Hillary’s Ungainly Glide

I’m off the next two weeks finishing a book, and I can already tell you this is a terrible time to be away from the scene. Hillary Clinton’s announcement followed by her dark-windowed SUV journey into deepest darkest America was the most inept, phony, shallow, slickily-slick and meaningless launch of a presidential candidacy I have ever seen. We have come to quite a pass when the Clintons can’t even do the show business of politics well. The whole extravaganza has the look of profound incompetence and disorganization—no one could have been thinking this through—or profound cynicism, or both. It has yielded only one good thing, and that is a memorable line, as Mrs. Clinton glided by reporters: “We do have a plan. We have a plan for my plan.” That is how the Washington Post quoted her, on ideas on campaign finance reform.

Marco Rubio had a pretty great announcement in that it made the political class look at him in a new way, and a better way. I have heard him talk about his father the bartender I suppose half a dozen times, yet hearing it again in his announcement moved me. I don’t know how that happened. John Boehner is the son of a barkeep. It has occurred to me a lot recently that many if not most of the people I see in the highest reaches of American life now come from relatively modest circumstances. Rubio is right that this is our glory, but I’m thinking one of the greatest things about America is a larger point: There’s room for everybody. You can rise if you come from one of the most established, wealthiest families, and you can rise if you came from nothing. I have promised myself I will stop talking about the musical “Hamilton” and so will not note that this is one of the points made in the musical “Hamilton”: America was special in this regard from the beginning, with landed gentry like Jefferson and Washington working side by side with those such as the modestly born Ben Franklin and the lowborn Alexander Hamilton. But now it is more so. Anyway, back to Rubio: “Yesterday’s over” was good, and strict, and was a two shot applying as much to the Clintons as the Bushes.

Two points on the general feel of the 2016 campaign so far.

One is that in the case of Mrs. Clinton we are going to see the press act either like the press of a great nation—hungry, raucous, alive, demanding—or like a hopelessly sickened organism, a big flailing octopus with no strength in its arms, lying like a greasy blob at the bottom of the sea, dying of ideology poisoning.

Republicans know—they see it every day—that Republican candidates get grilled, sometimes impertinently, and pressed, sometimes brusquely. And it isn’t true that they’re only questioned in this way once they announce, Scott Walker has been treated like this also, and he has yet to announce. Republicans see this, and then they see that Mrs. Clinton isn’t grilled, is never forced to submit to anyone’s morning-show impertinence, is never the object of the snotty question or the sharp demand for information. She gets the glide. She waves at the crowds and the press and glides by. No one pushes. No one shouts the rude question or rolls out the carefully scripted set of studio inquiries meant to make the candidate squirm. She is treated like the queen of England, who also isn’t subjected to impertinent questions as she glides into and out of venues. But she is the queen. We are not supposed to have queens.

Second point: We have simply never had a dynamic like the one that seems likely to prevail next year.

On the Republican side there is a good deep bench and there will be a hell of a fight among serious and estimable contenders. A handful of them—Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rubio, maybe Bobby Jindal—are first-rate debaters, sharp advancers of a thought and a direction. Their debates, their campaigning, their oppo geniuses, their negative ads—it’s all going to be bloody. Will the American people look at them in 2016 and see dynamism and excitement and youth and actual ideas and serious debate? Will it look like that’s where the lightning’s striking and the words have meaning? Will it fortify and revivify the Republican brand? Or will it all look like mayhem and chaos? Will the eventual winner emerge a year from now too bloodied, too damaged to go on and win in November? Will the party itself look bloody and damaged?

On the Democratic side we have Mrs. Clinton, gliding. If she has no serious competition, will the singularity of her situation make her look stable, worthy of reflexive respect, accomplished, serene, the obvious superior choice? Or will Hillary alone on the stage, or the couch, or in the tinted-window SUV, look entitled, presumptuous, old, boring, imperious, yesterday?

Will it all come down to bloody versus boring?

And which would America prefer?

Presidential Announcements

We are in the midst of announce-o-rama, in which the candidates for president who are not Ted Cruz are lining up to make their announcements. Here’s a piece by Robert Costa and Philip Rucker in the Washington Post on the importance of getting it right.

Announcements are now apparently so important they even have trailers, like movies.

What’s interesting to me is that this is all new, or at least dramatically heightened. Announcements were always important but didn’t use to be such an event.

In the past, the speech itself and the venue were subject to care. They had to be done well and handsomely. The speech, especially, had to be good, making clear exactly how the candidate views the presidency and what he intends to do with it.

But they tended to be relatively modest affairs, not produced within an inch of their life. They weren’t seen as an opportunity for a show. They were more like something you had to do, and do appropriately, on the way to the campaign.

John F. Kennedy announced on Jan. 2, 1960, in the Senate Caucus Room. No balloons, no applause, no crowd, just him and his text. His elegant, stripped-down statement was short, 442 words, and its spareness suggested erudition—he didn’t have to go on and on, he was the author of “Profiles in Courage,” after all, and understood the nature of the position he sought: “The presidency is the most powerful office in the Free World. Through its leadership can come a more vital life for our people. In it are centered the hopes of the globe around us for freedom and a more secure life. For it is in the executive branch that the most crucial decisions of this century must be made.” Kennedy then took a few questions, which one senses were more or less planted in advance. Would he accept the vice presidency? he was immediately and conveniently asked. No, said the young senator, under no circumstances.

Bill Clinton had a crowd of a few hundred people in 1991 when he announced in front of the sun-dappled, columned façade of the Old State House Museum in Little Rock, Ark. It was a standard, pre-stump stump speech. It suggested, without being too on the nose about it, the need for a new and more moderate Democratic Party. Hillary wasn’t on the stage with him. It was just Bill Clinton and, to his right, a sign-language interpreter, who enthusiastically or politely applauded for the applause lines.

George H.W. Bush announced for the presidency on Oct. 12, 1987, in a big, blue-curtained room in Houston. The production was modest to the point of banal, but he stood with a warm tableau of family behind him. The purpose of his speech was to declare he understood more than most what the presidency is, having for seven years witnessed a great one up close. He had to make clear his independence, share his own plans and goals. He also had to quell persistent fears, especially but not only among Republicans, that he would raise taxes. “There are those who say we must balance the budget on the backs of the workers and raise taxes again. But they are wrong. I am not going to raise your taxes—period.” He asked for a “Taxpayers Bill of Rights” to make clear the limits on IRS power. He called for “prosperity with a purpose.”

