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.