Category Archives: Commentary

Not Just Good at National Politics, but the Best || National Review Online

Not Just Good at National Politics, but the Best

Shunning the limelight, the legendary GOP consultant Arthur Finkelstein changed the world.

by CRAIG SHIRLEY January 26, 2017 4:00 AM

‘Good morning!” Each time we speak by phone, I hear this slightly amused and amusing lyrical greeting in Arthur’s distinctive, Jewish-Brooklyn accent. I have for 40 years, no less.

So has everyone else who has ever dealt with Arthur Jay Finkelstein, simply the greatest and most controversial, the most ethical and most successful political consultant and pollster in the history of American politics. Those who matter in politics are familiar with Arthur, but no one beyond that; which is the way Arthur likes it. He’s never been the face of a wristwatch, but the gears would not run without him. While other consultants run to the spotlight, Arthur has always run away from it. “If you haven’t heard of him before, it’s because he made sure you didn’t,” he was once described in a profile in The Huffington Post. It continued:

As CNN reported in 1996: “He is the stuff of Hollywood: A man who can topple even the most powerful foes, yet so secretive that few have ever seen him.” Finkelstein has been compared to criminal mastermind Kaiser Sose in The Usual Suspects, who lay so low that some doubted he really existed. CNN captioned its photo, “Only known photo of Arthur Finkelstein.” This after years in big-time politics. No other political consultant can make such a claim.

Long before anyone else in the modern age, Arthur taught Republicans how to win. At one point in the early 1980s, maybe half of the GOP senators were Finkelstein clients and even more in the House. He was a modern Prometheus, bringing fire to Republicankind.

He greets all alike — and they certainly are many — from the lowliest campaign aide to prime ministers and presidents. As always, Arthur is supremely confident, and yet often shy and self-effacing. Truth be told, he is also a soft touch. Once, when a losing campaign reneged on its pledge to pay for an airline ticket, one of Arthur’s “kids” called him, desperately broke. Arthur paid for the ticket. Such stories are legion.

As I write this, I still can’t believe Arthur Finkelstein is ailing. Badly. It can’t be. Arthur has always been Arthur: a fun and principled conservative consultant to hundreds of campaigns, but he was much, much more than that. He quite literally changed our world. Arthur made a difference. He’s struggling through chemotherapy now, and as with everything in life, there is more than a particle of risk. Still, this is a tribute to our friend Arthur, not a eulogy. Not yet anyway.

Early in our friendship, I asked him whether it was “Finkelsteen” or “Finkelstine” (with a long i), and Arthur characteristically replied, “If I was a poor Jew, it would be Finkelsteen, but since I am a rich Jew, it’s Finkelstine.” He’d plucked me out of a NCPAC (National Conservative Political Action Committee) campaign school in 1977, and we’ve been friends and he’s been my mentor ever since. He abhors being called Art, and those who don’t know him, when they make that mistake, will be met with that sardonic grin on his face.

In the maturation of his libertarian philosophy, he had the best educator in the world while at Columbia, Ayn Rand, with whom he sometimes shared a college radio show. After graduating, he later cut his teeth in polling, working for the legendary Bud Lewis at NBC and later still for the famed Richard M. Scammon, who was the only pollster to predict the election of Harry Truman in 1948. Dick Scammon later served as director of the U.S. Census. What an early education: Rand, Lewis, and Scammon. Arthur later fell in with a group of New York City intellectual libertarians led by Rand and including Alan Greenspan, scion of New York’s café society. Arthur also worked on the 1972 Nixon reelection and afterward quipped that he was the highest-ranking member of the campaign not to be indicted.

Arthur never puts on airs, is always found grinning, sometimes giggling, ideas constantly flowing. I have never heard him laugh out loud, but neither have I ever seen him lose his temper. I never heard him badmouth anyone, but you know who he likes and who he respects and who he does not, often dismissing them with a simple roll of his eyes. He loves the New York Yankees, steak and onion rings, his family including Donald, his campaign “kids,” Las Vegas, horse-betting, and winning campaigns, not necessarily in that order. Reagan Library director John Heubusch, himself once one of Arthur’s “kids,” praised his ability to read polls, spot trends, and “predict to a tenth of a point what the outcome of the election will be. . . . If he was only so good at reading race forms at Belmont.” But as with so many others, there was also personal warmth. Heubusch calls Arthur “a real humanitarian. A mentor par excellence.” Many others, including Arthur kids John and Jim McLaughlin, say the same or similar.

