The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion With apologies to Jeane Kirkpatrick: Trumpkins always blame America first

In the wake of the gloomiest, scariest American presidential party convention in history, it struck me that Hillary Clinton has an extraordinary opening to put the Donald Trump party to shame and appeal to Republicans of goodwill. She might go back to another Democrat’s speech at a presidential convention — Jeane Kirkpatrick at the 1984 Republican convention. There, Kirkpatrick excoriated a hand-wringing, negative, isolationist party that failed to appreciate the greatness of America.

Looking back to that 1984 speech, we are struck by just how relevant it is today. With apologies to the late ambassador, this is how a slightly tweaked speech might be given in Philadelphia. Some sections need no updating:

I want to begin tonight by quoting the speech of the president whom I very greatly admire, Harry Truman, who once said to the Congress:
“The United States has become great because we, as a people, have been able to work together for great objectives even while differing about details.”
He continued:
“The elements of our strength are many. They include our democratic government, our economic system, our great natural resources. But, the basic source of our strength is spiritual. We believe in the dignity of man.”
That’s the way Democratic presidents and presidential candidates used to talk about America.
These were the men who developed NATO, who developed the Marshall Plan, who devised the Alliance for Progress.
They were not afraid to be resolute nor ashamed to speak of America as a great nation. They didn’t doubt that we must be strong enough to protect ourselves and to help others.
They didn’t imagine that America should depend for its very survival on the promises of its adversaries.
They happily assumed the responsibilities of freedom.

Minor edits bring other passages up to date (the necessary deletions and appropriate edits appear in brackets):

I am not alone in noticing that the San Francisco Democrats [Cleveland Republicans] took a very different approach.
When the San Francisco Democrats  [Cleveland Republicans] treat foreign affairs as an afterthought, as they did, they behaved less like a dove or a hawk than like an ostrich — convinced it would shut out the world by hiding its head in the sand.
Today, foreign policy is central to the security, to the freedom, to the prosperity, even to the survival of the United States.
And our strength, for which we make many sacrifices, is essential to the independence and freedom of our allies and our friends.
Ask yourself: What would become of Europe if the United States withdrew?
What would become of Africa if Europe fell under Soviet [Russian] domination?
What would become of Europe if the Middle East came under Soviet  [Russian] control?
What would become of Israel, if surrounded by Soviet  [Iranian] client states?
What would become of Asia if the Philippines or Japan fell under Soviet [Chinese] domination? . . . .
What then could the United States do?
These are questions the San Francisco Democrats  [Cleveland Republicans] have not answered. These are questions they haven’t even asked.

It really is striking how in their own way the Trumpkins have become the party of retreat, neglect, isolationism and wishful thinking. It is as if 9/11 never happened, an integrated global economy never emerged, our allies never recovered from World War II and the United States had not won the Cold War. America, Trump said, is “humiliated.” His solution, however, is to retreat further, neglect alliances, cut deals with the Russian bear and cede control of the Middle East to our enemies.

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As such, Clinton can now be the advocate of a confident, outward-looking country. Like Kirkpatrick, she can declare “to the world that we have the necessary energy and conviction to defend ourselves, and that we have as well a deep commitment to peace.” She can implore “the American people, proud of our country, proud of our freedom, proud of ourselves” to reject Trump’s apocalyptic vision.

I am sure Kirkpatrick would applaud the sentiment, if not the messenger. Now, Hillary Clinton is no Ronald Reagan — or JFK or Harry Truman. But it increasingly seems that Trump is Jimmy Carter — or George McGovern.

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