Archive | Politics RSS feed for this section

Roy Moore Looms

Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the United States Senate from Alabama, may be elected to the U.S. Congress one month from today. This is an alarming prospect for many reasons. Recent claims reported by the Washington Post are the weakest reasons to reject Moore’s candidacy and I fear that the Post, in pursuing the apparently well-researched story in the wake of recently lowered journalistic standards by the New York Times and the New Yorker — hit pieces which launched a wave of articles about unconfirmed sex claims and unsubstantiated allegations, leading to a purge of powerful men — diverts attention from Moore’s worst ideas. But that’s another topic.

Moore is the judge who was essentially removed from Alabama’s State Supreme Court twice when he violated American law; in 2003 when he refused to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from the courthouse and earlier this year when Moore urged judges to defy federal orders regarding same-sex marriage, which Roy Moore has stated he regards as worse than slavery.

Moore has also asserted in 2005 that homosexuality should be against the law.

As founder and president of the Foundation for Moral Law, a religious charity from which he arranged to collect $1 million in payments from 2007 through 2012, the religious fundamentalist has been nicknamed the “Ayatollah of Alabama” for actively seeking to impose religion in government. Moore, who won a kickboxing championship, went to work in Australia on a cattle ranch and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, admitted in his autobiography that he was so reviled by his fellow U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War that he slept on sandbags to avoid having explosives tossed under his cot.

Like President Trump, who has endorsed the former judge, Moore was a lifelong Democrat until he switched parties and became a Republican.

Unlike the president, however, the Alabama native is a religionist who consistently advocates mixing government in religion and religion in government. When Moore installed a Ten Commandments plaque behind his judicial bench, he did so on the grounds that, as he later told The Atlantic, he wanted to establish his religion, Christianity, as the moral foundation of U.S. law. Then-Judge Moore also began court sessions with a prayer. Moore’s illegal actions lead to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenging Moore’s courtroom prayers and Ten Commandments display as unconstitutional.

When Moore later unveiled a Ten Commandments monument, he praised: “…God upon whom this nation and our laws were founded” which is totally false. A lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court asking that the monument be removed because it “sends a message to all who enter the State Judicial Building that the government encourages and endorses the practice of religion in general and Judeo-Christianity in particular”. But Moore insisted that he would not remove the Ten Commandments monument. Moore was ultimately removed from the judiciary.

In the defeat, on November 18, 2002, federal U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson had made his decision that the monument violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, declaring Roy Moore’s religious monument unconstitutional:

If all Chief Justice Moore had done were to emphasize the Ten Commandments’ historical and educational importance… or their importance as a model code for good citizenship … this court would have a much different case before it. But the Chief Justice did not limit himself to this; he went far, far beyond. He installed a two-and-a-half ton monument in the most prominent place in a government building, managed with dollars from all state taxpayers, with the specific purpose and effect of establishing a permanent recognition of the ‘sovereignty of God,’ the Judeo-Christian God, over all citizens in this country, regardless of each taxpaying citizen’s individual personal beliefs or lack thereof. To this, the Establishment Clause says no.”

The judge’s correct ruling, serious flaws aside, merely inflamed the wrath of Roy Moore’s faith and, this summer, Moore suggested that the September 11, 2001 attack by Islamic terrorists was God’s punishment for Americans losing faith, though he’s also blamed sodomy and abortion for Americans’ suffering. Roy Moore reserves a particular disdain for homosexuality, which he regards as an evil which should be illegal. “Homosexual behavior is … a crime against nature, an inherent evil, and an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it.” When asked in 2015 whether he believes that sex between persons of the same sex should be punished by death, Roy Moore declined to provide an explicit answer, equivocating with: “Well I don’t, you know, I’m not here to outline any punishments for sodomy.”

Any serious candidate who would leave doubt as to whether he seeks to enact laws to put adults to death for having consensual sex is a monster deserving total and absolute scorn and the most emphatic denunciation from statesmen, intellectuals and every moral American. Insinuating that he thinks gays deserve to die and stating clearly and explicitly that he aims to enact a religious government disqualify Moore from political office. Whatever moral transgressions he’s made in his sexual past, including his alleged assault and proclivity for sex with children, Roy Moore’s election to the Senate on December 12, 2017, would mark a black day in U.S. history. If Moore wins, his election will be a victory for religious statism and another chilling step toward dictatorship.

