Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Reagan's Face = "Sort of" Electioneering

An incident in an Illinois polling station today gave a small indication of Reagan's perseverance as a partisan icon in American politics when Mary Jo Tenuto was asked to cover up her Reagan Centennial t-shirt before she could vote. She complied, but wasn't happy: "I felt like this is an infringement on my rights. I’m putting on a T-shirt. It wasn’t endorsing a party. . . . Ronald Reagan is dead. He is not on the ballot." The shirt is certainly one of the more inocuous examples of Reagan-wear, but the extent to which Republicans, particularly in this election, have aligned themselves with his image and memory, the response is not that surprising. A Lincoln t-shirt - presumably abundant in Illinois - would probably be fine, but it will be a while before Reagan ascends above the partisan fray to a bland national iconography.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Obama '84

A new poll shows that 48% of Americans want Obama to run for a second term. In August 1982, only 36% liked the idea of Reagan running again, and 51% thought he should not. These numbers widened to 35% and 57% by February 1983. He still ran, of course, and won by a great margin.

The poll mainly shows the level of partisan division over Obama: 83% of Democrats want him to run, compared to 12% of Republicans (it was 19%-65% for Reagan, respectively). So it certainly implies an easy nomination, but also a need to win over some independents and, if it is at all possible, soften GOP opinion on him, to gain 50%+ approval.

Interestingly, though, and confusing the meaning of the poll, the only two recent presidents to have half or more Americans wanting them to run again were Carter and GHW Bush - who both failed to win reelection.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Legacy Project in Action?

John J. Miller is recruiting readers at the National Review's Corner to help get his new local elementary school named after Ronald Reagan. Presumably, the school board will ignore suggestions coming from outside Prince William County, VA, but you have to admire the effort.

Incidentally, the county is named after Prince William (1721-1765), the Butcher of Culloden, not the current one. Perhaps the school should be named after him?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How an Ordinary Conservative Author Became an Extrordinary Partisan Hack

This is me quietly climbing on the long-passed bandwagon that met Dinesh D'Souza's article in Forbes in September, "How Obama Thinks". The piece, which posited that the president's politics come not from any tradition of American liberalism, but from his father's Kenyan anti-western, anti-colonialism (a theory which the great scholar Newt Gingrich hailed as great scholarship), has since been much fisked for its sloppiness, inaccuracy and insipidness, amongst other things. D'Souza's book, The Roots of Obama's Rage, which the article foreran, has recently been reviewed in the Weekly Standard as "The Roots of Lunacy".

I am less interested in the details of D'Souza's theory than in the style of his interpretation, and how it compares to his treatment of another president. Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader (1997) was D'Souza's first attempt at presidential scholarship, which I credit with being one of the first and best articulations of conservative revisionism of Reagan's presidency. Occasionally slapdash, but livley and engaging, the book sought to redress standard critical interpretations of Reagan from both left and right, elevating him as an American hero and great president who was yet an ordinary, flawed individual.

Reading the Forbes article, I was struck by the odd comparison between the author's two presidential studies. Both follow similar premises - no-one fully understands this leader's character, motives or methods, so I will provide a detached and thorough analysis that will fill in the gaps. The conlcusions are startlingly different. In Reagan's case, the mystery surrounding his presidency is the creation of his critics and their blindness to the effectiveness of his methods and sincerity of his beliefs. It is explained with a study of a character more complex, but ambtions and methods more coherent and straightforward, than have been appreciated. In short, his ordinariness is the answer. In Obama's case, a selection of policy choices and quotes present a mystery of intentions that can only be explained by revealing a secretly harboured but determined commitment to a foreign ideology. Obama must be understood as extraordinary.

D'Souza blames Reagan's critics for a wilful blindness to his successes, and for the invention of fantastic theories to explain his appeal - his confusion of Hollywood with reality, and his theatrical bedazzlement of America. He also provides some instructive comment on the judgement of presidents:
Since many of these pundits disapproved of Reagan's views from the outset, regarding his policies as wrongheaded and destructive, we cannot expect them to applaud his success in enacting his agenda. It is human nature to judge the effectiveness of a leader based on whether we approve of what he put into effect. Incredible resources have been invested by Reagan's opponents since the 1980s to descredit his record, which in a way is a tribute to his legacy.
I fear that The Roots of Obama's Rage will, for future historians, be judged similarly. And another:
A further problem in assessing greatness in leadership is that those who study the subject frequently apply biased, self-interested, or arbitrary criteria that render their evaluations incomplete or suspect.
This brings to mind the expectation, which D'Souza rearticulates, that Obama as president must conform to a standard of "exceptionalism" to lead America. D'Souza has always been a distinctly conservative voice, but where I enjoyed Illiberal Education as good polemic, and appreciated Ronald Reagan as nuanced hagiography, it does seem as if he has lost his self-reflection or mistrust of elaborate, self-serving, unifying theories.

Mourning in America

Catching up a bit here after a month or two of holidaying, slacking off and finding little to write about beyond repetetive stories about Palin and/or Obama's respective similarities to Reagan.

Deserving of a mention, though, is this ad, which appeared on American TV screens in September:

A direct reference to the definitive TV spot of Reagan's 1984 campaign, little this season has more forcefully demonstrated Republican's nostalgia for Reagan's presidency, and their willingness to use it as an argument. The ad was made by the GOP's current star creative, Fred Davis (behind "Demon Sheep" and "I am not a Witch") for the PAC, Citizens for the Republic - which explains its euology for Reagan's America. The group was founded by Reagan in 1977 to support conservatives in the 1978 elections and prepare for his 1980 run, and was revived thirty years later by a self described "hardy band of Reaganites" for similar purposes. Its chairman is Craig Shirley, a man devoted to promoting Reagan in the public imagination, while its directors are all former Reagan officials.

The ad itself names no candidates, presumably bypassing campaign finance laws, but more than that, the Citizen's apparent lack of alignment to anyone but the beloved former president, and the activity of now at least two conservative PACs bearing the Reagan brand (son Michael's being the other one), seems to highlight the lack of obvious conservative leadership as 2012 approaches. We'll see what they do after November.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reagan the Movie

The Hollywood Reporter has broken news of a new Reagan biopic in the works. This seems to be an insurgent project, lead by Mark Joseph, apparently new to Hollywood, and his built-for-purpose production company, Rawhide Pictures. Joseph saw a gap in the market following the failure of CBS' The Reagans:
Only in Hollywood could you make an insulting, condescending movie about a much-loved historical figure, hire an actor who loathes the man, watch it flop and then somehow conclude that Americans don't want to see a movie about him. I watched Americans line up and wait for 10 hours for the simple privilege of passing by his closed casket. They love this man.
The tone of the film is predictable, considering that Joseph wants it based on Paul Kengor's two books, God and Ronald Reagan and The Crusader. These are highly admiring, and engaging, portraits of Reagan, together presenting his life as a determined battle against Communism, grounded on a certain, guiding faith. In each there is a sense of destiny to Reagan's unequivocal Cold War victory, both in Kengor's narrative and in the emphasis on Reagan's own belief in the divinely ordained purpose to his life.

It is significant that the script, written by Jonas McCord, begins with Reagan's assassination attempt, flashing back and forth through his life from that anchoring event. Kengor emphasises in both books Reagan's spiritual understanding of his survival - "I now know that whatever days I have left belong to Him" - and aligns it with his assault on and victory over Communism. "His sense of divine purpose", shared by religous figures he spoke with after the shooting, "now reinforced and amplified his Cold War purpose". Kengor offers important biographical analysis, echoing and expanding on other biographers' observations, but throughout his work there is an implicit invitation to share Reagan's beliefs. There is a narrative inevitablity, a fondness for moments of poignancy and portent, and above all, a conviction in the righteousness of Reagan's life and achievements. These characteristics could translate well to film. If Reagan, the movie, is made in these terms, it could well be a Christian parable of America in the 20th Century, an assertion of destiny, exceptionalism and faith. And could thus be a very successful film, and an interesting one to 2012 audiences.

