Another Tack: Mary and Sara

Mary Todd Lincoln (1861): Would America have benefitted had Abraham Lincoln heartlessly driven her away?

Mary Todd Lincoln (1861): Would America have benefitted had Abraham Lincoln heartlessly driven her away?

Woe to the national leader tested sorely in a merciless existential conflict while at the same time also being worn away by unremitting troubles on the home front. He has no peace of mind, no refuge from corroding acrimony. He never knows when and in what circumstances the other shoe would drop but he expects it come down on his head with a thud.

How, say the cynics baying for their antagonist’s political blood, can he be trusted with the weighty affairs of state when he has an unpredictable liability as his helpmate? So in the guise of exposing a threat to the nation – i.e. the headliner’s distracting wife – the sideswipers distract him all the more.

Poor Abraham Lincoln had to oversee the bloodiest war in American annals without enjoying supportive stability and peace in what should have been his safe haven. Not only were many of his wife Mary’s closest kin Confederates who loathed her husband and took up arms against him, but she was exasperatingly erratic.

The media, such as it was back in the 1860s, loved to bash her. Her spotty public image provided titillating relief from the raging Civil War.

No previous president’s wife came close to stirring up controversy like Mary Todd Lincoln and scandal-mongering about the reportedly shrill and pushy First Lady became a popular national pastime. Her volatile outbursts against some of Lincoln’s leading generals became the stuff of American lore. She was portrayed as tyrannical, shrewish and plain unhinged.

She was also a spoiled southern belle who, at times of unprecedented battlefield losses, chose to lavishly redecorate the White House – public and private quarters. Sparing no cost, she purchased new china and luxurious trinkets while young men were dying by the thousands. Congress had to pass two special appropriations just to cover her extravagant expenditures.

But it wasn’t just excessive spending – she was, according to contemporary accounts, given to bouts of deep depression followed by radical mood swings, excruciating headaches, fierce temper tantrums and sudden screaming fits that could be heard by the entire staff. Nowadays she might have been diagnosed with a type of bipolar disorder but such terminology was nonexistent in her day. She was just called crazy (ten years after she left the White House, her son Robert had her institutionalized due to paranoid and self-harming behavior).

Doubtless, she was a constant embarrassment to the president and a drain on his cerebral reserves at a time when these were most crucial to the national struggle.

Lincoln obviously wasn’t the only leader beset by domestic disharmony. But his sad experience raises the question of whether a “problem spouse” ought to disqualify a national leader – particularly at times of national crisis. Is the conduct or mental condition of a leader’s wife at all pertinent to the central national debate?

This question should perturb us here and now. Should Binyamin Netanyahu be judged and disqualified because of antics attributed – truly or falsely – to his wife Sara? This question is put without making literal comparisons. Netanyahu isn’t Lincoln, Sara isn’t Mary and, most of all, today’s media – printed, electronic and cyber – is strikingly more pervasive and invasive than the Washington press of over 150 years ago.

But the broad outlines of the situation aren’t entirely dissimilar. Israel faces grave dangers – genocidal dangers – yet, rather than turn the spotlight on the dreadful deal in the works with Iran, we are fixated on stories of Sara. Let’s say hypothetically – and strictly for the sake of argument – that Sara displays shades of Mary’s instability. Should that constitute justification for voting against Netanyahu, the issues be damned?

Let’s say hypothetically – and the hypothesis, it must be stressed, is entirely without any factual foundation – that Sara deserves all the mud slung at her, is it Bibi’s fault? Should the electorate think less of him because of Sara? Does he deserve being voted out of office because of her? Would we think more highly of him if he turned his back on Sara during what must be a time of acutely painful tribulation for her? Is that what we want? Do we esteem husbands who don’t stick by their wives for better or worse?

Moreover, do our enlightened postmodern media headliners actually recommend candidates who boast perfect robotic Stepford wives? Probably not. Odds are that they only bother about Sara because they viscerally hate Bibi. They have hated him for the past two decades and their alacrity to smear him through her hasn’t abated one bit since then.

