"Restore(s) a little sanity into current political debate" - Kenneth Minogue, TLS "Projects a more expansive and optimistic future for Americans than (the analysis of) Huntington" - James R. Kurth, National Interest "One of (the) most important books I have read in recent years" - Lexington Green
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This is a delightful interview of Krauthammer by William Kristol from earlier this year. It’s quite long but the whole thing is worth watching.
In this conversation, Charles Krauthammer reflects on his upbringing in a politically-tumultuous Quebec, his work in medicine, and his views on Zionism, Judaism, and religion. Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol also discuss some of the key ideas, questions, and themes of his writing—including the “Reagan Doctrine,” an idea he coined, the role of America in a new post-Cold War world, and whether the America of 2015 is in decline.
(A timeline of the interview appears on the interview’s YouTube page.)
Posted by Lexington Green on 27th October 2014 (All posts by Lexington Green)
Fifty years ago today Ronald Reagan made a famous televised speech in support of Barry Goldwater’s doomed presidential candidacy. The speech was entitled “A Time for Choosing” — but it came to be known simply as “The Speech”.
As Goldwater crashed and burned, Reagan ascended in a single bound to being the leader and embodiment of the American Conservative movement.
It was a spectacular launch to his political career.
Similarly, the teacher “sickout” here in Wisconsin, or as it should be called, wildcat strike, is illegal. Teachers unions, by state of Wisconsin law, are not allowed to strike. So can Walker go all Reagan on them? Should he? The Madison Metropolitan School District has already gone to court to try to secure an injunction to get the teachers back to work and failed. But thats Madison for you. I have not heard if they will be appealing that yet and cannot find why the court said no. I imagine they are still calling it a sick out rather than a strike or work stoppage. I would be interested to hear your comments on the nuclear option.
Ronald Reagan’s monicker as President was always “the Great Communicator“, for his command of message and the medium of television, though Reagan had a considerable ability to read a live audience as well. Everyone acknowledged Reagan’s rhetorical wizardry, even his Democratic critics, who took some comfort in imagining that Reagan was “only a B movie actor” reading his lines. A nickname that would have pointed to one of his greatest political skills would have been “the Great Negotiator” because Reagan’s talent for winning favorable outcomes, legislatively and diplomatically, is rivaled among presidents only by FDR and LBJ. Yet few pundits give Reagan that credit of being a master of the art of the deal. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Lexington Green on 16th February 2011 (All posts by Lexington Green)
Ronald Reagan won his first presidential victory despite the unrelenting hostility of the news media, which was much more of a monopoly that it is now, and despite his advanced age. He went on to won his second victory in a historic 49 state landslide, which seems inconceivable now. But Mr. Reagan was an unabashed Conservative, supposedly too Conservative to be elected. Yet Mr. Reagan commanded not only the Right, but the also won over the center of American political life.
How did Ronald Reagan do this? How did he win over so many voters?
Mr. Reagan was indeed the Great Communicator, a title he apparently bestowed upon himself. But the title has stuck because it fits. Mr. Reagan’s most reliable biographer, Lou Cannon, gets close to the explanation. Cannon said that Ronald Reagan “was a guy who had a natural connection with people.”
But that is a little bit misleading. Mr. Reagans did have a connection with people. And his apparent simplicity and humor made that connection seem natural. In fact, that effectiveness was no more “natural” than Arnold Palmer’s golf swing, or Chet Baker’s trumpet playing. There has to be talent at the outset for great success to be possible. But the appearance of effortlessness, of naturalness, is in fact the result of hard, focused, persistent effort.
Mr. Reagan was an ambitious man who succeeded in every field he entered. He was a successful lifeguard, athlete, sportscaster, movie actor, union president and politician. In each case he focused on mastering the necessary skills. While he is falsely remembered as lazy, in fact, across his entire professional life he was usually diligent and well-prepared.
The most important skill a politician has is motivating citizens to vote for him, and then to continue to support him after he has been elected. Mr. Reagan figured out how to do this, and mastered it. His “natural” connection to his fellow citizens, like all of his other successes, was also the result of diligence and preparation.
