Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Values. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004) and The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007). His latest book is The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).
A Dad Like Jack: the Influence of Ronald Reagan's Father
When we open our newspapers on Father's Day, we expect to find something nice about dads - often, heroic dads. Yet, for every boy or girl whose father was a doctor or Marine who stormed the beaches of Normandy, there is a dad who was more complicated: not a great dad but one still loved and who had an impact, sometimes in unorthodox ways. This describes a father I've studied: Jack Reagan, father of the late president, Ronald Reagan.
Born in the Midwest, Jack Reagan was a shoe salesman who scraped and scrapped so his family could get by. And they didn't get by very well. Before long, drinking - a lot of drinking - was helping Jack to cope.
Jack uprooted the family at every turn. Throughout young Ronald Reagan's childhood, his family never owned a home.
In one of these moves, to the little Illinois town of Galesburg, Ronald had a kind of epiphany. The lonely boy ventured to the attic of his latest home. The previous tenant left behind a collection of bird's eggs and butterflies enclosed in glass. The curious first-grader escaped into the attic for hours at a time, marveling at the eggs' rich colors and the intricate wings of the butterflies. "The experience," Reagan remembered,
. . . left me with a reverence for the handiwork of God that never left me.
These wonderments, said Reagan, were like "gateways." The notion of a Creator was etched into the boy's consciousness. He later thanked that previous tenant as "an anonymous benefactor to whom I owe much."
Ironically, this dramatic rendezvous with the Creator was Jack's inadvertent doing.
Moving took a toll on the young Ronald; it created a void in him - a hole that religion came to fill. In need of a rock of reliability, he looked to where his mom, his heart, and his desolation pointed him: upward. There, he found what he perceived as a permanent friend - God, who was always in His place, accessible at any moment, who never moved on him.
Another foible of Jack's may have contributed to his son's turn to God. It was a brisk February evening in Dixon, Illinois in 1922. Returning home from a basketball game at the YMCA, 11-year-old Ronald expected to arrive to an empty house. Instead, he was stunned by the sight of his father sprawled out in the snow on the front porch. "He was drunk," his son later remembered. "Dead to the world . . . crucified." Jack's hair was soaked with melted snow, matted unevenly against the side of his reddened face. The smell of whiskey emanated from his mouth.
Young Reagan stood over his father for a minute or two. He wanted to simply let himself in the door and pretend his dad wasn't there. Instead, he grabbed a fistful of overcoat and heaved Jack to the bedroom, away from the weather's harm and neighbors' attention. He felt no resentment, just grief. This, after all, was the man who had always carried him.
The event shook the young Reagan; he never forgot it. Four months later he was baptized at his mom's church.
The story of Ronald Reagan's dad is sad. Yet, it describes many father-son relationships and reveals how a complex father can possess both negative and positive attributes - and, yes, there were positives.
Jack instilled in Ronald Reagan the work ethic that propelled him into radio, then the movies, and then television - all in the heyday of each medium. In the 1930s, when most of America suffered, Ronald Reagan soared. He would go on to twice win (in landslides) the governorship of the nation's largest state and the presidency of the world's most powerful nation. His father taught him that success comes from within, not by a handout. Reagan saw in his dad an ability to roll with the punches, a trait crucial to Reagan's thick political skin. He also learned from his father the gift of gab that the Great Communicator ultimately mastered.
Moreover, completely neglected by history was Ronald Reagan's hatred of racial and religious bigotry. Here, too, his dad had a role. Jack didn't just tell his son that racism was bad; he shared indelible accounts that Reagan internalized and retold throughout his life.
Of course, dads can't do everything. For the duty of spiritual development, Jack Reagan delegated to his wife, Nelle. Give him credit, I suppose. Jack knew his limits and his wife's strengths. Nelle excelled at the task.
Really, it was the Reagans together, both Jack and his wife, who serve as an excellent example of how it takes two - a mom and dad, each bringing separate strengths to the table - to best raise a child. Maybe that's a worthwhile thing to remember on Father's Day, and any day.