My hopes, anyway, of a movie based on Dutch, appear to have been dashed.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Reagan and the Libertarians

In 1975, Governor Ronald Reagan gave an interview with Reason magazine, in which he discussed his relationship with libertarianism, and his beliefs about the role of government:
If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism...Now, I can’t say that I will agree with all the things that the present group who call themselves Libertarians in the sense of a party say, because I think that like in any political movement there are shades, and there are libertarians who are almost over at the point of wanting no government at all or anarchy. I believe there are legitimate government functions. There is a legitimate need in an orderly society for some government to maintain freedom or we will have tyranny by individuals.
Reason approached Reagan for his recent espousal of conservative libertarianism, and it appears that Reagan was interested in reaching out to this idiosyncratic and youthful branch of the right wing - potentially part of the coalition that would bring him the 1976 GOP nomination. The interviewer brought him round to the subject of the Libertarian Party and third parties in general:
Well, third parties have been notoriously unsuccessful; they usually wind up dividing the very people that should be united. And then we elect the wrong kind–the side we’re out to defeat wins...I’d like to see the Libertarian Party...maybe come to this remnant of the Republican Party which is basically conservative in its thinking...and be able to say to them, OK we’re not saying to you give up what you’re doing, but, can’t we find a common meeting ground in order at least to defeat first of all those who are doing what they’re doing to us (and this present Congress is an example)?
If Reagan had any success in courting libertarians in 1975/6, it did not win him the nomination. Interestingly, in 1980, the Libertarian Party's Ed Clark, running as a peace candidate, received the greatest proportion of votes the party has ever won in a presidential election. Though he is the president closest to libertarian philosophy in modern times, his limited approach and commitment to social conservatism separated him from its diehard adherents.

This week, the Libertarian Party is looking back on the Reagan Presidency and considering its mythic relavence in the contemporary movement. LNC Director Wes Benedict asked party members in his "Monday Message", "How to Handle Ronald Reagan?":
As the 2010 election approaches, a lot of Republican politicians are trying to posture as government-cutters, and they often hold up Ronald Reagan as an example. But although Reagan often talked about supporting smaller government, most Libertarians know that in practice he did exactly the opposite...Some polls show Reagan is reasonably well-respected these days. I think the positive reactions are often based on misconceptions, and that brings up an interesting point: how should Libertarians deal with the Ronald Reagan myth?
The current results of the attached poll show that of 1,926 voters:
  • 9% say Don't bring it up, to avoid offending his fans.
  • 7% say It's not a myth. Reagan really did shrink government.
  • 64% say Libertarians should point out that Reagan grew government.
  • 4% say Blame government growth in the 1980s on everyone except Reagan.
Libertarianism is again a vocal, influential wing of the populist conservative movement. There is, however, an unwillingness to embrace its foremost icon for the sake of coalition - to elevate a unifying myth over debate and poitical principle.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Repositories of Greatness

In the closing pages to her memoir/hagiography When Character Was King, Peggy Noonan expressed the importance of the tale of Ronald Reagan. It had to be told so that America's children would learn it, internalise it, and carry it forward to America's future:
He'd like knowing that when the long war is over our kids will have learned something unforgettable that each generation must relearn, and make new again, as it lives on through history...The little bodies of children are the repositories of the greatness of a future age. And they must be encouraged, must eat from the tales of those who've gone before, and brandished their swords, and slayed dragons.
Noonan will be glad to know that some of those little bodies now form the National Youth Leadership Committee of the Reagan Centennial. These representatives of "America's next generation of leaders" include celebrities, athletes, beauty queens, students and servicemen and are chaired by a Jonas Brother and an American Idol winner.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Deformed Republicanism

A few days ago, I suggested that former members of the Reagan administration were dull and partisan in their public comments. This cannot be said of David Stockman, Reagan's first director of the Office of Managment and Budget, who on Saturday appeared in the New York Times declaiming the "Four Deformations of the Apocaypse".

Stockman, though in many ways a committed ideologue, has never been reliably on message. Early on in Reagan's presidency, he risked his job by talking frankly to the Atlantic about the politically chaotic and murky process of budget cutting, downplaying the administration's legislatvie victories:
"I don't believe too much in the momentum theory any more," he said. "I believe in institutional inertia. Two months of response can't beat fifteen years of political infrastructure. I'm talking about K Street and all of the interest groups in this town, the community of interest groups. We sort of stunned it, but it just went underground for the winter. It will be back ... Can we win? A lot of it depends on events and luck. If we got some bad luck, a flareup in the Middle East, a scandal, it could all fall apart."
Stockman resigned in 1985, frustrated with entrenched political interests and exploding deficits, and declaring the failure of the Reagan Revolution. In his NYT column, which likely outlines the premises of his upcoming book on the financial crisis, Stockman reviews the past forty years of American economic history and castigates the Republican Party for the betrayal of principle in its "recycled Keynesianism" and its submission to the "primordial forces" of the "welfare state and the warfare state". The GOP takes the blame for four destructive changes: removing the gold standard, unleashing defecits, expanding the financial sector, and hollowing out the American economy. Their current political committment to retaining the Bush tax cuts is but a symptom of their irresponsibility and irrelevance. I doubt Stockman weilds much influence in the party any more, but any professed conservative hoping make office and make impact should probably pay attention to his ideas, and certainly make a study of his career.

Friday, July 30, 2010

"If you think I can play Ronald Reagan, you must be French"

I am looking forward to seeing Farewell, a French espionage movie about a KGB mole and the stories surrounding him. Eighties Cold War thrillers are always a winner for me, but I am chiefly excited for its rare inclusion of Ronald Reagan as a character, and more so for the fact that Fred Ward will be playing him. If Ward brings to the film everything he brought to Tremors, it may be the best representation of Reagan ever (though there is little competition). An interview with the director is here, and the trailer is below:

Reagan vs. Harvey Milk

A Dallas Voice blogger responds to California's creation of Ronald Reagan Day by looking for comparisons between Reagan and Harvey Milk, who also has a day in the state (May 22).
Both Milk and Reagan lived in California, but neither was born there. Reagan was from Illinois. Milk was from New York. Both began their political careers in California and both were targeted by gunmen. Reagan, of course, recovered. Obviously, the similarities end there.
Fortunately, this is not true - both Milk and Reagan were instrumental in defeating Proposition 6 in California in 1978, which would have persecuted homosexual teachers. Milk provided the organisation and leadership, while Reagan offered his influence over Californian conservatives. David Mixner, a leading activist on the No campaign, explained:
Despite all our good work, everyone involved had taken the Proposition from 75% in favor of firing homosexual school teachers down to only 55%. We were having a helluva a time gaining that last 6%. We knew we needed something big to push us over the top and we needed it soon since we were in the last weeks of the campaign. There is no doubt in my mind that the man who put us over the top was California Governor Ronald Reagan. His opposition to Proposition 6 killed it for sure.
Mixner describes Reagan's involvement with the issue and his libertarian opposition here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Administration Resurfacing

A couple of Reagan administration veterans have got their points across recently. Edwin Meese was in Michigan, confirming that he is on the correct side of the party line - Tea Party good, Obama bad. Meanwhile, Richard Perle has appeared in Foreign Policy with an angry rebuttal to Peter Beinart's analysis of Reagan's dovish qualities. What could have been simple correction of Beinart's understanding of Reagan's arms control strategy becomes a confusing ramble where Perle insists on defining everything in terms of the conservative/liberal divide:
Beinart is not alone in confusing a tough, deliberate application of American power to achieve American ends with the bellicose reckless abandon that he seems to think is the essence of a "conservative" foreign policy. Indeed, it is a common liberal conceit (which Beinart swallows whole) that conservatives, like Reagan, are always spoiling for a fight, eager to launch wars and send American troops in harm's way.
It is reasonable to point out that there is a mythology on the left which sees Reagan as a reckless, bloodthirsty, nuclear cowboy, but thoughtless not to also concede the supportive myth of Reagan as a relentless warrior - particularly in response to an article which portrays Reagan as neither. Still, Beinart's arguments and many like them seem designed to undermine conservatives by denying them their central icon, so it is hardly surprising that defensive conservatives take the bait.

It is, perhaps, a consequence of Reagan's continuing symbolic presence in American politics that his former officials remain so dull and partisan.

Friday, July 16, 2010

"A few isolated groups in the backwater of American life"

The NAACP has this week proposed a resolution which will condemn the Tea Party for its tolerance of racism within its ranks.

