“Mein Führer, I congratulate you! Roosevelt is dead!”
So exclaimed a member of Adolph Hitler’s staff to Der Führer, upon hearing that the American president had died from a massive stroke on April 12, 1945. Members of the Reich’s inner circle – possibly including Hitler himself – thought FDR’s death was the hoped-for “miracle” that would finally save the Third Reich by causing the Allies’ military alliance (i.e., England, America and the Soviet Union) to collapse. Nazi true believers imagined that the Allied coalition was being held together by the forceful personality of their arch-enemy, Franklin Roosevelt.
Of course, the hope that FDR’s death would save Germany from defeat was a baseless delusion. Historians have shown that Hitler never comprehended the vast strength of both Britain and America – believing their people to be weak-willed pleasure-seekers who lacked the stomach for a serious war. He expected the British people to fold when he terror-bombed their cities and sank hundreds of merchant ships carrying foodstuffs and war materiel which they desperately needed. Instead, their resolve stiffened and their anger grew.
Hitler had long scoffed at Americans eating ice cream instead of drinking beer, as the manly Germans did. He imagined that Roosevelt was holding America together with the political equivalent of string and baling wire, and he evidently thought the country (and its war-effort) would collapse without Mr. Roosevelt’s leadership. Der Führer had no idea what Americans were really made of or what they were capable of in time of national emergency.
Hitler’s “misunderestimation” (as George W. Bush would say) of the Soviet Union was just as profound – perhaps even more so. “We have only to kick in the door, and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down,” he famously said. He believed the Russians could never stand up to the Wehrmacht. For a time he seemed to be right, but the indomitable Russian people eventually proved him wrong.
In 2007, during a visit to the Soviet War Museum in Moscow, I had the privilege of speaking personally with four Russian veterans of the Battle of Stalingrad. One was a woman, aged 80, who had been a girl of 16 during the grim house-to-house fighting that trapped and finally defeated the German 6th Army. She was a runner who carried messages between elements of the Soviet forces during the siege. In our brief conversation she said, “We were all young, and we thought it was just a great adventure. That we might die never occurred to us.” Many of her comrades did fall, but they never gave up, as Der Führer painfully found out.
The “miracle” phenomenon has always been popular with failing political causes or campaigns that are grasping for something – anything! – to turn things around. In 2016 I described how the unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was being embraced as the possible “miracle” that would save Hillary Clinton’s floundering campaign.
An arch-conservative Reagan-appointee who had dominated the High Court for thirty years, Justice Scalia had long been a thorn in liberals’ side – repeatedly issuing opinions that closely followed the Constitution’s “original” construct of limited government working under strictly constrained powers. The chance to replace him with a “moderate” or even a liberal justice was an over-the-rainbow dream for a Democratic president. With Justice Scalia not yet in his grave, liberals could barely restrain their joy over this rare opportunity to tip the ideological “balance” of the Court for a generation.
Mr. Obama said he would nominate a replacement for Justice Scalia, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also announced that the Senate would decline to vote on any nominee for the Court made by Mr. Obama in his final year in office. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had made the same vow in 2007, some 18 months before the end of George W. Bush’s term. “No Supreme-appointments in the last year of a president’s term” has been the unwritten rule of American politics since 1968, when LBJ’s nomination of Abe Fortas for Chief Justice was filibustered and stopped by senators of his own party.
In March 2016, Mr. Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill Justice Scalia’s vacant seat, but Senator McConnell stood by his promise to deny the nominee a vote. That caused the open Court-seat to morph into the “miracle” that Democrats hoped would help Mrs. Clinton attract support from minority and youth voters. The narrative was that she would promise to appoint a new justice who would look after the interests of those demographic groups better than any GOP president’s nominee would do. It was a left-handed appeal for votes, to be sure, but it was really all she could offer those demographic groups.
But Mrs. Clinton’s “miracle” gambit was el-floppo. Minority and young voters, who had flocked to Mr. Obama in 2008 and 2012, wouldn’t support a doddering white grandma who offered only vague assurances and identity politics. The Supreme Court nomination turned out to be the same kind of delusional “miracle” that the death of FDR was for Der Führer.
I relate all this as background to a drama now playing out in the country, at large – and in the Democratic Party, in particular – at the intersection of the Corona-virus crisis with the presidential campaign of Joe Biden.
