Commentary: Great American Stories Such as ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

Bert and Ernie

This week in 1946, “It’s a Wonderful Life” was screened for the first time at the Globe Theatre in New York City. Audiences weren’t quite sure what to make of the film, even though it starred Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed and was directed by Frank Capra. Perhaps the economic jeopardy of life in Depression-era small towns was still all too real. Or maybe the specter of sons and husbands returning from the front reminded audiences of how many American fighting men had not come back from Europe or the Pacific.

Stewart, the leading man who portrayed small-town savings-and-loan owner George Bailey in Capra’s movie, was such a charismatic leading man that when studio executive Jack Warner heard in 1965 about Ronald Reagan’s plans to run for governor of California, he quipped, “No, no! Jimmy Stewart for governor. Ronald Reagan for best friend.”

But casting in movies, as in life, can be deceiving. It was something of an in-joke, for instance, to have Jimmy Stewart play the older brother who flunks his Army physical in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and can’t go to war. In real life, Stewart and Frank Capra both enlisted in the military after making “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” together in 1939. The Italian-born Capra, then in his 40s, produced an evocative series of films for the military called “Why We Fight.” Stewart did his part, too, and then some. After winning Best Actor for his role in 1940’s “The Philadelphia Story,” Stewart had become the most bankable star in Hollywood. Nonetheless, by the time Pearl Harbor was bombed, he was already in uniform, pulling duty at Moffett Field, south of San Francisco, in the Army Air Corps. By the end of World War II, Stewart had flown 20 combat missions in a B-24, become a squadron leader, been awarded a chest full of medals, and risen in rank from corporal to colonel.

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Commentary: Revisiting Prudent American Realism

Donald Trump sitting at desk

I have long deplored the poverty of international relations (IR) theory, which pits “realists” of all varieties against “liberals” or advocates of “liberal internationalism” and its corollary, “cooperative security.” In essence, the debate between these two schools is a dispute between Thucydides and Machiavelli on the one hand and Kant on the other.

Realists argue that states are driven by naked interest. In a system of “international anarchy,” states face a security dilemma that leads to arms racing, offensive and defensive alliances, and ultimately war. For realists, the international system is conflictual. In contrast, liberal internationalists argue that the international system is potentially cooperative. Diplomacy trumps force. For realists, liberals are too abstract and place too much emphasis on the “good side” of human nature. For liberals, realists are too pessimistic and cynical. In addition, say liberals, realism is too parsimonious: it fails adequately to explain the world.

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Commentary: America Gone Mad

After three weeks in Europe and extensive discussions with dozens of well-informed and highly placed individuals from most of the principal Western European countries, including leading members of the British government, I have the unpleasant duty of reporting complete incomprehension and incredulity at what Joe Biden and his collaborators encapsulate in the peppy but misleading phrase, “We’re back.”

As one eminent elected British government official put it, “They are not back in any conventional sense of that word. We have worked closely with the Americans for many decades and we have never seen such a shambles of incompetent administration, diplomatic incoherence, and complete military ineptitude as we have seen in these nine months. We were startled by Trump, but he clearly knew what he was doing, whatever we or anyone else thought about it. This is just a disintegration of the authority of a great nation for no apparent reason.”

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Mollie Hemingway Commentary: Taking on the Establishment

Before the 2018 midterm elections, Trump’s political advisors were thinking about the president’s re-election bid and noticed a curious commonality among incumbent presidents who didn’t get re-elected: they all faced challengers from within their own party.

Five U.S. presidents since 1900 have lost their bids for a second term. William Taft lost to Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover lost to Franklin Roosevelt, Gerald Ford lost to Jimmy Carter, Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton. While each election is determined by unique factors, all five of these failed incumbents dealt with internal party fights or serious primary challenges.

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Commentary: Biden Will Prove Reagan Right About Big-Government Incompetence

Respected Washington Post journalist and CNN host Fareed Zakaria has thrown down the gauntlet by betting that President Joe Biden “can show us that Reagan was wrong” when the Gipper said that “government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem.”

The headline in the Washington Post was “Biden is showing government can work,” and this assertion was supported by a commitment from a Biden White House official that “For people like us who believe in government, task number one is to make government work.”

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