At the risk of this blog turning into Gipper-and Palin-watch*, I was interested in the former Alaskan governor's Facebook riposte which, yet again, evokes Ronald Reagan:
President Reagan called America’s past racism “a legacy of evil” against which we have seen the long struggle of minority citizens for equal rights. He condemned any sort of racism, as all good and decent people do today. He also called it a “point of pride for all Americans” that as a nation, we have successfully struggled to overcome this evil. Reagan rightly declared that “there is no room for racism, anti-Semitism, or other forms of ethnic and racial hatred in this country,” and he warned that we must never go back to the racism of our past.
This opened a straightforward denial and evasion of the issue which the NAACP provocatively addressed, reinforced by an avowal of personal colourblindness - which, like Reagan, she expressed as founded in her family experience.

Palin found in Reagan's 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, known most for its "evil empire" line, his declaration of a post-racist America. She might have also noted his horror at "the resurgence of some hate groups preaching bigotry and prejudice" and his call for the audience to "use the mighty voice of your pulpits and the powerful standing of your churches to denounce and isolate these hate groups in our midst". Still, she is generally accurate in her representation of Reagan's belief in America's triumph over its racial division. This was a self-deception, albeit one that was practical and politically useful - allowing Reagan to incorporate the Civil Rights Act he opposed into a narrative of American exceptionalism, and ignore the southern strategy which he employed.

More appropriately, Palin might have quoted Reagan's speech in 1981 to the NAACP's annual convention:
A few isolated groups in the backwater of American life still hold perverted notions of what America is all about. Recently in some places in the nation there's been a disturbing reoccurrence of bigotry and violence. If I may, from the platform of this organization, known for its tolerance, I would like to address a few remarks to those groups who still adhere to senseless racism and religious prejudice, to those individuals who persist in such hateful behavior.If I were speaking to them instead of to you, I would say to them, "You are the ones who are out of step with our society. You are the ones who willfully violate the meaning of the dream that is America. And this country, because of what it stands for, will not stand for your conduct."
The speech went on to acknowledge continued African-American economic inequality, but emphasised that the answer lay in tying the NAACP's goals to achieving general economic independence and ending reliance on federal intervention. In light of, amongst other issues, Reagan's opposition to the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, the speech met a chilly response - and Reagan never returned. Later in his presidency, the chair of the NAACP , William F. Gibson, would call the administration "anti-black, anti-woman, anti-minority and anti-civil rights", and Reagan personally as "reactionary and racist".

Reagan's attacks on racism extended only as far as the extremist fringe, never to those he counted as his political base or allies. Palin echoes his political evasion. Still, the NAACP's resolution suggests a tendency to view any conservative movement as a resurgence of massive resistance, and to attack it, vigourously, politically and symbollically - evading any possibility of aligning African-American advancement with conservative aims, or effectively isolating truly racially-motivated activists.

*I have discovered another site which has taken on this role enthusiastically.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Palin at Simi Valley?

An Alaskan blogger is reporting the possibility that Sarah Palin is planning to announce her candidacy for president on Reagan's centennial at the Reagan Library. This is the second rumour concerning Palin's announcement and its likely appropriation of Reagan's memory, though now with a new location.

The Reagan Library has become a traditional stopping point for Republican presidential campaigns. George W. Bush, John McCain and Stephen Forbes all visited in the run-up to the 2000 election, and in 2008, the opening and closing primary debates were held there. No candidates have announced there yet, and I personally find it unlikely that the library would allow such an appearance of endorsement - let alone on February 6th, when it may be unwilling to share the limelight. Moreover, this brings to mind another incident, when Palin's people had to deny that she was making her first gubernatorial appearance in Simi Valley last year.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Centering Reagan

The efforts to distance Reagan from contemporary conservatism continue. Cenk Uygur argues clumsily on MSNBC that Obama is more conservative than Reagan was, while Andrew Romano in Newsweek makes a more substantial case for Reagan's moderation, asking "What Would Reagan Really Do?". These are little more than retreads of arguments that have been popping up the past year or two, but it is interesting that the reaction to conservative mythography still has momentum. The question is, when will liberals start believing their own counter-propaganda and start celebrating Reagan as a symbol of moderation, unity and continuity?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


The Siena College Research Institute has released the results of its fifth presidential ranking survey, placing Reagan 18th. The results, collated from the participation of 238 scholars, can be found in pdf here, and some analysis here.

Craig Shirley is hopping mad that Reagan scored so middling, but more so that he ranks below Obama, who came 15th. I'd agree that Obama is a weird presence on the list, and tha his ranking is distorted by the glamour and intensity of contemporary politics, and probably by the progressive bias within academia. I'd also say that the choice of Craig Shirley, a public relations man and former Reagan employee, as a contributor emphasises this. Sensitive to the liberal leanings of historians, or at least the accusation of liberal bias, Siena may have sought the insipid political "balance" found on cable news shows. If I were to rank Shirley on some list, incidentally, he'd gain points for imaginative language - "Reagan put the neck of Soviet communism under the heel of his cowboy boot and crushed the life out of it" - but lose points for forgetting Reagan's important, career-transitioning autobiography, Where's the Rest of Me?, in his effort to portray Obama's memoirs as narcissistic self promotion.

Nevertheless, I also agree that Reagan should be higher. Looking at the breakdown, it shows that he scored highly in leadership and communication abilities, including his relationship with Congress. Brilliantly, and somewhat ambiguously, he is also ranked the third luckiest president. He is let down by his judicial and executive appointments, which may be a bit harsh, but the tendency towards the ideologically correct over the morally and legally scrupulous was certainly damning. He also scores very low, 34th, on "background", explained as "family, education and experience". Quite how you rank a presidential family, I don't know, and Reagan's education seems to me pretty average. He was, though, an immensely experienced presidential candidate - a two term Californian governor and union leader, a corporate insider and cultural elite.

His position is also let down by an unreasonably average score on "imagination". Did political hacks like LBJ, JFK, Clinton - and Obama - really have stronger imaginations than Reagan? The man was trained in Hollywood, for gooodness' sake. On "integrity", he comes a below average 26th, which on balance I think is fair. He had considerable personal integrity, but this was undermined by a lack of self-awareness, and it was not a quality which defined his often illusory, deceptive presidency. Finally, Reagan's lowest score is on "intelligence", where he comes 36th, 7th from bottom. Reagan's intelligence is often underestimated, so this seems unfair, but it is, after all, an illustrious list with many bright people on it.

As Shirley points out, on the polls which measure the public's ranking of presidents, Reagan has recently put in some very high appearances. I don't think this demonstrates the worthlessness and out-of-touch elitism of this list, though, but it suggests to me a category which is not included in the survey, and which might improve Reagan's score. There should be room for measuring a president's "resonance" or "remembrance" or even just "legacy". Presidents can still lead and wield symbolic power long after they are gone, and it is then that they become iconic and "great". Lincoln and Washington were successful and extraordinary executives, for example, but their greatness lies in their continued imprint on American politics and identity. An acknowledgement of Reagan's lasting power, whatever his political or personal mediocrities, should elevate him to a more suitable position in the top dozen presidents.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nothing is truth therefore anything goes.

Again we turn to Sarah Palin and her frequent associations with Ronald Reagan in her apparent quest for the presidency. Palin recently spoke at a fundraising event at California State University, Stanislaus. The invitation generated considerable controversy over her speaking fee and contractual demands, but it seems to have paid off for the university.

The content of the speech has attracted some interest as well, as have the accidentally recorded comments made by technicians and reporters after the speech. Most reported has been her comment: "perhaps it was destiny that the man who went to California’s Eureka College would become so woven within and inter-linked to the Golden State". Eureka College is, of course in Illinois. It does seem an odd mistake if Palin is really considering Eureka as the place to launch her presidential bid next February.

The speech, though, makes some more explicit associations with Reagan, and his view on education. A transcript, which has been written to emphasise Palin's chaotic, rambling delivery, can be found here. Firstly, she recalls Reagan's confrontations with California's revolutionary student body in the 1960s, comparing them to her own attraction of protest and scrutiny on campus. More broadly, however, she echoes Reagan's belief in the need for patriotic, civic education, and the basis of freedom in the generational transfer of American values and wisdom.

