The news seems uniformly awful. US relations with Israel are at a historic low ebb after the elections there. Another ugly election is coming up in May, in the United Kingdom. NATO is planning maneuvers in the Baltic nations and Romania and Bulgaria. The ceasefire in southeastern Ukraine depends on Vladimir Putin’s whim. The launch of China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has left the US looking like a diminished giant deserted by the allies whom it had sought to bully. Meanwhile, the House and Senate Republicans have made a nonsensical proposal to balance the budget in ten years.
I’ve begun reading up on the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower.
Times were pretty bleak in 1952 as well. The war with North Korea and its Chinese allies was locked in stalemate. The Soviet Union was testing NATO defenses here and there in Europe. Isolationist Republicans led by Sen. Robert Taft insisted that President Harry Truman lacked the authority to send troops to Europe. Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy fanned a Red Scare in Washington D.C. Truman was held in widespread contempt.
Adlai Stevenson was more eloquent, but Eisenhower, who won with 55 percent of the vote, turned out to be a very good president. He brought the right wing of the Republican Party to heel. He resisted John Foster Dulles’s advice to use nuclear weapons in various situations. He advanced civil rights, both by the judges he appointed and the forceful enforcement action he ordered in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. When he left office, in 1961, the country was substantially more unified than when he entered. In the meantime, the Democratic Party had regrouped.
I have begun to entertain similar hopes for Jeb Bush. I have the usual doubts about Hillary Clinton. We have had three self-declared “progressive” presidencies in a row, though of course they sought to progress in different directions. Especially in our relations with the rest of the world, we have drifted a long way from the sensible realism of George H. W. Bush’s one-term presidency. It would be a good time to circle back and regain our bearings.
It is true that we don’t yet know very much about Jeb Bush as a presidential candidate. I think it is safe to say that we know that he’s very different from his brother. Certainly he must complete a difficult obstacle course in order to get the Republican nomination.
Mainly what I know is that winter is over in Boston and I am looking forward to the next nineteen months of political campaigning with a lighter heart than if Bush had not moved so forcefully into the race. Meanwhile, the Democrats had better get busy with their Senate campaigns.