Obama’s improbable history

Senator Obama’s victory speech last night turned impressively to the general election campaign. He all but clinched the Democratic nomination last night. His speech sounded very much like a nomination acceptance speech. I expect that the themes he sounded in his speech last night will reappear in his speech this summer in Denver.

Tom Maguire caught this passage:

I trust the American people to understand that it is not weakness, but wisdom to talk not just to our friends, but to our enemies, like Roosevelt did, and Kennedy did, and Truman did.

Maguire comments:

Obama’s supporters are too young to know any of this, but Roosevelt led the United States in the war against Hitler; the Allied policy was unconditional surrender, so there was very little for Roosevelt and Hitler to discuss, and in fact, the two did not meet at all (but they did exchange correspondence before the war).

So my guess is that Obama is thinking of the Yalta Conference with Churchill and Stalin as talking to “our enemies,” although of course we were still allied with the Soviet Union against Germany and Japan at that point. Beyond that, is the Yalta Conference something Obama and his advisers view as a success worthy of emulation? Puzzling.

And the United States has been talking with Iran right along in any event. It’s not for lack of communication that Iran has been conducting its war on the United States.

When Obama invoked past Democratic presidents in his speech last night, he started with Roosevelt but omitted Johnson, Carter, and Clinton. Moving on from the Clinton era is part of the thesis of Obama’s candidacy, so the omission is understandable. Of past Democratic presidents, none has set a better example of the pitfalls of “talking to our enemies” than Jimmy Carter, both in his presidency and his travels since (though Carter probably would not acknowledge that his interlocutors are our enemies).

Obama may not be knowledgeable enough to know he doesn’t want to emulate Roosevelt at Yalta. Perhaps he believes that Roosevelt’s name sanctions whatever action he can attach to it. But Obama is smart enough to know that he doesn’t want to profess a desire to emulate Jimmy Carter, if only on political grounds. In substance, however, it seems to me that the president Obama most closely resembles on this point is Carter.

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