Arthur is the anti–Mike Murphy, the anti–Republican establishment consultant. Long before others went with the no-tie look, Arthur was always garbed in chinos, a frayed blue blazer, a blue button-down shirt, and an untied tie, which had seen better days, dangled around his neck. You knew he was making sport of the establishment with his grunge, un-establishment look. Often, he sported a two-day growth — again, long before it became fashionable. Talk to a reporter or appear on cable television? Perish the thought! Arthur would sell his soul before going on Fox News or MSNBC, where most GOP consultants are found today. Arthur would rather work in the trenches and win a campaign than pose as a celebrity consultant, going on cable television and talking about winning campaigns.

Prior to Karl Rove’s whiteboard Arthur was often seen taking a pencil from behind his ear to scratch out political theories, ad concepts, speech concepts, and other ideas on a yellow legal tablet. Long before people were talking about three-legged stools and other such tomfoolery, Arthur had developed the more thoughtful Six-Party Theory. This Six-Party Theory originated in the 1970s as a means to explain how Republicans could attract Democrats through conservative ideology and win a majority. Conservative Democrats were the key. Conservatives outnumbered liberals roughly two to one. The six parties broke down as: Moderate/Liberal Republicans, Conservative Republicans, Conservative Democratic Theocrats (mostly Southern and blue-collar), African-Americans/Hispanics, White Liberal Democratic McGovernites, and Moderate Democrats. When he explained it, it made perfect sense. His ability to condense a difficult theory into layman’s words was but one of the ways that he showed his genius. The grand old man of North Carolina politics, Tom Ellis, once quipped, “Just knock on his head and he’ll give you a great idea.”

Arthur remains the standard by which all political consultants are measured or should be measured. For him, it was always about the cause of freedom, of personal dignity and privacy. He is gay, yet no one ever cared. He is married to Donald and no one cared. It was almost never about him.

He was simply too interested in other things. He was a throwback, deeming winning and substance more important than style. He thought the candidate, not the consultant, should be the star. Sometimes he would look at GOP “strategists” on television, shake his head, and muse over what campaigns they had ever worked on. In this era of political dirty tricks, Arthur remains appalled at the thought that anyone would try to win illegitimately. For all his worldliness, he remains almost naïve and childlike about such things. Dirty tricks? I never knew a man more incapable of doing a dishonest or dishonorable thing. Dirty tricks? Arthur never understood that world, a world too familiar to too many GOP operatives.

Title and access to power never interested him. In 1985, Lee Atwater tried to coax Finkelstein into a meeting with Vice President George H. W. Bush, hoping to enticing the plebeian New Yorker to support the country-club patrician. Arthur, afraid he might like Bush, declined the meeting.

Arthur later tried to entice Jeane Kirkpatrick into the race, and few realize how close the U.N. ambassador came to running for president in 1988. She finally decided against it, although polling showed she could beat Bush in Iowa. But “she did what any woman would do,” Kirkpatrick quipped on a phone call that he later related to John McLaughlin. “Got her hair done and decided not to run.”

During the Reagan presidency, Ed Meese, Jim Baker, and Mike Deaver each had his own favorite GOP pollster. For Ed, it was Dick Wirthlin; for Jim, Bob Teeter. For Mike, it was Arthur, but Mike never made a big move without Nancy Reagan’s approval. This meant that Mrs. Reagan liked Arthur too.

Arthur knew he was good and he suffered no fools, especially with his less accomplished but more popular brethren, because he literally changed the world.

Can one man make a difference? You bet, and one need only look at the record for the historical proof. Without Arthur Finkelstein, Ronald Reagan might never have become president of the United States. In 1976, the Gipper challenged incumbent Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination but unexpectedly lost the first five primaries. Reeling, Reagan was heavily in debt. Everybody in the GOP establishment was calling on him to throw in the towel, except a small group of hardy conservatives, including Finkelstein. They made their last stand in North Carolina.

Senator Jesse Helms and his aide Tom Ellis brought in Arthur to help on the desperate Reagan campaign there. They’d seen Finkelstein work miracles before, having steered Helms to a win in the Tar Heel State in 1972, at a time when Republicans in North Carolina were atypical. Arthur had burst onto the political scene in 1970, guiding Jim Buckley to an astonishing win in the New York Senate race, with Buckley running only on the Conservative line, beating two better-known candidates. Finkelstein scripted the Reagan effort, helped unearth the Panama Canal treaties as a sleeper issue, wrote the TV and radio spots, and had Helms’s young aide Carter Wrenn go out to county courthouses and — something unheard of in national politics at the time — cobble together a mailing list of 110,000 Republican primary voters in the state.