Barack Obama’s Feb. 10, 2007, announcement in Springfield, Ill., was more important for him than for most candidates because he was relatively unknown. He had to be introduced to the American public in the right way. But even he had a fairly standard rally with a fairly standard (if large—a few thousand came) enthusiastic crowd. It was cold. He wore an overcoat. There was music (Bono), a podium with a seal (BarackObama.com) and two teleprompters. It was well-produced and shot from many angles. Central to Mr. Obama’s message: You may not know me, but I hail from the land of a man a lot of people didn’t know when he started. “And that is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together . . .”

Hillary Clinton made the first big change in how modern announcements are done. She announced in a living room on a comfortable floral couch. It was warmly lit, and she was beautifully made up and coiffed. It’s very relatable, and looks almost exactly like the famous “Saturday Night Live” sketch starring Kate McKinnon.

Will Mrs. Clinton announce that way this time? A guess: after last year’s “dead broke” interview with Diane Sawyer, and after the SNL sketch, she’s done with couches for a while. I would think she might choose to surprise with a speech to a highly enthusiastic crowd packed to the rafters in a not-very-big venue. A mixed crowd but a lot of young people up front, and a lot of homemade signs, banners and flags. Maybe she will be introduced to music. What music will it be? (Is Cold Play too big a cliché?) Will there be a podium? Will she walk the stage? Teleprompters? Will she make clear the higher rationale for her run, the things she hopes to do?

*   *   *

An acceptance speech was always important, but now it’s more so. Everything about presidential politics has become more so the past few decades.

I think the one who took it to a real more-so level was Ted Cruz, in that bowl of cheering students, with no podium and no apparent notes, prowling the stage in dramatic lighting, and all of it live on cable and available for editing down into later commercials. That was one dramatic announcement, and it has forced everyone else to lift their game. And so this cycle Mr. Cruz has already made political history, if not especially helpful history to leagues of beleaguered advance men, staffers and media strategists.

How to Stage a Revolution And why all the presidential candidates ought to see ‘Hamilton.’

I saw “Hamilton” the other day. It is a masterpiece.

It’s good news for America, too.

There is nothing like it on the New York stage, and never has been. I got choked up so often I started counting how many times I tried not to weep. The man in his 20s who accompanied me also got misty, and at our show, the Easter Sunday matinee, the cast, which has been performing the musical since January, came out for their bows, and three of the major players had tears glistening in their eyes. One was the writer, composer and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who urged the audience to contribute to Broadway Cares and noted that he was seeing a lot of moist eyes.

Why did they weep? Why was everyone so moved?

Hip HamiltonBecause it hits your heart hard when you witness human excellence. Because the true tale of how an illegitimate, lowborn orphan from the West Indies went on to become an inventor of America is a heck of a story. And because it is surprising yet perfect that that story is told in a hip-hop/rap/rhythm-and-blues/jazz/ballad musical whose sound is pure 2015 yet utterly appropriate to the tale.

Imagine this. Small theater, lights down, and suddenly elegant, beautiful young artists in 18th-century garb come out and create a world. Alexander Hamilton is there and he is telling you his story. “Another immigrant, comin’ up from the bottom / His enemies destroyed his rep, America forgot him.” Young Hamilton was alone in the world, an orphan with no connections, a self-tutored genius who had read everything and read deeply. He is ambitious, full of hunger for life, but he needs a stage. He gets himself to New York, then as now the city of ambition, and hears in the taverns of the rising American revolutionary spirit. This is his moment, his chance—“I’m not throwing away my shot”—at the richness of life, at status, meaning and acceptance. He wanted to be great. Barely arrived and Alexander Hamilton was already an American.

From that rough beginning he became George Washington’s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War, a major voice in the creation of the Constitution, the first Treasury secretary and inventor of the nation’s financial foundations. (You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a rap face-off over which fiscal and banking policy is best for a rising 18th-century nation.) And there is Hamilton’s private story: He is in love with two sisters, marries one, becomes enmeshed in the first American sex scandal, is blackmailed, goes public, loses his son in a duel to defend his name. In the end he too is killed in a duel by a man, Vice President Aaron Burr, whose anguish was that he was not great and would never be central to the Age of Greatness.

In a telephone interview Mr. Miranda says: “There are so many highs and lows in Hamilton’s life—tragic circumstances. Then he pulls himself up to incredible early American heights. Then he pulls himself down!” Mr. Miranda recalls that by the end of the second chapter of Ron Chernow’s biography, “Alexander Hamilton,” on which the show is based, “I fell in love. I know this guy. I know about improbability. He’s like Pip in ‘Great Expectations’—the genius, the frustrated genius, I know who this guy is.”

I asked about the tears. Those involved in the show say they are a common occurrence. “I get to live a whole life every night for two hours and 40 minutes, and the last section in particular, that [Hamilton’s] wife lives for another 50 years.” Elizabeth Hamilton tells the audience, in a closing soliloquy, how she spent it: doing good, founding charities to help the children in the nation her husband helped invent.

I want to get to how the show comes as a profound refreshment, as something new and startling. It isn’t only the wonderful production—the music, acting, sets, costumes, choreography, direction.

“Hamilton” is loving. It spoofs Jefferson and takes a cool-eyed look at Burr, but it shows a reverence not only for the founding of America but also for the founders themselves. You’re not supposed to do that in 2015, but in Mr. Miranda’s vision they are human beings embarked upon a great enterprise. “I wanted to present their political arguments clearly, surely, and give voice to what they were trying to do politically. But they were people. The Constitution is not the result of something written on a stone and handed down, it was the result of compromise and hard work and fights! They were all human, fundamentally flawed, and their relationships were fraught and complicated.”

“Hamilton” is modern in some new way. The women aren’t forced to adopt the usual modern scattershot bitterness at their plight. They know exactly their position in their world. They live successful, limited lives, not in an old-fashioned way but in the way that all successful persons live limited lives, because life is limited.

The personal nature of ambition is given full play. Not everything is ideology or outward exigencies. You don’t want to be great for no reason, you want to make your mark for reasons that have to do with your interior world and with the meanings you divine from life outside of and apart from it.

The show is not politically correct, but not in a way that feels forced. It seems effortless and natural, as if Mr. Miranda never heard of political correctness.