And some might say there is a contradiction here perhaps. They’d argue that academic freedom is incompatible with our need for a civic education that instills in young people the wisdom and the patriotic grace necessary for the survival and the success of liberty but I think that they are wrong. I think that they are dangerously wrong. The fact that we allow, or should allow for, a healthy and free academic debate of all ideas doesn’t mean that we have to believe that all ideas are equally valid. Unfortunately, too often, that turns into just one small step away from claiming that, well there just isn’t just one right answer to the question what is right what is good or just or true. To saying that well, uh, there are no right answers to these questions there’s, that’s where relativism comes into play and that turns into nihilism. And then we find people saying well then nothing is truth therefore anything goes. Just, just do it, every things permitted. There’s no truth.

If this cultural relativism is confined merely to just a few individuals, the exceptions to the norm, well that’s one thing but we have seen before what happens when whole sections of society fall into that trap. Take note of this, uh, consider that would the brutality of communism have lasted as long as it did if there hadn’t been a large group of people here in the west who were willing to essentially accommodate it for fear of daring to even condemn it. For a long time, folks it was kinda consider, considered sophisticated to take a position somewhere between freedom and communism.

And it took a supposedly unsophisticated graduate from lowly Eureka College to bring Communism to its knees. And he did it by simply calling an evil empire what it was, evil. There’s an important lesson here for us today. A free republic can only survive if its citizens are willing and able to defend it ideologically and to stand up for its founding principles.
Reagan made a call for the reinstitutionalisation of patriotism and "more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual" in his farewell address. In 1971, he also wrote to his almer mater's newspaper, the Eureka Pegasus, defending his record on education and the importance of tradition:

True ed[ucation] is societys [sic] attempt to enunciate certain ultimate values upon which individuals & hence society may safely build. When men fail to drive toward a goal or purpose but drift the drift is always toward barbarism. You have every right to ask the reason behind the mores & customs of what we refer to as civilization. Challenge we can afford. You have no right & it makes no sense to reject the wisdom of the ages simply because it is rooted in the past.
Palin gave her address in front of the university's motto, "Vox Veritas Vita": "Voice, Truth, Life", or, as wikipedia has it, "Speak the Truth as a way of Life". Irony aside, the concept of truth was a theme of this speech.
Ask parents what they want in their child’s education and they’re probably gonna tell you that they don’t care much for all this political stuff. What a parent desires for their child’s education it’s basic you know they want the three R’s and they want true history taught. Our country, our laws, our traditions, our arts, and our literature, and our heroes, and our statesmen.

This is an appeal for a democratic approach to the content of higher education, not dissimilar from Reagan's stance when he ran for governor. Palin does not ask for an overhaul of the curriculum, though, (nor indicate in any specific way what is wrong with what is being taught) but assumes that "common sense" will result in the identification and promotion of "true history" and the resultant eradication of scepticism and "relativism". I trust that Palin, like Reagan, will be satisfied with merely encouraging the adoption of "common sense" in academia, and not attempt its enforcement.

Incidentally, Palin lambasted nameless "politically correct intellectuals" for considering Osama bin Laden a "freedom fighter". The highest profile person I can think of who considered the mujahideen in Afghanistan "freedom fighters" was Ronald Reagan.

Reagan's Mac and Cheese

The Modesto Bee responds to a reader's request for Ronald Reagan's recipe for his all-time favourite dish, Macaroni and Cheese. Here it is:

• Ingredients:

½ pound uncooked macaroni

1 tablespoon butter

1 egg, beaten

3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided use

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dried Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

A pinch of paprika

• Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 2-quart casserole dish.

Add macaroni to 2 quarts of boiling salted water and cook for 10 minutes. Drain well in a colander. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Stir in butter and beaten egg. Add 2½ cups of the grated cheese.

In a small bowl, combine milk with salt, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Spoon macaroni and cheese into the prepared casserole. Pour milk mixture over and sprinkle top with the remaining cheese. Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake on middle shelf of preheated 350 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until macaroni is firm to the touch and the top is crusty and browned. Serve at once, either as a light entree accompanied by a hot green vegetable or as a side dish with meatloaf.

In related news, July is National Ice Cream Month, as proclaimed by President Reagan in 1984 alongside the establishment of African Refugees Relief Day.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ronald Reagan: Citizen Legislator

At the National Review Corner, "A Time for Choosing" is recalled. Bizarrely, Steyn and Long remember Reagan as an opponent of strong, charismatic moral leadership in the presidency. Reagan, of course, is celebrated most amongst modern presidents for strong, charismatic moral leadership. This attack on Obama's pretence to leadership and those who accept it reflects the increasing trend on the right to focus on Reagan's activism in the early '60s. Then, Reagan could most legitimately claim not to be a politician, but merely a citizen outraged with the growth of government and the decline of culture, and spoke more angrily and apocalyptically than any other period. Where his presidency might provide too many lessons in compromise, and too many favourable comparisons with Obama, his first years as a Republican provide a model for powerless, populist opposition.

JeffreyLord, a former Reagan official, also looked back to Reagan in the '60s last week in the American Spectator. Potentially an interesting look at how the NYT reported on Reagan and the conservative movement, and how that compares to modern coverage of the Tea Party, Lord's article swerves towards a rant about an elitist "Establishment". In Lord's understanding, Reagan and the Tea Party are representatives of an American tradition of anti-establishmentarianism which includes George Washington, Sean Hannity and, somehow, Lincoln. This narrative depends on a rigid definition of "Establishment" and a few blindspots: firstly, that the Hollywood political leader and GE spokesman Reagan was somewhat of an established elite himself; secondly the long tradition of leftist anti-Establishment types for which, in the '60s, Reagan was the foe; and thirdly, the fact that Reagan's presidency Established a political dynasty still represented well in the Beltway and the Fourth Estate.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Next Reagan and the Next Thatcher

The Daily Mail reports that Sarah Palin has approached Margaret Thatcher in hope of a meeting/photo-op. If a UK trip is really on the cards, it seems typical of Palin's style - vague and symbolic. An unnamed source remarked that "Palin’s people haven’t said anything about meeting Cameron. Their main interest is getting a picture of her with Lady Thatcher. I’m not sure they know who David Cameron is." In other words, if Palin is planning a foreign trip in advance of a presidential run, it will focus on the iconic, rather than the substantial (unlike Reagan's own meeting with Thatcher in 1978, perhaps).

The same, or another, unnamed source goes on to reflect on the purpose of the overture: "Palin’s big hero is Ronald Reagan. In US Republican folklore Thatcher and Reagan brought down the Soviet Union between them. That’s why Maggie is so important." An excitable Washington Examiner columnist has also represented this in terms of Palin's claim on the Reagan mantle. The suggestion of her meeting Thatcher seems to further confirm her as the "heir to Ronald Reagan". There is, though, more than this association to Palin's interest in the former PM. Thatcher is occasionally held up in Going Rogue as both a heroic proponent of the free market and "creative destruction", and implicitly as a model of female leadership. The blessing of the West's most famous and successful stateswoman might bestow Palin with some new gravity and credibility.

Žižek has compared Palin's style with that of traditional female leaders such as Thatcher:
Earlier generations of women politicians...were what is usually referred to as "phallic" women: they acted as "iron ladies" who imitated and tried to outdo male authority, to be "more men than men themselves."...Jacques-Alain Miller pointed out how Sarah Palin, on the contrary, proudly displays her femininity and motherhood.
It is bound to be a curious meeting, if it ever happens.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Beinart Thinking Again

Peter Beinart has a new piece on conservative myths about Ronald Reagan at Foreign Policy. Much of this treads old ground about Reagan's relative doveishness and caution in the Cold War, in Latin America, and in confronting terrorism - and the dismay he provoked in contemporary conservatives. The most interesting part is on how Obama compares to him, and can learn from him.
Like Reagan, Obama took office in an environment that severely constrains the ability of the United States to launch new military campaigns. For many contemporary conservatives, being a Reagan disciple means acting as if there are no limits to American strength. But the real lessons of Reaganism are about how to wield national power and bolster national pride when your hands are partially tied. That doesn't mean Obama should mimic all of Reagan's policies, some of which were deeply misguided. But Obama can, and should, be Reaganesque in his effort to project great strength at low risk. That means understanding that America's foreign-policy debates are often cultural debates in disguise.
Essentially, Obama should learn the art of symbolic acts which satisfy the national psyche without creating political obligations. Reagan was not always good at this, considering Bitburg, but it was a definitive theme of his presidency. It has been, and will be different for Obama, who is hampered by the extraordinary symbolism of his race. Moreover, his conservative critics lead the discussion on symbolic issues, most recently over his precedented non-attendance at Arlington for Memorial Day, leaving him little room for personal innovation.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Tea Party and Jimmy Carter

Bob Bennett has good reason to be resentful of the Tea Party for wrenching away from him his seat in the Senate, but as a conservative Republican, he has equal reason to hope for their success. This conflict is evident in his mischievous message to the movement and its future representatives, to be like Ronald Reagan, not Jimmy Carter.