Our presidents have generally been either patricians, who were born to privilege and wealth, like FDR and JFK, or poor, self-made “kids from nowhere” — like Richard Nixon and the “man from Hope.” Reagan was in the latter category. And unlike many who later succeeded in life, Mr. Reagan never lost his awareness of the concerns and motivations of the less well-off Americans. His Hollywood career was during the age when the big studios carefully calibrated their movies to appeal to the mainstream ideas and values of Americans. His tours speaking on behalf of General Electric brought him into contact with American workers and managers around the country, and their hopes and worries. So, President Reagan started out with a firm basis for his “natural connection” to his fellow Americans.
But the most under-rated detail about Mr. Reagan is his treatment of his correspondence, his “mail bag”. Even after he was elected President, often to the despair of his aides, who thought he had “more important” things to, President Reagan spent several hours per week reading letters from ordinary Americans. Mr. Reagan would respond, in his own hand, to some of these letters. He never allowed himself to get too far from the thoughts and phrases of his fellow Americans. He disciplined himself to articulate responses to their concerns, in words they would grasp and respond to. This process, like batting practice, like the ballerina at the barre, was what made Mr. Reagan the Great Communicator.
It is altogether fitting that Ronald Reagan reinvigorated the USSR with hate only to kill it with love.
American public discourse offers us two major explanations for the end of the Cold War. One explanation was, “the Soviet Union didn’t fall, it was pushed.” The opposing explanation holds that a tau neutrino fired from a neutron star on the far side of the Andromeda Galaxy 2.6 million years ago that collided with one of Mikhail Gorbachev’s synapses on June 24, 1959 had more to do with the end of the Cold War than either the United States or President Ronald Reagan.
Some observers (kind according to their own lights) take a more moderate course. They’ll concede that Reagan had something to do with the end of the Cold War. Perhaps mesmerized by the sight of his own reflection looking back at him from Gorby’s shiny bald head, the senile old dinosaur was stunned into a quiescence sufficient to allow Gorby to let peace break out without the hurdle of Reagan’s habitual warmongering. Under other circumstances, Reagan would wake up, eat his Wheaties, break out a map, and plan which bastion of worker’s solidarity he would besiege that day. Gorby’s charm and skill in handling this wild rampaging elephant of imperialist plutocracy was only just enough to overcome even the power of the Breakfast of Champions and end the Cold War.
Others concede that Reagan was more than a patsy skillfully played by a smooth talking Commie. Instead, he was a patsy skillfully played by a smooth talking State Department. In this version, George Schultz and other enlightened diplomats slowly weaned Reagan away from the Precambrian depths of his native Birchery and convinced him that speaking softly was more constructive than his unthinking waving of a big stick. The mandarins of Foggy Bottom supplied the script and Reagan, secretly yearning the direction of Hollywood days of yore, performed his role with all the aplomb a B-movie actor could summon. Reagan was convinced that the diminutive Gorby was Bonzo. It was his job to put the little bald chimp to bed with all the tender care a leading man could devote to an expensive studio prop. If Gorbachev happened to outshine him, it was all in good fun. Reagan understood in the light of the timeless wisdom of W.C. Fields: “Never work with animals or children”.
Posted by Charles Cameron on 10th February 2011 (All posts by Charles Cameron)
Knowing of my interest in matters apocalyptic, you wouldn’t expect me to pass up President Reagan‘s connection with Ezekiel and the Revelation of John of Patmos on an occasion such as this, would you?
I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of people who believe in prophecy having their fingers on the triggers of nuclear weapons. Ronald Reagan was one such, and didn’t press the trigger — a fact for which I am profoundly grateful. Perhaps it was his “jovial” approach to “doom” that made the difference.
The story is actually quite fascinating. I first ran across mention of it in Stephen O’Leary’s (politically neutral) book, Arguing the Apocalypse, researched it a little more and found the account in Sara Diamond’s (leftwards) book, Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right, and verified the story’s legs by finding it in this account by Joel Rosenberg (right-leaning, Christian, apocalyptic), which I believe can be found in his book The Epicenter but which I’m quoting here from his website FAQ:
In 1971, Reagan—then governor of California—attended a banquet to honor State Senator James Mills. After the main course, he asked Mills if he was familiar with “the fierce Old Testament prophet Ezekiel.” He went on to explain that Russia was the Magog described in Ezekiel’s prophecy and was thus doomed to destruction.
