Presidential Moral Leadership - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Presidential Moral Leadership
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“On the eve of World War II,” says the Dec. 7 cover of Parade magazine, “the U.S. government turned away the S.S. St. Louis, a ship carrying 937 men, women, and children fleeing the Nazis.” The “U.S. government” here mainly means Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He turned them away. Pleas were made to Roosevelt to save the passengers; he ignored them. And because of it hundreds of people lost their lives in the concentration camps of Europe.

Yet FDR is a great president, we are told. You don’t often hear liberals accuse him of callousness. They reserve that charge for Ronald Reagan. It still outrages them that Reagan didn’t singlehandedly stop the AIDS virus.

“More Americans died of AIDS during Ronald Reagan’s presidency than in all of this nation’s wars in the last 30 years,” writes Hillary Rosen in Daily Variety. “…We will never know how many of these deaths could have been prevented if Reagan had been the moral leader [Reagan] revisionists would have him be.”

Yes, AIDS spread because of a failure of moral leadership. But not Reagan’s. It is not that he didn’t offer a solution to the crisis. He offered the only proven solution to the AIDS crisis — abstinence; Rosen and her friends simply didn’t like his solution. That’s not Reagan’s failure of moral leadership. It is theirs.

Given Rosen’s rhetoric, one would think Reagan personally spread the virus. He didn’t spread it; those who ignored his common-sense morality did. Rosen wants candor about the Reagan legacy. This is rich given the total lack of candor and sense of moral responsibility from liberals like her who rationalize and justify the conduct of those who actually spread the disease. When will we get some candor about that?

“Reagan and his political cronies, the same ones who are now crying foul, aided and promoted the ignorance [about AIDS]. The CDC [Centers for Disease Control] knew how to alert the public about health risk,” writes Rosen. This also is a rich claim given that the CDC was discouraged from speaking plainly about the disease due to politically correct pressure from Rosen’s friends. As it has been widely documented, AIDS was not treated like other diseases (where hard-headed public health actions are deployed) for ideological reasons. Again, still no candor from the left about that.

To say that Reagan didn’t address the crisis is a lie. He just didn’t address it in the approved PC manner of his accusers, frauds who demand moral accountability from everyone except themselves.

If the left wants to talk about real presidential omissions of duty, they could start with FDR. The S.S. St. Louis incident illustrates what a cynical, immoral operator he could be.

He turned away Jewish passengers fleeing Hitler for reasons of pure base politics. The boat had landed first in Cuba, but hack Cuban political officials kicked them off the island. It then headed to Florida. “Urgent cables were sent to every level of the U.S. government, including two personal appeals to President Franklin D. Roosevelt,” Lyric Wallwork Winik writes in Parade. “He never replied. Instead, Coast Guard boats patrolled to prevent anyone from swimming to shore.” (Perhaps a precedent the Elian Gonzalez-snatching Reno Justice Department had studied.)

Even Conrad Black, in his admiring biography of FDR, has to acknowledge that FDR’s treatment of Jewish refugees was an “unedifying” episode of his presidency. “There were many editorials asking Roosevelt to be merciful to these unfortunates. He didn’t reply to any of it. Concerned that Hitler’s next ploy would be to try and inundate the United States with his indigent and terrified victims, Roosevelt did not alter the challenging means test that Hoover had decreed for immigration candidates, screening out anyone who it seemed could become a welfare case in the United States,” he writes.

Turning his back on thousands of European Jews (FDR maintained strict immigration controls after the incident), even though he knew that Hitler had every intention of killing them, FDR presaged his disgraceful diplomacy at Yalta. It is no wonder that a president who couldn’t be bothered to save a boatful of Jewish refugees had no problem blithely handing the peoples of Eastern Europe over to Joseph Stalin.

It would take Reagan to undo FDR’s folly at Yalta. That the left who love FDR castigate Reagan for not rescuing “victims” shows the depth of their perverse historical memory.

George Neumayr
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George Neumayr, a senior editor at The American Spectator, is author most recently of The Biden Deception: Moderate, Opportunist, or the Democrats' Crypto-Socialist?
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