Such advice might seem like a no-brainer for the Tea Party, who claim Reagan as their own, but for Bennett it is not a matter of ideology, but character. Where Carter was rigid and gloomy, self-righteous and self-isolating, Reagan was reflexive, bi-partisan, optimistic and mindful of Washington ways. Comparing the Tea Party to Jimmy Carter is a provocative act, but Bennett has nothing to fear from them now, except their own potential for failure in advancing conservative policy.

Reagan vs. Henry Clay

While Reagan lost out to the Devil in the naming battle of Mt. Diablo in California, it turns out he had more success in New Hampshire - success that has now been challenged by the feds. In 2003, the GOP controlled New Hampshire state legislature voted to rename Mt. Clay after Ronald Reagan. There was a certain logic to the decision. Mt. Clay lies in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, between Mts. Washington and Jefferson, but it is named for Henry Clay, who despite three attempts, never rose from the Senate to the White House. The legislature, though, were acting less out of compulsive pedantry than eager support of the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project.

However, such name changes require the acquiescence of the federal government, specifically the United States Board on Geographic Names, and this month they voted down the change. They took so long because federal law does not allow decisions on commemorative acts until five years after the death of the person in question (something that has confounded the RRLP and its congressional agents in the past). The minutes of the meeting in question are not available yet, but the decision seems based on a fairly conservative resistance to whimsical name changes of well established landmarks (this also seems to be the general view of mountaineers, if those commenting at View From the Top are representative). So while New Hampshire Republicans will no doubt be making increased references to Mt. Reagan, there is, as yet, officially no mountian in the United States representing the Gipper.

On a side note, the secretary of the United States Board on Geographic Names is called Lou Yost - what an amazing name.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reagan High

Those who wish to see more things in California named for the Gipper have suffered a second setback this year. Alpine, a city in San Diego County, is anticipating a new high school, to be opened in 2013. The planning of the school has covered many aspects of its design and operation, but the most controversial decision has been over its name.

Recently, the Grossmont Union High School District board waived a policy which determined that all schools be named after geographic regions. This allowed, or paved the way for, one trustee to propose naming the new school after Ronald Reagan (reportedly the trustee in question had opposed the new school from the start). A backlash against this unilateral decision prompted the board to create a committee to decide on the name, which only escalated the controversy when the committe members were discovered. Heading the list was local resident Ron Nehring, also chairman of the state Republican party, and former GOP congressman Duncan Hunter, Sr. - a political stitch-up seemed inevitable. However, the committee responded to pressure and agreed to survey the locals for potential names.

The controversy is mixed up in arcane local politics, too baffling for me to unpick. But the angry reaction to the proposal has been interesting. From some quarters, there is a traditional reaction to Reagan's politcal symbolism. The local Viejas and Sycuan tribes objected to their lack of inclusion in the decision process, but also the choice of Reagan, an "an inveterate Indian fighter" who "showed outright contempt for Native Americans".

The region, though, is conservative and strongly Republican, and the general reaction is by no means against President Reagan, but against outisders, whether the state or national party or the Ronlad Reagan Legacy Project, interfering in local business. Local pundit Chris Reed claims Reagan as "easily the best president of my lifetime", but has taken Ron Nehring to task over his association with Grover Norquist and the RRLP, and their efforts to turn a local issue into one of national symbolism. Moreover, on Nehring's response, Reed objected:
Sorry, Ron, that doesn't wash. I am a huge fan of Ronald Reagan and I think your party has betrayed him over and over and over. The last Republican president was a lot closer to LBJ than Reagan.
As with the $50 bill issue, there appears to be a broad cynicism over the Republican Party's efforts to appropriate the image of Ronald Reagan, from his supporters and critics alike.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Obama vs. Reagan vs. Eisenhower

As you probably know already, we are into the second week of Protect America Month, the four weeks of every year where we contemplate ruination as the Obama administration strips America of its muscle. This is organised by the Heritage Foundation, who adopted the slogan "Resurrecting a Vision of Peace Through Strength" as they launched this year's events. This is an echo of Reagan's argument for high defence spending, and contrasting Reagan and Obama is a theme of the occasion.

Conn Carrol argues that military cuts demonstrate that unlike Reagan, Obama is not an exceptionalist:
So strongly did Reagan believe in American exceptionalism that he often described our country as “this experiment in liberty, this last, best hope of man.” But President Obama disagrees. He sees the United States as just another declining power like Britain or Greece.
This is a canard. Obama has frequently expressed a belief in America's exceptional story and opportunity, and has even, like Reagan, quoted Lincoln on occasion. Exceptionalism, though, has developed recently on the right as a euphemism for nationalism (I has some thoughts on this during the 2008 election). Meanwhile, another Heritage man, Kim Holmes, has suggested that this moment is analogous to the late seventies:
We may well be at that moment again. After Jimmy Carter, we elected Ronald Reagan. He restored not only our belief in America, but our commitment to defense. Conservative principles and traditional American values prevailed then. They can prevail again.
As far as I know, Heritage has not chosen its candidate for 2012, and nor has the Committee on the Present Danger, the defence-oriented think-tank collective who in its last incarnation took Reagan into its ranks and elevated his candidacy with its intellectual weight.

The Secretary of Defence has since come out to defend his cuts from this organised criticism. Attacked by fellow veterans of the Reagan administration such as Ed Meese, who again quoted one of their boss's aphorisms - "no nation ever got into a war because they were too strong" (debatable) - Bob Gates turned instead to Eisenhower to support his position. Speaking at the Eisenhower Presidential Library on VE Day, Gates promoted the war hero and Republican president as a model for austerity:

Eisenhower told his senior defense team that he wanted the Pentagon cut down to a “Spartan basis,” lamenting that “people he had known all his life were asking for more and more.” He went on to say: “I say the patriot today is the fellow who can do the job with less money.”

Time and again, whenever Eisenhower was asked to fund something his response usually took the form of a question: where is the money going to come from, and what will the military cut in its place? The other question was priorities. In a meeting with defense officials earlier in his presidency, Eisenhower said he was troubled by the tendency to “pile program on program” to meet every possible contingency.

Looking back from today’s vantage point, what I find so compelling and instructive was the simple fact that when it came to defense matters, under Eisenhower real choices were made, priorities set, and limits enforced. This became increasingly rare in the decades that followed, despite the best efforts of some of my predecessors and other attempts at reform over the years.

Gates also quoted from Ike's farewell address, which coined the "military-industrial complex" and warned: "This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience…We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications." While conservatives reach back to the triumphalism of the Reagan years, the Obama administration recalls the uncertain new paradigms and new choices that America faced in the early Cold War.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Palin in Illinois

There is a suggestion from Conservatives for Palin that the Alaskan news analyst may start her presidential campaign with an overt attempt to claim the memory of Ronald Reagan.:

Twice in the last month we’ve had the sincere and unbelievable privilege of watching the Palins up close as the Governor delivered two important addresses in our home state of Illinois. In both speeches, Palin cited President Ronald Reagan as a driving influence in her life and political career, drawing great attention to the fact Reagan was born and educated in Illinois — the state in which we believe Palin will officially launch her 2012 presidential bid on February 6th, 2011…Reagan’s 100th birthday. She’ll do it – we betcha – in either Tampico or Eureka, two cities in our state intimately connected to Reagan.