“In the thirty-eighth chapter of Ezekiel it says God will take the children of Israel from among the heathen [where] they’d been scattered and will gather them again in the promised land,” Reagan told Mills. “Ezekiel says that . . . the nation that will lead all the other powers into darkness against Israel will come out of the north. What other powerful nation is to the north of Israel [besides Russia]? None. But it didn’t seem to make sense before the Russian revolution, when Russia was a Christian country. Now it does, now that Russia has become communistic and atheistic, now that Russia has set itself against God. Now it fits the description perfectly.” Reagan conceded that “everything hasn’t fallen into place yet,” but he strongly believed the end of the Soviet empire and the second coming of Christ were increasingly close at hand.
In his 1997 book Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, Edmund Morris—the president’s official biographer—revealed that Ezekiel was actually Reagan’s “favorite book of prophecy.” Morris also recounted an intriguing scene he personally witnessed in the Oval Office in which Reagan discussed the Ezekiel option with White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker and National Security Advisor Colin Powell.
“We talk mainly about religion,” read the notes of Morris’s meeting with Reagan on February 9, 1988. “I have been reading a book about his Armageddon complex, and, when I mention the subject, am rewarded by an animated speech, full of jovial doom, that lasts the rest of the half hour. … [White House chief of Staff] Howard Baker and [National Security Advisor] Colin Powell arrive, impatient for their own thirty minutes. ‘We’re having a cozy chat about Armageddon,’ I say. They stand grinning nervously as he continues.”
“When it comes [Ezekiel 38–39],” Reagan explained to his senior staff, “the man who comes from the wrong side, into the war, is the man, according to the prophecies, named Gog, from Meshech, which is the ancient name of Moscow—”
“I tell you, Mr. President,” Baker replied. “I wish you’d quit talking about that. You upset me!”
But Reagan continued to talk about such things, as he had for many years.
I once asked Michael Reagan, the president’s son, if such accounts rang true. He confirmed that they did, noting that his father firmly believed he was living in history’s last days and thought that he might even see the return of Christ in his lifetime.
Ronald Reagan was a devout Christian. He was a student of the Bible. He was fascinated with end-times prophecies. He believed they were true. He talked about them with friends and colleagues. They helped shape his view that the Soviet Union, and the system of evil it advanced and perpetuated, was not long for this world. For a movie actor turned president like Ronald Reagan, the Bible was indeed the greatest story ever told. He had read the last chapter, and thus he knew for certain that a day of reckoning—a day of justice—was coming.
That’s the “apocalyptic” angle — let’s see how the same faith actually played out on the world stage.
To do that, I’d like to follow that quote up with another, this one from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, a group which advocates for nuclear disarmament:
According to his wife, Nancy, “Ronnie had many hopes for the future, and none were more important to America and to mankind than the effort to create a world free of nuclear weapons.”
President Reagan was a nuclear abolitionist. He believed that the only reason to have nuclear weapons was to prevent the then Soviet Union from using theirs. Understanding this, he argued in his 1984 State of the Union Address, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then would it not be better to do away with them entirely?”
Ronald Reagan regarded nuclear weapons, according to Nancy, as “totally irrational, totally inhumane, good for nothing but killing, possibly destructive of life on earth and civilization.”
In 1986, President Reagan and Secretary General Gorbachev met for a summit in Reykjavik, Iceland. In a remarkable quirk of history, the two men shared a vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. Despite the concerns of their aides, they came close to achieving agreement on this most important of issues. The sticking point was that President Reagan saw his Strategic Defense Initiative (missile defenses) as being essential to the plan, and Gorbachev couldn’t accept this (even though Reagan promised to share the US missile defense system with the then Soviet Union). Gorbachev wanted missile defense development to be restricted to the laboratory for ten years. Reagan couldn’t accept this.
The two leaders came heartbreakingly close to ending the era of nuclear weapons, but in the end they couldn’t achieve their mutual goal. As a result, nuclear weapons have proliferated and remain a danger to all humanity. Today, we face the threat of terrorists gaining possession of nuclear weapons, and wreaking massive destruction on the cities of powerful nations. There can be no doubt that had Reagan and Gorbachev succeeded, the US and the world would be much safer, and these men would be remembered above all else for this achievement.
May President Reagan rest in peace: our task of peace-making remains.