The Nation's Top "Progressives" . . . and Socialists and Communists
The left-leaning magazine The Nation has published a list of what it deems America's all-time, most influential progressives. The list, which you can review for yourself, is very revealing.
For starters, it's fascinating that The Nation leads with Eugene Debs at number 1. Debs was a socialist. It was 100 years ago this year, in 1912, that Debs ran for president on the Socialist Party ticket.
Today's progressives get annoyed if you call them socialists. Well, why is a pure socialist the no. 1 "progressive" on The Nation's list?
Of course, progressives really get annoyed if you suggest they bear any sympathies to Communism. That being the case, two other "progressives" on The Nation's list are quite intriguing: Paul Robeson and I. F. Stone.
Paul Robeson was a proud recipient of the "Stalin Prize." Even The New York Times concedes Robeson was "an outspoken admirer of the Soviet Union." When Robeson in 1934 returned from his initial pilgrimage to the Motherland, The Daily Worker thrust a microphone in his face. The Daily Worker rushed its interview into print, running it in the January 15, 1935 issue under the headline, "'I Am at Home,' Says Robeson at Reception in Soviet Union."
The Bolsheviks, explained Robeson, were new men. He was bowled over by the "feeling of safety and abundance and freedom" he found "wherever I turn." He discovered sheer equality under Joseph Stalin.
When asked about Stalin's purges, Robeson retorted:
From what I have already seen of the workings of the Soviet Government, I can only say that anybody who lifts his hand against it ought to be shot!
Yes, Robeson was deadly serious.
Robeson told the Daily Worker that he felt a "kinship" with the USSR. So much so that he moved his family there.
He also joined the Communist Party USA. In May 1998, the centennial of Robeson's birth, longtime CPUSA head Gus Hall hailed Robeson as a man of Communist "conviction," who "never forgot he was a Communist."
None of this is mentioned in The Nation's profile, which blasts anyone who dared consider Robeson a Communist. Instead, The Nation insists that Comrade Paul was a "progressive."
And that brings me to I. F. Stone.
Stone is listed at number 26 on The Nation's list. Stone has been hailed by liberals for decades as the literal "conscience" of journalism - a hero of impeccable honesty. In fact, we now know that Stone, at one time, was a paid Soviet agent.
In their latest Yale University Press work, historians John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev conclude that Stone (from 1936-39) was a "Soviet spy." Also closely studying Stone's case is Herb Romerstein. In The Venona Secrets, Romerstein likewise concluded "Stone was indeed a Soviet agent." One of the stronger confirmations from the Soviet side is retired KGB general Oleg Kalugin, who reported:
He [Stone] was a KGB agent since 1938. His code name was "Blin." When I resumed relations with him in 1966, it was on Moscow's instructions. Stone was a devoted Communist.
None of this appears at Stone's "progressive" profile at The Nation.
And speaking of progressives with Communist sympathies, also on The Nation's list is Margaret Sanger. The Planned Parenthood matron sojourned to Stalin's Potemkin villages in 1934. "[W]e could well take example from Russia," Sanger advised Americans upon her return, "where birth control instruction is part of the regular welfare service of the government."
The Planned Parenthood founder was stunned by the explosion of abortions once legalized by the Bolsheviks. No fear, though. Sanger offered this confident prediction:
All the [Bolshevik] officials with whom I discussed the matter stated that as soon as the economic and social plans of Soviet Russia are realized, neither abortions nor contraception will be necessary or desired. A functioning Communistic society will assure the happiness of every child, and will assume the full responsibility for its welfare and education.
This was pure progressive utopianism, an absolute faith in central planners.
Overall, the socialists, Communists, and Soviet sympathizers on The Nation's list are dizzying: Upton Sinclair, Henry Wallace, W. E. B. DuBois, Norman Thomas, Lincoln Steffens, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Tom Hayden, Barbara Ehrenreich, and John Dewey - founding father of American public education.
Thus, I'm compelled to ask: Is this "progressivism?" Is progressivism synonymous with liberalism, or is it much further to left, closer to Communism?
