon. I guess it’s easy to see why; Kennedy is universally popular nowadays, he’s well-regarded by historians (for defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis, if nothing else), and because he was assassinated in the middle of his first term he doesn’t have enough of a record to make revisionism completely laughable. What other well-regarded presidential figures do conservatives have to use as an example? Bush Jr. isn’t getting them anywhere. Bush Sr. was an apostate on taxes, so he’s out. Reagan only plays well with the brethren. The only thing Ford has going for him is that he was beaten by History’s Greatest Monster. Nixon resigned the office in disgrace plus he was a little squishy on the whole “big government” thing. Eisenhower? He’s long-gone enough to be useful but then you have to contend with the 92% top tax rate and the “Military-Industrial Complex” thing, and that’s a tough slog. With some careful historiographic malpractice and the right audience (of people who don’t know their own history), Kennedy can be made into an ideological cipher, and there’s no need for complicated myth-building like there was with Reagan; the mythologizing of JFK started when he was running for office and then went into overdrive after Dallas, so the work is already done for you.

Enter into the ahistorical fray Ira Stoll, former managing editor of the New York Sun (a paper that was deeply committed to an impartial and objective view of the absolute rightness of conservatism in all things and at all times) and author of JFK: Conservative. Mr. Stoll recently wrote a piece in the always-topical Time called, and stop me if you’ve heard this somewhere before, “JFK Was a Political Conservative.” Let’s roll that beautiful bean footage:

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