The Obama Watch

From Hanoi Jane to Imam Obama

Mosque is pledge of allegiance issue of 2010: bad judgment on values, economy.

By 8.24.10

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It was the picture worth a thousand words.

The emblematic political ancestor of the connection between the Ground Zero Mosque and the economy that is now wreaking havoc in the 2010 campaign.

In the middle of the 1972 presidential campaign that featured President Richard Nixon versus the Democrats' Senator George McGovern, all of a sudden Americans were talking about something else.

A photograph.

Actress Jane Fonda, already well on her way to transforming her image from glamorous movie star to left-wing radical activist, was visiting Hanoi that July, only days after the very liberal, anti-war McGovern claimed the Democratic presidential nomination. That would be Hanoi, North Vietnam. The enemy capital. In wartime. When hundreds of thousands of American kids were fighting for their lives in the larger cause of freedom.

Befitting an actress, she had her picture taken. Sitting at a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft battery. Smiling, wearing a military helmet, Fonda happily posed as her Communist hosts grinned and laughed along with her at the image of the famous American leftist film star clapping with joy as if she were poised to shoot down their enemy -- American pilots. Later, Fonda took to Radio Hanoi to broadcast her views to the world. She accused the President of the United States of being a "war criminal" and insisted that returning American POW's who said the North Vietnamese had tortured them were "hypocrites and liars."

 In a flash, Fonda won the nickname "Hanoi Jane." It was not meant with affection.

Her anti-war virulence poured forth as the summer progressed. She showed up in Miami Beach to protest at the Republican National Convention, sharing the platform with Black Panther activist Bobby Seale. A documentary film called F.T.A. was released, with Fonda and actor Donald Sutherland starring in real-life as the center of what the New York Times called a "political vaudeville troupe." The film featured Fonda's tour of the war zone (over official opposition) as a sort of anti-Bob Hope USO guerrilla theater. In a glowing review, the Times rhapsodized that the "pageant" that was "anti-American guerrilla theater…momentarily turns revolutionary passion into a romantic gesture of extraordinary beauty." It also was charmed by "the deep happiness in [the] eyes of Ms. Fonda."

Fonda's trip to Hanoi was her own, as was the film. They had nothing to do with the McGovern campaign. Yet it was so broadly cast as such a prominent part of the "anti-war" movement of which McGovern was in fact a decided leader that Fonda's actions became emblematic of all things "anti-war" and "liberal" or "left-wing" -- McGovern's campaign included.

Her antics were a cultural explosion in the middle of the American campaign season.

At a stroke the photograph personified what was at the time a startlingly new thought: that the American left had so separated itself from the reality that was mainstream America it was essentially in the process of politically self-destructing in an orgy of spectacularly bad judgment. The party of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy had been captured by activist far-left elitists who saw nothing in the least wrong in cavorting with an enemy who was literally sending American sons and daughters home in body bags. And laughing about it in front of cameras in the bargain. The sheer contempt for average Americans expressed in the Fonda photo could not have been more plainly expressed.

That fall, Richard Nixon --- who had lost the presidency to JFK in 1960 by 100,000 votes and defeated Hubert Humphrey in 1968 with a bare 43% of the vote -- carried 49 states. 

The unraveling of the American left had begun.

Campaigning in 1976 as a hard line Annapolis graduate, an ex-Navy officer and successful businessman, post-Watergate Jimmy Carter barely salvaged victory over the lackluster Nixon-appointed vice president-turned-president Gerald Ford. Within six months of his inauguration, Carter was lecturing Americans from the podium of a Notre Dame commencement that they had an "inordinate fear" of Communism. By 1979 blindfolded American hostages in Iran became the next emblem to succeed the image of "Hanoi Jane" -- hopelessly portraying Carter as weak, indecisive and naïve. The Reagan presidency followed. 

In 1988 the emblem of left-wing elitism became the Pledge of Allegiance.

Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, riding a double-digit lead over then Vice President George H.W. Bush as the summer began, was found to have vetoed a bill that would require the state's teachers to lead their students in the Pledge of Allegiance. Tellingly, Democrats thought it no big deal. Competence, Dukakis insisted, was the real issue. A New York Times columnist dismissed the Pledge issue as one of "imbecility."

The columnist (Russell Baker) wasn't simply wrong. He was clueless as to the impact on ordinary outside-Manhattan voters. The Pledge veto became an emblem of Hanoi Jane-style liberal elitism circa 1988, and Bush began touring flag-making companies to emphasize the point. "What is it about the Pledge of Allegiance that upsets him so much?" Bush demanded of Dukakis at a campaign rally with outgoing President Ronald Reagan. The crowd roared .The rally was, by the way, not in Red State Alabama. It was in Bluing California. Los Angeles. And Bush -- not the liberal Dukakis -- would carry the state.