I plead with progressives: This is your ideology. . . . Could you better define it, if that's possible? Or is the definition of progressivism always progressing? Actually, it is always progressing; that's precisely the problem with this train-wreck of an ever-elusive ideology. The Nation's list of leading American "progressives" is truly a teachable moment.
The Catholic Bishops v. Obama? President Obama and Justice Ginsburg on America's "Rather Old Constitution"
I've gotten some very interesting emails regarding President Obama's mandate commanding Roman Catholics (and many evangelical Protestants) to violate their consciences by providing mandatory contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing pharmaceuticals. The emailers noted that Obama's action will force Catholics to challenge the president in court, particularly given that bishops are saying they will not comply with the law. It could mean another constitutional showdown over "Obamacare," one that could likewise end up in the Supreme Court. Imagine: Catholic Bishops v. Obama.
What a fitting capstone to the Obama presidency. And imagine that a majority of professing Roman Catholics elected this man in November 2008.
If this issue goes to the high court, I wouldn't bet my money on Obama, even with the two new "pro-choice," pro-Roe liberals he added to the bench: Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Even the most "progressive" Supreme Court justice cannot avoid that old freedom-of-religion thing in the First Amendment.
All of that is remarkable enough. But I find it especially ironic given two other fascinating current news item relating to the Constitution:
President Obama did an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer. Obama expressed frustration at his inability to be the "transformational political figure" Americans elected. The "change agent" lamented that this was the fault of the American Founders - who Obama refers to as "men of property and wealth" - and their Constitution. Obama told Lauer:
What's frustrated people is that I have not been able to force Congress to implement every aspect of what I said in 2008. Well, it turns out our Founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change that I would like sometimes. But what I have been able to do is move in the right direction. And what I'm going to keep on doing is plot away, very persistent.
Ah, that old Constitution again.
Obama is quite correct. His primary obstacle is the Founders' system of separation of powers and checks and balances. His problem is a Congress and Supreme Court that is empowered to say, "No, Mr. President, that isn't constitutional. You can't do that in America."
That brings me to the second news item:
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave an interview to Egyptian television. Ginsburg will likely be the next justice to step down. Once Obama replaces her with a much younger pro-Roe judge, this nation will have Roe v. Wade for another 39 years. In the interview, Ginsburg advised Middle East democrats on drafting a constitution. She did not, however, recommend the U.S. Constitution. Ginsburg stated:
I can't speak about what the Egyptian experience should be, because I'm operating under a rather old constitution. The United States, in comparison to Egypt, is a very new nation; and yet we have the oldest written constitution still in force in the world . . .
I would not look to the U.S. Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the constitution of South Africa. That was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, and had an independent judiciary. . . . It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done. Much more recently than the U.S. Constitution, Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It dates from 1982. You would almost certainly look at the European Convention on Human Rights. Yes, why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world?
Actually, why not take advantage of what's in the U.S. Constitution? The paradox in Ginsburg's statement is her dismissal of the U.S. Constitution because it's "rather old;" in fact, "the oldest written constitution still in force in the world."
Well, why is it so old and still in force? Because it was done right. It is based on timeless values and virtues and universal rights that work; that are true. It has been amended less than 30 times in 220-some years. It is the most stable, successful, remarkable constitution in history, bringing together a vast array of peoples and assimilating them into history's most prosperous, awe-inspiring nation - a nation that spent the 20th century winning freedom for other nations, so those nations could produce democracies and constitutions. The U.S. Constitution is the perfect model, at once both beautifully broad and specific.
And among the things it got right are separation of powers and checks and balances. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and President Obama may be learning that again very soon - compliments of Obamacare and its constitutional assault on the consciences of religious believers.
Allen West and His Critics
Congressman Allen West (R-Fla.) is being heavily criticized for comments alleging that certain Democratic members of Congress are Communists, and he is not backing down. West dared to quantify his accusation, claiming there are "78 to 81" Congressional Democrats who are Communists.