In 1982, First Lady Nancy Reagan visited my junior high school in Ames, Iowa in order to promote youth drug prevention (as part of the“Just Say No” campaign). My memory of that day is vivid. I was standing at the back of the cafeteria which was emptied of its usual lunch tables. The cafeteria was filled with a crowd that spilled out onto what approximated a “hallway,” given the largely open-plan nature of that ’70s era building. Our classrooms didn’t have a full four walls. They had moveable room dividers and no doors and you might be able to hear the class next door. Groovy, man. Except no ’80s preteen that I knew of would use the word groovy. The ’70s were to be firmly pop-culture-repudiated. I remember the First Lady standing on a stage and surrounded by the white hot glare of television lights. How eye-wateringly bright the lights were! And how smooth – almost translucent and pearly – her skin was! Dainty. Controlled. Petite. It was my first real-life encounter with the soft rich textures of glamor.
After the First Lady’s talk, while in conversation with someone or other, I remember saying that, “I would NOT shake the President’s hand” if I met him in person. The young man speaking to me was incredulous. “You wouldn’t shake the President’s hand?”
I can’t remember now why I was so adamant. I wasn’t political as a teen and my hard-working immigrant parents rarely mentioned politics at home. By what form of cultural osmosis had I absorbed the idea that President Reagan was a bad and terrible man? By the osmosis of growing up in a college town surrounded by the children of faculty and life-long Story County Democrats. If you click on the Ames Historical Society link above, you will find an Ames Tribune photograph of a demonstration against President Reagan’s policies held during the First Lady’s visit. “Cheese for the POOR and champaigne for the RICH” reads one sign.
In the college town environments of my youth and early adulthood, Republicans were universally understood to be cold-hearted stupid warmongers. There was no, “I don’t like his policies but I like him personally” stuff. By what process of misremembering and selective editing have we smoothed over the roughest edges of that era, the nasty snide anti-Reagan jokes, the huge anti-Reagan missile protests in Europe, the near universal disdain of the man and the movement among intellectuals? A certain percentage of said intellectuals admired their own personal starry-eyed vision of the Soviet Union and that’s the truth.
You want to know how bad the disdain was in some corners of our society? When President Reagan was shot, my junior high classroom erupted into spontaneous applause. To the credit of the teacher, she became immediately and visibly distressed and told us to stop. She was shocked. I am shocked to remember it. We were nice kids growing up in a middle-class Midwestern college town, dreamily innocent in some ways, and primarily concerned with getting good grades and impressing that cute boy or girl. Yet, our first instinct at that moment was to clap. I remember being surprised at first, then smiling in confusion, then noting that the teacher was upset so that our reaction must be very wrong. How had we preteens thought such horrible behavior appropriate? What must we have heard, day in and day out, for that to be our response? How bizarre. How remarkable. How shameful.
Don’t let anyone talk you into thinking that the rough-and-tumble political world we live in now is something entirely new. If there is a crudeness to it, that is because our society has become more crude. Adult behavior and decorum is not what it once was. John Derbyshire of National Review has a point: our popular culture is filth. (By the way, thinking that doesn’t mean that you want the government to regulate anything and everything, okay?)
BONUS ’80s ANECDOTE: A girl in my Iowa high school was a lesbian and quite open about her sexuality (and this before the days of “Will and Grace”). Now and again, she got roughed up, I think. She wore her sandy blonde hair in a sort of 1950s dippity-do haircut, wore a voluminous keffiyeh wrapped around her neck, and sported wrap-around New Wave sunglasses. She spoke admiringly of the “brave freedom fighters, the brave Mujahideen!” fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. Well, there you have it. The past is a different country. Except that it’s not.
“NSDD” stands for “National Security Decision Directive”. In essence, the document is an executive order issued through the National Security Council to executive branch agencies represented or under the supervision of the NSC. A NSDD (or “PDD” in Democratic administrations) carries the force of law and is often highly classified, frequently being used for presidential “findings” for approving covert operations, as well as to set national security policy.
Command Posts, a group milblog in which a friend, Callie Oettinger, plays an important part, is featuring posts by Michael Reagan, commenting on his father’s 100th birthday.
I figured that if anyone from another blog deserved some space here at this roundtable, it would be Mr. Reagan. Here is a post of his that I particularly liked as it encapsulated his father’s determination as to the “ends” in the strategic trinity of “ends, ways and means”. Reagan was a rarity because as president he was the last to run an administration able to competently synchronize all three elements of strategy:
….I took my father aside in a corner of the suite and asked him, “What are you thinking about, Dad?”
