As I expected, my NRO article on the potential Newt nexus with Churchill has provoked a full spectrum of responses, including, as I hoped, a sharp rejoinder from Ramesh Ponnuru, which culminates in the challenge: “Did Churchill ever take $1.6 million to cheerlead for the enemy? Or attack attempts to fight the enemy as too ‘radical’?”
I’ve posted a reply at The Corner, but offer it up here as well:
Glad Ramesh has joined the issue, which I hoped for in choosing for my lede his criticism from among the widely available smackdowns. I don’t think the Alan Keyes comparison works very well though, because, let’s face it, Keyes never really accomplished much beyond a couple of low level appointments, while Newt’s relentless drive to create the conditions for a GOP House majority for more than 15 years counts as a considerable achievement. Maybe it happens without Newt — I know the politico-demographic argument — but surely he shaped its character in important ways.
In his last paragraph, Ramesh picks up, perhaps not as explicitly as I hoped readers would, the question for everyone about whether the current crisis rises to the level of requiring someone as potentially radical and unpredictable as Newt, or whether Romney’s steadier characteristics are better calibrated for what needs to be done. I don’t see how, as several commenters on Ramesh’s thread say, this is an attack on Romney. Rather, to be perfectly transparent here, my entire article is intended as an open letter to Newt for what he needs to do to persuade us that he is indeed the right person for the moment; in other words, he needs to explain the moment, and explain himself, beyond his capacity for notable one-liners and attacks on the media in the debates. Readers who think my article tries to settle that question are reading into it their own preferences or animosities.
If it will make Ramesh or others feel any better, by the way, I could do a piece on how Newt has the Lincoln-Douglas debates all wrong, but that is entirely peripheral to the larger questions of the election cycle.
As to Ramesh’s challenge, did Churchill ever take $1.6 million to side with the enemy, well, if I adopt the rather latitudinarian understanding of “enemy” Ramesh deploys here, I believe the answer is actually yes. First, as chancellor of the exchequer in the 1920s, Churchill consistently sought to cut defense spending, and also expressed support for appeasement, saying on many occasions that Germany had been mistreated at Versailles. In other words, when Churchill was attacking appeasement and calling for more defense spending in the 1930s, he was assailing policies that he himself had helped set in motion. Yes, circumstances had changed; in this regard, everyone should read Churchill’s essay “Consistency in Politics” and the complete rebuttal to Ramesh’s premise.
There’s more. As to literally “siding with the enemy,” Pat Buchanan likes to quote Churchill’s essay on Hitler from Great Contemporaries, where Churchill expresses his “admiration for the courage, the perseverance, and the vital force which enabled [Hitler] to challenge, defy, conciliate, or overcome, all the authorities or resistances which barred his path,” and how Hitler would “restore Germany to the height of her power in Europe” and “cure the cruel unemployment that afflicted the people.” He even sounded a note of optimism, writing that “[History] is replete with examples of men who have risen to power by employing stern, grim, and even frightful methods but who, nevertheless, when their life is revealed as a whole, have been regarded as great figures whose lives have enriched the story of mankind. So may it be with Hitler. . . We may yet to live to see Hitler a gentler figure in a happier age.”
This was written in 1935, and he changed his mind, of course. (Buchanan, naturally, quotes it all out of context, and omits the rest of the story. And if Pat were running again this year, we’d need to point that out.)
Finally, while it isn’t the same as Newt’s dalliance with Freddie Mac, in 1938 an Austrian-born banker and industrialist, Sir Edward Strakosch, bailed out Churchill’s considerable debts when WSC was facing imminent bankruptcy and the possibility of having to leave office entirely. Today this would be an ethical violation of the first order both here and in the U.K.