Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Obama reads about Reagan

Just before Christmas, the White House announced the president's reading list, which included The Role of a Lifetime by Lou Cannon - still pretty much the essential book on Reagan's presidency, though I'd probably reccomend Richard Reeves. The choice is presumably a nod to the centennial, to the spirit of bipartisan understanding, and an invitation to compare the two presidencies. Conservatives have read it as an attempt to emulate Reagan. "Mr. Obama," says son Michael, "apparently thinks that if he can learn how to play the role of a Reaganesque president, he can become as successful as my father, Ronald Reagan." Tevi Troy suggests that:
[H]e is looking to a great president for clues as to how he, too, can become a great president. Reagan’s communication skills were of course superb, but his policies had something to do with it as well, and Obama would have to take on some of Reagan’s ideology to learn the full lesson of Reagan.
If Obama wants to learn anything from Reagan, I expect, it is about how to behave around a hostile Congress (and possibly with a fractious Middle East). Both Troy and M. Reagan's comments seem part of a resurgent defence of Reagan's conservative identity, more of which later.

Incidentally, Reagan only released one reading list during his presidency, on the request of the Baltimore Sun. It included a book on Thomas Jefferson, and one which imagined a near-future outbreak of World War - that would get the bloggers tapping nowadays!

Also incidentally, last year Obama announced that he was reading Edmund Morris's The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. After Reagan read the book, Morris was picked to be his official biographer - no such result for Morris from the Obama White House so far, though it would certainly raise an interesting stink. Morris's thoughts on the announcement here.

The Ronald Reagan Museum of the Victims of Communism

I won't catch up on everything I've missed the past couple of months, but I thought this proposal was worth a mention. David Frum, as the voice of a new moderate conservatism (or an old conservatism, divorced from Tea Party radicalism), ecapsulated his postion in his approach to the Reagan Centennial:
To date, the main attempts to honor Reagan in the nation's capital have gone askew. A government office building second in size only to the Pentagon? An airport from which Washingtonians cannot fly to California? These do not seem very appropriate monuments to a president who fought bureaucracy and yearned for home. The other ideas that sometimes circulate in Congress seem equally misplaced: Placing Reagan on the currency or building a giant statue somewhere in Washington. More than most presidents, Reagan would have wanted to be remembered for his ideas, not his image. The right commemoration would honor those.Let me suggest something: A museum in Washington dedicated to the victims of communism.
This idea is just that, unlikely to go beyond an op-ed piece, and I only really raise it because I quite like it. It's also, though, a neat suggestion of how Reagan's memory might be wrested away from bland and blinkered partisan triumphalism in the commemoration this year. The proposal affirms Reagan's conservatism and anti-communism, but aligns him with the national and international history of the Cold War. He would be associated with the bi- and non-partisan American identity of the twentieth century, and with the experiences of a diverse, global multitude. A reflective, educational museum would also avoid the ambiguity and potential drawn-out controversy of a symbolic monument to Reagan on the Mall. Of course, some on the left would raise the question of the victims of anti-communism in Central and South America, South-East Asia and Africa, but such questions might be more constructive than bitter. The idea would also emphasise the legacy of which Reagan was perhaps most proud - his personal achievements in aiding the plights of individual political prisoners in the Soviet Union, and gaining the approbation of anti-communist dissenters worldwide.