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‘Workplace Violence’ Update

From The Scrapbook

Dec 19, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 14 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Afghanistan had the second largest number of terrorism victims in 2010, with more than 2,400 people killed. But President Obama decided to pull the plug on his short-lived surge. Other jihadist hotspots continue to get hotter, including Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.

More than 10 years after the 9/11 attacks, many Americans, particularly among the elite, are war-weary. But denying the threat of jihadism both at home and abroad is not a winning strategy for bringing the war to an end. It will only embolden the jihadists further. It will demonstrate that America no longer has the ability even to name its enemies, let alone fight them. The jihadists’ victims, from Little Rock to Kabul, deserve better.


Neither Rough Nor a Rider

The Scrapbook was, well, amused by President Obama’s voyage to Osawatomie, Kansas, last week to invoke the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt for his reelection campaign. 

A little bit of background is in order. In 1910, former president Roosevelt, returning from a sojourn in Africa and Europe, gave a speech in Osawatomie in which he broke ranks with his handpicked successor, William Howard Taft, and outlined the “New Nationalism” with which he would challenge Taft for the 1912 Republican nomination and, failing that, run as the Progressive (Bull Moose) party candidate for president (see Joshua D. Hawley’s account on page 15 of  this issue). Barack Obama’s intention in Kansas was clear: By embracing the spirit of TR, he not only signaled his Occupy Wall Street strategy for 2012 but implicitly rebuked the GOP for straying from the path of a famous Republican president. This is roughly the same tactic as when Democrats lament that “the party of Lincoln” opposes racial quotas.

The problems with this historical analogy are almost too numerous to mention. To begin with, it is always a little dangerous for presidents to identify themselves too closely with distinguished predecessors. It was one thing for Senator Obama to compare himself to Abraham Lincoln in 2008; candidates are entitled to occasional fantasies. It is only now, in the midst of Obama’s presidency, that the comparison is self-evidently preposterous. Jimmy Carter, dressed in a cardigan sweater, once delivered a televised address on energy conservation while seated beside a White House fireplace. This was a conscious allusion to Franklin Roosevelt’s famous “fireside chats”—which, of course, referred to the radio audience, not the president, seated by their firesides. By deliberately drawing a parallel between himself and FDR, Jimmy Carter managed to diminish his modest stature.

Which is another way of saying that it would be difficult to think of two presidents more dissimilar than Theodore Roosevelt and Barack Obama. Roosevelt was a curious combination of high scholarship and deep passion, a combative man who consciously invited—indeed, reveled in—controversy and discord, and dominated the political life of his era, especially Congress. TR actually deserved his Nobel Peace Prize, for arbitrating an end to the Russo-Japanese War. He “seized the isthmus” of Panama in order to dig the canal, and sent the Great White Fleet around the globe to project American power. While it is easy to conceive of Obama traveling to Osawatomie to bask in Roosevelt’s glow, it is impossible to imagine Roosevelt journeying to Cairo to apologize to the Muslim world for American foreign policy. 

Which reminds The Scrapbook of one more point. All of the events of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency took place more than a hundred years ago, beyond the lifetime of nearly every-one now living. It is certainly true that TR, during his presidency and afterwards, demanded a role for the federal government in the economic and commercial life of the nation. But it is equally true that, when he spoke in Osawatomie, there was practically no federal regulation whatsoever. There was no Securities and Exchange Commission or Department of Transportation or Federal Communications Commission or Glass-Steagall Act or Federal Reserve or Department of Energy or Sarbanes-Oxley or Dodd-Frank or Wagner Act or Taft-Hartley Act or Occupational Safety and Health Administration. And the list goes on.

Simply stated, we have no way of knowing what Theodore Roosevelt—who was born before the Civil War and sneered at reformers of his day as “muckrakers”—would think about the federal government of 2011. And neither, perhaps especially, does Barack Obama.

A Christmas Classic

Longtime readers of these pages may remember a lovely Casual by our colleague Joseph Bottum about Christmases past in the South Dakota of his boyhood. A few years later, that little flame of reminiscence burgeoned into a breathtaking memoir in the pages of First Things, “Dakota Christmas.” We’re pleased to say that, recognizing the greatness of this essay, has published it as an ebook of the same title. And we’re doubly pleased to announce that readers are responding as they should: Last week Dakota Christmas ascended to Number One on the bestseller list for Kindle Singles as well as for all Christmas books on Amazon. Just this once we will urge you to join the pack.

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