Why is this ancient political history important to understand?

The Ground Zero Mosque has now become the values issue of the 2010 campaign. The party of Hanoi Jane has been updated -- but, importantly, not replaced -- with the party of (as Rush Limbaugh chortles) Imam Obama.

And there's more to this than just the values issue of the Mosque. Much more.

What made the image of Hanoi Jane or the blindfolded American hostages in Iran or the Dukakis veto of the Pledge of Allegiance so powerful with voters was not simply the "values issues" each came to personify.

Each was tied directly to the economy and the economic issues of the day.

Why? Because each image communicated to voters bad judgment.

When Dukakis whined during a 1988 debate that Bush was questioning his patriotism, Bush swung back instantly, saying that it wasn't his opponent's patriotism he was calling into question but his judgment. And judgment extended to far more than the issue of the Pledge of Allegiance. Judgment went to the very heart of the issue Americans care most about all of the time: the economy. Their jobs. Their economic security.

In 1972 Nixon tied McGovern's bad judgment to the Democrat's much ridiculed plan to give a "rebate" of $1,000 to every American, the idea quickly being targeted as the "thousand-dollar giveaway." Reagan, proposing the tax and budget cuts that became the signature of 1980s economic prosperity, ridiculed Carter's economic views as "Carternomics." A recession, Reagan would joke with his cheering 1980 audiences, was when "your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose your job. And a recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his." In 1984, Reagan lampooned Walter Mondale's promise to raise taxes as the return of Carternomics and more bad judgment. In between hammering Dukakis on the Pledge -- and the furlough of convicted murderer Willie Horton, another emblem -- the 1988 Bush campaign tied Dukakis's judgment and his liberal economic program to Carter with commercials that showed long unemployment lines as the song "I Remember You" was crooned in the background. In 2004 the image of a young John Kerry testifying against his comrades from Vietnam that they "cut off ears" of the enemy, questions of whether he had tossed his war medals away at a protest, and more morphed into the so-called "Swift Boat" issue -- which like all its emblematic predecessors beginning with Hanoi Jane -- became the bad judgment issue that sank Kerry's presidential campaign.

This is not a presidential year -- but the values issue, a seeming no-show at first -- has now jumped to center stage with the Ground Zero Mosque. A Time magazine poll not only shows 61% of Americans -- not just New Yorkers -- opposing the Mosque, a full 70% have cited the construction as "insult to the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center." Which is to say, an issue not of religious freedom as its liberal proponents claim but -- yes -- bad judgment.

This gives opponents ample room to make the case that Mosque supporters are showing not just bad judgment in terms of the feelings of 9/11 families. But bad judgment in terms of national security. Bad judgment in terms of financing connections between the Mosque and the terrorists of Hamas and Iran.

And yes, most spectacularly, bad judgment as expressed by the support of the President for the Mosque as delivered at a White House Ramadan dinner. Bad judgment as expressed in his spectacularly unsuccessful efforts to "reach out" to radical Islamicists with the likes of video greetings to Iran, a timid response to freedom marchers in Tehran, his inability or unwillingness to do one effective thing about the building of an Iranian nuclear bomb, his insulting behavior towards Israel's prime minister. And so on, and on. To the point that the Time poll also says a full one-third of Americans polled believe Muslims should be barred from the presidency -- with an astonishing 24% refusing to answer the question of whether they think President Obama himself is Muslim, or confessing they were unsure.

Most importantly for Republicans, all of this bad judgment over the Mosque issue easily translates into a connection with the bad judgment that has sent the American economy into a tailspin. Near double-digit unemployment and potentially nation-crippling national debt -- not to mention mess that is ObamaCare -- are nothing but poster children for bad economic judgment.

Don't think for a moment that the new emblem of this year's campaign -- the Ground Zero Mosque and Obama's support for it -- will be used as anything other than an illustration of colossal bad judgment across the board. Bad judgment that will have a considerable negative impact on an election that was already sending Democrats reaching for the political smelling salts. Races for House, Senate and gubernatorial seats from New York to Nevada are going to be affected by this -- as Harry Reid's rush to separate from the Obama stance on the Mosque issue so vividly demonstrates.

"There's somethin' happenin' here", as the old Buffalo Springfield song used to have it.

What it is, is exactly clear. There's a man with a Mosque over there.

Hanoi Jane has morphed into Imam Obama.

Look out.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.