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.
Following several polls that show the race tightening in Wisconsin, CNN has moved the state from “lean Obama” to “toss up” on its electoral map:
CNN Thursday turned the important battleground state of Wisconsin from “lean Obama” to true “toss up” on its electoral map, in the wake of Mitt Romney’s naming of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, a seven term congressman from the Badger state, as his running mate. One contributing factor behind CNN’s move was a new poll that matched two others from last week that indicate that the presidential contest in Wisconsin is close. …
With Wisconsin’s move to true “toss up,” the CNN Electoral Map now suggests Obama leading in states with a combined 237 electoral votes, Romney ahead in states with a combined 206 electoral votes, and states with 95 electoral votes up for grabs. 270 electoral votes are needed with win the White House.
While most of us are focusing on the obvious impact Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick might have on the 2012 election, a feature in Politico today highlights the fact that his choice may influence future elections as well. Choosing someone like Paul Ryan, who is not only young, but the intellectual leader of his party, could well set the Wisconsin congressman up as the putative frontrunner in subsequent presidential elections whether or not the 2012 ticket is successful.
The debate about the vice presidential pick is, as Politico notes, something of a stand in for the broader argument about the future of the Republican Party. Should Romney go with Ryan it could mean that the reformist wing of the party will not only get a boost but have its leader put in a position from which he may well dominate the party. On the other hand, picking a more conventional figure like Sen. Rob Portman would serve as a brake on the conservative thinkers who want to help change Washington. The elevation of Ryan could, as Rep. Tom Cole tells Politico, be akin to Ronald Reagan choosing Jack Kemp as his running mate in 1980 rather than establishment favorite George H.W. Bush. Had Reagan tapped Kemp, it is probable that neither the elder nor the younger Bush would have ever been president. It is impossible to say in such a counter-factual scenario how else history would have been changed, but it is a reminder that there’s a lot more at stake in this decision than the impact on this November or even who will be presiding over the Senate next year.
In the last week, the Romney campaign got a taste of some of the same treatment from the mainstream media that has afflicted Republicans for decades. The GOP candidate’s foreign trip was widely lampooned. The substantive issues he discussed in Israel and Poland were buried underneath a torrent of ridicule because of his Olympics gaffe as well as the media’s blind acceptance of the false idea he had misspoken about the Palestinians. Some of the frustration of the Romney camp became visible today in Warsaw, when a staffer blew up as reporters shouted questions at the candidate as he left a wreath at the Polish Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The irony is, as Politico reports, members of the media had their own beef with Romney because he has largely stiffed them on the trip, affording them virtually no opportunities to ask questions or interact with the man they are covering. There are some lessons to be learned here for the Romney campaign, though those in his camp may be too mad about the poor treatment their guy has gotten to pay attention. Nevertheless, now would be a good time for them to remember that while they cannot undo liberal media bias, there are better ways to cope with it. Indeed, the choice for every Republican or conservative is pretty much the same as it has always been. Romney can try and be a Ronald Reagan, and he and his team can present a positive face to the country and the media no matter how badly he’s treated, or he can be another Richard Nixon and scowl and fight with the press.
I think we all know which of those two scenarios will work out better, so here are four easy rules for coping with the problem of media bias that Romney and every Republican ought to follow:
At the Weekly Standard, Jeffrey Anderson compiled two lists ranking the 10 best presidents and 10 worst presidents, based on the net opinions of likely voters in the latest Newsweek/Daily Beast poll. Both are worth reading. President Obama comes in second on the “worst president” list, right after George W. Bush. Richard Nixon is rated the third worst and Jimmy Carter is fourth.
But any conservatives tempted to gloat about Obama’s low score might want to reconsider. The real story here is that likely voters are appallingly bad at ranking presidents, and, in a just world, would be discouraged from getting anywhere near a voting booth. Brace yourself before reading their list of the 10 best presidents:
As Seth noted earlier this week, Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s famous speech at the Brandenberg Gate in which he declared, “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Reagan’s moral clarity chafed the State Department and stunned adversaries, but history demonstrates its effect.
