Political History

Jared Kushner Is No Robert Kennedy

Matt Bai: “It was Joseph Kennedy, the president’s father, who decreed that another of his sons, Robert, would be the attorney general. No one spoke to John Kennedy more, or had more influence across the entire spectrum of policy, than his brother. So blatant was it, in fact, that in 1967 Congress passed a law barring any president from naming a relative to the Cabinet or to the helm of any federal agency… This is why Jared can’t actually have the jobs of all the Cabinet secretaries he’s displacing.”

“But let’s be real: Drawing a line from RFK to Jared Kushner is like trying to compare B.B. King to Drake. By the time he became attorney general at 35, Kennedy — again, with some assistance from his father — had already achieved notoriety as the unflinching lead counsel for a mob-busting Senate committee. He’d been a government prosecutor for a decade.”

“Kushner hadn’t served a day on a school board before Trump put him in charge of, you know, America. Near as I can tell, his sole achievement in his young life — much like his wife’s — is to have spent his parents’ money on cool stuff, like some buildings and a once trendy newspaper you’ve never read.”

Odds Don’t Look Good for Tax Reform

Jeffrey Birnbaum, co-author of The Showdown at Gucci Gulch on the 1986 tax reform effort, sees little chance to repeat the feat this year.

“If history is an indication, the road to full-scale reform will be tortuous and lengthy. The Tax Reform Act of 1986 was debated in concept long before taking two years to wend its way through Congress. It died several times before public opinion and extraordinary political leadership revived it. Few veterans of ’86 believe Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s prediction that tax reform will be completed by this fall.”

Also instructive: “Tax reform was launched in 1985 with a scene that’s almost unimaginable today: a televised speech by Reagan, a Republican, followed by a Democratic response by Dan Rostenkowski, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, endorsing the president’s initiative.”

Trump Has Had the Worst Start Ever

Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told the Washington Post that, “This is the most failed first 100 days of any president.”

Said Brinkley: “To be as low as he is in the polls, in the 30s, while the FBI director is on television saying they launched an investigation into your ties with Russia, I don’t know how it can get much worse.”

He added: “There’s a smell of treason in the air. Imagine if J. Edgar Hoover or any other FBI director would have testified against a sitting president? It would have been a mind-boggling event.”

Bannon Once Praised Joseph McCarthy

Donald Trump’s chief White House strategist Steve Bannon said in 2013 that Sen. Joseph McCarthy was right in his 1950s campaign claiming widespread Communist infiltration into the United States government, CNN reports.

Said Bannon, in an interview with a book author: “Alger Hiss is a hero, right? Richard Nixon’s a villain? Joe McCarthy is a villain. Your book makes very plain that these guys were right. The place was infested with either traitors that were on the direct payroll of Soviet military intelligence or fellow-travelers who were kind of compliant in helping these guys get along. I mean, there’s absolutely no question of it. How has pop culture so changed it that white is black and black is white?”

The Reichstag Warning

New York Review of Books: “On February 27, 1933 the German Parliament building burned, Adolf Hitler rejoiced, and the Nazi era began. Hitler, who had just been named head of a government that was legally formed after the democratic elections of the previous November, seized the opportunity to change the system.”

“The Reichstag fire shows how quickly a modern republic can be transformed into an authoritarian regime. There is nothing new, to be sure, in the politics of exception. The American Founding Fathers knew that the democracy they were creating was vulnerable to an aspiring tyrant who might seize upon some dramatic event as grounds for the suspension of our rights. As James Madison nicely put it, tyranny arises ‘on some favorable emergency.’ What changed with the Reichstag fire was the use of terrorism as a catalyst for regime change. To this day, we do not know who set the Reichstag fire: the lone anarchist executed by the Nazis or, as new scholarship by Benjamin Hett suggests, the Nazis themselves. What we do know is that it created the occasion for a leader to eliminate all opposition.”

Trump Oddly Uses ‘Enemy of the People’ Rhetoric

New York Times: “It is difficult to know if President Trump is aware of the historic resonance of the term, a label generally associated with despotic communist governments rather than democracies. But his decision to unleash the terminology has left some historians scratching their heads. Why would the elected leader of a democratic nation embrace a label that, after the death of Stalin, even the Soviet Union found to be too freighted with sinister connotations?”

In all likelihood, Trump has not read Lenin, Stalin or Mao Zedong, but the “formulas of insult, humiliation, domination, branding, enemy-forming and name calling are always the same.”

Ranking the Presidents

Just in time for Presidents Day, C-SPAN has an updated survey of 91 historians that ranks the presidents from best to worst.

Here are the top 10:

  1. Abraham Lincoln
  2. George Washington
  3. Franklin D. Roosevelt
  4. Theodore Roosevelt
  5. Dwight D. Eisenhower
  6. Harry S Truman
  7. Thomas Jefferson
  8. John F. Kennedy
  9. Ronald Reagan
  10. Lyndon Johnson

Of our most recent presidents, Barack Obama is currently ranked 12th, Bill Clinton is 15th, George H. W. Bush is 20th, Jimmy Carter is 26th and George W. Bush is 33rd.

The Biggest Liar In Presidential History

Los Angeles Times: “Presidents of all stripes and both major political parties have bent, massaged or shaded the truth, elided uncomfortable facts or otherwise misled the public — unwittingly or, sometimes, very purposefully.”

“But White House scholars and other students of government agree there has never been a president like Donald Trump, whose volume of falsehoods, misstatements and serial exaggerations — on matters large and wincingly small — place him ‘in a class by himself.'”

The Book Bannon Wants the White House to Read

“Over the past three months, Steve Bannon has been reading David Halberstam’s book, The Best and the Brightest. (A NYT reporter spotted him with the book in an airport in December.),” Axios reports.

“It’s a devastating account of self-regard, delusion, and the tragic series of miscalculations that led America into Vietnam. The book shaped Bannon’s thinking during the transition, and he recommended it to associates, including Jared Kushner and Anthony Scaramucci, as a warning against hubris.”