As far as I have read and watched, Palin has never said anything substantial about Reagan, his career or ideology, his policies or leadership style. Instead, she waves him like a flag, and he and his legacy are reduced to a bundle of clichés. Beginning her campaign on his birthday, in his birthplace, would likely be an extraordinary escalation of glibness. The suggestion, though, may well be idle speculation. Palin's plans often seem haphazard, and the writer here appears relatively unhinged, frequently slipping into rants about the leftist media. From Andrew Sullivan:

This creature of News Corp will run against the media - in the name of Reagan, the man from Hollywood and General Electric. Yes, history can repeat itself as farce.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Owl City on a Hill

Adam Young, the ascendant electro-popper also known as Owl City, has been putting the words of Ronald Reagan to music on his current tour. Reagan's speech on the 1986 Challenger disaster provides a dramatic, emo opening to "Meteor Shower", an otherwise short, simple little number:

Young is a Christian whose lyrics, while ambiguous enough to appeal to millions of needy teenagers, certainly reflect a simple, devotional faith. Traditionally, Reagan has appeared as a warmongering villain or vacuous buffoon in American music - as this list suggests. Owl City has cast aside the angry, political punk of his forefathers and is offering the American youth an image of Reagan as an inspiring, spiritual leader.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bob Barr: Obama Criminalises Reagan

Bob Barr, a committed Libertarian, has a cranky response to President Obama's recent commencment address at the University of Michigan, where he offered a defence of government in American history.
President Barack Obama extolled the inherent and expansive virtues of all things government, even as he was sharply and pointedly critical of those who criticize government as being “inherently bad.” Such talk, Obama clearly intimated, can lead “extremists” to commit acts of violence.

Had Obama been in a similar position of authority in January 1981, would he have thus accused Ronald Reagan of inciting to violence during his inaugural address? In order to be consistent, Obama would have had to similarly charge his predecessor; and he would have been just as wrong and off-base then as he is in 2010 to blame those who are critical of Big Government for the actions of a small number of criminals who commit acts of violence.

The answer, of course, is "no, he wouldn't". Firstly, Barr's quotation of Reagan is incomplete and misrepresentative, as his summation of Obama's speech. Mickey Edwards argued against similar conservative sloganeering a few months ago:

Reagan, who spent 16 years in government, actually said this: "In the present crisis," referring specifically to the high taxes and high levels of federal spending that had marked the Carter administration, "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." He then went on to say: "Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it's not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work." Government, he said, "must provide opportunity." He was not rejecting government, he was calling -- as Barack Obama did Tuesday -- for better management of government, for wiser decisions.

Obama on Saturday:

So, class of 2010, what we should be asking is not whether we need 'big government' or a 'small government,' but how we can create a smarter and better government... Government shouldn’t try to guarantee results, but it should guarantee a shot at opportunity for every American who’s willing to work hard.

Secondly, Obama didn't blame critics of big government for the acts of extremists. Instead, he made a point about the need for civility of discourse in US politics - something Reagan is frequently praised for upholding - and the ultimate danger of hyperbole and demonisation by both left and right:

It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out. It robs us of a rational and serious debate, the one we need to have about the very real and very big challenges facing this nation. It coarsens our culture, and at its worst, it can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response.
So, no, Bob Barr, Obama didn't just call Reagan a terrorist, he echoed his rhetoric and asked Americans to do the same.

Minnesota's Reagan

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is the latest in the 2012 GOP line-up to be granted a comparison with Ronald Reagan. Michael Gerson has suggested that Pawlenty's civility and charm, his ability to appeal to non-conservatives and his succesful show-down with Minnesota's strong transport union, echo Reagan's candidacy and leadership. Governor of the only state never to vote for Reagan, Pawlenty certainly admires the former president, but might be sceptical about embracing the association. Last year, he suggested that the Republican Party was too prone to nostalgic evocations of its iconic leader:
We need to develop new Ronald Reagans and new reference points. It would be as if Barack Obama was going around and constantly talking about Truman or LBJ. It’s just become a reference point that isn’t as relevant for young people.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Speech of the Unknown

Reagan had a bunch of stories, and this involves one of my favourites. Over the decades he would occasionally relate a tale about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, where the delegates waver at the last minute, only to be roused into action by an unknown speaker at the back of the hall. After signing, they turn and find the stranger has mysteriously disappeared. Reagan enjoyed the drama and its hint of miraculous intervention at America's birth. In 1981, a minister wrote to inform him that the speaker was, in fact, John Witherspoon. Though the president graciously received the information, the story was robbed of its mystery, and he never told it again.

Mitch Horowitz, an historian of the American occult, has uncovered an interesting new aspect to the story. Reagan never gave a source for his tale, though in 1974 at CPAC, he mentions he heard it from "a writer, who happened to be an avid student of history", but that he himself " never researched or made an effort to verify it". Horowitz now has, concluding that Reagan took the story from occult philosopher Manly P. Hall:

After publishing his great work, Hall spent the rest of his life lecturing and writing within the walls of his Egypto-art deco campus in L.A.’s Griffith Park neighborhood. He called the place a “mystery school” in the mold of Pythagoras’s ancient academy. It was there in 1944 that the occult thinker produced a short work, one little known beyond his immediate circle. This book, The Secret Destiny of America, caught the eye of the future president, then a middling Hollywood actor gravitating toward politics. Hall’s concise volume described how America was the product of a “Great Plan” for religious liberty and self-governance, launched by a hidden order of ancient philosophers and secret societies.

Reagan's telling of the story apparently matches Hall's version, suggesting that "the president’s reading tastes ran to some of the outer reaches of esoteric spiritual lore". Reagan believed in an ordained destiny for America, though he attributed this to divine sources, rather than the more earthly (if not grounded) idea of an ancient conspiracy. This revelation, however, certainly suggests a new meaning to another oft-repeated aphorism:

You can call it mysticism if you want to, but I have always believed that there was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom and a special kind of courage.

I will call it mysticism!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Romney the Westerner

Mitt Romney has bought a $12 million house in Southern California, prompting an Independent Californian Voter to ask, "Is the camera-friendly Mitt Romney looking to become the Ronald Reagan of the 21st century?"

References to Reagan will, of course, saturate coverage of the contenders for the 2012 GOP nomination and this one, like many, seems a stretch. After all, why not buy a house in Southern California if you have $12 million? Moreover, could someone really expect to turn around their regional identity in two years? In Romney's case, though, the answer might be yes. Ingratiating himself with California Republicans, getting a tan and a cowboy hat - these efforts could give the candidate the veneer of western conservatism and remove the taint of pallid eastern liberalism. Or maybe he's setting his sights lower for a Californian Senate seat in 2012? Or maybe he just wants a house in the sunshine on the beach?

Interestingly, while Romney is eager to endorse Tea Party hero Marco Rubio in Florida, he's also stepping out with billioniare suspect-RINO Meg Whitman in California. Finger in every pie? Party uniter? He is a man of wonderous mystery.

Michael Reagan continues to push his distinctive brand. If, like me, you feel a gnawing shame and anger everytime you log in to your Yahoo! account and see a news story which denigrates Sarah Palin, or hate yourself for using the services provided by those hippies at GMail, then weep no longer and get an account!

On the grounds that the major email service providers "support liberals", Reagan is offering fellow ideologues the first conservative email system, for just $34.95 per year. I hear Oliver North and John Poindexter, who both understand the dangers of a politically unreliable electronic messaging system, have gladly signed up.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Dark, Dark Hours

In one of the recently rediscovered General Electric Theater episodes, Reagan has a fraught encounter with the wayward youth of today (today being 1954) in the form of James Dean's unstable hipster. Here is the story reduced to six minutes:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Loyal to the Party, or to Reagan?

Raymond Boyd, a new self-financed candidate for Georgia's governorship, has begun his campaign for the GOP's nomination by taking on the state party in a symbolic battle. A classic self-made outsider with, in his own words, "the testicular fortitude it takes to be a leader", Boyd refuses to be tainted or restrained by the Republican machine. By rule, all candidates must make an oath of allegiance to the Party to recieve its nomination . Boyd refuses. "I’m not a Republican who follows the sheep," he says, unwilling to make a pledge to a party which has "drifted from its core principles" - "It's an oath, by God, it means something to me." It is unclear exactly what the oath demands, but I expect it is not dissimilar to this Florida one, which simply asks that candidates and officeholders do not oppose other Republicans in other elections.