“Michael,” he said wistfully, “the thing I’ll miss most by losing this nomination is that I won’t get to say ‘Nyet’ to Mr. Brezhnev. I was really looking forward to arms negotiations with the Soviets. For years, the Soviets have been telling us what we have to give up to get along with the Soviet Union. I was going to let the General Secretary of the Soviet Union choose the place, the room, and the shape of the table, because that’s how they do those things. And I was going to listen to him tell me what we would have to give up to get along with them. Then I was going to get up from the table and whisper in his ear, ‘Nyet.’ It’s been a long time since the Soviets have heard ‘Nyet’ from an American president.”
Well, 1976 wasn’t Ronald Reagan’s year—but his time was coming.
A few months later, in January 1977, defense analyst Richard V. Allen visited my father at his office in Los Angeles. During their conversation, Dad said, “My idea of American policy toward the Soviet Union is simple, and some would say simplistic. It is this: We win and they lose. What do you think of that?”
One of the key behind-the-scenes players in Dad’s administration was Herb Meyer, special assistant to CIA Director Bill Casey. “Ronald Reagan was the first Western leader whose objective was to win,” Meyer once said. “Now I suggest to you that there is a gigantic difference between playing not to lose and playing to win. It’s different emotionally, it’s different psychologically, and, of course, it’s different practically.” Ronald Reagan’s actions toward the Soviets, Meyer said, “flowed from a decision to play to win.”
This is an aspect about Ronald Reagan that is not very well understood.
I do not mean his attitude toward communism or the USSR. These things are common knowledge and were, then and even now, part of his political appeal. I mean that as a statesman Reagan was a gifted strategist. I have no idea if Reagan ever underlined sayings of Sun Tzu or pages of On War, or as president if he found his military briefings stimulating or tiresome, but if he did not study strategy, President Reagan had an intuitive grasp of its nature. He also understood, far better than the manic micromanagers, the role of a President of the United States in shepherding a strategy from formulation to execution to results.
Reagan knew that in moving policy to reality meant that choices had to be made and that part of his responsibility as Chief Executive was knowing when to get the hell out of the away, even if it meant accepting risks and costs in order to get results. The perfect, cost-free, moment of statesmanship, where all the stars align and the wind is at your back, seldom if ever, comes. Opportunities multiply when they are seized.
The war in Afghanistan might be going better today if our risk-averse rulers considered taking a page out of Reagan’s book.
Posted by seydlitz89 on 7th February 2011 (All posts by seydlitz89)
Ronald Reagan gave one of his most famous speeches in Berlin in June 1987, the famous one where he invited the Soviet leader of the time to “tear down this wall”. I was in the audience of that speech, about five rows back, and close enough to see the man very clearly. I had voted for Ronald Reagan in both 1980 and 1984 and had been present at his first inaugural in Washington DC. Count me as a true believer. At the time in Berlin we thought it a rather significant speech and he was after all not only addressing Berlin, but the whole world. There were indications that big changes were in the works, but no one could have guessed how momentous those changes would in fact be. Read the rest of this entry »
Well, there’s a lot of hullaballoo about what would have been Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday. I can’t remember a time when Ronald Reagan wasn’t part of the lexicon of California politics, even recollecting the time his face was printed on the DMV handbook. His signature even appeared on my school Report Cards. (Back then the Superintendent, the Principal’s sigs were also included).
Ronald Reagan was the sunny transplant from the midwest, the person who was proof that you could invent yourself here in the land of (then) orange trees, mild weather, and movie stars from Marlene Dietrich to Mae West. He was in radio, then movies, the president of SAG, a democrat, a republican, governor, and president. He even had a beautiful wife, and two children who were the kids he created –free thinkers. They even disagree with many of his viewpoints, but frankly, he would not have minded. Reagan was the kind of self styled rugged individualist that most people are comfortable with, one step removed from the suburbs. It was the Hollywood version of a ranch –horse trails, brush to clear, minus the livestock or orchards other ranchers depended on for their livelihood.
Posted by Shane on 6th February 2011 (All posts by Shane)
Tomorrow afternoon (Monday, February 7th, 2011), the first Monday in February, President Obama will deliver his Fiscal Year 2012 Presidential Budget to the Congress. This is the opening act of our annual budgetary tango, with copious debate over the coming months of the necessary trades between programs.