And there’s some kind of new racial alchemy in the show. Mr. Miranda is Puerto Rican, his cast is black, white and brown, and the actors get to play the parts that suit their talents, not their racial circumstance. “Hamilton” marks multicolored America seizing U.S. history and making it its own, and producing in the process a work not of all colors but of a universal American color. By respecting the American Dream and presenting it in this way, “Hamilton” says the dream is alive, everyone owns it, and if you look close you can see it playing out every day, all around you.

It is a big thing to say a play is worthy of Alexander Hamilton, but it is.

And in some way I can’t explain, it feels important that every Republican candidate for president see it, absorb it. I don’t know that Hillary Clinton absorbs much beyond strategy and tactics these days, but the young Republicans running now need to see this show. It is going to make them hopeful, and in some new way it’s going to make them grateful.

“If there’s a political takeaway,” says Mr. Miranda, “it is that it’s always been like this. The Eden in which we had no political parties lasted about six months or a year. Divisions were inevitable. We fight, we’re people, it’s messy.”

The one person in the show Mr. Miranda presents as a contemporary political character, he tells me, is Burr. “He’s the only one who leaves no paper trail, who always preserves the ability to not commit. . . . The Burr character—we know this guy.”

Another takeaway. “History is long,” says Mr. Miranda, and it matters who tells your story. “That lands with them.”

Misplaying America’s Hand With Iran The president’s desperation for a foreign-policy legacy is leading toward a bad nuclear deal—and a dangerous one.

Barack Obama, six years into his presidency, does not have a foreign-policy legacy—or, rather, he does and it’s bad. He has a visceral and understandable reluctance to extend and overextend U.S. power, but where that power has been absent, violence and instability have filled the void. When he overcomes his reluctance to get involved, he picks the wrong place, such as Libya, where the tyrant we toppled was better than many of those attempting to take his place.

Syria, red lines, an exploding Mideast, a Russian president who took the American’s measure and made a move, upsetting a hard-built order that had maintained for a quarter-century since the fall of the Soviet Union—what a mess.

President Barrack ObamaIn late February, at a Washington meeting of foreign-policy intellectuals, Henry Kissinger summed up part of the past six years: “Ukraine has lost Crimea; Russia has lost Ukraine; the U.S. has lost Russia; the world has lost stability.”

What Barack Obama needs is a foreign-policy win, and not only for reasons of legacy. He considers himself a serious man, he wants to deal constructively with a pressing, high-stakes international question, and none fits that description better than Iran and nuclear weapons. And so the talks in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Here is the fact. The intention behind a deal—to stop Iran from developing, and in the end using, nuclear weapons—could not be more serious and crucial. The Arab world has entered a war phase that may go for decades. Its special threat is that the struggle is not only an essential one—Sunni vs. Shiite, in a fight to the end—but that it engenders and is marked by what British Prime Minister David Cameron has called “the death cult.” Many in the fight have no particular fear of summoning the end of the world.

Once Iran has what used to be called the bomb, there will be a race among nearby nations—Persian Gulf states, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey—to get their own. As each state builds its arsenal, there will be an increased chance that freelancers, non-states and sub-states will get their hands on parts of it.

The two most boring words in history are “nuclear proliferation.” Jimmy Carter made them so on Oct. 28, 1980, when, in a presidential debate, he announced that his 12-year-old daughter, Amy, had told him that the great issue of the day was the control of nuclear arms. America laughed: So that’s where the hapless one gets his geopolitical insights.

Nuclear proliferation has been a problem for so long that we no longer talk or think about it. But in the current moment in the Mideast, we’re not talking “nuclear proliferation” in the abstract. It’s more like talking about the spread of nuclear weapons among the inmates of an institution for the criminally insane.

Here I digress, but only to get near the heart of the matter.

There are many reasons nuclear weapons have not been used since 1945. One is that the U.S. was not evil and the Soviet Union was not crazy. It was also a triumph of diplomacy, of imperfect but ultimately sound strategic thinking, that kept the unthinkable from happening. (There was luck involved, too.)

Great credit is due also to a book. It is what made the future use of nuclear weapons unthinkable.

“Then a tremendous flash of light cut across the sky. Mr. Tanimoto has a distinct recollection that it travelled from east to west, from the city toward the hills. It seemed a sheet of sun.” That is from the first pages of “Hiroshima,” by the journalist John Hersey, published in a full issue of the New Yorker magazine almost exactly a year after the Aug. 6, 1945, dropping of the atomic bomb on that city. Soon after, the article was published as a book.

Both caused a sensation, painting for the first time, in plain, subdued style, the facts of what really happened when a nuclear weapon was used on a human population. He wrote of people vaporized, radiation sickness and poisoned water. “The fluid from their melted eyes had run down their cheeks.” A man reached for a woman and the skin came off her hand like a glove. In a city of 245,000 almost 100,000 were immediately killed, and another 100,000 left desperately sick and wounded.

“Hiroshima” did a huge and historic thing. It not only told the world what happened when a nuclear weapon was used, it single-handedly put a powerful moral taboo on its future use. After “Hiroshima,” which sold millions of copies, no one wanted it to happen again.

But now it is almost 70 years since that book. It isn’t required reading anymore. In that time nuclear weapons have only become more powerful. But the world hasn’t really thought about nuclear war since 1989, as if the threat ended when the Soviet Union did.

What do the wild, young, apocalyptic warriors of the Mideast know of the old taboo?

*   *   *

To Iran, and the negotiations:

What is needed is a deal that keeps Iran from developing nuclear weapons, period. A bad deal will be worse and more dangerous than no deal. A bad deal will—perhaps—slow the deadly project, not end it.

None of the reporting out of Lausanne has suggested that a helpful agreement would emerge. Tuesday’s deadline for production of a basic framework was missed; on Thursday, a framework, the contents of which were not revealed, was announced. But President Obama is not known as a good negotiator. He and his White House have given the impression that they want a deal too much—they need the win. It isn’t good when you let the people on the other side know how much you need it.

Meanwhile there were interesting journalistic reflections from left and right. The headline on Ari Shavit’s April 2 piece in Haaretz, the liberal Israeli newspaper, called the talks a “march of folly.” Past sanctions on Iran cratered their economy and forced them to the table, but now, from a position of weakness, he wrote, they are “overcoming the West” with “cunning” and “resolve.” Signs point to a bad deal in June and a bad deal will be dangerous.