Oaths are not in themselves unacceptable to Boyd, however, and he has suggested his own, which pledges that he:
will not be bound by any position of the Georgia Republican Party that I do not feel would represent the core principles of that faction of the Republican Party which is referred to by many as ‘Ronald Reagan Republicans.' I am running as a Republican -- a Ronald Reagan Republican. I hereby reaffirm my pledge to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and I offer my life in defense thereof.
A Tea Partier, Boyd embraces the new factionalism in the Republican Party, using Reagan as an incoherent symbol of that split, and of the angry nationalism that drives it. Reagan represents the broad idea of America, but also the belligerent minority. This is probably not a sustainable idea, and likely not enough to sustain Boyd's earnest if clumsy campaign. He seems like an interesting one to watch this year, though.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Learning from Reagan's Debates

Last night's tepid but historic televised debate between Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Gordon Brown potentially began a new tradition in British electoral politics. As the first of its kind, the only precedents available to pundits and commentators have been the US presidential debates of the last fifty years. In general, these have featured in the UK media as simple lists of memorable blunders and one-liners, but Domonic Sandbrook in the New Statesman took a closer look at the single example of Reagan vs. Carter in 1980.

Both Carter's and Reagan's performances offered lessons for the party leaders - but all in matters of style and presentation:
In many ways, the Reagan-Carter clash was a reminder of everything that is wrong with televised debates: their fixation with personality rather than policy, their obsession with the image rather than the word, their emphasis on the individual rather than the party.
As Sandbrook suggests, it is also unique for being vaguely memorable and, because it was held so close to the election, politically consequential. Last night did not seem to match it in either sense unless Clegg's supposed victory and bland but strangely celebrated performance actually translates into solid votes for the Liberal Democrats. Otherwise, the better comparison will be the Reagan vs. Anderson debate which occured well over a month before the election, elevated John Anderson and sustained his high poll ratings, but did not prevent his candidacy being squeezed out by the two main contenders come November.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Reagan and Obama in the Approval-o-Meter

A poll-watcher has been noticing the similar trend of Obama's and Reagan's approval ratings in their first months in office. A result of familiar economic conditions and comparably ambitious agendas, the two both score relatively low compared to other modern presidents.

Their opening positions are quite different; Obama's honeymoon was immediate and historically ordained, while Reagan's more gradual. His early peak probably relates to his survival of an assassination attempt.

The Lifeguard: Ronald Reagan and His Story

The best news ever is that Reagan's life has been turned into a one-man play. While the author is a veteran of CSI, the producers, David Permut and J. Mark Travis have experience in presidential plays from their work on Give 'em Hell, Harry in 1975.

Seeing a similarity between the political turbulence of the '70s and contemporary America, they also envisage for Reagan a similar role to Truman's after his death - a fond icon of more stable times. A nostalgic reflection on Reagan will appeal to America's desire for unity - "Never before has there really been a president who took a country that was so divisive and brought it together." This is an interesting assessment - by Hollywood producers, of all people - of Reagan as a cure for partisan discord rather than its symbol.

The play will be filmed in Ford's Theater (suitably? eerily?) later in the year, and I look forward to the Fox News reviews almost as much as seeing it. "Several big-name actors have expressed an interest" - please, let it be Tom Hanks.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Podhoretz and Palin and Reagan

Sarah Palin has not been shy of associating herself with Ronald Reagan. She quotes him often, she named her book after his book, and her current activities echo the choices Reagan made in his own wilderness years, maintaining her public profile as a freelance campaigner and a "news analyst".

Arch-Neoconservative Norman Podhoretz has also looked back to this period to find similarities between the two prospective presidential candidates, but in the common reaction to them by conservative intellectuals. Except Podhoretz, of course.

It's hard to imagine now, but 31 years ago, when I first announced that I was supporting Reagan in his bid for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, I was routinely asked by friends on the right how I could possibly associate myself with this "airhead," this B movie star, who was not only stupid but incompetent. They readily acknowledged that his political views were on the whole close to ours, but the embarrassing primitivism with which he expressed them only served, they said, to undermine their credibility.

"I knew Ronald Reagan," he says, "and Sarah Palin is no Ronald Reagan," but her dismissal by the likes of David Frum and Christopher Buckley is akin to the elitism with which conservative intellectuals met Reagan's candidacy. Except it wasn't, not really. Reagan not only had the long time backing of William Buckley, he also garnered after 1976 the support of the Hoover Institution and the American Enterprise Institute. This is part of the essential difference between Reagan then and Palin now. Reagan's media presence had a broad syndication on radio and in the papers, while Palin is tied to the Fox machine and the Facebook choir. Reagan set out to lead a coalition of conservative interests - elites and common folk, intellectuals and dumbasses - while maintaining an independent voice. Palin is positioning herself to lead a distinct populist movement, hostile to any compromising alliance, which will limit her appeal. It might as well be said that Reagan also used his time to travel and meet foreign leaders and counterparts such as the Shah and Margaret Thatcher. Maybe Palin will seek out an audience with Hamid Karzai or David Cameron, but I can't see it appealing to her base.

Of course, Reagan was something of an elite in the late seventies, with tons of money and a Hollywood address book, while Palin is defnitely not. However disingenuously she claims not to be a politician, she can fairly claim to be an outsider. But if conservative intellectuals don't like her, it needn't be because of who she is, but because she does not like them - or represents a movement which does not like or want them, and which seems to have contributed to an atmosphere of constraint over conservative thought. Reagan was never so self-limiting

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Crist and Christie: Not Reagans.

Two Republican Governors with amusingly similar names have been hit with charges that they are not Ronald Reagan.

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey is under fire from local conservatives for not being a local conservative. Tom Waits look-a-like Paul Mulshine argues here that by not firing government workers, talking about zero-based budgeting and acknowledging global warming, Christie is acting more like Jimmy Carter than Ronald Reagan. Scanning his other posts, it seems Mulshine is also frustrated with the ideological impurity of the American Spectator and Rush Limbaugh.

In Florida, Governor Charlie Crist met with his insurgent competition for the GOP senate nomination, Marco Rubio, in a nationally televised debate. A suspect moderate, Crist was compelled to confirm four times that he would not run as an independent were his campaign to crumple before the primary. Rubio responded with the insinuation that even to be questioned was proof of disloyalty:
If I may, the governor likes to call himself a Reagan Republican. I don't ever recall Reagan being questioned about running as an independent.
Lightning quick, and possibly not helping his case, Crist countered:
Actually, Reagan was a Democrat before he was a Republican...So if you want to talk about Reagan, let's talk about him.
Disappointingly, the candidates did not go on to discuss the Gipper, save for Rubio's bland echo of the 1980 slogan - "Are you better off than you were four years ago"? Crist might have pointed out that Reagan had been asked to run as an independent (or Conservative Party) opponent to Nixon in 1972 by the Young Americans for Freedom. He shut them up, of course, but speculation about his possible break with the party was hardly absent then, or in 1976. The situation is clear, though. When once the right-wing was seen at odds with the mainstream party, now it is the relative moderate who is expected to make the break. In Florida, anyway, if not in New York.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The End of the Age of Reagan

Reagan has been an occasional reference during the healthcare debate. Conservatives flooded Youtube with his attacks on socialised medicine from the early sixties. Democrats, in using reconciliation to push through the bill, turned to a tactic first tried by Republicans to realise Reagan's early tax and spending cuts.

Now that Obama's healthcare reform has become law, the word is that the Age of Reagan is over. David Leonhardt describes the Reagan era as three decades of rising wealth inequality, and the healthcare bill the first piece of legislation that reverts the trajectory Reagan pursued. Rush Limbaugh despairs at the Age's passing:

In the early eighties I earned less than I ever had in my life and I still loved Ronald Reagan and I still loved what was going on. Americans loved their country. We had come off of four years of utter disaster called Jimmy Carter, and we now have Jimmy Carter's second term, only worse. Carter was a bumbling idiot but I don't think he really despised the country. We're being led by people that don't like this country or at least they've been raised not to like it.

At Hot Air, J.E. Dyer challenges Leonhardt's definition of the Reagan era, arguing that the trends he points to stem from the regulatory legislation of the 1970s.