Reagan, in one of the biggest upsets in American politics, won the North Carolina primary, re-energizing his campaign for the second half of the contest before the GOP convention in Kansas City. Reagan lost to Ford by the narrowest of delegate margins, 1,187 to 1,070. Ford had all the power of incumbency on his side, while Reagan had only himself and a handful of loyal conservatives such as Finkelstein. Though Reagan lost in Kansas City, he went on to win the hearts and minds of Republicans nationwide, winning the 1980 nomination and then beating Jimmy Carter in a historic landslide that changed the world. Without that win in North Carolina in 1976, none of that future Reagan history would have happened.

By the way, Arthur later that year did the same in Texas, where Reagan trounced Ford, winning all 96 delegates. Finkelstein changed our world.

Arthur did all of Helms’s campaigns and created the permanent campaign before the phrase was coined, using Helms’s Congressional Club to boost the senator and bury his opponents. But he was never just an order-taker. He argued vociferously that Helms should stop his opposition to a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. After one tussle, Arthur emerged and said to John McLaughlin, “Won’t budge. Thinks King was a Communist” — and then, in a burst of dark humor, told him, “You’ve really got to be an extremist and not want a day off.” In 1984, Helms was down by 30 points in the polls, but Arthur brought him back to win, defying the predictions of all. Arthur routinely won unwinnable races. In 1978, in New Hampshire, Arthur won the Senate race with a candidate who’d lived in the state less than four years. In 1980, one of his many victories included that of the contentious Al D’Amato in the Senate race in New York. About using D’Amato’s mother in a commercial, Finkelstein quipped to McLaughlin, “We had to prove Alfonse had a mother.” Still, there was a mutual fondness and respect.

In 1996, Arthur handled the campaign of Bibi Netanyahu, the current prime minister of Israel. Again, history was made. Without the election of the “Israel Now and Forever” hardliner Netanyahu, would Israel even exist today? Just to prove that it was no fluke, Arthur steered him to further victories. For the past 20 years, in addition to his work in the U.S., he has expanded his portfolio to include winning campaigns in Kosovo, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Israel, where he guided Ariel Sharon to victory twice.

I asked him what his greatest source of pride was, and his greatest disappointment. Without missing a beat, he said that writing the immortal words at the base of the 9/11 memorial in New York City gave him the greatest satisfaction: “To honor and remember those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, and as a tribute to the enduring spirit of freedom.” To know Arthur is to know at heart he is a romantic. He has always seen campaigns and his life as an idealistic struggle for liberty against the dark forces of collectivism. His biggest disappointment was an obscure campaign in Massachusetts 40 years ago, because the candidate had a chance and was much like Arthur in his political outlook. He still laments that loss.

Arthur is also the greatest collector and cultivator of political talent in the history of the GOP. Some of his “kids” over the years have included the aforementioned John McLaughlin, Jim McLaughlin, John Heubusch, and Carter Wrenn but also Mari Maseng Will, Charlie Black, Roger Stone, Tony Fabrizio, Zorine Bhappu Shirley, Gary Maloney, Alex Castellanos, Rick Reed, Kieran Mahoney, Barbara Fiala, Craig Engle, Frank Luntz, Jim Murphy, Beth Meyers, Larry Weitzner, Matt Brooks, Ari Fleischer, Terry Dolan, and Brent Bozell, to name just a few. There has always been a certain swagger among Arthur’s kids, as they knew and understood politics better than anyone else. At least they believed that. The few who traveled with Arthur became known as “Little Arthurs” It was all great fun, but it was also to a larger purpose. We believed we were saving Western civilization. Check that. We knew we were saving Western civilization. And we were fearless, as we’d been taught by Arthur. There was always an allure to being one of Arthur’s kids.

His campaign operations have always been joyous affairs, part ideology, part road crew for the Grateful Dead. We were kids, oh, we were young kids. When other consultants shunted us aside, Arthur gave us a break, put us in positions of authority, and mentored us, all us — taught us, encouraged us, to be winners for a reason. A pebble drops in a pond, and the concentric circles go on forever.

His loving and devoted brother, Ronnie, held it all together for so many years, keeping sanity and rationality part of the equation. Yet he never interfered with the many lost causes Arthur wanted to pursue. I was once tasked many years ago to go to Pimlico race track and get down a $2,000 bet for the Finklestein boys. The horse won and Ronnie was giddy, but also generous with me for getting to the track on time.

Arthur is a non-practicing Jew, yet I somehow suspect he would have made a very good rabbi or pastor or priest or psychiatrist, given his spot-on and often compassionate advice. At least, he would have made a good act of it. But his real Walter Mitty fantasy is probably to manage the New York Yankees or own a casino. Still, he believes Thoreau’s admonition and warning: “The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way.” And he happens to be not just good at national politics, but the best. Ever. Heubusch said it for all who have known him: “There has never been a more talented genius in the polling and political consulting business than Arthur Finkelstein.”

