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 clich├ęs. 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.