Leaving Bad Enough Alone

A number of my betters and Michael Kinsley’s elders in the commentary dodge have visited their severities upon him for an essay in The Washington Post that bubbled with delight at President Ronald Reagan’s present discomfitures. “A laughing matter…[a] delightful collapse….Ha, ha, ha,” Kinsley wrote. “A calamity for the nation,” David Broder reproved. “Spare us these juveniles who won’t learn or can’t understand that the presidency is just too damned important for their mock-war games.”

There comes a point in every quarrel between the generations when sober sense recognizes that neither’s side is one’s own. Graham Greene once journeyed to Duvalier’s Haiti, a polity whose dilapidation is not without some small echoes in ours, and assessed it as “Tragedy With a Banana Peel.” There are indeed elements of the farcical in the President’s progress to the purgatory that has seemed in recent years to go with the office.

But tragedy with a banana peel is tragedy just the same, and for me to laugh at this president would violate the bond of our brotherhood near the edges of the Alzheimer’s abyss. Kinsley has no such obligation to the solidarity of the gaffer class. There are then no reasonable grounds for outrage at his glee, except for those who recoil from its light-mindedness toward a “national calamity” and its want of proper respect for the “institution of the presidency.”

The patience endures no small trial at hearing Kinsley or anyone else arraigned for lapses from duty to the institution of the presidency. The most a nation can demand of its citizens is to serve it in war and pay its taxes. We are not responsible for the institution of the presidency. The president is.

To have an inadequate president inevitably means to have a weakened presidency. Such a condition is all else but a national calamity at the present juncture of our circumstances.

Let us suppose that we are condemend to live for two years with a president who has so damaged himself that the United States cannot function as a superpower. Are we to take it that the United States has in recent times possessed any attributes of a superpower more substantial than its pretensions?

More than a generation has gone by since the Soviet Union lost control of the revolution and we of the counterrevolution. A superpower exercises some control over the history around it and, by that definition, Israel and North Vietnam have a better claim than ours to qualifying for that status. Some measure of moral authority has survived our earnest efforts to forfeit it, but most of the credit for that residual advantage is owed to the Soviet Union’s persistence in acting worse than we do.

Let us say that we stifle our laughter, rally to the institution of the presidency, and with united veneration restore our president to the sovereignty that deluded him into assuming that he could do whatever he thought best …

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