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But Enough About Me

From The Scrapbook

Jan 16, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 17 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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One of the most amazing moments following the Iowa caucuses went largely unremarked​—​our friend Wlady Pleszczynski at the American Spectator seems to have been the only other scribbler who was properly agog. It came when Rick Perry conceded his fifth-place finish in a speech to supporters. Such smoldering disasters usually call forth from experienced candidates a cheerful and tearful mixture of chagrin, gratitude, praise, personal modesty, and, depending on future prospects, either fatalistic resignation or steely resolve.

But Enough About Me

Not the governor of Texas. Rick Perry had just lost an electoral contest for the first time in his political career; this was his first concession speech. It’s no surprise that he looked slightly lost as he inched his way through this unfamiliar terrain. But it’s the manner in which he regained his footing that amazed us. He thanked all the fine folks who had traveled from 30 states to help the Perry cause, whatever that may be. Then he pulled out from his trimly tailored suit a letter he had just received from one of those fine folks, which he said he wanted to “share.” (He meant he was going to read it aloud, not chop it up in a hundred pieces and hand them out to everybody.)

Perry read: “Words cannot express how thankful I am for being able to serve you this past week. My name is Colt Smith. .  .  . I’m 24 years old and .  .  . this has been the best experience of my life. Today I saw you for the first time in Perry, Iowa. I realized you were a good man, but I never realized”​—​here the governor’s voice caught for a moment​—​“what a great man you were.” The governor looked up from the letter and smiled his agreement. We didn’t get to see the reaction of poor Colt Smith, who was probably slipping quietly out the fire door in the back of the room. As for The Scrapbook, we had a strong urge to dive under the couch.

The Perryites (if such there be) in the ballroom applauded politely. Surely at least a few of them were taken aback by Perry’s insouciant display of undraped ego. They might have wondered, as we did: Is it possible that this November, Americans could elect to the White House a man with even greater self-regard than its current occupant? 

It’s a good thing we won’t have a chance to find out.

Isolation in Our Time

Richard Cohen, op-ed columnist of the Washington Post, surprised us last week. He usually begins his essays with a casually deft name-drop​—​“I happen to know Martha Stewart”​—​but this time (“Paul’s amoral policy,” January 3) he launched almost immediately into an attack on Rep. Ron Paul’s isolationism. The surprise for The Scrapbook was not only the absence of Cohen’s well-known friends​—​no dinner-party chat with, say, Eliot and Silda Spitzer​—​but the fact that The Scrapbook agreed, up to a point, with what Cohen had to say.

Pointing to Paul’s opposition to foreign aid, “all international treaties and organizations,” including NATO, and his desire to abolish the CIA, Cohen described this as “pretty much what used to be called isolationism, and it allowed Hitler to presume .  .  . that America would not interfere with his plans to conquer Europe.” Which is certainly true, and one of many reasons to have reservations about the congressman from Texas. But then, inevitably, Cohen stepped over the line into op-ed hackery, an occupational hazard: “The isolationism of the 1930s and early ’40s has come roaring back,” he writes. “The old isolationism was deeply conservative, both socially and economically.” 

Except that it wasn’t. Cohen spends the rest of his column telling the story of Americans (such as Charles Lindbergh) who sought to appease Nazi Germany, or at any rate keep the United States out of World War II, and does his best to attach conservatism to isolationism with Super Glue. Of course, since most Post readers have no memory of the late 1930s and early ’40s, it is not difficult for him to pull this off. The problem is that Cohen’s argument is not just disingenuous, but flat-out wrong. 

It is true that the Republican party was dominated by its isolationists in the runup to World War II; but that was not the result of any affinity for Nazi Germany (as Cohen implies) but because of disenchantment with the consequences of U.S. participation in World War I. Moreover, there was a sizable and far-from-silent internationalist wing in the GOP as well. When President Franklin Roosevelt sought to “nationalize” his cabinet in 1940 by putting two prominent Republicans in charge of the War and Navy departments, he recruited Herbert Hoover’s secretary of state (Henry Stimson) and Alf Landon’s 1936 running mate (Frank Knox).

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