I want to say three things relating to West's remarks: First, some criticism of West's critics. Second, a defense of West's critics. And, finally, some criticism of West, which I offer constructively. I like Allen West and want him to succeed.
First, on West's critics:
Their concern about West's exaggeration and name-calling has little credibility coming from an ideology (liberalism) and political party (Democrat) which constantly engages in exaggeration and name-calling. I could point out a litany of examples. It's as easy as the latest liberal/Democrat gambit accusing Republicans of a "war on women" merely because they believe the federal government shouldn't force taxpayers to fund contraception and Planned Parenthood. For that crime, West's colleague Maxine Waters called Republicans "demons." Nancy Pelosi said they want women to "die on the floor." Dianne Feinstein insisted they want "to sock it to women." Harry Reid claimed Republicans have placed a "bull's eye on women." Barbara Boxer described it as a "vendetta" against women. Congresswoman Barbara Lee summed it up as a GOP "war on women."
I could go on and on. Google the words "George W. Bush" and "Hitler" or "Nazi." Or recall the obscene statements from Democratic lawmakers regarding the Iraq war. Remember that Senator Dick Durbin compared our troops to "Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime - Pol Pot or others."
But only when a Rush Limbaugh blows his top - or someone like Allen West issues charges like this one - does The New York Times start issuing calls for civility.
Point made. Now, for my second and third points:
Allen West needs to be much more careful. He sloppily overlapped categories and blurred lines of distinction. The reality is that the left side of the political spectrum is very broad. It includes Democrats, liberals, progressives, "social-justice" Christians, socialists, Communists, Marxists, Leninists, Stalinists, Maoists, and more. There are distinct differences, even when a liberal Democrat favors something that Marx favored. For instance, point two in Marx's 10-point plan in The Communist Manifesto calls for "a heavy progressive or graduated income tax." Advocates of this include basically the entirety of the Democratic membership of the House of Representatives - but it doesn't make them Marxists. Consider point three in Marx's 10-point plan, which calls for "abolition of all rights of inheritance." Many "liberals" and "progressives" advocate that to some degree (via taxation), but I know of no Congressional Democrat calling for complete abolition of all rights of inheritance.
Likewise, Marx wrote this: "the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property." Yes, liberals place all kinds of restrictions on private property, but I know of no Congressional Democrat who would go as far as Lenin and Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot and Castro.
Here's the reality that often complicates things for conservatives when looking at the political left: Liberals agree with Communists on many key sympathies - workers' rights, spreading and redistributing wealth, a narrow to non-existent income gap, an expansive central government offering a wide array of "free" government services, favoring the public sector over the private sector, class-based rhetoric (often demagoguery) toward the wealthy, progressively high tax rates. The differences are matters of degree, but they are crucial differences.
Sure, Allen West didn't say that every liberal in Congress is a Communist. Yet, he did say that there is a huge portion. Even worse, he initially said that "78 to 81" were actual Communist Party members, or about 40 percent of the Democratic membership. Clearly that's not accurate. If it is, then West should be chiseled into Mt. Rushmore for exposing the greatest threat to Washington since the War of 1812 - and we should commence a national march to the Capitol right now, with torches.
I assume that West misspoke, and meant communists (lower case "c") in ideology, not actual card-carrying Communist Party members.
Allen West has forgotten the painful lesson of Joe McCarthy: If you're going to call certain people Communists, you better be absolutely, 100 percent certain. There's nothing that liberals detest more than anti-Communism. Their preferred villain is Joe McCarthy, not Joe Stalin. They and their mass media will go ballistic, demanding a level of precision from you that they never demand from their own name-callers. Our side must be more cautious; that's the deck stacked against us.
Allen West, your courage and boldness is refreshing, but please be more careful.
Cuba Backing Gay Marriage?
I was recently contacted by Ben Johnson of LifeSiteNews, who told me of a fascinating development. He informed me of a curious fan of President Obama's advocacy of gay marriage: Mariela Castro, niece of ailing and aging Cuban tyrant, Fidel Castro, and daughter of current despot, Raul Castro.
