Editorial: Are we still blaming America first?

The sting might have lessened some, especially now that The City’s own representative will soon commence her reign over Capitol Hill. But 22 years ago, a caricature of “San Francisco Democrats” entered the nation’s consciousness as political jiu-jitsu. The wordsmith was Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, who died last week at 80.

She spoke, this first woman ambassador from the United States to the United Nations, at the Republican National Convention in Dallas, where President Ronald Reagan was launching his campaign for a second term. She looked for a verbal counter-punch to the Democrats, who had just nominated Walter Mondale at their convention in San Francisco.

The world was then, unbeknownst to anyone except the visionary president and his closest advisers, entering the last phases of the Cold War. Kirkpatrick reasoned that this ideological competition for the world, then in its fourth decade, would have dragged on perpetually unless America stood firm for freedom and democracy. A distinguished scholar and still a Democrat, she watched as the party of Roosevelt and Truman lost confidence in those values.

She handed the electorate a golden insight: “They always,” she lamented, speaking of the San Francisco Democrats, “blame America first.” Yes, it was a caricature, but caricatures enlarge real features; they’re not false. And, yes, the tendency to blame U.S. policy for all the world’s ills — which is false — has come to grip the political left just as tightly as some of the most fevered conspiracy theories once held the far right.

An Oklahoma native, Kirkpatrick’s common sense shunned such unproductive agitation. A Barnard graduate, her nuanced scholarship enabled her to make useful distinctions between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. The former, she famously concluded, could be accommodated in the longer struggle with the latter, which could not be appeased.

Such thinking won the Cold War. The current struggle, between modern and primitive civilizations, will need such intellectual contributions. Perhaps they’re stirring right now — even in San Francisco.

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Union threatens legal action after Police Commission expands use-of-force policy

San Francisco’s police union is pursuing legal action after the Police Commission… Continue reading

Restorative art on the inside and out

Curator Ericka Scott organizes exhibition of works by prisoners

City Attorney seeks to recoup ‘illegal profits’ gained by Walter Wong through city contracts

San Francisco will seek to recover “illegal profits” gained by well-known permit… Continue reading

SF Police Commission votes to expand use-of-force policy

Decision to bypass union negotiations could set stage for litigation

Free Muni for Youth program expansion halted by SFMTA budget crisis

Low- and moderate-income kids can still travel for free

Most Read