This should give us ample reason to doubt much of what she’s accused of. Maligning Sara Netanyahu is a surefire way to score political points or settle scores, to make money or solidify a career, to sell newspapers or grab ratings.

Indelibly etched in mind is Sara’s humiliating 1999 ordeal at the National Fraud Squad Headquarters in Bat Yam where she was grilled for seven hours straight about a brooch given her by the daughter of the then-Diamond Exchange chairman.

Nonstop leaks, while Mrs. Netanyahu was still being subjected to insistent and prolonged interrogation, kept the public clued in to the ongoing cliffhanger. It was like a live broadcast, sanctioned voyeurism, a collective eavesdropping fest in real-time offered us by publicity-hounds in uniform, eager to suck-up to establishment powers-that-be.

Pro forma the police had to make sure that the brooch wasn’t an official gift which the serial suspect had attempted to purloin, although it must be stressed that the intrepid detectives hadn’t likewise raided the jewelry boxes of other prime ministers’ wives. Eventually it transpired that the sensationally touted pin wasn’t even costume schlock but a tin badge which Mrs. Netanyahu received while touring the Diamond Exchange. Gemologists appraised its value at the whopping sum of five agorot.

No apology ever came. If anything, Sara was treated as one who got away. Smearing her became requisite for every wannabe talking head. Hitting someone who’s down is a never-failing formula for success.

Argumentum ad hominem (Latin for “argument against the man”) is insidiously effective and rife in our midst.  Its essence consists of attacking a given person – or his wife – with a host of irrelevancies in order to discredit his message. There may be no objective fault with said message (which may actually be cogent and excellent) but it’s never properly evaluated because the messenger is spitefully trashed.

Deflecting attention from the issues via character assassination is a dishonorable polemical tradition that certainly predates the state.

Even before becoming Israel’s first premier, David Ben-Gurion was already a master practitioner surpassed by none. He spoke of Ze’ev Jabotinsky as Vladimir Hitler – no less (for the attention of those pure souls among us who, when it suits them, shudder at any Nazi-allusions). Ironically, Ben-Gurion was lots closer to Jabotinsky in no-nonsense realism than is generally acknowledged and he eventually ended up implementing the very policies which Jabotinsky presciently advocated – hence, perhaps, BG’s psychological hang-ups.

When not branding Menachem Begin an abhorrent fascist, Ben-Gurion rendered him a non-person and in Knesset debates referred only to “that man seated next to Dr. [Yohanan] Bader.” This isn’t meaningless ancient history. Ad hominem propaganda is endemic to Israel’s leftwing dialectics, where the merits of an opponent’s assertions are sidestepped by besmirching him.

Netanyahu’s moving eulogy for the Jewish supermarket victims in Paris wasn’t televised here. Instead the talk of the day was his rudeness in imposing himself on the front row of world leaders during the preceding anti-terror march, where he clearly wasn’t wanted.

Now Netanyahu’s projected speech to the American Congress is dissed as harming relations with President Barack Obama.

A visitor from Mars might be forgiven for assuming that hitherto Obama was Netanyahu’s bosom buddy and treated him fairly, without prejudice or animosity. Of course, if Obama wasn’t hostile there would be no need for Netanyahu to make the case against letting Iran off the hook. But what are our survival prospects versus another chance to sabotage Israel’s leading spokesman?

It cannot be denied that the Left’s most primal detestation is reserved for Netanyahu and the Left dominates our media. Its enmity is non-specific, all-encompassing and virtually devoid of coherent triggers. Netanyahu is reviled because he’s clearly the most viable political alternative to Israel’s left-leaning establishment.

As the single most formidable threat to its hegemony, he must be thoroughly and unambiguously delegitimized and in the hallowed “just not Bibi” cause all is tolerable – especially turning on Sara. It’s part and parcel of the premeditated effort to undermine a rival’s reputation, credibility and character via unverifiable innuendo, distortions, half-truths, or even outright lies. The smear can pack a punch even after it’s refuted and it derails energies from urgent concerns.