The Hush of Charlottesville

Buy the Book

This summer’s violent clashes, climaxing with a neo-Nazi’s recent murder of a protestor in Charlottesville, Virginia, highlight the false left-right division destroying the nation’s political discourse. A desperately needed debate over the government’s proper role has been replaced by mindless assaults, grunts and rants between warring tribes — an anonymous band of anarchists, Marxists, transgendered, Moslems, feminists and multiculturalists versus a band of Nationalist Socialists, traditionalists, Christians, racists and nativists — bringing what Leonard Peikoff subtitled his great study The Ominous Parallels, “the end of freedom in America”, closer. If you really want to know why both left and right are destroying America, read The Ominous Parallels. If you prefer the great novel, read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

First, much of the horror over what happened in Charlottesville strikes me as insincere. If you value life, you’re rightly horrified that the young woman in Charlottesville was murdered by a car driven by a Nazi. However, you were also horrified when an innocent American in Barcelona was mowed down by a vehicle driven by an Islamic terrorist days later, too. Why the glaring disparity in public expressions of horror? I think it’s because Islamic terrorist attacks murdering Americans are accepted by most Americans as common and normal. Why does a Nazi’s murder elicit outrage while a jihadist’s murder does not? Or, for conservatives, vice versa? That’s the vicious cycle; those on the left, who dominate today’s major businesses and media, deny and downplay wrongdoing on the left and among their favored tribes, such as Moslems. So do those on the right, who deny and downplay wrongdoing on the right and among their favored tribes, such as Christians. Both should consistently and persistently defend the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Some on both sides do to the extent possible with mixed premises.

But, in general, those on the left and the right do not. I think this leads both to today’s deep, tense political disunity and also to the pervasive sense of sameness, the maddening status quo that Donald Trump claims to oppose (i.e., “drain the swamp”) which actually makes an anti-intellectual leader of his low caliber possible and which he, in fact, supports (see his continuation of Obama policies on ObamaCare, such as community rating and guaranteed issue, the Iran deal and, last week, more endless war with yet more troops in Afghanistan). This is my second point — that, as families and friends, conservatives and liberals, colleagues and teammates are divided over a range of issues, the state gains more power over the life of the individual. (Again, read Leonard Peikoff’s brilliant book, The Ominous Parallels, about pre-Nazi Germany to learn why). Voters for Trump and Obama may fight in the streets, forums and media threads but on fundamental issues, such as health care as a right or Snowden as a traitor, Obama and Trump loyalists agree. As they do, the government spreads more of the same.

This goes to my third point. Here, I invoke this moment in American history as the hush of Charlottesville; a kind of national silence and suppression as the public essentially stops speaking the thoughts on their minds. This is extremely dangerous. As I argued when I endorsed Starbucks‘ idea for a national discourse on race, the fragmented nation needs more speech, not less. Banning Nazis from dating apps, as OKCupid recently did, banning “hate music” from music apps, as Spotify recently did, and supporting groups that persecute the individual for exercising free speech, as Apple recently did when endorsing the Southern Poverty Law Center, which persecutes secular feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and former Islamic jihadist Maajid Nawaz for denouncing Islam on principle, discourages exercise of free speech, though certainly as private companies they have the right to such actions.

Look at what happened to the Starbucks campaign, which was attacked by both the leftists and the conservatives. Anti-Starbucks leftists and anti-Starbucks conservatives came together to denounce a free speech exercise initiative. The result is widespread silence among reasonable people who think they can’t get a decent hearing and more inflammatory speech, including by the inflammatory president (again imitating his inflammatory predecessor), and, worse, initiation of the use of force on both sides. The left, especially Communists and anarchists, has a long history of trying to destroy the U.S. government, from assassinating presidents to riots whether attacking President Truman, the Standard Oil Building or Carnegie Steel with anarchists, Puerto Rican terrorists or the Unabomber. So, too, does the right, from assassinating President Lincoln to blowing up a federal building in Oklahoma City and abortion clinics with Confederates, Christian terrorists, and various misanthropes. The worst monsters in history, from Charles Manson and the Rev. Jim Jones to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, spawn from the left. But both sides seek government control and are fundamentally wrong.

Buy the Book

I do not digress. Leftist U.S. political strategy and tactics, I know firsthand and this originates with the New Left, is systemized to initiate the use of lower levels of force, such as throwing rocks at police and others they oppose, in order to provoke greater acts of force in defense or counter-offense. As we’ve seen with the vile, racist thugs of the right, followed by the president’s outrageous equivocation, the right responds to the use of force with the use of force. So, the cycle disrupts civil law and not in some benign display of civil disobedience. The use of force as a means of resolving disputes becomes more common. Judges are shot (the most recent by a rapist’s father in Ohio). A left-wing terrorist from Illinois attempts this summer to assassinate members of Congress. The assault on Dallas police, too, which murdered five police officers, is committed by a racist who’d cited Black Lives Matter and says he sought to kill white policemen.

