Listening to the Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, trying to blame the crisis in the Gulf of Oman on President Trump, we found ourselves thinking of the San Francisco Democrats. They are the Democrats who were skewered in a widely celebrated speech by the highest profile Democrat to throw in with President Reagan. That, of course, was the Gipper’s envoy to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick, in a speech in 1984 to the GOP nominating convention at Dallas, coined the phrase “San Francisco Democrats.” San Francisco was where the Democratic Party nominated President Carter’s vice president, Walter Mondale, to challenge Reagan’s bid for a second term. The San Francisco Democrats sought to appease the Soviets and blame America for the world’s ills.
That kind of thinking marked Mrs. Pelosi’s interview the other day with Fareed Zakaria. That was on a stage at the Council on Foreign Relations. CNN aired it Sunday. It’s the interview in which Mrs. Pelosi sought to assure our foes that America has “absolutely no appetite for going to war.” What in the name of Neville Chamberlain was she thinking?
Does Mrs. Pelosi reckon the reason Iran is attacking all these tankers is that the mullahs figure we’re lusting for war? It took Eli Lake of Bloomberg to mark the essential point: “If allies in Europe and Democrats in Congress are worried about war with Iran, they should start by holding the regime accountable for its actions, instead of blaming them on an administration trying to deter them.”
Mrs. Pelosi questions President Trump’s motive. She suggests it is merely that the Iran deal was negotiated by President Obama. “We had,” she avers, “so many national security experts, whether they were ambassadors, generals, admirals and all the rest supporting the agreement as well. So it had official, diplomatic, national security, technical, nuclear, et cetera support along the way. So why?”
Why, indeed? The Speaker neglects to mention that at the time President Obama and his state secretary, Senator Kerry, struck the articles of appeasement with Iran, the pact was opposed — “overwhelmingly” to use the adjective used by the New York Times — by both houses of Congress. Were, say, Senators Chuck Schumer and Bob Menendez also animated merely by opposition to Mr. Obama?
Is it merely a coincidence that Mrs. Pelosi is from the same city as the one that gave rise to the phrase “San Franciso Democrats”? That wasn’t, in any event, the only phrase that Kirkpatrick made famous in her speech in Dallas, where she focused on foreign affairs. She also repeatedly mocked the Democrats for their tendency to “blame America first.” It drove the assembled Republicans wild.
The real guts of her speech, though, was her evocation of the Democratic Party that existed before Senator McGovern, in his campaign against the Vietnam War, led the Party into the political wilderness. Kirkpatrick started with a paean to President Truman (a veteran, by the way, of two major battles of World War I — Saint-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne, both Allied victories).
“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,” Kirkpatrick quoted Truman. He reckoned that American strength grew from our democratic government, economic system, and natural resources. “But, the basic source of our strength is spiritual,” she quoted Truman as saying.
There was a good bit of mockery of Kirkpatrick for joining Reagan. No one will need the Sun to underline the point that President Trump is no Reagan — save for the fact that they were both underestimated. Let Mr. Trump remember the warning from Justice Robert Jackson about presidential power being at its ebb when the president is at odds with Congress.
President Obama forgot that when he struck the Iran deal. It is why Mr. Trump could move forcefully to end it. That in and of itself, though, underlines the risk for the Democrats in failing to come together with Mr. Trump on a policy in respect of Iran. After Kirkpatrick’s speech on the San Francisco Democrats, President Reagan went on to win re-election by carrying 49 of the 50 states.