K.T. McFarland, writing online for Fox News this week, opposed the talks from a different angle. The “neoconservatives who believe the only way to stop Iran’s bomb is to bomb Iran” are wrong, she said, as is President Obama when he says the choice is a deal or war. “Our policy . . . should not be Obama-style capitulation or Bush-style war,” but increasing political pressure through increased economic sanctions. More than 70% of Iranians are under age 30, Ms. McFarland noted. “How long will they tolerate being ruled by a handful of 80-year-old mullahs who have pushed their economy into free fall?”

Everything about the talks has had the look of a bad deal, one that will not stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions but will allow that nation, in Mr. Shavit’s words, to “cast a giant shadow on world peace.”

Mr. Obama should have walked when Tuesday’s deadline failed to hold. Absent an ultimate deal, something good can always happen down the road. With a bad final deal nothing good will happen, and bad things will surely follow.

In the end he should toughen the sanctions and wait out the mullahs. No one in America would be angry. Most would think “Wow, if he walked, it must have been a terrible deal—give him credit for trying!” Everyone else would be relieved.

That would enhance his foreign-policy legacy. That would be a win.

The Too-Smooth Cruz Texas’ junior senator moves to nail down his GOP presidential brackets.

And so it begins. Ted Cruz announced Monday, the first major Republican to declare for the presidency. More will soon follow. I am happy because I suffer from a deep, bizarre and pretty American aberration: I love politics. Politics is serious, earnest, crucial, necessary—the venue in which we decide much of our country’s future. Beyond that I love the great game of it—the wins and losses, flubs and failures. The mess, the occasional glory. Even at its most disappointing high politics is the greatness game. Its necessities—caring, taking part, voting—remind us that, as Laurens van der Post once said, we are living not only our own lives but the life of our times.

Every four years political enthusiasts, especially younger ones, say earnestly that this is the most important election of our lifetimes. Many of us have lived through more than one of those. But I can say what this election will most assuredly be, at least on the Republican side: anything but boring. On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton may wind up debating herself on an empty stage with good lighting. But Republicans will have Scott Walker,Jeb Bush,Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul,Mike Huckabee,Marco Rubio and probably John Kasich duking it out. Add Carly Fiorina, and some others. There are some great debaters in that group, serious talents with big accomplishments and very different views. If you want a preview, go to any breakfast, lunch or dinner with conservatives and Republicans in America and hear them argue the case for their guy—while they figure out who their guy is. Boring is not on the menu. “We don’t need another Bush!” “Walker’s the one with guts!” “Kasich will surprise everybody.”

What a heck of a fight this will be.

Ted Cruz and family at Liberty University

Ted Cruz and family at Liberty University

And now, as Ted Cruz often says, let’s get back to Ted Cruz. The latest conventional wisdom is that he is not to be discounted. The latest conventional wisdom is correct.

His announcement Monday at Liberty University was a wow, really brilliant. It’s giving future contenders announcement envy. They’re all going to have to up their game and produce an announcement that’s dynamic, rousing, and shows at least someone is excited about their entry.

It had all the elements. It was a surprise, it was the first of the year, it was beautifully produced—a big bowl of cheering students, some enthusiastically and some because if they had to be there at least they weren’t in class. Mr. Cruz prowled the stage like the showman he is, delivering a full speech without notes. He was like a Sunday morning preacher in a midsize megachurch on a local TV station.

His guiding insight is that only an undiluted conservative can rouse the base to get out the vote that failed to come out in 2008 and ’12. He says he can bring back the Reagan coalition. I don’t know how you reassemble a coalition from 30-plus years ago in a demographically and politically evolving nation, but we’ll see.

A person with intimate knowledge of Mr. Cruz’s thinking told me last week that the senator sees the GOP base in terms of bracketology. A sizable portion of the base is composed of moderates, another of conservative/tea party activists. Then there are evangelicals, then libertarians. Mr. Cruz’s plan is to nail down his own bracket, conservative/tea party. At the same time he is going for evangelicals, big time, which is why he announced at Jerry Falwell’s university and not in Texas. Mike Huckabee is strong with evangelicals, but Mr. Cruz figures that while he can take some of that bracket, Mr. Huckabee won’t be able to get any of the tea party because of his spending record as governor of Arkansas.

Mr. Cruz believes he’s the only candidate who can compete with Rand Paul in the libertarian bracket. He sees a sweet spot with those who are economically libertarian but have doubts about Mr. Paul’s foreign policy.

The moderate bracket is crowded. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, others—a fight in a phone booth.

Mr. Cruz knows either Mr. Rubio or Mr. Walker could fight him in his brackets. But he thinks they’ll mostly compete in the moderate bracket, where Mr. Bush will get roughed up. Mr. Cruz won’t win moderates, but that underscores his point: A moderate GOP nominee won’t win the general election because parts of the Republican base won’t come out.

Mr. Cruz knows his reputation as the angry, surly face of the dark side of conservatism. He’s the government-shutdown artist, the living answer to the question “What if Joe McCarthy went to Harvard Law?” He says it’s a caricature.

He once noted to me in conversation that when people on TV call him angry and snarling, they never show video to illustrate the point. He says there is no angry, snarling video because he isn’t angry and doesn’t snarl. He never throws mud, he says, and won’t. He sees himself as a happy warrior.

I don’t think the snarling image thing is his main problem. He has two others.

One is much remarked upon. He is 44 and a first-term senator. He entered the national stage less than three years ago, though it seems like longer because he made himself so famous so fast. He talks about Reagan, but Reagan in 1980 had been a union president, two-term governor of a huge state, candidate for the GOP nomination in 1976, and longtime leader of modern conservatism. He had been an executive; he had run things; his accomplishments could be measured.

Mr. Cruz here is not like Reagan. He’s like a first-term senator named Barack Obama, 45 when he announced.

This prompts a major 2016 question: Did Mr. Obama permanently lower the bar? Did his winning and holding the presidency with such limited experience, and his governing in many eyes so unsuccessfully, leave a whole generation of politicians thinking “I can do that!” and “Even I can do better than that!” Or, after Mr. Obama, will there be among Republicans voters a hunger for deeper biography? Is the country in the mood for more on-the-job presidential training?

Mr. Cruz’s second problem has to do with words like sincerity, earnestness, ingenuousness. His conservatism is serious—fully thought through, studied, internalized. But who is he? I think of the comment of one of his fellow conservative senators: “He’s a complete charlatan, you know.” He did the shutdown, said that senator, not because it might work or help but because it served his breakout plan: be the guy who convinces the base he’s the only one they can trust. The senator’s implication: It’s a game to this guy.