Police, legislators and judges are crucial to the proper role and function of the United States government. At the same time, government officials such as President Trump and San Franciso’s mayor and police chief make reckless statements which exacerbate tensions, leading to more destruction of private property and bloodshed, as happened before with Obama and the first Bush. In this sense, the false left-right dichotomy is especially damaging and dangerous. Contrary to the left’s hyperbole in the aftermath of the murder at Charlottesville, however, the gravest danger lies not in the racism expressed in exercises of free speech and free association, which is relatively rare and was widely denounced. Leaving aside the deficiency of Charlottesville’s government in protecting the public and preventing the murder, the greatest danger lies in the silence that follows our deepening divisions. It precedes worse outbursts to come.

An orthodox Jew opposed to the Trump administration recently wrote about this self-imposed silence, this soft censorship, in Forward (read the essay here). Those on the right, too, undoubtedly know in a hardened, pompous and cynical culture dominated by New Left orthodoxy why one might feel compelled to go silent. But, to paraphrase the gay community’s anti-AIDS slogan, silence in this tense, national post-Charlottesville hush ultimately equals death. Conservatives and leftists alike, and, of course, those of us Objectivists and like-minded Americans for rights, reason and capitalism who are the true liberals, must speak up and strive under the most difficult circumstances to engage in rational discourse as often as possible. Going silent now, as the left and right resort to murder, masked destruction and radical plans for their respective forms of religious totalitarianism is the worse thing one can do. (For a preview of what horror may result from your silence, read religious conservatives’ anti-gay, anti-contraceptive Nashville Statement, a kind of pre-theocratic companion piece to the New Left’s Port Huron Statement — which condemns, for instance, “sexually immoral behavior” and affirms, for instance, “obedience to Christ”).

The more you exercise your absolute right to free speech — which is not a right to initiate the use of force, block traffic and violate the law — today, the less likely there’s murder, mayhem and dictatorship tomorrow. Americans must break the hush of Charlottesville and start speaking up and speaking out, especially with those with whom one disagrees. In a few weeks, as the University of California at Berkeley is scheduled to host conservative speakers on campus, the silence will be tested. If America still stands for liberty, the hush will be breached in peace with voices exercising free speech. In the meantime, to make sense of the world, as always, I urge every adult to read The Ominous Parallels and Atlas Shrugged.

Ideas: How to Exit ObamaCare

Today, the United States Senate, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, and John McCain, an Arizona Republican who unfortunately was recently diagnosed with brain cancer, approved a procedure to begin debate on legislation which may or may not repeal ObamaCare.

Much has been made by pundits about the process and politics. Too little has been discussed about the ideas and details, as was the case with ObamaCare, legally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and almost every major law controlling the medical profession in my lifetime. Having been an intellectual activist for freedom of choice in medicine since I lived in Chicago, I am fed up with politicians and bureaucrats controlling my health care. I’ve been advocating for individual rights and capitalism for decades, with some degree of success, though clearly not with any fundamental victory.

I am discouraged by opponents of government-controlled health care in major free market policy circles, who have failed to stop the government takeover of medicine despite relatively consistent support, growth and advancement of free market ideals in the culture. In fact, ObamaCare is based on a conservative group’s policy proposals, which I know first-hand. I also know that, with an opportunity to repeal what I regard as the worst legislation in my lifetime, not a single pro-capitalism organization proposed and advanced a serious policy to help wipe out ObamaCare, let alone a step-by-step plan that Congress could adopt to end this monstrous law.

Though I am a writer, not a health policy scholar, I’ve taken the liberty of making my own proposal to abolish ObamaCare and promote a rational health care policy alternative to government intervention in — and control of — medicine. This essay includes specific steps, including ideas for action to educate the public about capitalism and ad hoc ideas for fostering charity and holding altruists to account for their morality. I call the commentary Seven Steps to Cure ObamaCare. I know there are pro-individual rights policy analysts more qualified than myself to propose ways and means to eradicate ObamaCare. I welcome feedback on what I intend to be a policy discourse catalyst to end this terrible law. So, it is my aim to end to the widespread damage, pain and suffering I know ObamaCare causes.

