The Biden White House, facing withering scrutiny over its Ukraine failures, now is characterizing Russian dictator Vladimir Putin as “mentally imbalanced.” We remember this Democrat playbook in the way they portrayed President Trump. Just throw mud at others and see what sticks. Meanwhile, on the mental agility front, Biden is in the Oval Office.
In reality, Putin acted logically. He determined to rebuild the Russian empire that collapsed when communism fell. It is that simple. If southern states — let’s call them “Dixie” — try to break off from America, would an American president not go to war to hold the greater republic together? Think about it. So Putin waited for Trump’s years to pass because he logically measured Trump and knew not to mess with him. He also sized up Biden and Blinken, saw the Afghanistan evacuation, and determined logically that America now is led by chumps. Putin decided logically to wait one calendar year before invading Ukraine so as not to insult Biden personally and frontally. Then, when January 21 of this year arrived, Putin waited just a few extra weeks for the Olympics to end so as not to be embroiled in a bloody conflict during the brief fortnight when all the world is at peace and when anti-Russian protests could be presented dramatically daily on an internationally televised stage. All executed logically.
Study other societies to gain insights into our own. For example, law schools offer a course in “comparative law.” Students gain deeper insights into American jurisprudence by learning how English common law and even Judaic Talmudic law evolved. Similarly, we learn from history, the famous George Santayana aphorism. In the same way, an example outside our forest reflects that Putin’s attack was presaged in October 1973 when Egyptian dictator Anwar Sadat launched the Yom Kippur during Golda Meir’s watch.
The electorate in a democracy chooses leaders based on popularity. For different voters, though, different considerations define “popularity”: Character? Wisdom? Experience? Negotiating skills? Glibness of speech? Sense of humor? Toughness? Devotion to family? Ownership of domestic pets?
Politicians “press the flesh,” kiss babies, cuddle dogs, demonstratively eat regional or ethnic foods (corn dogs and other fried foods at the Iowa State Fair, knishes in Brooklyn, catfish in Louisiana), and do other things their handlers and media experts advise to win “popularity.”
Often an election comes to a choice between someone “likable” and someone not. John Kennedy simply was more likable than Richard Nixon. Beyond that, the first-ever televised presidential debates advantaged the handsome Kennedy’s charisma while saddling Nixon with a “five o’clock shadow” and some sweat on his forehead and nose. JFK had accepted a make-up artist’s touch-up; Nixon demurred. Consequently, more who viewed the debate believed JFK had won, while more who had heard it on radio thought Nixon had.
Jimmy Carter had a toothy smile, and presented falsely as an “aw shucks” peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia, while Gerald Ford was stiffer and even wrongly was caricatured as a bumbler. On the other hand, Carter lacked the warmth and humor that Ronald Reagan next exuded. Bill Clinton seemed more likable than George H.W. Bush, but Hillary simply is not likable. It is what it is. The next George Bush — “Dubya” — was a down-to-earth regular jokey fellow, and he was much easier to like, more than an overbearing and strutting Al Gore and more than an elitist John Kerry.
Thus, people often are not voting for the candidate in whom they believe more, but whom they like more. That is democracy — where adults cast ballots as though voting for class president of second grade or recess monitor. Some get elected solely by virtue of name recognition. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a then-popular movie star, was elected governor of California that way. It is why political parties try recruiting celebrities to seek elected office: Knicks basketball star Bill Bradley for U.S. Senate from New Jersey, perfect-game pitcher Jim Bunning as senator from Kentucky, wrestler Jesse Ventura as Minnesota governor, soon perhaps football hero Herschel Walker from Georgia. Even TV comedic actor Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine and the NBC-TV host of The Apprentice.
The thing is, when people elect their leaders based on fuzzy “likableness” or other subjective “popularity” issues, they fail to weigh potential consequences of being led by sorts whom other nations may not see in the same light. A classic example: Golda Meir of Israel.
