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The Uses of Ambiguity

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Ron Johnson

WASHINGTON -- In the course of my life-long study of political science and related perfidies, I have noted that many political leaders of high achievement have an extraordinary aptitude for ambiguity, not to say dishonesty. The best example of this is President Franklin Roosevelt. He was not only a master of ambiguity, but he was also a sempiternal liar. Yet let us not forget he helped save the Western World. Not all liars are all bad.


Of course, FDR presided over a wild conglomerate of argumentative political operatives, so his aptitude for ambiguity was perfectly understandable starting with his wife, Eleanor, an unstoppable do-gooder. After Eleanor there were the liberals, whose high-minded projects often collided with the Southern racists. Nonetheless the liberals got along with the Southern racists for decades and vice versa. Then there were the agrarians and small-town folk who often clashed with the chieftains of organized labor at the national level. The Protestants quarreled with the Roman Catholics, and the states' rights Democrats differed with Roosevelt's big-government statists. Then there were the isolationists and their animus for the rising power of internationalists. FDR was confronted by a fractious melange when he gathered them all together to form a government. No wonder he was admired for his martinis. A little-known fact is that the cocktail hour at the White House began early when Franklin Roosevelt was serving the drinks. The president's aptitude for ambiguity was very valuable.

It appears to me that though it is still early to predict the race for the Republican nomination, the race is not going to be very competitive. I am at this stage picking former President Donald Trump. What is more, the race for the Democratic nomination is going to be a bore now that Beto O'Rourke has been led out to pasture. Can not a rich Democrat with a sense of humor come up with a hundred million big ones as seed money for O'Rourke's campaign? How about Harvey Weinstein? He must still have a hundred million or so lying around that he will not have much need of for a while.


I had expected that the Republican nomination was going to be close with Ron DeSantis giving Trump a run for his money. DeSantis seemed to be making headway until last week. He had won his race for the governorship in 2022 by a wide margin. He had chosen the perfect issue to allow him to challenge Trump without taking Trump head-on until much later in the race. The issue was "wokeism." DeSantis seemed to have the jump on Trump on this issue. DeSantis was very focused on wokeism, and it offered him a lot of hot-button issues, for instance: curriculum in the schools, one's choice of personal use of a toilet in school, forcing young girls to compete with hairy-chested young men, keeping secrets from parents. I could go on. When Donald Trump takes up the issue, he will take it to his advantage and brilliantly.

As for DeSantis, he somehow lost his grip on the wokeism issue. It took him about 24 hours. And he now seems to be floundering. He actually dismissed the war in Ukraine as a "territorial issue." He went on to say that defending Ukraine was "not a vital issue" for the United States. Such statements showed the governor of Florida completely out of his depths on foreign policy. The war for Ukraine is very much a vital issue for the United States and for Europe and for any other country concerned about its freedom. At least DeSantis could have spoken ambiguously about the war in Ukraine. That is what a seasoned politician might do. Now he has boxed himself into a corner. If he equivocates on his course of appeasement, he will, as they, be accused of flip-flopping. If he continues on his appeasement course, he will have sealed his fate with the large percentage of hawkish Republicans in his party, and also those hawkish Democrats and Independents who will be voting in the general election. How is he going to get out of this pickle? I thought DeSantis was a shrewder politician than this.


But wait! Trump may have rushed to DeSantis' rescue. On Saturday, Trump came out for protests from his loyal supporters. It sounded like a call to arms by the same mob that he encouraged Jan. 6, 2021. The Washington Post in a matter of hours said Trump's "post" was "reminiscent" of the late 2020 call, and you can bet that the rest of the media will agree. How can DeSantis take advantage of Trump's latest blunder? We have already seen that he has no aptitude for ambiguity.

Glory to Ukraine!

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and the author most recently of "The Death of Liberalism," published by Thomas Nelson, Inc.


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