It is not hard to notice that every Cruz conversation, every interview, seems to be the rote performance of a speech. In public, and often in private, he moves his hands and face and modulates his voice like a TV pro. Politicians have to be actors, but the trick is to be an actor without being a phony.

Slickness is not a virtue in a politician, and obvious oiliness is a drawback. Mr. Cruz needs some awkward lessons. Maybe he can call Rick Perry.

Hillary is the only thing holding Democrats together, and Bushes always break the Republican Party. Both parties are nervous about 2016

Governor Jeb Bush

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush

The 2016 presidential campaign is here, pushed up prematurely by the Hillary Clinton email controversy. When a major candidate of a major party has major trouble, the election moves more sharply into focus.

Apart from Mrs. Clinton, small stories have begun to shoot up like flares.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker shied away from the accomplished and interesting Liz Mair, who had agreed to be digital strategist in his social media operation. She had tweeted some indiscreet, funny and provocative things about Iowans—the word “morons” was involved—and is also moderate or liberal on various social issues. She was not signing on as a domestic or foreign-policy adviser, but even campaign staffers now, in political oppo culture, are the target of full Internet body frisks.

There was something sad in the story. Now of all times you want to see candidates include a wide variety of voices, including irreverent and especially creative ones. A diverse party with everyone in on the fight, no loyalty oaths or litmus tests, is what is needed. But that kind of decision probably wouldn’t come from a candidate whose breakout plan begins with the word Iowa.

Mike Huckabee has, amazingly, been revealed by the New York Times as hawking, for money, an unorthodox diabetes cure in an Internet infomercial. I watched it. He comes across as a smooth, friendly huckster or a teddy-bearish snake-oil salesman, which is not how a presidential candidate would normally want to look. Once a young journalist, looking at a photo of Paul Ryan in gym shorts and sleeveless T-shirt with his cap on backward and lifting barbells, said, musingly, “That’s a real congressman move.” Hawking magical elixirs is a real Arkansas governor move.

The president has jumped into the strangeness fray by musing aloud that mandatory voting in the United States would be a good idea. “It would be transformative if everybody voted,” he told an audience in Cleveland. Yes, it would. It would mean a lot of people who aren’t interested in public policy and choose not to follow it would suddenly be deciding it.

The way it is now, if you aren’t interested—and you have the right not to be interested—you don’t have to vote. If you are interested, you pay attention, develop political views, and vote. Making those who don’t care about voting vote will only dilute the votes of those who are serious and have done their democratic homework.

Most of us are moved by the sight of citizens lined up at the polls on Election Day. We should urge everyone to care enough to stand in that line. But we should not harass or bother those who, with modesty and even generosity, say they are happy to leave the privilege of the ballot to those who are engaged. Mandatory voting is, so far, the worst and most mischievous political idea of the year, and deeply eccentric.

I detect more than the usual amount of uncertainty and angst among the leadership of both parties this year, and it is due to doubts about their putative front-runners.

Democratic establishment angst is composed of obvious and less obvious elements. Obvious: They worry Mrs. Clinton’s email-gate will linger, and they’re afraid of more scandals tumbling out of the Clinton Foundation closet. They fear the constant regurgitation of old scandals. They’re afraid they’ll have no sway when future embarrassments and controversies come. She’s Hillary, she does it her way, she keeps it close, it’s a tight circle.

Less obvious: She’s all they have.

By that I don’t mean there is no one else who can run. It’s a shallow bench, but a bench. I mean that for all her flaws Hillary Clinton is the only major Democrat who can keep the Democratic Party together in this cycle.

Without Hillary the party will probably lurch left. And if it lurches left it’ll probably lose the general election. Democrats will break up into left-progressives, way-left-progressives, populists of different stripe, older moderates and centrists. The left is no longer passionate about Mr. Obama because he is not left-wing enough. Hillary Clinton holds the party together with her Hillaryness—her popularity with the base, her connection to the Clinton years, her sex. The idea of the first female president in a party increasingly preoccupied with identity and gender politics is a powerful ideological glue.

Hillary, to the general public, comes across as centrist. In part this is because she is associated with her husband’s ultimate moderation, and in part because she has grown more moderate over the years, at least in the sense of playing ball with various entrenched powers. She is certainly hawkish. Her popularity and persona will keep her party seeming centrist, even if she inches to the left to appease sizable parts of the base, and to show her heart is still with them.

But I think an untold story of 2016 is that the Democratic establishment is desperate when Mrs. Clinton is in trouble because without her they see a fracturing of their party.

We focus on the GOP and its dramas with what is called the far right. We pay no heed to the Democrats and their dramas and challenges from what is never called their far left.

There’s a balancing angst among many Republicans. It is connected to the fact that Jeb Bush is broadly considered a front-runner, if not the front-runner. And at the end of the day Bushes always break the party.

George H.W. Bush didn’t mean to but he did, in 1990, when he gambled that the economy would rise and its rise would justify his rescinding of his no-new-taxes pledge. Instead he got a recession. Thus was born Pat Buchanan’s candidacy for the presidency and what in retrospect was the first iteration of the tea party. Mr. Bush lost the election.

George W. Bush broke his party after his 2004 re-election, in part with his immigration proposals and the way he advanced them, with aides insulting his GOP opponents—“nativist,” they said—and, in the end, by two unwon wars. Add the crash and the presidency was closed to the Republicans for at least eight years. Mr. Bush gambled that the wars would be victorious, that the party that loved him would march to the banner of an immigration agenda that did not take their legitimate anxieties into account. He left a party more broken, less a whole.

But what’s different about Jeb Bush is this: His father and brother surprised the base with their decisions after they had won the presidency. Jeb is declaring before he wins that he will take particular stands at odds with many in the base—for comprehensive immigration reform, for the Common Core.

He said the other day he’s doing it because he has “a backbone.” That’s a strut, not an argument. It will be interesting to hear the argument. He should meet—publicly—with anti-Common-Core parents, take every question, answer every criticism, and make his case with data and through the prism of experience.

Same with immigration. Take all comers.

That would show backbone. That will get others, not just him, saying he has it.

Hillary Seems Tired, Not Hungry Perhaps we’ve just seen the beginning of the end of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.