The basic premise is that when enough mud is slung, some sticks. Ordinary citizens are unlikely to send off muck samples to the lab to determine its composition, origin or authenticity. An indistinct but unmistakable odium adheres to the smear-victim, follows him/her everywhere, and he/she cannot shirk or avoid it.

The more demonizing Netanyahu – and/or stigmatizing his wife – becomes bon ton among the guardians of our collective conscience, the more it emboldens Netanyahu’s own erstwhile appointees and frustrated coattail-riders to wreak petty vengeance. Kicking Netanyahu is patently de rigueur for anyone with ambitions to fulfill or axes to grind.

Anything – recycled bottles, pistachio ice-cream, cigars – provides pretext for nitpicking or a vehicle for trumped-up allegations. These don’t need to be remotely grounded in fact. Indeed, Netanyahu’s travails don’t even need to be as dire as Lincoln’s very real distress. They just need to feature on the front pages and in primetime newscasts.

Besides, it might serve us well to reflect on whether Lincoln’s truly miserable home life detracted from his ability to make tough calls on life-and-death matters. Most historians today agree that it did not.

Domestic difficulties may have made him a very unhappy president but he did admirably well under unkind circumstances. America didn’t suffer because of Mary Lincoln. Would it have benefitted had her husband heartlessly driven Mary away? Would the Union have been better off had he thrown in the towel and resigned mid-strife?

Would America have gained had President Lincoln been booted out because of callous gossip about his wife? Would Israel gain if Netanyahu is punished because of callous gossip about his wife?

Lincoln was right – you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. However, it’s sometimes enough to fool just some of the people to swing the vote.

11 thoughts on “Another Tack: Mary and Sara

  1. One wonders whether those opposed to Bibi (including the media at large) are more interested in their own petty foibles and agenda, rather the more important issue of Israel and its welfare and safety. Blinkered and blind inflexibility isn’t a formula for success.

    The “United we stand – divided we fall” maxim comes to mind.

  2. A perfect analogy dear Sarah.
    Bibi is a great leader and to smear him is most disgusting !
    NOW is the time, to take action before the American Congress….Hussein Obama is already trembling in his boots !
    EXCELLENT !!!!!

    It is beyond me, why anybody in Israel could be tempted to critisise the planned speech.

  3. One small point in article.

    “Netanyahu’s moving eulogy for the Jewish supermarket victims in Paris wasn’t televised here. Instead the talk of the day was his rudeness in imposing himself on the front row of world leaders during the preceding anti-terror march, where he clearly wasn’t wanted.”

    If anyone had a right to be there it was BB. How dare the “world leaders” turn what was a heart felt, albeit long overdue demonstration into a photo op. It was especially disgusting that the ME’s preeminent terrorist was fawned over as a “world leader by a pack of slobbering hyenas. As for the demonstration I do believe it was heart felt. But it surely wasn’t because of the massacre at the supermarket. No, it was because the massacre at the Hebdo office woke a few Frenchmen up and they realized they could be the next target. “…when they came Jews… “Where were they when Ilan Halimi was kidnapped and tortured? I doubt that if there had not been a massacre at the Hebdo office there would not have been a “manifestation” over the kosher supermarket massacre.

  4. One can argue “till the cows come home” regarding the pros and cons of Netanyahu’s planned trip to Washington to address the American Congress- at their invitation it must be stressed.

    And no doubt opposing sides on this argument can offer strong reasons for their positions.
    But at the end of the day, the essence and importance and necessity for Netanyahu to address the American Congress remain. The personal feelings of the American President cannot be allowed to place the State of Israel at existential risk- not to mention so many tens of millions of other human beings, world-wide.

    Personally I believe one can see a certain correlation between Netanyahu’s planned trip and what his own Brother achieved in the daring “Rescue At Entebbe” so many long years ago.

    It is worth recalling today what the stakes were regarding Entebbe on July 4, 1976.