Read my commentary, posted today on Capitalism Magazine, here.

Book Review: Bush by Jean Edward Smith

Biographer Jean Edward Smith chronicles the life of George W. Bush, the nation’s 43rd president, in Bush, available this week. Detailed, comprehensive and often even-handed, the heavily pictured, indexed and footnoted account reinforces that the fundamentalist Christian’s faith drove his decisions and two-term presidency. Smith undercuts his credibility at times. Most unfortunately, Smith ignores or evades certain logical conclusions about President Bush.

Buy the Book

The reader learns about Bush’s life, career and disastrous presidency and other judgments about Bush’s mistakes, flaws and decisions are clearly outlined, reported and analyzed. I did not know about Bush’s business deals with George Soros and Saudi Arabia, for instance, or that his father, George H. W. Bush the 41st president—the one who refused as president to defend the United States and American booksellers against the Islamic terrorist threat by Iran during its fatwa against British author Salman Rushdie—had lived in Compton. Or that Bush, known as 43, Dubya or “W”, praised preacher Billy Graham for leading Bush to believe in God, believed he was God’s messenger and had concluded that he “could not have stopped drinking without faith.”

The degree of the U.S. government’s entrenched cronyism is staggering, as Bush illustrates time and again. Besides Soros, Saudis and familial connections to Connecticut’s Senator Prescott Bush, Florida’s Governor Jeb Bush and the former U.S. president, Bush connects to major power sources. CBS News journalist Bob Schieffer’s brother Thomas, for example, a former Democrat in the Texas legislature, was the Texas Rangers’ “point man” on negotiating the special deal for a new ballpark when Bush owned the baseball team. Reading Bush, every chapter seems to disclose another major government-connected or state-sponsored instance of favoritism. When Mr. Smith makes reference to what someone describes as the “one-syllable guttural chuckle, a ‘heh’ straight out of Beavis and Butt-head“, the reader is reminded that Bush’s frat boy persona is backed by enormously powerful crony connections.

Some of those connections might have served the president and America’s best interests. For example, Smith notes that Bush wanted FedEx founder and CEO Fred Smith, who was two years ahead of Bush at Yale University in Connecticut and, like Bush, was a member of Skull and Bones, as secretary of defense. Fred Smith had served as a Marine in the Vietnam War, and won a Bronze Star, Silver Star and two Purple Hearts. The Cato Institute’s major donor took himself out of contention for health reasons and, given how the wars were executed, it’s hard not to wonder what might have been under a war hero’s leadership. Throughout Bush, one sees Bush’s potential as president (I did when I met and interviewed then-Governor Bush in downtown Los Angeles).

This only underscores Bush’s severe deficiencies, which caused the United States to wage neverending war, lockdown and surveillance and welfare statism. The result, depression, despair and the threat of total economic collapse, made possible the historic election of his successor, Barack Obama. Author Smith doesn’t draw these conclusions, however, supporting facts for these assertions are laid out in page after page, chapter after chapter—”Inauguration”, “March of the Hegelians”, “Katrina”, “AIDS”, “Asleep at the Switch” and, the most understated title, “Quagmire of the Vanities”—and note after note. Despite the author’s warped perspective, with his anti-capitalist expressions of admiration for some of the president’s most damaging enactments, such as the monstrous controls on education known as “No Child Left Behind” and government drug subsidies for the wealthiest generation of old people in history, evidence that Bush’s was one of America’s worst presidencies is abundantly and thoroughly presented.

The first U.S. president to impose an office of “faith-based initiatives” in the White House, for instance, had warned Americans in his inaugural speech that, in opposition to the founding ideals of the republic:  “Church and charity, synagogue and mosque, lend our communities their humanity, and they will have an honored (!) place in our plans and in our laws.” (Exclamation added).  Author Smith demonstrates that teetotaler Bush practices what he preaches, beginning every cabinet meeting with a prayer—”not a silent prayer, but a direct appeal for divine guidance” and all but sidelining funding for stem cell research on faith, abetted by a conservative philosophy professor at University of Chicago.

Regurgitating another philosopher’s dubious ideas, Smith quotes Bush’s guru Karl Rove as proclaiming that “we create our own reality..and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” With Bush sincerely believing that he was the instrument of a supernatural being, he was surrounding himself with a band of obstinate intellectuals that referred to themselves as “Vulcans” for the Roman god of fire. It makes for chilling reading when you think about the thousands who would be doomed to die in fiery pits of hell on earth at the hands of religious terrorists and war policymakers from 2001, when religious fundamentalists brought the Twin Towers down, to 2009, when the economy came crashing down (and never has recovered despite Bush’s multi-trillion dollar debt schemes).