Maybe we’re not stuck in Scandal Land.

For a while I’ve assumed Hillary Clinton would run for her party’s nomination and be a formidable candidate in the general election. After Tuesday’s news conference I’m not so sure.

Did she seem to you a happy, hungry warrior? She couldn’t make eye contact with her questioners, and when she did she couldn’t sustain it. She looked at the ceiling and down at notes, trying, it seemed, to stick to or remember scripted arguments. She was shaky. She couldn’t fake good cheer and confidence. It is seven years since she ran for office. You could see it.

Her claims—she stayed off the State Department email system for “convenience,” she thought “it would be easier to carry just one device,” her server “contains personal communications from my husband and me”—were so transparent, so quickly disprovable. Minutes later journalists were posting earlier statements in which she said she carries two devices, and The Wall Street Journal’s report saying Bill has sent only two emails in his life.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

This wasn’t high-class spin. These were not respectable dodges. They didn’t make you grudgingly tip your hat at a gift for duplicity. I could almost feel an army of oppo people of both parties saying, “You can do better than that, Hillary!”

This wasn’t the work of a national, high-grade political response team, it was the thrown-together mess of someone who knew she was guilty of self-serving actions, who didn’t herself believe what she was saying, who didn’t think the press would swallow it, and who didn’t appear to care.

She didn’t look hungry for the battle, she looked tired of the battle.

Everyone knows what the scandal is. She didn’t want a paper trail of her decisions and actions as secretary of state. She didn’t want to be questioned about them, ever. So she didn’t join the government’s paper-trail system, in this case the State Department’s official email system, which retains and archives records. She built her own private system and got to keep complete control of everything she’d done or written. She no doubt assumed no one outside would ask and no one inside would insist—she’s Hillary, don’t mess with her.

She knew the story might blow but maybe it wouldn’t, worth the chance considering the payoff: secrecy. If what she did became public she’d deal with it then. When this week she was forced to, she stonewalled: “The server will remain private.”

Is it outrageous? Of course. Those are U.S. government documents she concealed and destroyed. The press is not covering for her and hard questions are being asked because everyone knows what the story is. It speaks of who she is and how she will govern. Everyone knows it.

She knows it too.

At the news conference she seemed like a 20th-century figure in a 21st-century world. Her critics complain it’s the 1990s returning but it isn’t, it’s only the dark side of the 90s without the era’s peace and prosperity.

Mrs. Clinton is said to be preparing to announce her candidacy for the presidency in three to four weeks. But did that look like the news conference of a candidate about to announce? It lacked any air of confidence or certitude. For a year the press has been writing about the burgeoning Clinton Shadow Campaign. Where’s the real one?

Defenses of Mrs. Clinton were ad hoc, improvised, flat-footed. It all looks disorderly, as if no one’s in charge, no one has drawn clear lines of responsibility or authority. We hear about loyalists, intimates, allies, pals, hangers-on, Friends of Hill. People buzz around her like bees on random paths to the queen.

In 2008 Barack Obama had impressive, disciplined people around him—David Axelrod,Robert Gibbs,David Plouffe. I remember thinking at the time that they were something unusual in politics: normal. Hillary has people like David Brock, a right-wing hit man who became a left-wing hit man. Who’s he supposed to do outreach to, the other weirdos?

Is this thing really happening? Is the much-vaunted campaign coming together?

After the news conference I thought what I never expected to think: Maybe she doesn’t really want this. Maybe that’s what this incompetence is meant to be signaling.

Here I will speculate, but imagine being Hillary Clinton right now:

Her mother, the rock of her life, died in 2011. In the past years she’s had health issues. She’s tired, having worked at the highest levels of American life the past 25 years. She’s in the middle of a scandal and, being Hillary, knows that others might pop along the way.

Add this: Maybe she thought her ideological hunger, which was real, would sustain her throughout her life, and it hasn’t.

Maybe what happened to her, in part, is the homes of her Manhattan mega-donors. She’s been in the grand townhouses and Park Avenue apartments since 1992. She’d go in and be met and she saw what they had. Beauty. Ease. Fine art of a particular, modern sort, the kind that is ugly, that reminds its owners that just because they’re rich doesn’t mean they don’t understand that life is hard, painful, incoherent. It is protective, cautionary, abstract and costs $20 million a picture.

But what lives they have! Grace and comfort and they don’t have to worry about the press, they don’t have to feel on the run, they don’t have to press the flesh with nobodies.

She’d like those things! But she went into “public service” and had to live on some bum-squat-Egypt Southern governor’s salary.

She wanted what they have. They’re her friends, no more talented than she. But they went to Wall Street and are oozing in dough. She stayed in the lane she was in. And she figures she missed out on the prosperity her husband presided over.

She has her causes—women’s rights, income inequality. But she can advance them in other ways.

Maybe she isn’t really hungry enough for the presidency anymore. And maybe she doesn’t have illusions anymore. She’s funded by Wall Street. Her opponent will be funded by Wall Street.

Maybe she’s of two minds about what she wants. But it’s not really hunger that’s propelling her now, its Newton’s law of inertia: Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

Maybe she thinks about another line of work, a surprising fourth act. She likes to be served, be admired, be taken care of by staff. But you can get those things without being president. If you are wealthy, and she is now—and maybe that was the purpose of all those six-figure speeches—you can get those things easily.

Maybe she doesn’t, really, want to run. Maybe she’s not sure she can. Or maybe she’ll go for it: It’s what she’s been going toward all her life.

Maybe Democrats who saw that news conference will sense an opening and jump in. There’s the myth of the empty bench, but it won’t be empty if she leaves it. That’s another law of physics: Nature abhors a vacuum.

We all talk so much about the presidency and who’s got the best chance. Maybe it’s not Hillary. Maybe that’s over and no one knows, even her.

Push Poll

This is fascinating, via the Drudge Report. Look at the kind of questions being asked. It’s pretty clear what some political professionals see, or hope to see, as the potential weak points of a Hillary Clinton candidacy. Who might be behind this polling? What use is being made of the data gathered?

Every year political mischief seems to become less and less secret, and voters seem to become more and more sophisticated, at least with regard to the black arts of politics, push-polling and media buys and such. Polling questions wind up going straight to the Internet and then straight to news sites. On seeing this, a political professional and veteran of George H.W. Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign said: “The most interesting thing is how sophisticated Iowa voters have become about polling. Captured all the questions and criticized the methodology, which is very impressive. They take their job as first in the nation very seriously.”