    “The operation took place at night. Israeli transport planes carried 100 commandos over 2,500 miles (4,000 km) to Uganda for the rescue operation. The operation, which took a week of planning, lasted 90 minutes. 102 hostages were rescued. Five Israeli commandos were wounded and one, the unit commander, Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, was killed.”

    -from Wikipedia

    What a pinnacle moment that day was and will forever remain, in Jewish History.

    Israel attempted something that no other nation on Earth ever would have dared to attempt-
    and the Mission succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations- albeit at the cost of the life of the brilliant and fearless leader of the mission,- Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu.

    Now, almost four decades later, the Brother of Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, finds that he too must board a plane and also take on a mission in which the stakes are frankly speaking, exponentially higher and more dangerous- not so much to those engaged in the mission itself but the millions of Israeli citizens they leave behind.

    The world may very well stand at a turning point in history when it comes to the question of allowing Iran to go “Nuclear”. Can the nations of the world allow a country that has openly declared its intentions to destroy both America and Israel be permitted to obtain nuclear bombs?

    Is it prudent to simply conclude that Iran’s leaders are bluffing and do not mean what they say?
    Did the “Leaders” of the world not commit that very same error with Adolph Hitler when he spoke about ridding the world of all its Jews?

    From the desk where I am typing these words I used to be able to gaze out the window and see the World Trade Center Towers. But after 9/11 there was only a gaping space in the air where those buildings had once stood.

    Before that horrific day I used to wonder what someone would think if I ever suggested that one day those towers would be brought down by passenger planes and reduced to huge smoking piles of dust and red hot rubble. I concluded at the time that any such suggestion would be met with absolute consternation and even derisive ridicule- as if I was completely out of my mind and had taken complete leave of my senses.

    Perhaps to a large degree that was how Ze’ev Jabotinsky was treated when he tried to warn the Jews of Europe of their highly likely impending doom and the need to take action before it was too late. But few listened- more is the pity.

    I strongly believe that it is not too extreme to state that the Fate of the entire civilized world may to a large degree be riding on Netanyahu’s upcoming address to the American Congress.

    It is clear to anyone who is not deaf and dumb that we might as well have Neville Chamberlain sitting in the White House in America. It really is irrelevant at this late date and hour what are the true motivations for the decisions and pronouncements that are continually emanating from the “Oval Office” in Washington DC. The situation is what it is.

    In the end the imminent danger/s are just as real and just as overwhelmingly lethal.

    It took a “Netanyahu” to achieve the astounding Victory at Entebbe- and at the cost of his Life.

    It will now take another Netanyahu to succeed, almost forty years later, in a Mission that few individuals in this world could ever hope to achieve. That is to say- to make the most powerful nation on Earth realize that it and the rest of the world are facing a clear and present danger and that “appeasement” has never worked throughout all of history- and never will work.

    A week before 9/11 people would have laughed at the thought that such tall and majestic modern skyscrapers, reaching into the clouds, could ever be brought down, in the space of an hour, by two planes. It would have seemed laughable !

    But no one is laughing now !

  5. Great article, and nice change of pace. Sarah’s comments about Mary Todd Lincoln are spot-on. However, one wonders if the premature deaths of two of Lincoln’s children–Willie and Tad, didn’t have more to do with his melancholy domestic life, than any tantrum Mary might have conjured up.
    However, Sarah is also spot-on in pointing out how our culture of instant communication makes it much easier to smear one’s political enemies; and is rightly indignant about Sara Netanyahu being grilled for hours over a cheap trinket. Politicians and their families, particularly those on the right, walk a tight-rope every day, in the unforgiving glare of public scrutiny; which wasn’t quite as harsh in Lincoln’s time.(Example, the White House was unlocked in Lincoln’s administration–anyone could come in off the street, and speak with the President) Again, great article; one worth reading a second time.

  6. It would serve only to lend credit to Netanyahu’s character and resolve if such were to be true.

    It took a Lincoln to deal with Mary. Lincoln’s resolve in personal life provided proof of character to be capable of dealing with a nation torn by war, and then of those extraordinary character traits required to mend a nation whole again. Mary wasn’t so much a problem as she was a character building litmus test of the qualities of a leader.