Golda Myerson grew up in Milwaukee, moved to a socialist Israeli community — a kibbutz — in her twenties, worked her way up Israel’s socialist party ladder (advancing partly the way Kamala initially did in California), and ultimately was elected prime minister in 1969. Israel just had emerged from the miraculous Six-Day War of June 1967 that saw Judea and Samaria liberated and Jerusalem reunited. Israelis were jovial, merrily ready to be led by a “Bubbie” or “Savta” (“grandmother,” respectively in Yiddish and Hebrew).
However, Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and other misogynist Arab Muslim leaders saw something different: finally, Israel would be led by a … woman. His focused perception was not of a matron in the kitchen cooking chicken soup and baking rugelach but rather a woman as commander-in-chief of the Israeli Defense Forces. Arab Muslim dictators could not resist. Golda Meir’s election guaranteed that nearly 3,000 Israeli boys eventually would die in a war that a woman’s stewardship made too tempting. The 1973 Yom Kippur War stemmed from Israelis thinking it cool to be led by a Bubbie who baked gefilte fish. Thousands of their sons died for the recipe.
Israelis learned. They next elected a hard-nosed, tough-as-nails sonovogun whom they had rejected at the pollsrepeatedly for thirty years akin to how we did Harold Stassen, yet a man of impeccable character. Menachem Begin had led the underground Irgun in the 1940s revolt that drove Britain out of Israel and finally was elected in 1977. Sadat took one look at that and scrambled immediately to make peace.
Half the American electorate are outright fools. The great biennial and quadrennial debate centers around which half. Fools fail to grasp that a Golda Meir in charge means 3,000 sons will die unnecessarily in a war induced solely by the other guy’s biased perceptions. Let’s say you like Obama’s singing of some Al Green song or the “cool” way he walks down stairs without holding the railing? Is that worth losing your job or doctor? Or, say, you like “Uncle Joe” and are put off by Trump’s irrepressibly uncouth brashness? Is that worth your kid dying in Afghanistan or getting stabbed to death in a Los Angeles furniture boutique or killed at a pier by an Illegal in Frisco or thrown off a Manhattan subway platform into an oncoming train?
That is exactly what now aligns with Putin and Ukraine. When Trump was president, Putin took his measure and decided — very wisely: You don’t mess with Trump.Maybe because Trump projects toughness and strength. Maybe because Trump projects craziness, irrationality, uncontrolled temper, instability. Maybe because of the synergy. Ruthless tyrants and bloodthirsty dictators understand survival and self-preservation. A Putin, a Kim Jong-un, a Xi Jinping never messes with a Trump. Rather, experienced hardened murderers of that ilk know to crouch in ambush. Let Reagan pass, and eventually there will be a sexually deviant Clinton hunting for womenfolk to sample while Bin Laden is in the CIA’s cross-hairs, or a crooning Obama hoofing on the salsa floor while ISIS shoots up a European airport. The time then will be right to strike. And Putin afterwards can invite Obama to croon “Crimea a River.”
Khrushchev wrongly thought JFK, with his head of neatly combed hair and other superficialities, was an easy mark. Khrushchev never would have risked the same kind of Cuban confrontation with Nixon. Even though Kennedy proved stronger than expected, his very election induced the confrontation that otherwise would not have been launched. The Ayatollah evaluated Carter and correctly saw a wimp. The moment Reagan arrived, Iran released and freed all hostages. ISIS and Putin both correctly perceived Obama as a cavalier and pretender. By contrast, the worst dictators everywhere backed off while Trump was in charge, much as Arabs who warred against Golda did not mess with Begin, Ariel Sharon, or Benjamin Netanyahu. Qasem Soleimani read Trump differently, and he left behind little else besides a ring finger.
Now a feeble and effete Joe Biden, who cannot help but exude weakness — derived partly from his half-century public record of failure and partly because of health, age, and cognition factors no longer within his control — basically invites Putin aggression, Chinese economic and military dominance, and the revived havoc of North Korea’s Kim.
That is the price people pay when they treat presidential elections cavalierly: a world up-ended, jobs lost, an economy ruined, energy resources wasted, racial divisions elevated, national security jeopardized, public education in free-fall, thousands more murdered in inner cities, a border in chaos, and Putin on the Ritz.
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