Stuck in Scandal Land As long as she is in public life, Hillary will protect and serve herself.

Doesn’t the latest Hillary Clinton scandal make you want to throw up your hands and say: Do we really have to do this again? Do we have to go back there? People assume she is our next president. We are defining political deviancy down.

The scandal this week is that we have belatedly found out, more than two years after she left the office of secretary of state, that throughout Mrs. Clinton’s four-year tenure she did not conduct official business through the State Department email system. She had her own private email addresses and her own private Internet domain, on her own private server at one of her own private homes, in Chappaqua, N.Y. Which means she had, and has, complete control of the emails. If a journalist filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking to see emails of the secretary of state, the State Department had nothing to show. If Congress asked to see them, State could say there was nothing to see. (Two months ago, on the request of State, Mrs. Clinton turned over a reported 55,000 pages of her emails. She and her private aides apparently got to pick which ones.)

Is it too much to imagine that Mrs. Clinton wanted to conceal the record of her communications as America’s top diplomat because she might have been doing a great deal of interesting work in those emails, not only with respect to immediate and unfolding international events but with respect to those who would like to make a positive impression on the American secretary of state by making contributions to the Clinton Foundation, which not only funds many noble causes but is the seat of operations of Clinton Inc. and its numerous offices, operatives, hangers-on and campaign-in-waiting?

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

What a low and embarrassing question. It is prompted by last week’s scandal—that the Clinton Foundation accepted foreign contributions during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. It is uncomfortable to ask such questions, but that’s the thing with the Clintons, they always make you go there.

The mainstream press is all over the story now that it has blown. It’s odd that it took so long. Everyone at State, the White House, and the rest of the government who received an email from the secretary of state would have seen where it was coming from—a nongovernmental address. You’d think someone would have noticed.

With the exception of the moment Wednesday when a hardy reporter from TMZ actually went to an airport and shouted a query at Mrs. Clinton—it was just like the old days of journalism, with a stakeout and shouted queries—Mrs. Clinton hasn’t been subjected to any questions from the press. She’ll slide, she’ll glide, she’ll skate. (With TMZ she just walked on, smiling.)

Why would she ignore regulations to opt out of the State email system? We probably see the answer in a video clip posted this week on Buzzfeed. Mrs. Clinton, chatting with a supporter at a fundraiser for her 2000 Senate campaign, said: “As much as I’ve been investigated and all of that, you know, why would I . . . ever want to do email?”

But when you’re secretary of state you have to. So she did it her way, with complete control. It will make it harder, if not impossible, for investigators.

The press is painting all this as a story about how Mrs. Clinton, in her love for secrecy and control, has given ammunition to her enemies. But that’s not the story. The story is that this is what she does, and always has. The rules apply to others, not her. She’s special, entitled, exempt from the rules—the rules under which, as the Federalist reports, the State Department in 2012 forced the resignation of a U.S. ambassador, “in part for setting up an unsanctioned private e-mail system.”

Why doesn’t the legacy press swarm her on this? Because she is political royalty. They are used to seeing her as a regal, queenly figure. They’ve been habituated to understand that Mrs. Clinton is not to be harried, not to be subjected to gotcha questions or impertinent grilling. She is a Democrat, a star, not some grubby Republican governor from nowhere. And they don’t want to be muscled by her spokesmen. The wildly belligerent Philippe Reines sends reporters insulting, demeaning emails if they get out of line. He did it again this week. It is effective in two ways. One is that it diverts attention from his boss, makes Mr. Reines the story, and in the process makes her look comparatively sane. The other is that reporters don’t want a hissing match with someone who implies he will damage them. They can’t afford to be frozen out. She’s probably the next president: Their careers depend on access.

But how will such smash-mouth tactics play the next four, five years?

Back to the questions at the top of the column.

Sixteen years ago, when she was first running for the Senate, I wrote a book called “The Case Against Hillary Clinton.” I waded through it all—cattle futures, Travelgate, the lost Rose law firm records, women slimed as bimbos, foreign campaign cash, the stealth and secrecy that marked the creation of the health-care plan, Monica, the vast right-wing conspiracy. As I researched I remembered why, four years into the Clinton administration, the New York Times columnist William Safire called Hillary “a congenital liar . . . compelled to mislead, and to ensnare her subordinates and friends in a web of deceit.”

Do we have to go through all that again?

In 1992 the Clintons were new and golden. Now, so many years later, their reputation for rule breaking and corruption is so deep, so assumed, that it really has become old news. And old news isn’t news.

An aspect of the story goes beyond criticism of Mrs. Clinton and gets to criticism of us. A generation or two ago, a person so encrusted in a reputation for scandal would not be considered a possible presidential contender. She would be ineligible. Now she is inevitable.

What happened? Why is her party so in her thrall?

She’s famous? The run itself makes you famous. America didn’t know who Jack Kennedy was in 1959; in 1961 he was king of the world. The same for Obama in ’08.

Money? Sure she’s the superblitz shock-and-awe queen of fundraising, but pretty much any Democrat in a 50/50 country would be able to raise what needs to be raised.

She’s a woman? There are other women in the Democratic Party.

She’s inevitable? She was inevitable in 2008. Then, suddenly, she was evitable.

Her talent is for survival. This on its own terms is admirable and takes grit. But others have grit. As for leadership, she has a sharp tactical sense but no vision, no overall strategic sense of where we are and where we must go.

What is freezing the Democrats is her mystique. But mystique can be broken. A nobody called Obama broke hers in 2008.

Do we really have to return to Scandal Land? It’s what she brings wherever she goes. And it’s not going to stop.

Walker, Reagan and Patco

On Friday at the winter meeting of the Club for Growth, in Palm Beach, Fla., Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a possible contender for the GOP presidential nomination, was pressed for specifics of his foreign-policy views. Walker referred to policy professionals with whom he’d recently met, and then suggested that what is most important in foreign policy is not experience but leadership. The “most consequential foreign-policy decision” of his lifetime, he said, was President Reagan’s handling of the air traffic controller’s strike. “It sent a message not only across America, it sent a message around the world.” The message: “We wouldn’t be messed with.”

