On June 14th, 1936, two days after Alf Landon accepted the nomination of the Republican Party for president, a New York Times columnist wrote:
The stage show looked like America, but the convention hall did not. The crowd seemed like the sanctuary of a minority — economically wounded capitalists in shades from eggshell to ecru, cheering the man . . . and trying to fathom why they’re not running the country anymore. The speakers ranted about an America in decline, but the audience reflected a party in decline.
Oh, wait a minute. My mistake. That was Maureen Dowd writing yesterday. My, how time stands still when you’re having fun.
There is a longstanding tradition on the political left to attack contemporary conservatives by comparing them to the right’s leaders in the past. That means that Republicans who were reviled by liberals during their lifetimes are sometimes treated kindly in retrospect because it serves the political purpose of diminishing the reputations of their successors. But in some precincts of the left, bashing Ronald Reagan never goes out of style.
That’s the motivation for a thin hit piece published in the New York Times Sunday Review under the sensational headline, “Reagan’s Personal Spying Machine.” The conceit of this article is that Ronald Regan “spied” for the FBI against fellow actors in Hollywood and then used the FBI for personal spying on his family. The author’s intent is to shock a public that thinks well of the 40th president as well as to brand Reagan as a hypocrite since he was a proponent of limited government. But the problem here is that there is nothing especially shocking about any of it. Reagan’s principled anti-Communism is well known and is the foundation of his political reputation, not a skeleton in his closet. As for the FBI “spying” on Reagan’s family, this appears to be much ado about nothing and would not have attracted much criticism even if it had been aired when he was running for president.
If four years ago, Barack Obama was the magnetic force around which Democrats rallied, today the relationship between the president and his party appears to be a bit cooler. The president still has his idolaters and they will be conspicuous in Charlotte this week. But, as Politico reports today, Democratic officeholders and many party activists regard the man whose re-election is the centerpiece of their efforts this year as a distant and somewhat aloof leader. While his current political strategy appears to be in tune with others on his ticket in terms of class warfare and demonizing the Republicans, they are keenly aware that he regards himself more as a “party of one” than the ringleader of a coalition. More interested in branding himself as above politics, he remains “oddly unenthusiastic about other Democrats.”
That has proven sufficient to create enough disgruntled sources for a piece that reinforces the already widespread impression about the president’s arrogance. Though rank and file voters may not care much about his attitude, those who have been asked to carry the water for the White House in Congress and vote for unpopular measures like the stimulus boondoggle or ObamaCare resent it. This has been a White House that loves to play favorites when it comes to the political fortunes of his party members. Yet they have little choice but to swallow his arrogance. They must fight for him or find themselves swamped by another Tea Party tide, as was the case in 2010.