Moral clarity was not his only weapon, however. Reagan, with his typical good nature and humor, would also gently mock America’s enemies. He had some fun at the expense of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and at the hardships of Soviet life. He made fun of the lack of free speech in the Soviet Union. A few years back, Free Republic compiled a non-exhaustive list. Reagan’s jokes weren’t just a warm up act; his gentle ridicule highlighted the illegitimacy of autocratic regimes and reinforced fissures between society and its oppressors.
Alas, amidst all the discussion today of sophisticated diplomacy, the reset of relations, and respect for regimes like Iran’s, and also against the cultural relativism and self-flagellation in which so many journalists and diplomats engage, American officials have lost the will and ability to mock our adversaries. It really is a shame, because—be they in Pyongyang, Tehran, Moscow, or Caracas, there really are some world leaders deserving biting ridicule.
What do you call a forum during which two people holding different opinions argue their respective cases in an attempt to win over the audience? Conservatives rightly call this a “debate.” But according to Dana Milbank, liberals have another term: “show trial.” That’s what Milbank called a debate this week between Norm Ornstein and Steve Hayward hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. The topic was whether Ornstein was correct about the modern Republican Party’s supposed historic intransigence.
It’s telling that the free flow of ideas makes liberals so uncomfortable. That is one aspect of the larger point Milbank was making, which is that in his opinion Jeb Bush’s recent comments on the difficulty his father and Ronald Reagan would have in today’s GOP were spot-on. But what did Jeb Bush say that Milbank found so damning? Here it is, from his column:
“Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, as would my dad — they would have a hard time if you define the Republican Party . . . as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground,” Bush said Monday in a meeting at Bloomberg headquarters in New York, according to the online publication Buzzfeed.
“Back to my dad’s time and Ronald Reagan’s time — they got a lot of stuff done with a lot of bipartisan support,” Bush added. Reagan today “would be criticized for doing the things that he did.”
In the summer of 1986, the Berlin Wall turned 25. On its anniversary, noting the general measure of grudging acceptance the wall had earned among Germans on both sides, a British journalist wrote that in all likelihood, the wall “will still be there for the 50th anniversary.” That would have been last year, but as we know the wall couldn’t make it another half-decade. Today, then, is the 25th anniversary of perhaps the most significant moment in the life of the wall aside from its construction and destruction: Ronald Reagan’s speech imploring Mikhail Gorbachev to tear it down.
In his own book on the fall of the wall, William F. Buckley wrote—with what one imagines to be a not-insignificant amount of gleeful satisfaction—of the various arguments Reagan’s advisers employed to try to talk him out of those two famous sentences:
The president must not speak those words. They would harm Gorbachev and get in the way of continuing Soviet reforms. And if Reagan used such language, it would harm him. Any demand so importunate, so outrageous and inflammatory, was among other things “not presidential.”
The late Peter Rodman, the erudite and esteemed national security affairs deputy, was one of those aides. In his own account, Rodman admitted that “the whole affair is a vivid example of a president’s possessing a strategic and moral insight that escaped his experts. Reagan’s intuition about Gorbachev was undoubtedly right.”
And that is what was both impressive and misunderstood about Reagan’s speech. He wasn’t there primarily to rile up a crowd, or be some kind of folk hero. Reagan was having a public conversation with Gorbachev. He appealed to the Soviet leader’s better angels–to Gorbachev the revolutionary, the reformer.
For baby boomers whose childhoods fell during the two decades after the end of World War II, the memory of that conflict was never far from view. The war was deeply embedded in the popular culture of the day in terms of movies and television shows. And though much of our current impressions of the fight against Nazi Germany is seen, quite rightly, through the prism of the Holocaust, in that era to speak of the war was to conjure up images of glorious victory and the heroism and sacrifice of the Allied troops, who were often our fathers and uncles. To us, it was impossible — and is, in fact, still difficult — to hear or read the dates most associated with the war — December 7 and June 6 — without thinking of what happened on those days in 1941 and 1944. Thus today, like many others of my generation — the sons and daughters of that “greatest generation” — my thoughts turn to the invasion of Normandy and of those who played great parts in that drama as well as those who assumed small but by no means unimportant roles such as my own father, a member of the U.S. 8th Air Force.
