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Andrew Alexander is Wildly Wrong about American Leaders
Last uploaded : Tuesday 16th Jul 2013 at 12:34
Contributed by : Carol Gould


As the G20 leaders assemble, we look back at a piece we filed at the turn of the year.
First published on 2 January 2013

As election day in the Unites States has at long last come and gone and Inauguration Day approaches I am moved to respond to one of a mountain of editorials to emerge from the British print media this autumn.

Andrew Alexander’s column in ‘The Daily Mail’ of 15 August 2012 entitled ‘From Dallas to dynasty, JFK’s toxic legacy’ elaborates on the concept of American family dynasties dominating the nation’s -- and the world’s -- destiny. In a bizarre juxtaposition of British royal families and American leaders, he attempts to draw an analogy between the Kennedys and the fiftteenth century Yorkists and Lancastrians. He says ‘The three Yorkist brothers, Edward (later Edward IV,) Clarence (later drowned in a vat of Malmsey wine) and Richard ( later Richard III and slain at Bosworth) put one in mind of the Kennedy clan.’

Alexander has little understanding of the way Americans pick their candidates. Yes, it has been mooted that Joe Kennedy Sr ‘bought’ his sons’ seats in Congress and the White House. Yes, it has been alleged that Kennedy Sr manipulated the voting to enhance his son’s chances of winning against ’ordinary common man ’ Richard Nixon in November 1960. Yes, the Kennedy family had amassed a fortune by the time the sons were entering politics, but it must also be stressed that Joe Jr died for his country in the Second World War and that all of the surviving sons worked tirelessly to advance their liberal beliefs. Ted Kennedy fought for a British-style NHS all his political life and Bobby was the darling of the left until he was struck down by a Palestinian assassin’s bullet in June 1968 for saying he would support the aspirations of Israel.

Alexander understands nothing of the trends in American politics. In 1960 the emerging electorate was beginning to reflect the post-war mentality. Young people born in 1939 were able to vote and even their parents, who had seen Dwight Eisenhower through eight years in the White House, wanted change. John Kennedy, born in 1917, was the man to lead their generation. He represented Democratic liberal views that had been eschewed by the electorate in 1952 and 1956 when Adlai Stevenson had been rejected at the polls. Alexander suggests that having generals as presidents is akin to voting in dictators but never was there a more benign president than the former general, Eisenhower. By the same token does Andrew Alexander not grasp that Americans wanted to show World War II hero Eisenhower their appreciation? Time and again ‘Ike’ made it clear that because he had seen war, he would do his utmost to avoid military entanglements. (It is lamentable that he refused to support France, Israel and Great Britain in the Suez Crisis but his rejection of military action anywhere in the world was one of his trademark policies.)

Alexander suggests military leaders are not suitable to hold high public office but the most warlike presidents of recent memory were Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and George Bush 43. None had held military posts. (I hasten to mention that Lyndon Johnson, despite his atrocious record in the Vietnam war, did pursue with relentless fervour the Civil Rights Act, sacrificing the South to the Republican party in perpetuity but fulfilling his dream of signing the Act in 1964.) General Washington was America’s first president and there is no doubt the citizens of the new nation were thanking him for his extraordinary courage in leading them out of colonial tyranny. (Does Andrew Alexander seriously believe Americans wanted to be led by mad King George III instead of Washington?) Yes, George Bush Sr was the head of a political family but it was he who forced hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to come to the table in Madrid and start peace talks with the Arabs.

Looking back at American history from its inception some of the greatest writers and orators emanated from high office. What country can boast of men of such sublime leadership, imagination, eloquence and vision as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John and Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison? These men did not spring from some malevolent family dynasty as Andrew Alexander would suggest. What would have become of African Americans without the leadership of Abraham Lincoln, whose Gettysburg Address moves one to tears every time one stands at the steps of the Memorial in Washington DC? Lincoln was not engendered by a dominating family enterprise but from humble roots. Woodrow Wilson, proponent of the League of Nations and to whom many ascribe the birth of the United Nations, was the son of a clergyman.

Yes, Franklin Roosevelt was the product of an immensely wealthy and privileged family but his patrician origins did not stop him from being accused of being a ’dangerous Socialist.’ In the end he saved an impoverished Depression-era America from sinking into communism or fascism and was a tireless partner in Churchill’s battle against Naziism. What an irony that a British friend of mine became apoplectic when I told her the great icon of my mother’s generation -- and indeed Hillary Clinton’s hero -- was Eleanor Roosevelt. I was told the First Lady was a card-carrying communist and was secretly negotiating with Stalin to make the United States a part of the Soviet empire. She never succeeded but was a steadfast defender of African American rights. She publicly condemned the Daughters of the American Revolution -- of which she was a member -- for chaining themselves to Japanese cherry trees when the Jefferson Memorial was about to be built at the expense of the trees because the DAR had ignored the events of Kristallnacht in Germany.

Notwithstanding the fact that I despair of his skewed views on 'apartheid' Israel Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer, spearheaded the Sinai settlement between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. Bill Clinton came from an impoverished family background but rebuilt the American economy and facilitated eight years of overtures to peace in the Middle East, leading to peace agreements between Israel and Egypt and between Israel and Jordan. And finally, Barack Obama was engendered from anything but a powerful dynasty.

Has the United States ever produced a Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini or Pol Pot? No. It came close to tyranny during the hell of the McCarthy era and Watergate. Yes, lives were ruined but the Constitution worked and fascism was buried.

The majority of presidents and Cabinet members came from less-than-patrician backgrounds and the idea that America has been ruled by a string of family dynasties is not compatible with the broad sweep of the nation’s history.
This article also appears in the December 2012 issue of 'The American' magazine.

http://www.theamerican.co.uk/pr/index.php .


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