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Jewish World Review / August 4, 1998 / 12 Menachem-Av, 5758

Don Feder

Don Feder Clinton not the first hollow president

IN THE CLIMACTIC COURTROOM scene of the 1987 movie "The Untouchables," a beefy, repulsive Al Capone (who's about to go down for the count) lunges at Elliot Ness. While Capone is restrained by his goons, Ness shouts at him: "Never stop fighting till the fight is over. Here endeth the lesson."

I have a mental image of this scene being re-enacted in the Senate, at the conclusion of a vote to remove the president from office, with a snarling Clinton going for Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. Pleasant thoughts.

Historical analogies are tempting but often faulty. For instance, the adulterer in chief is usually compared to Warren Harding and Richard Nixon.

This is unfair -- to our 29th and 37th presidents. The corruption of the Harding administration was due to bad judgment and not malfeasance on Harding's part. Nixon lied to protect his friends and not to save own hide.

The two 20th century presidents who come closest to Clinton, in style and substance, are Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. Both were impressive facades on hollow interiors. These grossly overrated leaders were equally devoid of ethics and ideas.

Until Clinton, FDR was probably the smoothest liar in presidential history. Historian Paul Johnson describes the New Dealer as "sly, feline, secretive and faux bonhomme."

Roosevelt spent years concealing his disability and, in perhaps the most massive fraud ever perpetrated on voters, ran for re-election in 1944 knowing he would never serve out his fourth term.

Harry Truman once told Republican Sen. Owen Brewster that his only objection to his predecessor was "he lies."

Walter Lippmann captured FDR's essence in 1932, writing that Roosevelt was "a highly impressionable person without a firm grasp of public affairs and without very strong convictions. He is too eager to please ... no crusader ... no tribune of the people." This critique has a depressingly familiar ring.

When its comes to self-aggrandizement, Clinton, who takes credit for the first balanced budget in 30 years, lacks imagination. FDR claimed he ended the Great Depression. Yet, in 1938, the unemployment rate was still 19 percent. World War II ended the Depression. Roosevelt prolonged it.

During the war, FDR loved to portray himself as the great defender of freedom, who was champing at the bit in the 1930s and had to be restrained by an isolationist Congress.

In fact, Roosevelt did not oppose congressional isolationism (the Neutrality Act was passed in 1935 by an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress) and did little to prepare America for the coming global conflict.

It wasn't until the beginning of 1941, when Britain stood alone and all of Europe was in the Nazi grip, that FDR made a modest move toward intervention with Lend-Lease.

Like Clinton, everything about John F. Kennedy was a fraud, from the books he didn't write ("While England Slept" and "Profiles in Courage"), to the combat medal he didn't deserve to the 1960 election his family stole.

Kennedy was the first president to suffer from an advanced case of satyriasis (see, Seymour Hersh's "The Dark Side of Camelot").

In his "A History of the American People," Paul Johnson observes, "Most of Jack's affairs ... were brief, often lasting a matter of minutes, and conducted with whomever was available and willing: girls without even first names, air stewardesses, secretaries, campaign workers, prostitutes if need be."

Also like Clinton, JFK was a big-government man not out of ideological conviction but rather from a hormonal restlessness and a desire to always be seen doing something that seemed important. And, foreshadowing Bill's Balkan adventure, Jack Kennedy was a foreign-policy naif who led us straight into the quagmire of Southeast Asia.

But analogies are imperfect. Franklin Delano Roosevelt would not have lied under oath or suborned perjury. It's impossible to imagine Kennedy betraying America's national security (say, approving the transfer of missile technology to the Kremlin) in return for campaign contributions.

History offers comfort as well as comparisons. After Roosevelt came the "little man from Missouri," and a more decent, forthright, courageous man never occupied the nation's highest office.

Twenty years after the onset of Camelot, another genial Irishman was elected president, as magnetic as Kennedy but with character to match the charisma.

In this regard, may the future be as kind to us as the past.


7/30/98: "Small Soldiers" -- a fractured Vietnam allegory
7/27/98: Crime wave hits hometown
7/22/98: Love in an Internet fishbowl
7/20/98: Ads bring ex-gay movement out of closet
7/15/98: Brian and Amy -- the children of Roe
7/13/98: Why are we scared of obnoxious 'activists?'
7/6/98: Fonda still resists reality
7/1/98: New York blesses domestic partnerships
6/29/98: Teddy and Calvin stood for virtue
6/24/98: Will Clinton betray Taiwan?
6/22/98: Big tobacco? What about big casinos?
6/15/98: Religion -- God for what ails you
6/10/98: Planning Clinton's China itinery
6/8/98: Republicans' Custer offers advice
6/4/98: Oh, Dems Christian-bashers!
6/2/98: Goldwater did conservatives more harm than good
5/27/98: A Clinton-hater confesses
5/15/98: Giuliani's assault on marriage
5/13/98: Hillary knows what's best for everyone
5/11/98: To honor her would not be honorable
5/6/98: Conservative chasm: pragmatism vs. worship of marketplace
5/4/98: Anglo-saxon me
4/29/98: Needle exchange programs are assisted-suicide
4/27/98: Chretien's mission of mercy to Fidel
4/22/98: School-choice is a religious freedom issue
4/20/98: Corporate execs deliver body parts to Beijing
4/14/98: National sales tax --- looks better all the time
4/13/98: The U.N. sinister? Hey, where did that idea come from?
4/8/98: Unions fight workers rights in 226 campaign
3/30/98: Africa's leaders should apologize
3/25/98: GOP shouldn't look to media for advice
3/22/98: You should care about Clinton's 'private life'
3/19/98: Color-coded reading, product of obsessive minds
3/16/98: Amendment will end exile of G-d from our public lives
3/9/98: Havana will break your heart
3/2/98: Vouchers Terrify Teachers' Union
2/25/98: Presidential politics starts at a resort hotel
2/23/98: Hillary's support comes at a price
2/18/98: How many times must we say "no" to gay rights?
2/16/98: Enoch Powell spoke the truth on immigration
2/11/98: Bubba behaving badly
2/9/98: A conservative dissent on the flag-burning amendment
2/5/98: We get the leaders we deserve
2/2/98: Send a signal that could penetrate boardroom doors
1/27/98: State of the president: hollow rhetoric
1/25/98: For Monica's playmate, we have no one to blame but ourselves
1/22/98: At Yale, bet on yarmulke over gown
1/19/98: Commission tackles America's fastest-growing addiction, gambling
1/15/98: Capital punishment and the hard case: no exceptions for Karla Faye Tucker
1/12/98: Partial-birth abortion and the GOP's future: the "big tent" meets truth in advertising
1/8/98: IOLTA: the Left's latest scam to crawl into our pockets
1/5/98: Connect the dots to create a terrorist state
1/1/98: The Unacceptables of 1997: Long may they rave
12/28/97: Hypocrisy is a liberal survival mechanism
12/23/97: Chanukah is no laughing matter
12/22/97: No merry Christmas for persecuted Christians around the world
12/18/97: Bosnia, Haiti, and how not to conduct a foreign policy

©1998, Boston Herald; distributed by Creators Syndicate, Inc.