At the start of this year, Donald Trump’s presidency was plowing confidently ahead toward a second term – buoyed by a roaring economy which featured the lowest unemployment rates in half a century. Stock markets were setting new records almost weekly. Voters were enjoying new wealth and strong wage-gains. A two-year Special Prosecutor investigation into Mr. Trump’s supposed “collusion” with Russia – based on a “dossier” of fictional smears paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign – had come to nothing. An ugly impeachment attempt had also crashed and burned. It looked like clear sailing to the November election for Mr. Trump. Democrat pooh-bahs knew that Joe Biden was headed to a thumping defeat, unless a miracle occurred.
But then, out of nowhere, a mysterious new virus from China hit us, and a coterie of grim-faced doctors and epidemic-experts started predicting as many as two million American deaths unless the entire country stopped working and stayed home. Their model-generated projections scared both citizens and politicians to death, and overnight the nation’s industries and small businesses became deserted wastelands. In Washington, DC, giddy Democrats began shoveling out trillions of “stimulus” dollars from the government’s bottomless cornucopia of printed money. Cable-news networks began exhibiting a constantly updated scorecard of Corona-virus cases and deaths – worldwide and in the USA.
There are so many moving parts in our first-ever nationwide “shutdown” of business and social interaction that I won’t try to rehearse them here. Suffice it to say that out of the fog and furor a conviction has emerged among Democrats that creating a serious economic recession, by prolonging the business-shutdown, will damage President Trump and produce a “miracle” that snatches victory out of the jaws of defeat for them in November. To hype that meme, Big Media has started calling the induced recession a “second Great Depression.”
Marching in lockstep toward this objective, Democrat governors are pushing out the re-opening of their states’ commerce, schools, and sporting events to later and later dates – even when their states are not much afflicted by the virus in numbers of illnesses and deaths. At this writing, California has announced that its state university campuses will remain closed through the fall semester, although the state has suffered only 2800 deaths in a population of 40 million – i.e., a mortality rate of only 70 per million. This is well below the mortality rate of 250 per million for the entire country, and a mere 1/16th of New York state’s mortality rate of 1,124 per million.
The stay-home orders have put the presidential campaigns of both Donald Trump and the putative Democrat candidate, Joe Biden, on hold by curtailing their ability to hold political rallies. Mr. Biden has remained inside his home in Delaware, but has continued to issue regular TV spots from his basement studio – criticizing President Trump’s “incompetent” handling of the Corona-crisis, and issuing confused, rambling statements on how he will restore the country.
Leaders of Mr. Biden’s party are of two minds about his candidacy: (1) they worry that he can’t win the election by campaigning from his basement; but (2) they also recognize that he will almost certainly self-destruct if he has to engage in a serious campaign of extensive travel, rallies, TV appearances, and debates against President Trump.
At age 77, Mr. Biden looks more frail and confused each time he makes a televised appearance. (As a fellow seasoned citizen, I feel sorry that he is subjecting himself to this kind of strain.) More than one medical expert has suggested that the former VP might be suffering from the early stages of dementia or some other form of mental impairment. In view of all that, political analysts are speculating that the Corona-crisis and the economic shutdown that is keeping Mr. Biden out of the public eye might actually be the “miracle” which gives him the election.
Whether Mr. Biden can actually make it to the finish line, six months from now, remains to be seen. If he does, the question will be whether either a basement-campaign or a conventional live campaign can convince enough Trump-voters that a Biden-presidency will actually restore the prosperity stolen from them by a hysterical virus-scare that killed no more people than recent outbreaks of the flu.
Color me “doubtful” on that score. I still believe in the fundamental good sense of (most of) the American people. We can be fooled once, or even twice, by a great-sounding, sharply dressed candidate who promises the moon. But by a tired, confused, superannuated guy who doesn’t seem to know where he is, and who implicitly offers a reprise of policies that will put us back in the economic doldrums? Not so much.
No doubt Mr. Biden will get the support of those Democrats who would vote for a yellow dog, if it had a “D” next to its name on the ballot. But how about those “independent” voters who gambled on Mr. Trump in ’16? My guess is that they won’t trust “good old Joe” any farther than they could throw him. In the final analysis, that will be the decisive factor. I believe the Corona-miracle will flop like those past miracles.