“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion,” Dolly Parton speaks softly in the movie Steel Magnolias. I understand the feeling. I am laughing at the many, many memories of Arthur, of the man who taught me so much, who introduced my wife Zorine and me 35 years ago, and who is now ailing. And there are tears.

We who are Arthur’s kids, and many others, lament, even as Arthur remains indomitably optimistic against all odds. He’s not going gentle into that good night. “Applaud, my friends, the comedy is finished.” Beethoven’s aphorism notwithstanding, Arthur’s comedy is not over. Not yet, anyway.

I can’t imagine a world without Arthur J. Finkelstein. We know few men who have lived a more honest existence, a more honorable existence, or who have had a greater impact on so many, so much, for so long and to such great good. Arthur was and is our North, our South, our East, and our West.

Good luck and Godspeed, Arthur.

— Craig Shirley is a Reagan biographer and presidential historian.



The Real Meaning of the Reagan Family Bible || Lifezette

The Real Meaning of the Reagan Family Bible

Faithful legacy of 40th president to be front-and-center at swearing in of Mike Pence

by Craig Shirley and Scott Mauer

Vice President-Elect Mike Pence of Indiana is no stranger to showing his admiration for President Ronald Reagan. “There you go again,” he chuckled to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) during their sole debate last year, reprising the now legendary putdown of President Jimmy Carter by the Gipper in their decisive debate in October 1980. Pence credited Reagan in his decision to enter politics, and often cites him as the icon of modern American conservatism. Pence, like Reagan, is a product of the Midwest. Pence, like Reagan, is gentle in his manners but firm in his convictions. Pence, like Reagan, got his start in radio.

Now there will be a further connection between the two conservatives.

Pence will be sworn in this Friday by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the first African-American justice to swear in either a president or vice president. But though this is a topic worth writing by itself, it’s what Pence will swear on which intersects with the legacy of our 40th president: Ronald Reagan’s family Bible.

This Bible, which belongs to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute in Simi Valley, California, is a piece of American history all its own. It was used by Reagan himself for his inauguration in both terms as governor and as president. It was the Bible of his mother, Nellie Wilson Reagan. It was published in 1901 in Chicago. It was, for many years, bound by tape and worn out, a sign of a faithful family which read it often, until it underwent restoration in 2011. Through the kindness of John Heubusch, executive director of the Reagan Library and Foundation, the Reagan family Bible is heading for Washington once again — and once again will be present at a pivotal moment in American history.

Nellie Reagan used it extensively, writing notes in every page on the margins. On the third page reads two notes. The first, written in blue, points to specific chapters of Scripture: “If in sorrow, if people fail, if you worry …” Clearly Nellie saw it as a historical and spiritual lesson book, and as way to conquer the tribulations of life. The second note on the page, in red ink, reads: “A Thought For Today. You can be too big for God to use / But you cannot be too small.” The page facing the title page also has two spiritual poems written by Nellie.

 When Reagan was sworn in on Jan. 21, 1981, it was unknown “how long the new indexed Bible, King James version, had been in the family,” according to a New York Times article that day. Since 1985, it has not been used by anyone else in any swearing in ceremony and has been on display at the Reagan Library. Reagan himself often quoted Psalm 121:1, “I lift my eyes up to the mountain …”
This Friday, it will be opened to 2 Chronicles 7:14, the same passage on which Reagan swore. The Lord appeared to King Solomon after building a temple. God then said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Pence, like Reagan before him, wants to put faith back into the country — both religious faith and faith in the administration. It’s a conservative’s goal to integrate faith and country.

President Reagan in early 1983 declared that year “The Year of the Bible,” with Proclamation 5018. He pulled no punches against the secularization of society and America, outright saying that no other book ” may be said to be more fundamental and enduring than the Bible” in forming the United States, as “the Bible and its teachings helped form the basis for the Founding Fathers’ abiding belief in the inalienable rights of the individual.” It was deeply rooted in the president’s Christian faith that American liberty was destined for something great.

Reagan conservatism and the Reagan presidency is not a past event, left in dusty history books. It is still as relevant and as powerful as ever.

Swearing on the Bible that the Gipper himself had used not only tells us he is the personal hero of Mike Pence, but the ideological hero of conservatism and republicanism in the GOP: one of individual liberty, freedom, and self-determination, all from the hand of God. The conservative party in the United States is going through a sort of identity crisis today, electing the first non-political president in American history. Pence is showing America that this crisis in the Republican Party is not a crisis at all. It’s still Reagan’s party, no matter who is in charge.

The Reagan family Bible also acts as a sort of touchstone for the conservatives of today. Just as religious relics — clothing, books, and even possessions — connect the faithful to the saints, bringing them strength, so does the Reagan Bible spiritually connect conservatives to the fortieth president.