That caused a lot of raised eyebrows. I here attempt to return them to a more relaxed state. In the 1990s, when I was researching and interviewing for my biography of Reagan, “When Character Was King,” I became more deeply aware of the facts and meaning of Reagan and the flight controllers, and I discovered an element of the story that I think had not previously come fully to light:

It was the spring of 1981. Reagan was still a new president, and recovering from John Hinckley’s attempt to assassinate him in late March. Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis met with Reagan at Camp David to give him bad news. The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or Patco, wanted to go on strike. The union’s 17,000 workers manned radar centers and air traffic control towers across the country. These were tough, high-stakes, highly demanding federal jobs. The union’s contact was up, they had been working under increasingly difficult conditions, and they wanted a big pay increase.

Lewis told me Reagan was sympathetic: The increased pressures of the job justified a pay increase, and he offered an 11% jump—this within a context of his budget cutting. But Patco demanded a 100% increase. This would cost taxpayers an estimated $700 million. Reagan rejected it outright. He told Lewis to tell the union that he would not accept an illegal strike, nor would he negotiate a contract while a strike was on. He instructed Lewis to tell the head of the union, Robert Poli, something else: As a former union president he was the best friend they’ve ever had in the White House.

Reagan’s tough line was not completely comfortable for him, personally or politically. He’d had little union support in the 1980 election, but Patco was one of the few that had backed him. Not many union leaders had been friendly to him, but Patco’s had. And he was a union man. he didn’t want to be seen as a Republican union buster.

Still, Reagan believed no president could or should tolerate an illegal strike by federal employees, especially those providing a vital government service. Not only was there a law against such strikes, each member of Patco had signed a sworn affidavit agreeing not to strike.

Talks resumed, fell apart, and by the summer 70% of the air controllers walked out.

They had thought Reagan was bluffing. He wouldn’t fire them, they thought, because it would endanger the economy and inconvenience hundreds of thousands of passengers—and for another reason, which we’ll get to in a moment.

The walkout became a crisis.

Reagan did what he said he would do: He refused to accept the strike and refused to resume negotiations. He called reporters to the Rose Garden and read from a handwritten statement he’d composed the night before. If the strikers did not return to work within 48 hours, they would be fired—and not rehired. The 48 hours was meant as a cooling-off period. In the meantime, Reagan made clear, nonstriking controllers and supervisory personnel would keep the skies open

What Reagan did not speak about was an aspect of the story that had big foreign-policy implications.

Air traffic controllers in effect controlled the skies, and American AWACS planes were patrolling those skies every day. Drew Lewis: “The issue was not only that it was an illegal strike. . . . It was also that a strike had real national-security implications—the AWACS couldn’t have gone up.” It is likely that even though the public and the press didn’t fully know of this aspect of the strike’s effects, the heads of the union did. That’s why they thought Reagan would back down. “This hasn’t come up,” said Lewis, “but the Soviets and others in the world understood the implications of the strike.”

The administration quickly put together a flight control system composed of FAA and Defense Department personnel, and private controllers, to keep commercial traffic—and US military aircraft—in the air.

It was an international story. The French government pressed the administration to make a deal. Britain backed Reagan. Canada’s flight controllers shut down the airport in Gander, Newfoundland, in solidarity with Patco. Lewis, with the president’s backing, told them that if they didn’t reopen within two hours the U.S. would never land there again. They reopened.

The administration could have arrested the strike leaders but didn’t. Congressional Democrats could have used the strike for partisan advantage and didn’t, or didn’t much.

Sen. Edward Kennedy and Lane Kirkland of the AFL CIO played helpful and constructive roles. Persuaded the administration had a case—a 100% increase was asking too much, a strike against the public safety was illegal—both kept a lot of Democrats on the Hill and in the labor movement from coming out strong against the administration.

Lewis said there were unhelpful moments from a few of the president’s longtime supporters. Some were wealthy men who owned their own jets and didn’t want to be inconvenienced. One called Lewis and told him he was going to get him fired. Lewis called the Oval Office. “I said, ‘Mr. President, you’re going out to California soon and Justin Dart and all these guys have private planes and they’re all raising Cain with me.’ I said, ‘I hope you don’t cut my legs out from under me.’”

Reagan, said Lewis, responded: “I‘ve never cut the legs out from anybody in my life. You let me worry about my friends, you worry about the strike.”

When the two-day cool-off period ended, 70% of the air controllers were still out. They all lost their jobs. “We fired 11,400 traffic controllers,” said Lewis. “That’s a lot of families. . . . And the union had supported us, and it was a good union. It was very sad. We were both upset about the firing. [Reagan] was almost in tears that he was going to hurt those families.”

So why was, and is, the story of Reagan and the flight controllers an important one?

What was at issue was crucial and high-stakes. What Reagan did worked: The administration promised to keep the skies open and did. The Patco decision set the pattern for wage negotiations over the next eight years, not only for the federal government but for local and state governments. The U.S. Postal Service’s half million workers were readying to go on strike shortly after Patco walked out. They didn’t. Mayors soon observed that a new climate seemed to have taken hold in their municipal negotiations.

Foreign governments, from friends and allies to adversaries and competitors, saw that the new president could make tough decisions, pay the price, and win the battle. The Soviets watched like everybody else. They observed how the new president handled a national-security challenge. They saw that his rhetorical toughness would be echoed in tough actions. They hadn’t known that until this point. They knew it now.

This is why Reagan’s secretary of state George Shultz said that the Patco decision was the most important foreign-policy decision Reagan ever made.

Everyone knew at the time that it was a domestic crisis. It wasn’t until years later that they came to appreciate that it was foreign-affairs victory.

So was Scott Walker right about the importance of Reagan and Patco?

Yes.

But two caveats. One is that Ronald Reagan himself would never suggest, on the way to the presidency, that all you need to understand foreign policy is a good gut and leadership abilities. You need knowledge, sophistication, grasp. He’d been studying foreign affairs all his adult life. He walked into the Oval Office with a policy: We win, the Soviets lose. A talent for leadership doesn’t tell you where to go, it helps you get there. Wisdom tells you where to go.

Second, in January Walker said that documents released by the Soviet Union proved the Soviets treated the U.S. differently after the strike. I have never heard of such documents. No one I spoke to for the book referred to them. The Washington Post has quoted former Reagan ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock, saying “There is no evidence of that whatsoever.” I suspect that is correct.

If Walker got it wrong, he should say so. Though I’m not sure it matters in any deep way. Of course the Soviets saw and understood what had happened with Reagan and the union. Of course they would factor it in. They had eyes. They didn’t have to write it down.