Meanwhile, a dual image of Reagan has been evoked in the New York Times in response to the anger of the Tea Party. Timothy Egan cannot imagine the Gipper amongst the protestors or engaging in the frantic, aggressive rhetoric of the GOP: "Reagan was all about sunny optimism, and at times bipartisan bonhomie. In him, the American people saw their better half." Paul Krugman disagrees: "For today’s G.O.P. is, fully and finally, the party of Ronald Reagan — not Reagan the pragmatic politician, who could and did strike deals with Democrats, but Reagan the antigovernment fanatic, who warned that Medicare would destroy American freedom."

The Age of Reagan might persevere as long as it is understood as a movement of resistance, as long as he is seen as a figure of opposition, rather than government.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Progress is Our Most Important Product

When I visited in 2008, the Reagan Library had in its AV collection a few dozen episodes of General Electric Theater, which Reagan hosted and starred in during the 1950s. The tapes I watched left no great impression on me, save for the confidence with which the host promoted his employer's message of American progress and innovation. Last week the library was gifted the full collection of 208 episodes, discovered and restored by GE after being presumed lost as TV ephemera. Whatever else might be lurking in the NBC archives, this was a very timely discovery given GE's prominent sponsorship of the Reagan Centennial. Along with the tapes, GE CEO Jeff Immelt pledged $10 million for the library's celebration and refurbishment, and $5 million to a scholarship programme.

Immelt's speech described Reagan's employment by GE, as an actor and as an "employee ambassador" who toured facilities to raise morale and communicate the company philosophy to the workers. Rather than focus on Reagan's internalisation during this period of Lemuel Boulware's conservative ideology and management theory (as explored by Thomas Evans), Immelt presented Reagan as a model for GE's contemporary ambitions, methods, character and principles. This reversal is suitable for the CEO, joined GE in 1982, am enthusiastic disciple of Reaganomics. It is also the theme of GE's new advertising campaign, where Reagan is not presented as the creation of the company, but its inspiration:

A longer version can be viewed on GE's website, along with reminiscences ("progress reports") by the usual suspects as well as ordinary GE-employed folk. There is even a "Storyline" to call for what appears to be their own, weird, oral history project. The effect of this campaign is to reduce the significance of Reagan's, or GE's, politics, and promote him as a national symbol of American character. Immelt concentrated on themes of optimisim, determination, leadership and openness; Reagan's party and policies are second to his personal greatness and his national significance:

Ronald Reagan set an example for the country. I try to manage my life, and my company, to do the same. Always listen. Always try to learn. Always try to improve. Stay humble. Make those around you better. Appreciate your responsibility to perform with integrity and to make things better. Nearly 60 years after GE and Ronald Reagan first worked together, we are honored to renew the association. I am very proud GE can play a small role in celebrating the extraordinary life, character, service and legacy of Ronald Reagan. And, may I add, GE still believes progress is our most important product. No business created and operating in America should ever believe anything less. And should we ever forget it, we have the example of the great man whom we pay tribute to today to recall us to our senses and our obligations.

It's more fun if you imagine Jack Donaghy delivering the homilies.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Reagan Test

Larry Schweikart, author of A Patriot's History of the United States, ought to know something about political bias in the representation of history. He has recently phoned in an opinion to Fox News about the perennial debate over the content of history textbooks, arguing for the usefulness of his Reagan Test.

As the Texas textbook battle continues to simmer, Schweikart says the first thing he does to determine whether a book is politically slanted is to go to any section discussing President Ronald Reagan. What you'll find there, he says, will tell you everything you need to know, he says.

Schweikart first advocated this "pregnancy test" for political distortion in his book 48 Liberal Lies About American History. He can be seen advocating it in 2008 on, yes, Fox News here. As ever, Reagan is offered as a great national figure of American history, but maintained as a touchstone of partisan discord. Conservatives: if you love someone, set them free.

Points must be given for Schwiekart's inspiring historical method: "I lived through the Reagan years, I remember."

Monday, March 15, 2010

What Reagan can do for Obama

President Obama's current woes might be lifted, would he only learn from the Gipper. In the New Republic, John B. Judis suggests that the White House follow Reagan's strategy for the 1982 midterms. This argument for more coherent and effective (and negative) communication is echoed by Elanor Clift in Newsweek.

Obama, though, appears to have renounced Reagan-esque communication, favouring the verbal over the visual. Though a reaction to the blithe triumphalism of the Bush presidency, the White House's decision to avoid staged performance amounts to a rejection of the presidential image that was defined in the eighties. Director of communications Dan Pfeiffer explains: "We don’t want to participate in the artifice of politics that have turned so many people off. Great images are important but they should be believable to people who did not study at the knee of Michael Deaver." The aura of illusion, fantasy and falsehood that Reagan brought to the presidency must be purged, even if it means sacrificing the magic and mystique. Given the style of Obama's campaign, though, this abstinence from glamourous pseudo-events seems more like penitent self-denial than principled reform of the presidency.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Back on the Radio

A Texas radio station has mysteriously started to play just Reagan speeches.

The country music station plays soft, but there's nothing, really nothing to turn off...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Reagan vs. Grant

In a blow to U.S. Grant fans, Representative Patrick McHenry (R, NC) has introduced a bill to place Ronald Reagan on the $50 bill. Joan Waugh, a UCLA historian who is currently researching President Grant in American memory, says "Shame!". Grant's image as a corrupt, incompetent drunk is the result, she argues, of a campaign by Confederate sympathisers in the late 19th century: "All those images are distorted, reflecting a larger historical amnesia afflicting many citizens. The GOP should defend the former leader rather than trying to oust him from the $50 bill."

McHenry is a conservative southerner, the 17th most conservative member of the House, but it is unclear whether his idea is born of any inherited hostility towards the saviour of the Union. Instead, it seems part of the continued effort to elevate Reagan as a national historical icon. The congressman announced that "every generation needs its own heroes. One decade into the 21st century, it's time to honor the last great president of the 20th and give President Reagan a place beside Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy."

Given that the bill, at least in the current session of Congress, is likely to go the way of all other Republican attempts to put Reagan on currency, there is perhaps a more immediate purpose to the bill, which is to elevate McHenry as a national conservative leader. Last month McHenry found himself with two challengers for the GOP nomination to his seat, who appear to be to be coming from the populist right, drawing on dissatisfaction with Congress and incumbency in general. McHenry's bill, which has drawn national and international attention, must be interpreted as an early campaign maneuver, one which employs his incumbency to establish himself as a party leader. His opponents are unimpressed. Though careful to emphasise their own Gipper love, the bill is presented as a distraction from vital local issues: "13.6 percent of our neighbors don't have a $50 bill to look at because they are unemployed.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Reagan's Conservative Credentials

The debate over whether Reagan can really represent today's conservative movement scratches on. Will Bunch's efforts to provide liberals with, if not claims on Reagan's image, antidotes to its conservative representation, have had some effect. Here, a Florida journalist restates the case, prompting a native veteran of the adminsitration to write in with a grouchy rebuttal.

More curiously, Glenn Beck has adopted the idea. In a USA Today interview, Beck claimed: "I’ve always said I was a Reagan-style conservative. But I don’t think Reagan was a real Republican. He just maintained some shared values." That Beck is willing to use the image while remaining sceptical of it makes me like him a little more, strangely.

David Jenkins at the Frum Forum picked up on this, but responded more to Beck's rejection of Teddy Roosevelt at CPAC this month. This is the plot thickening, as a moderate conservative attacks the Tea Party hero for excluding Reagan from the movement. Jenkins is vice-president of Repulicans for Environmental Protection, and in a letter to the Washington Post made one of the most interesting contributions to the debate so far - that Reagan saved the ozone layer.

Today, our ozone layer is healing because Reagan took prudent and decisive action to address the threat based on the best available science at the time. He did not wring his hands and wait for evidential certainty that might have come too late. Reagan understood that to be a true conservative, you also have to be a good steward -- a fact that those who claim to be emulating him today seem to have forgotten.

It is a portrait that chimes with Reagan's commitment to SDI - a faith in the reality of future threats, and an attitude to science that combined blithe confidence with a lack of interest in "evidential certainty".