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.

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