Craig Shirley is a New York Times best-selling author and a leading Ronald Reagan biographer, having written four books on the 40th president, including the forthcoming “Reagan Rising” in March 2017. Scott Mauer, Mr. Shirley’s research aide, assisted with this article.


Steadfast Sessions || Chronicles Magazine

Steadfast Sessions

Craig Shirley , Andrew Shirley – DECEMBER 08, 2016

President and five-star Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said that a man must “believe in his luck” in order to lead.  Jeff Sessions is such a man.  He has not only survived multiple setbacks, considered career ending by many, but has consistently come out ahead.  Most recently, his early and conspicuously vocal endorsement of Donald Trump over Ted Cruz, a move that was dismissed as the final nail in his political coffin, has instead led to him earning the nomination of attorney general in Trump’s Cabinet.  This native Alabamian is in good company when it comes to taking risks.  Gambling runs in the blood of early supporters of Trump, including Newt Gingrich, Laura Ingraham, and a precious few others—the biggest winners of 2016.

However, in the months leading up to Trump’s inauguration, Sessions found himself the subject of accusations that stem from his earliest days as a public servant.

In 1981, Sessions was appointed the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama.  During that time, he developed both a reputation for strict observance of the rule of law and a devoted following.  Back then, he was accused by one person of making racist comments.  Yet at the same time, under his direction his office aggressively pursued a case that led to the conviction of two members of the Ku Klux Klan, who were found guilty of lynching Michael Donald, a young black Alabama native.  In November, even as the Southern Poverty Law Center’s president, Richard Cohen, refused to support Sessions’ nomination, declaring that, “If our country is to move forward, we must put all forms of racism behind us,” he couldn’t help but note in his statement that Sessions “was extremely helpful to us while we were representing the family of Michael Donald.”

Based on Sessions’ impressive record as a prosecutor, in 1986 President Ronald Reagan nominated him to a judgeship in a U.S. district court.  Hard-line left-wing members of the Senate got hold of the alleged racist comments and successfully stonewalled the nomination.  While Sessions admitted to some of the comments, he maintained they were taken out of context, but he apologized for them nonetheless.  Most repeated by his leftist enemies was Sessions’ supposed assessment of the KKK: “I used to think they were OK, until I learned they were pot smokers.”  In the 1986 nomination hearings, Barry Kowalski, a federal prosecutor, insisted that it was obvious that Sessions, who had fought the Klan tooth and nail in Alabama, was making a joke.  Yet the rabidly liberal committee was able to use these false allegations to kill the nomination.  As reported by the New York Times at the time, Attorney General Edwin Meese considered this to be “an appalling surrender to the politics of ideology.”  Meese knew something about being unfairly smeared by leftists.

Given this calumny, most men would have walked away from politics and never returned.  But Sessions, believing in his luck and the truth, continued to serve as a U.S. attorney until 1993, and then decided to run for attorney general of Alabama.  In 1995, he managed to defeat a Democratic incumbent, and two years later he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he has served for nearly 20 years.

After his election to the Senate, Sessions soon found himself on the Judiciary Committee, impaneled alongside several senators who had voted against his nomination.  Years later, Arlen Specter, one of those adversarial colleagues, frankly declared,

I don’t expect everybody to agree with all my votes, and I don’t agree with all my votes, either, at this point . . . and I was asked the other day what vote I regretted, and I couldn’t think of one that I wanted to publicly [sic] state, but I’m prepared to do that now in response to your question.  My vote against candidate Sessions for the federal court was a mistake . . . I have since found that Sen. Sessions is egalitarian.

Though some pundits and commentators have gone out of their way to paint Sessions as a racist who does not work well with others, a few members of the media have paused long enough to examine the record and discover that he is in fact the opposite of these things.  While Sessions has demonstrated a firm commitment to his convictions, his time in the Senate has been marked by bipartisanship.  He’s joined with Democrats to support criminal-justice reform measures; he worked with Claire McCaskill to limit federal spending; and the Washington Post has noted that a significant number of Democrats speak very highly of him.

Most importantly, Sessions’ views on justice and the role of government—views treated as anachronisms within the East Coast bubble—are shared by a majority of Americans.

For two decades, rampant politicization and constant political gridlock have created an atmosphere in which mayors and justice officials have felt free to overstep the powers of their office, routinely disregarding laws that they find inconvenient.  This is what Sessions truly hates.  He is passionately committed to the rule of law.  The record shows that Sessions has not hesitated to challenge laws that have proved to be inadequate, but, until those laws can be reformed, Sessions insists that they be upheld.  This commitment to the rule of law has animated his most aggressive views on corporate influence, sanctuary cities, and immigration reform.  The very notion that a mayor can wake up one morning and decide that he will no longer enforce the laws he is sworn to uphold is a threat to constitutional order, in Sessions’ view.  This nuance is ignored by his detractors, who instead attempt to frame his positions in the context of alleged racist comments that are three decades old.  As former attorney general John Ashcroft said, “When attackers resort to 30-year-old falsehoods it is clear evidence of their lack of substantive objection.”

