Parsing Ford, Obama

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It would seem that there is no end of them. Like bad dreams, they keep reappearing. That is, truly dumb remarks by presidential candidates on truly important subjects.

Let us recall this statement by President Ford in the second televised presidential debate with Jimmy Carter in October of 1976: “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.” Max Frankel, Associate Editor of The New York Times, asked a follow-up question that would have given Mr. Ford a chance to say he really did not mean it. Instead, Mr. Ford blundered on, insisting that each of these occupied Eastern European countries was “independent” and had “its own territorial integrity.”

In its Oct. 18, 1976 edition, Time magazine labeled this in a headline, “The Bloober Heard Round the World.” That is how I and my other Democratic friends viewed those remarks and also the statements that candidate Ford made during those next few days in an attempt to extricate himself from this

incredible set of falsehoods. Mr. Carter called the remarks “absolutely ridiculous,” as did I.

They lent strength to my inclination to vote for Jimmy, who was of course elected, to my great joy and to that of millions of liberals like me at the time.Now fast forward to just several days ago and listen to presidential candidate and Sen. Barack Obama’s statement in answer to a question from a reporter: “I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance.” After a brief pause he added, “involving civilians.” Then there was another pause, and candidate Obama tried to retreat: “Let me scratch that. There’s been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That’s not on the table.”

These remarks violated a set of generally observed ideas and rules of procedure by the leaders of most civilized nations on this incredibly sensitive subject. To wit: We view with horror the very prospect of ever using nuclear weapons in another war, but we reserve the right to do so in the extreme circumstance when no other type of weapon can control a rogue state committed to a massive attack.

The main point here is that ambiguity rules and no rational leader ever takes the nuclear option totally off the table. Yet that is what Mr. Obama did, and then he immediately said that the whole issue was off the table. He later went on to declare that he was prepared to pull out of Iraq and then to invade Pakistan so as to get the terrorists who have done the American people so much harm and who continue to pose an extreme threat. All of this gave chills to much of the world and certainly should have also chilled any rational voter planning to vote for Barack Obama for president.

Now, take a deep breath and reflect on some other realities. They will cause some confusion but they are realities. Good people can slip and say some truly stupid things. Gerald Ford would have made a better president than Jimmy Carter, who turned out to be one of our weakest presidents and is without a doubt our worst ex-president. He is causing immense harm to America and to Israel.

Indeed, Mr. Carter appears to be a bigot willing to sell his soul and his voice to rich Arab interests. I sincerely regret my vote for him. Barack Obama is brilliant, decent and well-motivated. Months ago I predicted that the Democratic ticket would most likely be Clinton for president and Obama for vice president; I stick to that prediction today.

If elected, this would mean that two rational and good people would be in charge of this country — and of much of the world. Despite all of their recent divisive attacks on one another and the ugly sniping back and forth, they both seem like basically fine human beings. If we elect them, we will moreover make history in a positive way in terms of gender and race.

Nevertheless, many old Democrats and recovering liberals will not be able to vote for these good people because they are prisoners of the rampaging left and of the Democratic leadership that calls for retreat and appeasement.

While many of us are not happy with Mr. Bush’s record and are sad about all the American and Iraqi casualties, rather than retreat we will support the candidate who promises to adhere to the difficult and politically risky Bush Doctrine of fighting terror and spreading democracy.

Do not be surprised therefore if many so-called liberal voters end up voting for the Republican ticket, which, in my opinion, will probably be headed by Rudy Giuliani.

Arnold Trebach is a professor emeritus at American University.

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