Jean Edward Smith makes mistakes, uses wrong words and lets his political philosophy distort his thinking, as when he chastises Bush neoconservatives, such as Paul Wolfowitz, for following philosopher Leo Strauss who believes in “moral absolutes” and thinks the United Nations is “inherently suspect” (it is and ought to be to anyone who takes rights seriously). But he tracks down crucial facts about the Bush presidency, career and lifetime, including that George W. Bush did not meet with his National Security Council a single time after his initial meeting in January 2001 until after the September 11 attack on America, despite numerous urgent and credible warnings of impending Islamic terrorist attack and Communist China’s seizure of a U.S. spy plane and the American crew.

Buy the Book

In this sense, the author provides a useful account of a very recent and extremely important figure in American history. While lacking a deep and fuller judgment about George W. Bush, Jean Edward Smith sheds new light on Bush’s background, motives and political philosophy. He also sets the record straight that it was Bush, not Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, or Condoleezza Rice, who took charge of U.S. foreign policy, demonstrating the toll faith takes on the ability to make rational decisions. Smith shows how Bush did everything or almost everything wrong in response to the act of war known as 9/11. This spiraled the nation faster toward its current pre-totalitarian state. Thanks to Bush, it is easier to see so soon after he was president how Bush  endangered Americans’ lives, properties and liberties and ended, harmed and foreclosed pursuits of happiness for generations to come.

For their roles, Rumsfeld and Cheney come off as flawed but more measured and responsible than they are often portrayed by some pundits and journalists. Rice, whom Smith asserts (as I’ve suspected) willfully evaded signs of impending catastrophic assault on the United States, contrary to what she claims, and “threw fits”, does not. Other illuminating facts include President Clinton‘s attempt to visit North Korea. The author gets facts wrong, too, as when he writes that “President Reagan deserves full credit for ending the Cold War” (facts about the then-crumbling Communist Russia show otherwise). But Smith gets most of the important facts right and, which is perhaps more important, he shows that he grasps the magnitude of President’s Bush’s wrongdoing  (even as he doesn’t name it as he could and should).

On this issue, Smith observes that, at a certain point in the president’s term:

When Bush returned to Washington on Labor Day, he had spent a total of fifty-four days at his ranch since inauguration. “That’s almost a quarter of his presidency,” said the Washington Post. Throw in four days last month at his parents’ seaside estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, and 38 full or partial days at the presidential retreat at Camp David, and Bush will have spent 42 percent of his presidency at vacation spots or en route.”

Bush declared a war against terror, which Smith correctly suggests is inherently unwinnable, recited Bible verses and instructed a speechwriter that a reference to 9/11 “as an act of war” be deleted. Under Bush’s administration, CENTCOM changed the name of America’s military operation in Afghanistan after 9/11 from Infinite Justice to Enduring Freedom to appease Moslem sensibilities, the NSA justified mass, indiscriminate spying on Americans in what one scholar calls “a defining moment in the constitutional history of the United States” and the Marines were ordered to “cut and run” at Fallujah in Iraq just when they needed to use unyielding force against the enemy.

George W. Bush gets his due as a man with a kind of American decency, too, especially when viewed here in the context of the Bush family, particularly in a story about a chandelier in which Bush spares a childhood playmate from his mother’s wrath. But Smith outlines and explains in Bush how Bush ruined America for Americans with wars of altruism, the morality Bush essentially adopted from his father’s and grandfather’s noblesse oblige and mangled with Americanism, which caused intellectuals such as Smith, whose biographies of Ulysses Grant, Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower have earned acclaim, to mistake Bush for an advocate of moral absolutism.

This fraudulence is exactly why Bush was a bad president, one of the worst. Smith gets this judgment off to a serious and scholarly start, whatever Bush‘s imperfections, and he does it with clarity in the narrative, the facts and the contexts. What he gets wrong, he gets wrong, such as his penultimate chapter’s last line that “[i]deology was replaced by [Bush’s] pragmatism.” The author’s frequently purposeful account of the facts of Bush’s life and times proves otherwise; pragmatism, mixed as it is by Bush with faith at a moment in U.S. history that called for the clear, sober and ruthless use of reason, is George W. Bush’s philosophy. Jean Edward Smith’s disturbing yet important Bush, with its barrage of tales, facts and names showing that America’s government is contaminated with favoritism, nepotism and small, blank and corrupt minds, makes the case that Washington is led by petty little believers and illustrates why time for argument and action based on reason is running out.