In a 2009 interview with the National Journal, Sessions addressed those allegations directly:

I am absolutely a firm supporter of equal rights for every American.  I always have been and I always will be.  That is a cornerstone of law.  Nobody should be discriminated against.  Now, we had discrimination in the South.  There was no doubt about it.  So that’s what the civil rights movement was all about. 

Now, when I was out there, I signed 10 pleadings attacking segregation or the remnants of segregation, where we as part of the Department of Justice, we sought desegregation remedies—the takeover of school systems, redrawing lines—all those things that I was allowed to participate in supporting.

Not only did he sign these pleadings, but he backed a 30-year extension of the Civil Rights Act.  Furthermore, one of the Klan members he prosecuted was the son of the head of the Alabama Klan, putting Sessions directly in the KKK’s crosshairs.  This case led to a civil suit that bankrupted and crippled the KKK’s operations in the state.

The description of Sessions as a racist and a bigot that is being bandied about by liberal pundits doesn’t fit the facts.

Indeed, U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow gave a glowing endorsement of Sessions, in which he stated,

Senator Sessions is a good man and a great man.  He has done more to protect the jobs and enhance the wages of black workers than anyone in either house of Congress over the last 10 years.  Of all the Senators and public officials that I’ve dealt with, I cannot think of anyone who has been more devoted to issues related to wages and employment levels of all Americans, but particularly black American workers. . . . 

He is a man of tremendous integrity.  I think it was an inspired pick. . . .

He’s going to be a marvelous Attorney General.

We may grant that, three decades ago, Sessions made comments that were in poor taste—including his joke about pot-smoking Klansmen, which has been quoted ad nauseam by the liberal mainstream media.  But it is only fair for us to wonder: Do these progressive pundits hold liberal politicians to the same standard?

John Heilemann’s and Mark Halperin’s 2009 book Game Change is remembered for its unflattering portrayal of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate.  Liberals loves to cite the book whenever they wish to attack Republicans, but they tend to forget other horrifying facts brought to light in the book about members of the Democratic Party.  According to Heilemann and Halperin, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid referred to President Obama as “a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.’”  Former President Bill Clinton told Ted Kennedy that, “a few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee,” and later implied that Kennedy only endorsed Obama “because he’s black.”  The very same members of the media who chastise Sessions apparently had no problem with the fact that Hil lary Clinton openly celebrated her friendship with former Sen. Robert Byrd, a former member of the KKK who filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  While Byrd later declared that he regretted his membership in the Klan, the Clintons preferred to pretend that his membership in the racist organization was not quite real, rationalizing that Byrd was merely using the KKK to pursue his political ambitions.  Thus, we see that actual racist comments and associations do not warrant condemnation if the person in question is a liberal Democrat.

Only conservatives can be racists; liberals merely “make mistakes.”

Nonetheless, even while condemning Sessions, ABC News reported that the

Former US Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Larry D. Thompson, who is African-American, testified on Sessions’ behalf, saying Sessions is “a good man and an honest man, untainted by prejudice.  I have experienced racism all my life.  Yet I know Jeff Sessions—not as a symbol, not just as a colleague—but as a man and a friend.  He will serve our nation well as a United States District Court judge.”

In times past, when the Senate reviewed a presidential judicial appointment, the committee concerned itself chiefly with the experience of the candidate.  The political positions and personal opinions of the individual were not addressed at length.  Then Ted Kennedy came along.  Most famously, Kennedy viciously attacked the character of Reagan Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork during his confirmation hearings.  All of Bork’s personal views were ludicrously amplified and vilified by Kennedy:

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 could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.

Ultimately, Kennedy’s attacks prevailed, and Bork was denied confirmation; Reagan ultimately appointed Anthony Kennedy.

But before Borking entered our political discourse, Ted Kennedy perfected the art of Borking on Jeff Sessions.

When allegations of Sessions’ racist statements first began to surface, Ted Kennedy smelled blood in the water.  He wasted no time in lambasting Sessions as “a throwback to a disgraceful era” and “a disgrace to the Justice Department.”  Kennedy’s bombastic rhetoric against Sessions was little more than a political maneuver against his foe Ronald Reagan, whom he sought to obstruct at every turn.  Sessions was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The media’s case against Jeff Sessions requires us to believe that whatever he may have said 30 years ago means more than every public action he has taken since then.  Were he in favor of “comprehensive immigration reform” (amnesty), he would undoubtedly have been absolved of his sins.  As a conservative known foremost for his opposition to illegal immigration, however, he is beyond redemption.