Ben knows that my area of research is the Communist movement. I had just published an article on the longstanding Marxist/Communist position against traditional marriage. I quoted Karl Marx on the "abolition of the family" and underscored the anti-family actions of Communists historically and worldwide, from the Bolsheviks in Russia to Communist Party USA (CPUSA) to Communist nations generally - such as Cuba.
Importantly, I noted a key exception to the Marxist/Communist assault on the institution of marriage: As I said, the Russians certainly were not stumping for gay marriage. Joe Stalin was no gay-rights crusader. Neither was Fidel Castro. To the contrary, Communist regimes tended to be militantly anti-homosexual. In Cuba, Castro locked up homosexuals as public menaces, putting them in prison or lunatic asylums.
Thus, for Raul Castro's daughter to publicly support gay marriage is quite remarkable. Specifically, Mariela Castro called President Obama's statement on gay marriage "humane" and "understanding," said it has "great value," and wished that his words "will be taken seriously in the political and legislative decisions made in different states and in the whole world."
Again, this is striking. Here is a high-level Cuban Communist official publicly pushing not only for gay rights but gay marriage.
As Ben Johnson reported, Mariela, a "trained sexologist," heads the Cuban National Center for Sex Education. In Havana in broad daylight, she led an "LGBT" parade, where, as Johnson reported:
Some 400 transvestites sashayed behind Castro, doing a conga line through the streets, to celebrate the Fifth Cuban Day Against Homophobia, observed elsewhere on May 17. Marchers shouted, "Down with homophobia! Long Live Sexual Diversity!"
This scene was once unthinkable in Cuba.
Even more eye-opening, Mariela maintains that her uncle favors same-sex marriage, "but he has not made it public." More than that, she says Fidel is a closet gay-rights advocate:
He has done some advocacy work, speaking of the need to make progress in terms of rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
To hasten "gay marriage," Mariela says Cuba will be changing its "Family Code" and "constitution."
In short, this is an amazing turnabout. What's going on? Why this sudden conversion by Castro and Communist Cuba? Does this make sense?
Yes, it does. The root of the answer, once again, is the Marxist/Communist assault on marriage. Led either by the spirit of the times or by another spiritual force that has long led Communists, the Communist priority is not gay rights but a continued assault on the family. It's an assault on an institution both ancient and Biblical. As ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers liked to say, the Communist worldview is grounded in the first sin at the Garden of Eden, when man and woman, first joined by God, were separated by the Evil One: "Ye shall be as gods."
For atheistic Communists, this is just the latest slap in a century-long sustained bludgeoning of marriage and the family. Faced with a conflict between their penchant for persecuting the family and persecuting homosexuals, the Communist war on traditional morality and faith and family won out, thus dictating a sudden embrace of gay marriage (at least in Cuba). As long as the traditional family is destroyed, Marxism is advanced. Communists will do whatever they need to destroy the family; "gay marriage" seems the latest device.
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx characterized the Communist goal of "abolition of the family" as revolutionary, "the most radical rupture with traditional relations." Indeed, Mariela Castro speaks of her new cause as "revolutionary," She wants to break the "patriarchal family model."
No doubt, Mariela sees President Obama's support of same-sex marriage as a step in rupturing that family model.
Finally, an interesting coda to this story: Ben Johnson reports that this "revolutionary process" in Cuba is being underwritten by American taxpayers. He says that in 2011, the State Department spent $300,000 promoting homosexual activism in Cuba. The funds went
. . . to strengthen grassroots organizations to create the conditions that allow meaningful and unhindered participation by members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in all aspects of Cuban society.
Moreover, Mariela Castro was granted a visa to visit the United States for a conference in San Francisco. The visa was granted by Hillary Clinton's State Department.
When I first heard about the visa, I figured it was merely another example of the Obama administration going soft on Communist regimes. Now, however, given Mariela's kinship with President Obama on gay marriage, maybe there's more to the story - a lot more. *