    Perversely, Netanyahu’s Mary is much of the current media, who’s lives like Lincoln’s Mary, he must also protect. The media is Netanyahu’s Mary.

    On the other hand, that capacity for patience can also be detrimental.

    From the recent jpost article, “Netanyahu to Jordan’s King Abdullah: World should unite against ‘barbaric cruelty’ of ISIS”, a Talk-Back was offered as follows.


    Wrong. And it misinforms the populace.

    The world should be fighting Islam itself.

    Fighting ISIS only makes it look like Islam is somehow okay.

    An analogy, and not a disconnected one, would be to fight the SS but to leave Nazism itself in place, “since every German citizen was not actively murdering Jews”, then Nazism [like Islam which collaborated with it during WWII to murder our people] must be perhaps okay, despite what it teaches and diktats.

    No, the solution is to let the followers of Islam kill each other off while addressing only direct threats such as Iran’s nuclear program, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS and the like on the borders. Once the distilled bottom of the barrel is reached, then is the time to eradicate the remainder, which will basically be ISIS neat.

    Learn about Islam, its history its diktats and the nature of its followers in order to internalize why this is true. It should be the duty of every civilized person to learn about Islam proper. Learn who it is that you are not. From that the answers will become apparent.

    ……..end of Talk-Back…………

    Islam isn’t Lincoln’s Mary. Unlike Mary, Islam is perfect. It has no redeeming values what-so-ever, and we can be rid of it.

    Now, all the Germans did not need to be killed. But Nazism, its leaders and the symbolic vestiges promoting its presence were eradicated. Only places of horrors it created and the history of what it did are preserved as a reminder to humanity.

    Yes, al-Aksa needs to be razed. Had our people known the nature of Islam in 1967 (after nearly 1400 years we still have not internalized the nature of Islam and its followers… shame on us), we would have exposed Islam for what it is, say by reading aloud from the Qur’an, and started demolitions. Allah’s own words led to its creation, let Allah’s own words lead to its removal.

    Netanyahu’s character building litmus test will be the laying of long term plans, writing the explanations and having documented from Islam’s religious texts and its history, his reasons for future administrations to consider, the eradication of Islam from the house of the civilized world.

      • Sarah Honig should have mentioned names of few mudslingers. It would bounce some mud back at them shame them into silence.

  7. Thank you Sarah. One thing the leftist media in Israel should remember is that 65% of Americans support the State of Israel and that remains firm no matter who is PM. However despite J’Opinion slur that number represents a hell of a lot of Christians, including me. I, however, am a conservative and consequently am more in Bibi’s corner than in Herzog’s or the pathetic Livni. It pains me that the left never acknowledges the problems brought about by their appeasement polices of the past such as Oslo and Gaza. We know Sara Netanyahu is really irrelevant, it does however make for intriguing reading I guess for even I wonder why she can’t seem to keep her private life under better control for the sake of her political husband. No doubt it is a strain on any leader to have their family under constant scrutiny and sniped at for any misdeed and I do like your analogy of comparing Mary Lincoln and Sara N, I would compare Michele Obama and her fabulous million dollar vacations at tax payer expense to Sara N, and perhaps the hateful Israeli media should consider Israel lucky.

    PS: The majority of us are also thrilled the Prime Minister is coming to address the joint session of our Congress. We welcome him and even Sara with open arms.

    Isabella 1709

  8. To Mark Libster: I’ve noticed that too, brave in the abstract, cowardly in the specifics. I must admit to some cognitive dissonance. The way I rationalized it is that Israel has inherited certain impediments to freedom from the British, and kept them because, well, that’s how the elite like it. America, when it comes to freedom of speech, is really the non plus ultra in the world. We would bristle at Israel’s incitement laws. That’s one reason, and a very good one, why American Jews generally stay American. I never worry about what I write but I feel Sarah Honig must.

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