MILLER: The winter of our deep descent

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gets a warm greeting from Viscount Alexander, left, Governor General of Canada, on the British statesman’s arrival at Government House, Ottawa, on Jan. 11, 1952. Lady Alexander awaits her turn to greet Churchill, who came to Ottawa after Washington conferences with President Truman and a one-day stay in New York City. (AP Photo/Arthur Brooks)

Anyone who wonders how a new president will govern need look no further than the decorations in the Oval Office; more specifically, for the presence or absence of the Churchill bust.   

When President Obama made haste to remove it and the Brits cried “SNUB,” Obama countered saying that on his inauguration day the Oval Office was “looking a little cluttered.” A candid Obama would have added that the Churchill gaze might rattle a president who aimed to “lead from behind” and oversee the downsizing of American power. 

Three months later, Obama toured three continents apologizing for the “arrogance” and errors of his predecessors, setting the stage for critics on both sides of the Atlantic to troll the records of great men for traces of racism, white supremacy, and war mongering. Perhaps there is no connection between Churchill’s reinstatement on day one of the Trump presidency and the rush to recast Churchill as a villain, but in 2019, Scottish MP Ross Greer spoke for a new breed of scolds when he tweeted “Churchill. Was. A. White. Supremacist. Mass. Murderer.”    

President Biden’s decision to evict Churchill from the Oval Office barely made news stateside, but the headline in one British tabloid trumpeted “Good Riddance!” Churchill’s detractors were emboldened by British MP Shashi Tharoor who, in July 2020, denounced Churchill as “a war criminal and an enemy of decency and humanity.” Under the lens of a sophist, Churchill was no better than the guy he beat — and by defeating Hitler preserved even a sophist’s right to denounce a great man. 

The movement to “rethink” Churchill’s legacy has not caught on here, but, once again, Churchill’s absence in the Oval Office signifies plenty. New occupant Biden needed no reminder that Churchill would have shamed him for casting himself as FDR redux — and shamed the New York Times for declaring “Joe Biden Is Electrifying America Like FDR.”    

Churchill’s rejoinder might include what he’d said about the British MP who was “one of those orators who…when they are speaking, do not know what they are saying; and when they have sat down, do not know what they have said.” A tacked-on quip might feature Biden’s teleside chats.       

Assessing Biden’s aim to found a welfare state, Churchill might replay what he said in 1908, when Socialism was gaining ground in its march on Great Britain: “No movement will ever achieve any real advantage for the mass of the people that is based upon so much spite and jealousy as is the present Socialist movement in the hands of its extreme men.” Today’s extreme men need reminding that Churchill had been an early advocate for old-age pensions, a progressive income tax, and job-placement services for the unemployed. 

In his best-known appraisal of capitalism versus Socialism, Churchill notes that, “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” But Churchill would be quick to add that the miseries here would not be shared by the zealots who caused them — and quick to warn that no American will be spared the fallout from Biden’s blunders abroad.   

Churchill once described an appeaser as one who “feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last,” and there’s no mistaking that both Putin and Xi Jinping have plans to eat Biden first. 

Churchill spent the entire decade of the 1930s in exile from power, imploring Parliament to rearm Britain because he had guessed that Hitler had rearmed Germany in preparation to invade Europe. It was only after Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, that Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain appointed Churchill First Lord of the Admiralty. When Hitler henchman Wilheim Goering heard that the prophetic Churchill was back in power, Goering “dropped into a chair and said wearily, ‘Churchill is in the cabinet….Now we shall have war with England.'”   

Surveying Biden’s descent during his first year in office, no doubt Putin and Xi Jinping are fist-pumping the air, saying, “Biden is in the White House. Now we shall have free rein in Ukraine and Taiwan.”            

Perhaps Biden is under the spell of British writer Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s new Churchill biography, which berates every writer and reader who’re still guilty of what Wheatcroft calls “Churchillolatry.” If so, that would explain Biden’s failure to see that he desperately needs the Churchill resolve — that “zigzag streak of lightning” Prime Minister Churchill wielded to defend the free world.