But to the geniuses who run Google, that juggernaut that is part of the lifeblood of our commerce and culture, June 6 does not summon up thoughts of that famous “Longest Day” when American, British and other Allied troops stormed Hitler’s Fortress Europe. It is, instead, the anniversary of the first drive-in movie that apparently opened its doors on June 6, 1933. It is that event that is noted today in the Google Doodle on the ubiquitous search page that is as much the public square of the contemporary world as anything else you can name. While one must attribute this curious choice to the passage of time and the sea change in our culture, it also says something not particularly flattering about both the computer nerds at Google and the majority of the population whose attitudes they surely reflect.
Many of President Obama’s fervent devotees are young enough not to have much memory of the political world before the arrival of The One. Coincidentally, Obama himself feels the same way—and the White House’s official website reflects that.
The Heritage Foundation’s Rory Cooper tweeted that Obama had casually dropped his own name into Ronald Reagan’s official biography on www.whitehouse.gov, claiming credit for taking up the mantle of Reagan’s tax reform advocacy with his “Buffett Rule” gimmick. My first thought was, he must be joking. But he wasn’t—it turns out Obama has added bullet points bragging about his own accomplishments to the biographical sketches of every single U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge (except, for some reason, Gerald Ford). Here are a few examples:
On “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace yesterday morning, David Plouffe, senior adviser to President Obama, talked about Paul Ryan’s recently announced budget plan. You can see the discussion here with the relevant portion beginning about 9:30. With a distinct now-we’ve-got-’em! note of triumph in his voice, Plouffe said that the plan had been endorsed by the Republican presidential candidates and that, with Mitt Romney the frontrunner, this was now the Romney-Ryan Budget. It calls for cuts in government spending through basic entitlement reform, such as means testing and block grants to the states, and tax cuts coupled with limits on tax deductions that would be targeted at the rich. Obviously, the Obama team is looking forward to running against this proposal and is anxious to tie the probable Republican nominee to it.
This reminded me, as so much of the Obama presidency has reminded me of the Jimmy Carter presidency, of Carter’s re-election campaign in 1980. The country was in the throes of the worst peacetime inflation in its history, with 12 percent inflation in 1980 (with an unemployment rate well over 7 percent). The prime rate, the benchmark interest rate on loans, was over 20 percent (it’s 3.25 percent this morning). Read More
I finally got around to reading Ezra Klein’s interesting take on what I consider to be a fascinating subject: the power of presidents to persuade the public. Klein’s piece, in the March 19 New Yorker, takes a dim view of the practical uses of presidential rhetoric, using mostly presidents Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama as case studies. Reagan, Klein notes, was considered to be a great communicator (or, as he is remembered, the Great Communicator), yet his approval ratings were average and many of his primary policy prescriptions never caught on with the public.
Overall, he writes, the same is true of Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Bush was unable to convince the country to accept social security reform, and Obama has been unable to sell additional fiscal stimulus and most notably his health care reform law, which remains broadly unpopular. The overestimation of the power of the bully pulpit, he finds, is more likely to harm a president’s domestic policy agenda than advance it. But I think the key word there is “domestic.” Switch the subject to foreign policy, and the power is somewhat restored.
In my critique of President Obama’s 17-minute campaign documentary, “The Road We’ve Traveled,” I took issue with the claim, now taken as a truism by Obama supporters, that he inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression.
I argued that the economy Ronald Reagan inherited was sicker, and I want to elaborate on that assertion.
The Wall Street Journal reports on Newt Gingrich, who is in Illinois once again comparing himself favorably to Ronald Reagan. “Other than Ronald Reagan, I know of no Republican in my lifetime who’s been able to talk like this,” Gingrich told a banquet crowd in Palatine, referring to his own policy ideas on energy, brain science and other matters. “That’s why I’m still running, because the gap is so huge.”