On March 23rd, 1983, a few weeks after President Reagan presented his Fiscal 1984 budget to Congress, he gave his famous “Star Wars Speech” to a national televised audience. Although “Star Wars” was the derisive name opponents used to mock the fantastic nature of the President’s vision, President Reagan’s speech was singularly focused on restoring American military strength and credibility — and to “… pave the way for arms control measures to eliminate the [nuclear] weapons themselves.”
Ironically, unlike President Kennedy’s 1962 speech at Rice University that was fully focused on the seemingly-impossible challenge of putting a man on the moon (and Rice defeating Texas in football), Reagan’s “… call [to] the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents … to the cause of mankind and world peace: to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete” warranted only a couple of sentences in an otherwise lengthy speech.
Rather, this speech was part of “…a careful, long-term plan to make America strong again after too many years of neglect and mistakes,” and (when coupled with President Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando just two weeks prior) was a deliberate escalation of Cold War rhetoric.
President Reagan was rightfully concerned that the defense budget had been “trimmed to the limits of safety” by Congress. This decay of U.S. armed forces led Reagan “…to improve the basic readiness and staying power of our conventional forces, so they could meet – and therefore help deter – a crisis.” But his confidence in the logic of deterrence had limits. The Star Wars Speech presented to the world Reagan’s realization that deterrence based solely on commensurate offensive capabilities was fallacious.
“Over the course of these discussions, I have become more and more deeply convinced that the human spirit must be capable of rising above dealing with other nations and human beings by threatening their existence…. Wouldn’t it be better to save lives than to avenge them? Are we not capable of demonstrating our peaceful intentions by applying all our abilities and our ingenuity to achieving a truly lasting stability? I think we are – indeed, we must!”
The Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO, precursor to today’s Missile Defense Agency) was founded the following year, 1984. Reagan realized the complexity of the task, noting in his speech that it “… may not be accomplished before the end of this century.” Yet the U.S. Army PATRIOT terminal defense system performed admirably in early 1991 during DESERT STORM, and today’s U.S. Navy Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) has been used to destroy a failing satellite (Operation BURNT FROST, February 2008) as well as form the future foundation of land-based European missile defense and our nation’s “Phased Adaptive Approach”.
The magnitude of the technical challenge caused many to blanche in 1983, and to ridicule the President. Yet today’s successes would never have been possible if President Reagan had not had the faith to “… [launch] an effort which holds the promise of changing the course of human history.”
For that, we have “… a new hope for our children in the 21st century.”
For one thing, the 1970s were good to my family. Oil prices were high. While a stumbling block for most American families, my father was a geologist specializing in domestic petroleum exploration. Due to the oil shock, his skills were in high demand. He was well paid and our family prospered. We had all the Star Wars action figures that money could buy.
The 1980s were less kind. The price of oil plunged and soon there was no need for geologists specializing in domestic petroleum exploration. Indeed, an entire generation would pass before that skill set was in demand again. By then it was too late. My father never worked in his field again, subsisting on the occasional odd job or failed business scheme until he was well past retirement age. Things were tight for years afterward.
Another thing: much of my initial self-education came from a 1964 set of Collier’s Encyclopedias my parents had purchased right after they first got married. It was a good investment from my perspective. After I developed an interest in military history, the trusty encyclopedias became a more useful source of knowledge on military history topics than my parents or siblings limited knowledge (or interest) in the subject. As an accidental side effect, I developed a wide range of historical knowledge (for a pre-adolescent). As Bartholomew J. Simpson once observed, acquiring facts through study and retaining them in memory is like a whole new way to cheat.
However, there was a vacuüm. My knowledge of history after 1964 was limited to personal experience, what I read in the papers or saw on the TV news, or picked up through anecdotes from family and friends. The second half of the 1960s and the 1970s were a historical black hole. I was completely oblivious to the existence of the Great Society, hippies, Vietnam, Watergate, the Oil Shock, malaise, or other events of that period.
Today, February 6, 2011 marks the centennial of the birth of Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States and by most historical opinions a transformational figure in American history. The number of truly transformational presidents can be counted on one hand; Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, FDR, and Reagan. These men all practiced reconstructive and transformational politics that lead the country away from stagnant and ineffective leadership. One can quibble over the politics of the men, but the fact that they were leaders as opposed to the status-quo, and sent the country on a different path to the future is a testament to their vision and leadership style.
