The ability to drive the other side crazy.
“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be
forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated
lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in
midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about
evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of
government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on
the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is
often the only protector of the individual rights that are the
heart of our democracy.”
— Senator Ted Kennedy
“And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The
sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I
know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down
Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so
his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of
their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy
of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”
— Governor Sarah Palin
The story is about Winston Churchill.
The British statesman was a guest at a dinner in a private home. The dinner hour arrived and the guests made their way to the dining room. Churchill moved to a chair along the side of the table. Mortified, the hostess was quickly at his side, gesturing to the empty chair waiting for him. “Mr. Churchill,” she said, “your seat is at the head of the table.” To which Churchill responded in typical Churchillian style. “Madame,” he said, “wherever I sit is the head of the table.” And with that — the Great Man sat down where he was.
The story comes to mind as Senator Ted Kennedy is laid to rest amid praise that he was the “Lion of the Senate,” a man of whom it is said that when he spoke, a nation listened. Neither the Senate nor the nation necessarily followed — but they did listen.
Whatever one’s view of the late Senator, it would be hard to dispute this assessment. The famous statement he made within minutes of President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court is perhaps a classic example of this. Conservatives assailed Kennedy at the time — and it has been cited all over again in recent days as one of his less glorious moments as a senator.
Yet in fact this criticism of Kennedy’s Bork statement misses a very Churchillian fact.
Whether you liked what Ted Kennedy said that day or hated it, whether you loved Ted Kennedy or couldn’t stand him — millions of people paid attention to him when he said it. In fact, in that instance for better or worse, depending on one’s politics, Kennedy’s statement signaled not just that Bork would have a difficult time being confirmed. His blunt remarks from the Senate floor set the stage for Bork’s outright defeat, something initially considered impossible at the time. After all, Ronald Reagan was a popular president and Robert Bork was commonly considered by even opponents to be a legal giant. With his startling speech from the floor of the Senate, the sheer power of Ted Kennedy’s personality and rhetoric changed the course of history.
This is precisely what Churchill meant when he (perhaps rudely) told his hostess the obvious truth of the evening. Winston Churchill was dining in her home, and no matter where he sat, no matter whether he was in office or out, no matter the other guests, he quite indisputably would have the attention of everyone else at the table. He was, after all, Winston Churchill.
This is a rare quality in political leaders. In reality it’s a human trait, not a political one. Your Aunt Sally could possess Churchill’s “head of the table” characteristic and not your Uncle Jim. Yet in the rarefied world of politics, where there is by definition a handful of nationally prominent politicians at any given moment, possessors of Churchill’s “head of the table” trait stand out.
They possess, as did Winston Churchill, an unquantifiable capability that can not just electrify a room full of supporters but send them into passionate fits of ecstasy — while simultaneously sending opponents into a furious, foaming rage. If these politicians master the art of using this quality, they can instantly play a huge role in anything from a winning political campaign to driving a piece of legislation across the legislative finish line. Or stopping it.
By now, a year after her emergence on the national scene, it is crystal clear that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has this “head of the table” gene in spades. She is, in a remarkable way, the real heir — make that heiress — to Senator Kennedy. She is charismatic, she has a decided point of view and she is a lightning rod for controversy. Just as Kennedy managed to sink a once sure-thing Supreme Court nomination with his famous Bork speech, Governor Palin has managed to explode Section 1233 of the ObamaCare House bill with her vivid description of “death panels,” severely damaging the President’s entire legislative priority in the process.
Ted Kennedy was in fact always one of 100 senators at any given moment in his senatorial career. Any one of the other 99 could have been a star at the same time. In fact, only a handful had any lasting impact over the decades, most simply treading water in the historic body leaving nary a footprint behind. Sarah Palin is one of a number of nationally prominent Republican leaders, a field that includes senators, congressmen, governors and party officials. Most Americans had trouble at any moment from 1963 until this past week identifying more than a handful of U.S. Senators — but everybody knew Senator Kennedy. So too is Sarah Palin an instant standout among her Republican leadership peers, most of whom are unidentifiable to the vast American public.
It takes nothing away from Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee or Tim Pawlenty and others who may be presidential candidates the next time around, all of whom have had criticism of ObamaCare, to say that it was Sarah Palin almost single-handedly who has dealt a once hugely popular president a stunning defeat on a major aspect of his key legislative program. A feat accomplished she accomplished with a simple Kennedy-esque “Robert Bork’s America” style posting on her Facebook page.
In an article applauding Kennedy’s Bork speech, written after the Senator’s death, legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin says in the New Yorker that Kennedy’s speech “was crude and exaggerated, but it galvanized the opposition as nothing else, and no one else, could”
Toobin, a liberal, is applauding the result — keeping Bork off the bench — because he agrees with it. What he overlooks here is that what Kennedy also launched that day was a way of speaking in the television soundbite age that might be labeled as visual shorthand. Toobin describes it exactly, however — a “crude and exaggerated” portrait of the issue at hand. The one word Toobin left out was effective, which Kennedy’s Bork speech most certainly was. Like Ted Kennedy, Sarah Palin has demonstrated her mastery of this political skill. Have liberals taken offense at her death panel description? Are you kidding? They are beside themselves with anger. But in true sauce for the goose and the gander style, if this “crude and exaggerated” technique can be used by Ted Kennedy to keep Robert Bork off the Supreme Court, Sarah Palin is well within the boundaries of acceptable political dialogue to describe the Obama health care plan as promoting the use of “death panels.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online