By the lights of the left, Sessions’ real sins are his political positions: He is pro-life and anti-corruption, committed not to ideology but to the rule of law and equality before the law.  His tenure in the Trump administration will serve as an indictment of eight sordid years of Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch.  The left greatly fears that, like Hercules of old, Sessions will clean out the Augean stables of the Obama Department of Justice.  He will continue to stick to his conservative principles and “believe in his luck.”

That is why the left has opposed Sessions so viciously.


Two Patriots in the Crucible of December 1941 || Real Clear Politics

Jay Dawley graduated from West Point in 1939, having entered the military academy four years earlier. It was prescient, as his family knew that war was coming.

“My father was pretty certain of it and he said, ‘I’ll send you to any college in the country, but I think that West Point would be a good choice,’” Dawley reported to me three years ago. Of course, he noted, having an uncle in Congress — Sen. Stephen Young — helped give him a perspective on the greater world.

Dawley excelled at the Point, graduating No. 2 in his class. Franklin Roosevelt addressed the Class of ’39 and personally handed the young man from Cleveland his diploma. He recalled that FDR sat on a stool as he awarded the certificates.

Dawley was present at Pearl Harbor on that date that would live in infamy. As fate would have it, he had been due to begin leave on December 8, 1941. The Japanese had other plans for him.

He initially didn’t think it was an attack. It couldn’t have been. “I heard some bangs like airplane noises and some explosions and I thought, ‘Gosh, I’ll bet there’s a crash. Probably the Navy maneuvering or something … and I’ll bet somebody crashed.’”  But when he looked outside there were dozens of Rising Suns in the sky.

When under attack, most people seek shelter. Not Lt. Dawley, or any of the service members stationed there that day. “We got out, got our rifles and fired at these airplanes.  They were about 400 feet above us.” He did this in his bathrobe.

It was “the first time I’d ever fired at anybody in anger,” he recalled. Of course, seeing your brothers in arms slaughtered in a cowardly attack would bring out the anger in even the calmest man.

Dawley’s other immediate reaction was shock and awe: “I was just overlooking Pearl Harbor. I saw the dangers, all the smoke and things, and [knew] this is major war. And [thinking], what is my great country going to do about it? Here I am seeing the war itself start.” Imagine: witnessing an unprovoked attack first-hand, and realizing that the world, much less your country, was not going to be the same. Twenty years earlier, a generation of young men had died in the so-called War to End All Wars. Not so. Instead, another one was here.

Dawley immediately cancelled his own leave – before any commanding officer would do so. He was determined to see this through on his terms. Wars are often brought about by old men but are fought by young men. Dawley, who would rise to the rank of colonel, passed away several years ago, yet another unsung hero of military service. His father had once chased Pancho Villa all over Mexico as part of the National Guard, so service was deep in his blood. Still, the Army in 1941 was a pretty casual affair. “There was a kind of soldiering, you might say kind of goldbricking around,” was how Dawley described it. But he was still proud to wear the uniform and shortly would become prouder still.

The next day, Roosevelt made his historic call for a declaration of war before a joint session of Congress. It was a momentous occasion, and the vote was done in less than an hour after FDR gave his famous “date which will live in infamy” speech. All senators and representatives – save one – voted for war.

One of the witnesses to Roosevelt’s momentous speech was John Dingell Jr., at the time a 15-year old page in the House of Representatives. His father, John Dingell Sr., was a representative from Michigan. (Dingell Jr. would later replace his father in Congress, serving admirably for nearly 60 years.) Decades later, Dingell recalled the 500-word speech as “extraordinary,” comparing it to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. And he remembered the “enormous” applause that often interrupted Roosevelt.

Part of Dingell’s job was the help reporters get to their seats. He recalled doing so for conservative columnist Fulton Lewis and his heavy audiotaping machine. It was the first time the House permitted the use of film, photography and other recording devices in the chamber.

When it came to the vote, Rep. Jeannette Rankin’s sole objection to the war was met with hisses and boos. John remembers his father yelling, “Sit down, sister!” at the Montana congresswoman. Dingell Sr. “had enormously powerful feelings,” his son explained, partly because of his Polish ancestry. A country rich in history and culture, Poland was being decimated by the Nazis, so any opposition to the war declaration was akin, in the congressman’s eyes, to accepting such destruction. He hated the non-interventionist America First Committee with a passion for that very reason.