The Journal goes on to say, “If Mr. Gingrich has failed to capture the party’s imagination in his bid for its presidential nomination, he says, it isn’t his fault. He offers big ideas, but ‘the news media can’t cover it, and my opponents can’t comprehend it,’’ he says.”
Ted Bromund’s post about the cringe-producing exchange of jokes between President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron reminded me — in a contrasting way — of the exchange between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher 31 years ago, at a dinner at the British Embassy that capped Thatcher’s February 1980 Washington trip. She was the first foreign visitor during the Reagan administration; Reagan was in his first month and Thatcher in her first year.
The toasts were included in the batch of documents released last year by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, after the required 30-year delay. The exchange featured a good deal of historical humor, and a historical courage that can be more fully appreciated from our vantage point, three decades later. Here are excerpts from the toasts, followed by the concluding portion of Obama’s toast this week to Cameron:
Whenever I hear myself crying, “Where are you when we need you, Ronnie?” I give myself a couple of smart slaps in the face and tell myself, “Naomi, get over it! A Ronald Reagan doesn’t come around every century.”
Doesn’t mean Republicans can’t have a solid, electable candidate – even one who could morph into a powerful president when the call came (think George W. Bush).
Newt Gingrich is striking back at a column by Elliott Abrams today, which revealed the former speaker had repeatedly criticized President Ronald Reagan during the late 1980s. The publicized comments – which headlined the Drudge Report for hours today – were especially embarrassing for Gingrich because he’s been leveraging his allegedly close relationship with Reagan to rally conservative support. (See Pete Wehner’s earlier column here:)
According to Politico, Gingrich pushed back on the column this afternoon, claiming Nancy Reagan said, “Ronnie’s torch has been passed to Newt” at an event in 1995 [emphasis added]:
I’ve expressed my concerns about Newt Gingrich several times already, so there’s no need to rehash them here. But I’m certainly willing to give Gingrich his due: his smashing victory in South Carolina was a comeback for the ages. A week ago Gingrich was in the political intensive care unit, having finished in the back of the pack in both Iowa and New Hampshire and trailing Mitt Romney in the Palmetto State. Now he’s comfortably ahead of Romney in several polls in Florida.
Two debates are set for this week, including one tonight, and the primary is a week from tomorrow. And all of a sudden Newt Gingrich, 2012 GOP nominee, is not beyond the realm of the possible. All because Gingrich put together an extraordinary four days, beginning with last Monday night’s Fox News debate and culminating in his verbal assault of CNN’s John King on Thursday.
It was an amazing 96 hours.
Yesterday I quoted Ronald Reagan on the central role freedom and human rights should play in American foreign policy. Today I want to follow up with a quote from the man Michael Barone called “the nation’s best thinker among politicians since Lincoln and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson.”
Writing in the May 1974 issue of COMMENTARY (subscription required), Daniel Patrick Moynihan said this:
There will be no struggle for personal liberty (or national independence or national survival) anywhere in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America which will not affect American politics. In that circumstance, I would argue that there is only one course likely to make the internal strains of consequent conflict endurable, and that is for the United States deliberately and consistently to bring its influence to bear on behalf of those regimes which promise the largest degree of personal and national liberty. …. We stand for liberty, for the expansion of liberty. Anything else risks the contraction of liberty: our own included.
Moynihan went on to warn about those “who know too much to believe anything in particular and opt instead for accommodations of reasonableness and urbanity that drain our world position of moral purpose.”
I certainly didn’t agree with Moynihan on everything — but whenever I read him, even when I disagree with him, I’m reminded just how much we miss him.
Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 this Sunday, had an instinctive affinity for Jews and Israel. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, he moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California, he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.
“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan states in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.”
Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman termed the “Solid Gold Era” in U.S.-Israel relations. Even so — and this underscores the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents — he found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government.
The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but there were no permanent ramifications.
“Technically,” Reagan notes in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge. … I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.” Read More