Related

Interview: George W. Bush (1999)

Thoughts on George W. Bush

George H. W. Bush at the End of Iraq

Buy Bush by Jean Edward Smith (Simon & Schuster)

 

 

Movie Review: Jackie

Dissecting the wife of the first modern celebrity president to become martyred through assassination—President Kennedy—is the aim of leading actress Natalie Portman’s tragic horror movie, Jackie. A pretentious, arduous fictionalization it is, too. Jackie is as grisly as a horror movie and as maudlin as a Tennessee Williams play.

No one can accuse writer Noah Oppenheim and director Pablo Larrain of romanticizing the Kennedys, though the president’s widow as the film’s subject garners some degree of sympathy. This, too, may depend on one’s take on the grief-stricken housewife with no apparent passion for anything except perhaps vanity, proximity to the opposite sex and prestige by the estimates of others. This may have been part of the intended point of Jackie, which is meant to be unnerving and is often merely uninteresting.

jackie-poster

Beginning with a black screen, droning sounds and scattered shots of glimpses of the film’s three main focal points—the November 22, 1963 assassination in Dallas, a 1961 First Lady’s televised tour of the White House and a post-assassination meeting at the Kennedys’ property in Massachusetts—Jackie delves into dark moments. Given that it’s one of the most iconic, photographed presidencies, it’s hard not to want to watch what’s happening on screen, if for no other reason to match it up with famous pictures.

“I will be editing this conversation in case I don’t say exactly what I mean,” the First Lady tells an interviewer after the assassination in the movie’s framing device. In flashbacks to the deadly motorcade, hospital, Air Force One and the White House, the grieving widow’s lament comes in three arcs; before, during and after Dallas. It plays as a psychodrama, as Portman’s version of Jacqueline Kennedy sucks cigarettes, pops pills, melts down and confides, breathlessly wandering halls and rooms in her tidy little outfits like a battery-operated doll gone glitchy.

Jackie Kennedy was real and the movie that bears her name, enamored with her grief, hints at and shows nothing of what came before or after her White House Kennedy years, so there’s nothing about her Republican politics, interest in publishing or even much about what attracted her to her Catholic husband (whose presence in the movie is relegated to a few glimpses and a halting speech). The whole movie is overstyled, like a reality cable show’s recreation, focusing on the victim’s personality more than on pivot points in depicted events that define or recur over a lifetime (like The Queen, Lincoln or The Iron Lady). Jackie is moody, twitchy and awfully derivative. I do not think depicting a woman at her worst for nearly 90 consecutive minutes is inherently brilliant, however.

Jackie amounts to a re-enactment based on morbid curiosity. From scene to scene, certain tidbits emerge, from Mrs. Kennedy’s defense of guiding the White House tour, in which she finds “history, identity and beauty” in material possessions and points out that she funded restoration of the White House entirely through private donations to President Lincoln’s funeral as the impetus for her husband’s. The impressions soon fade amid more pill-popping than Valley of the Dolls, a distracting score, chain-smoking and a brutal portrayal of a shallow, unstable woman. “I used to make them smile,” she says to a priest (John Hurt, V for Vendetta) after asking what men will think of her now.

Add scenes with the kids and Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) and Mr. and Mrs. Lyndon Johnson (John Carroll Lynch and Beth Grant) as the closest Jackie has to villains other than the grieving widow herself and her late husband, whose flaws are suggested, never named. As Mrs. John Kennedy, Portman is affected, overly mannered and sincere. As a journalist, Billy Crudup (Spotlight) is flat, though this may be the way the role is written and it’s hard to tell because the journalist behaves less as a journalist and more as a sycophant.

For all the pageantry and re-enactment, the majesty Jackie apparently believes it exhibits only holds if you think celebrity has majesty (it doesn’t), if only for one brief shining moment. Jackie feels, however, like one, long gauzy eternity, at once both fawning and cruel to the woman who later made a career for herself independent of men. When the priest to whom Jackie Kennedy confides finally tells her that one can’t ever really know anything, anyway, and that, upon realizing this truth, most people accept it as true, kill themselves or stop seeking answers, I knew in that instant that this is what Jackie is really made to say. Sadly, it’s all that Jackie‘s made to say.