Dingell Jr., witnessing history, was afraid. He was a teenager, after all. “I’m scared to death, and we were not sure we could win.  First of all, nobody knew what the hell had happened.  We knew a bunch of battleships had gotten sunk, but we didn’t know how many.  We didn’t realize the day of the battleship was over and that the aircraft carrier was the new queen in the seas. … They actually thought there was going to be an invasion” of the U.S. homeland.

Roosevelt was – and continues to be – a personal hero of his. The Great Depression had crippled the United States, and FDR brought it back to life. The war would be vast in scale, but to a larger-than-life president, that made little difference.

And thus were two young men, thousands of miles apart, witnesses to history. Both were in service to their country, drawn together by a patriotism that too few today can fully fathom.


Carrier Deal Mirrors Reagan’s Pragmatic Conservatism || Lifezette

Carrier Deal Mirrors Reagan’s Pragmatic Conservatism

Trump demonstrates an understanding that opportunity is created in the absence of bureaucracy

by Craig Shirley | Updated 09 Dec 2016 at 11:50 AM

Several years ago, a garden-variety liberal columnist asked me to lunch to help him understand American conservatism. Over the course of our conversation, I illustrated how the Louisiana Purchase was a good, though misunderstood, expression of American conservatism. Thomas Jefferson, in acquiring the vast tract of land from France, effectively diminished the reach and authority of the national government, while doubling the size of the nation. The deal enlarged freedom and thus conservatism.

“A free people [claim] their rights,” Jefferson said, “as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.” Fifty years later, he described the excess of government as “too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious.”

The scribe did not comprehend my point, even as I patiently explained it several times. For one delicious moment, I told this unreconstructed liberal: “You don’t understand.” Priceless.

Other conservatives, including the framers of the Constitution, have understood that American conservatism is mostly the absence of government and bureaucracies. Not laws, mind you — but the absence of bureaucracies. The American Constitution is unique because it says what government cannot do. It is the near-perfect expression of non-governance. Government cannot regulate speech or assembly, cannot occupy a person’s private property, and cannot infringe on a person’s right to own guns. The men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 were God-inspired geniuses. Thomas Paine, the great American thinker, wrote in his 1795 work “First Principles of Government” that “in the absence of a constitution, men look entirely to party; and instead of principle governing party, party governs principle.”

Ronald Reagan also understood this. In his famed speech “A Time For Choosing” in 1964, he said that the “idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except to sovereign people, is still the newest and most unique [sic] idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man.” He was mostly successful in limiting the growth of government, but he was wildly successful in growing the national private economy.

If one limits the growth of government, pulls back regulations and spurs substantial economic growth, then by definition one shrinks the authority of the state over private individuals. The citizen becomes the master of the state, rather than the slave. Freedom and bureaucracy cannot occupy the same space.

Reagan, courtesy of Jack Kemp, embraced Enterprise Zones for distressed areas as a means to spur economic growth through the exemption of taxation and regulation. “A record number of blacks, some 10.6 million, now have jobs,” Reagan said in 1985. “Since Nov. 1982, the black unemployment rate has fallen by 6.5 percentage points, and nearly one of every five new jobs generated went to a black man, woman or teenager. Blacks have gained an average of 45,000 new jobs every month for the past 31 months — twice the job gain rates of whites.”

If the Democratic Congress had given Enterprise Zones to Reagan, that record would have been better still. It was through Enterprise Zones that, Reagan believed, the absence of oppressive government would allow the free economy and freedom to flourish.

Donald Trump is not a philosophical conservative, but he revealed an intrinsic understanding of conservatism in his deal to keep Carrier’s Indianapolis plant inside the United States. Yes, it is a good thing for over a thousand families, but just as important (and what Sarah Palin does not understand) is that Trump did so by following a conservative philosophy — not violating it. Carrier said the main reason they were leaving was because of the thicket of federal regulations and heavy taxation. Even Reagan supported loan guarantees to Detroit because he perceived the various auto makers were the victims of Washington regulation and unfair competition from Japan.

Trump set out to remove those barriers for the Carrier Corporation.

This deal was simply the practical application of Reagan’s Enterprise Zones. Reagan believed in the “miracle of the marketplace” if left alone. But sometimes government has to intervene, if only to stop government or pull back unfair bureaucratic intervention. This is welcomed thinking after the stale anti-pragmatism of Obamaism and Bushism.

Trump, like Reagan, identified government as the problem.

Besides, if liberal favorites Apple and the NFL don’t have to pay any federal taxes, it seems only fair that Carrier’s tax and regulatory burden be reduced.

Craig Shirley is a Reagan biographer and presidential historian. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller, “December, 1941” and the forthcoming books “Reagan Rising” and “Citizen Newt.”