I often tell my American History 1945-to-the Present, students that as opposed to using secondary sources to study a subject; as one would when looking back into the decades preceding World War II, that I stand before them as a primary source, since I have first-hand experienced much of the history we would be studying. This is the case with Ronald Reagan.
My first introduction to Reagan was unrelated to politics as I would be allowed to watch the General Electric Theater, which Reagan hosted, on Sunday evenings whenever there was school holiday on Mondays. Later, in my teens, he was a familiar figure with a cowboy hat that hosted Death Valley Days. Reagan made no impact on me in those early years and it was not until November of 1968 that I was introduced to his leadership style. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 6th February 2011 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
Dan’s has encouraged me to contribute this equally personal post. I was a college student when I cast my first vote for Nixon in 1960. This enraged my family as they were not only Democrats but distant cousins of the Kennedy family of Boston. My mother later claimed she had always been a Republican but I knew better. I had changed from the family affiliation after taking a course in economics. I’m not sure if what is taught today in basic economics in most colleges would have the same effect.
I was not a fan of Reagan, at first, as Governor. I still had some residual liberalism and he ran against the University of California at Berkley in his campaign. I was a medical student and well aware of the antics of many UC students and alleged students but it still annoyed me. I thought the U of California was above such criticism. The 1968 USC graduating class, sophomores when I was a senior, had a serious drug problem, a sign of the times but still frightening. As I was student body president, the Dean called me in to talk about it. From him I learned that about 22 of the 66 students in that class were using LSD. Some later never graduated or never finished internships. I gradually became more of a Reagan fan. I think it was maturity.
When Jimmy Carter was elected, I was in practice. My wife and I were taking our first trip to England. I remember being ashamed that Carter was president. I thought, “Well, he can’t be too bad. After all, he has been a businessman.” He was. He made the same mistake that Obama did. He let Congress and the Democratic majority have its head in legislation. The 1974 class of Democrats in Congress was the most leftist in history. Inflation took off. I knew doctor colleagues who were buying bags of quarters and dimes for their pension plans. Others had Swiss bank accounts with gold coins (It had only become legal to own gold under Ford). The Swiss charged negative interest of about 2% on those accounts. Two other friends, both doctors, opened a crystal shop in Laguna Beach and became the largest sellers of Lalique crystal in the world. The company brought them to France to honor them. Everybody was fleeing the dollar.
The conventional wisdom said Reagan was too conservative to ever be elected. The present rhetoric about Sarah Palin is similar to that about Reagan. He certainly was better qualified than she is but it didn’t matter. He was “an amiable dunce”(Clark Clifford) or he was a madman determined on a nuclear war. The Democrats who are trying to conflate Reagan and Obama would just as soon you didn’t remember that. I watched all the debates. I was shouting at the TV the night that Ford made his gaffe about Poland which elected Carter. I was worried about Reagan and how he would do. Here is where we all learned about his charm and his ability to slough off nasty comments by opponents. His skill with repartee and humor made him president. He looked like a reliable father figure and the attacks just bounced off. The only other president in my memory who was as immune to attack was Eisenhower but that was an earlier, pre-Nixon coup era. His “Great Communicator” title is often meant by Democrats as a slur, implying that was all he was. What I mean, and I think it is true, is that without that talent, he would not have been elected, as bad as Jimmy Carter was. That attacks on Reagan have been forgotten but they were harsh and had some resonance until the debates.
About the time Reagan was elected, I was able to purchase Treasury 5 year notes with a coupon rate of 16% and a real rate of 18%. My partner built a new custom house. The construction loan interest rate was 21%. Two neighbors built new custom homes on either side of him. When the houses were finished, the neighbors, both professionals, could not qualify for the permanent financing and the two houses went into foreclosure. That was 1979.
I following the administration closely, which had the Senate in Republican hands, but the House was dominated by Democrats and Tip O’Neill. Reagan’s most destructive enemy those first two years was Bob Dole, a true “root canal Republican.” He convinced himself that the Reagan tax cuts would lead to deficits “as far as the eye can see,” as Democrats put it. It was he, the Senate Majority Leader, who made the tax cuts effective only in 1982. As a result, the deep recession, brought on by Paul Volker’s battle with inflation, extended to the end of 1982 and cost the Republicans the Senate. Once the tax cuts became effective, the economy took off and it was clear sailing for a while, more than ten years and beyond to 2000.
