Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., issued a press release asking whether the president had forgotten "that Kim Il Sung was responsible for the war that caused the loss of more than 54,000 American lives." Other Republicans chimed in that we hadn't sent condolences on the death of Mao Zedong.
The president's defenders went right to their libraries and came up with the letters issued by Presidents Ford and Eisenhower. It turns out that we had offered condolences on the death of Mao . . . and Joseph Stalin, too.
But while the president's advocates scored points by demonstrating that he was only doing what is usually considered diplomatically required, they beg the question: Is it right?
Wouldn't the world be a better place if leaders of free nations didn't go about praising and fawning over the criminals who run the world's worst regimes? Maybe, with apologies to Edmund Burke, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to decline to call a spade a spade.
Ronald Reagan flouted the diplomatic conventions (and caught a lot of flak) for labeling the Soviet Union the "evil empire." But the words were refreshingly accurate, and no one appreciated the honesty more than the victims of the Soviet system -- Soviet citizens. Again and again since the fall of communism, they have told American visitors that Mr.Reagan's evil-empire speech was the best thing America had done for freedom in a great while.
Listening to the treatment afforded North Korea, not just by the We shouldn't send condolences to regimes run by tyrants.
president and official government spokesmen but also by "experts" and others in the press, one is reminded of the craven, dishonest and nauseating treatment the Soviet Union used to get in our country by the liberal press. Though everyone pretends to have been a cold warrior now that the Cold War is won, the truth is that it used to be considered very poor form, in the major media, to mention that a) Soviet officials lied with regularity, b) the Soviet state ruled by force and terror and was therefore illegitimate, or c) the Soviets were the aggressors in the Cold War. People who talked that way were thought of as "extremists" or "right-wing nuts."
Well, OK, that was then. But today, everyone surely knows that communist regimes are politically repressive, economically disastrous and evil, right? Apparently not.
The "MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour" featured a discussion about North Korea with four or five "experts," and all seemed deferential and respectful toward Kim Jong Il, giving him credit for, among other things, running the country for the past two years.
Kim Jong Il is the son of the guy who liked to be fashioned "Great Leader," who, at his own order, was worshiped as a god and who planned to hand over leadership to his son in defiance of any notion of democratic succession. It isn't as if Kim Jong Il worked his way up by starting in the mailroom.
Besides, the country Kim Jong Il may or may not have been running for the past two years is one of the worst places on earth. The people live in poverty, and dissent is ruthlessly crushed. The ruling regime has committed massive aggression against South Korea, has sown the world with missiles and other weapons and stands now on the brink of developing nuclear weapons.
But you'd never know any of that from listening to National Public Radio. With your tax dollars, they ran an interview with a United Nations factotum who was visiting North Korea and had shaken the hand of Kim Jong Il. He was full of praise for the country's social services, like medical care and education. The NPR host listened to all of this credulously and asked only the most simpering questions.
It was the glorious Soviets, Cubans, Nicaraguans, redux.
Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.