The Spectacle Blog

TNR on Lantos: Pretty Good, Except For…

By on 2.15.08 | 12:46PM

Perusing The New Republic's site, I was happy to see an obituary for Rep. Tom Lantos (see our Ivan Osorio's here). After all, he fits the mold for the ideal hawkish liberal. But... they picked an anti-war Brian Beutler to write it, a choice that reflects TNR's awkward flip-flop on the war. It's a choice that also leads to a very troubled assessment of Lantos as an "idealist" (remember: that's a slam) who was riven with "contradictions." This best encapsulates the point:

The theme of Lantos's ideals clashing with each other run through many of his major battles. He seldom, for instance, surpassed an opportunity to decry the Iranian government or to call for multilateral sanctions against the regime. But he also tried--as hard as any member of Congress--to promote a new era of diplomatic engagement after a nearly 30-year hiatus, even seeking (ultimately unsuccessfully) to create a dialogue with his counterparts in
, all in an effort to prevent hostilities from spilling over into violence.

Huh? These are ideals clashing against eachother? It seems that the logic of this piece is that diplomacy sans teeth is probably the best way to go. But just because a congressman would rather not go to war doesn't mean he should avoid war at all costs. Sometimes you have to be willing to back up your threats.

In any case, "idealism" seems hardly the word, then. If Lantos was willing to be hawkish when he felt he had to be rather than persevere in the ideal of always keeping the peace, doesn't that mean that he was more pragmatic, or reasonable?

Ivan Osorio's assessment seems to capture Lantos's thinking in a series of episodes from his life -- episodes in which he took people to task for not doing the honorable thing, or for not backing up their words. If anything, what we learn from a close reading of both pieces is not that Tom Lantos was an idealist. He was a man of honor.

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