Reagan’s era coincided with my becoming an adult. I wish we had someone like him now but we will not see his like again.
On 7 October 1984, just a few weeks before the November election day, President Reagan’s campaign suffered a serious setback. Having put in an unconvincing performance in the first Presidential debate against Democrat challenger Walter Mondale, serious questions were being raised about the President’s age, health, and his ability to lead America through difficult times. To some observers, he did not appear to be in full command of the details of his administration. Attention immediately turned to the second debate, on 21 October.
The initial reaction of some campaign staff was to ensure that Reagan was prepared for the next debate by force-feeding him stats on every conceivable subject. But the campaign finally worked out that this approach risked getting in the way of what voters liked best – Reagan’s character and charm. They realized the best way of getting the President to put in a winning performance was by letting him be himself – by letting Reagan be Reagan.
In You are the Message, Republican media consultant Roger Ailes (now of Fox News) talks of being brought in to help prepare Reagan for the second debate. Ailes describes seeing Reagan forced to listen to endless advice, with consultants constantly rebuking him for not remembering detail. “Every time they finished a round, somebody in the audience would raise a hand and say, ‘Mr President, the tonnage on that warhead is wrong. The date of that treaty was so-and-so’”.
Ailes told the team to cancel the mock debates and give him access to the President for a couple of hours. “’If you give me that’, I told them, ‘he’ll win. If you don’t you’ll probably lose.’ I realized that sounded presumptuous, but actually I was gambling on Reagan and his innate gift of communication. I felt pretty sure that if I could get him back to being himself again, he’d be okay.”
Those who claim to be the inheritors of the Reagan revolution badly misunderstand it. It was never about specific policies but tone and style. It won out over both Democrats and Communists because it offered better ideas and–importantly–a positive vision. Reagan was much less interested in discrediting his opponents than in inspiring supporters.
Led by Newt Gingrich and taken to hysterical heights by pundits such as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck, Reagan’s better ideas and positive vision gave way to deep negativity. Rather than better ideas, they offer only an unending spew of attacks against Democrats and the political left.
The commentary on the Egypt crisis by those who would claim to be Reagan’s descendents is a perfect illustration. Nearly everything they say at least begins with a slam on the Democrats, especially Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. Making the Middle East more stable and furthering American interests is almost an afterthought, tacked on after the flames directed at the Democrats. Read the rest of this entry »
I am very much looking forward to the contributions that we will be getting here on the Reagan Roundtable. I am sure there will be some excellent reading to come.
I am without a doubt an intellectual lightweight when it comes to the topic and this entry will no doubt be one of the weakest of the Reagan Roundtable, but I did live through the time and would like to share a few thoughts. Read the rest of this entry »
Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911 – 2004) 40th President of the United States of America
Welcome to the Ronald Reagan Roundtable at Chicago Boyz.
A few presidents have put their stamp on this nation and even fewer have done so on the world. While the top tier historical position is held, by nearly universal accalamation, by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a select number of presidents occupy the second tier of greatness, having by their words and deeds changed America and their times, for better and for worse. Among this group, I believe, is Ronald Wilson Reagan, who entered office as the oldest man ever to be elected to the presidency and left it when a new world was being born.
Ronald Reagan would be 100 years old today, having missed the mark by a mere seven years. It would be too much to say that this has been the century of Ronald Reagan, but we should take time on this anniversary to reflect on how Reagan impacted his century. What is the legacy of President Reagan? That is the question for this roundtable, one we hope to answer in the next ten days.
All Chicago Boyz bloggers, whose names appear on the margin – including but not limited to Lexington Green, Joseph Fouche, Jonathan, Charles Cameron, Onparkstreet and Dr Helen Szamuely –are free to weigh in on this question, but we are very pleased to also have some special guest bloggers as participants in this roundtable who I would like to take a moment and introduce: Read the rest of this entry »
February 6th 2011 marks the centennial of the birth of America’s 40th president, Ronald Wilson Reagan and it is an appropriate time to reflect on the legacy of a man whose presidency altered the course of his party, his nation and the world. It is no exaggeration to say that events set in motion by the Reagan administration are still unfolding today and the ideas and values championed by Ronald Reagan continue to shape our public policies and frame our political discourse.
Therefore, to commemorate and debate this important legacy, the Ronald Reagan Roundtable, hosted here at Chicago Boyz will begin February 6th and end on the 16th. Read the rest of this entry »