– (McCain)2 =
[ Reagan times Kennedy minus McCain squared equals Obama ]
Aw, now he’s done it… Barack Obama was caught mentioning Ronald Reagan in a speech last week. This is gonna get interesting, unless the Dems’ increased cattiness instead scares me away from paying attention at all anymore.
I hate people who rewrite history. Back when I was in high school (and politically clueless, like most American teens), America was involved in our first serious scuffle with Iran as the embassy hostages were taken. And it just so happened that this crisis went down in the midst of an economic recession (like the one we’re on the brink of now), and at a time right before a U.S. presidential election. You don’t remember? That was the election in which Ronald Reagan rode in on his lily-white horse, “saved” the hostages, and personally ushered in a “revolution” for the Republican party. At least that’s what current conservatives would have us believe.
Carter, meanwhile, got the shaft. Even though he was and is one of our better diplomats (as his Nobel Peace Prize confirms), and even though he did decisively try a rescue (that the military screwed up in its execution), Carter took the fall historically as “ineffectual” on security-related issues. Admittedly, Carter was playing catch-up on the Khomeini revolution, not to mention having to deal with the ugly political reality of supporting the deposed shah (an unjust king that the Republican president Eisenhower had re-installed in a 1953 coup, a king whom all subsequent U.S. presidents probably left alone out of mere convenience).
Time marched on, the shah got sick, the Carter campaign stumbled, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Iran (talk about ironic!), and the hostages were released within minutes of Reagan’s inauguration (he therefore got to act as if he actually had something to do with their release — though it’s actually just as possible Reagan used back channels to have the hostages held onto till after the election, to keep Carter from claiming credit).
The truth is, Saint Ronald reaped the benefits of eight years with no major, sticky international incidents to go knocking teeth out of his Teflon smile. Think about it: what was Reagan’s war? Grenada? The Soviet fiasco in Afghanistan? Falkland Islands? Quiet little “anti-communist” scuffles in Central America, where the U.S. and CIA had already been helping despots for generations? Give me a break.
Reagan’s unbelievably good luck was that Britain, Russia and other powerhouses were the ones getting in trouble during those eight years, while he could just let the free market run wild and create the image of prosperity in America. However, take a look at the record number of bank failures (sound familiar?) and his huge debt load for a more accurate appraisal of Reagan and Greenspan’s “success”.
Fast-forward to last week: Obama tried to put the motivational and leadership skills of Reagan in sharp contrast to the lack of inspiration that Nixon or Bill Clinton showed. Whether or not Obama was smart to imply that he too had Reagan’s ability to inspire people and re-direct the conduct of American politics, Obama did show me at least one thing: he knows how “down-the-middle” most of the country is when it comes to picking a president who’s going to affect our pocketbooks. Why else would he bring up Reagan in a positive light? Here’s how historian Doris Kearns Goodwin put it on Meet the Press over the weekend:
MS. GOODWIN: You know, it’s a sad point in our history when a presidential candidate cannot look back over the course of our history and show admiration for a president who did what he said. He didn’t really say that he had better ideas, he said that he had transformed the country, created a conservative movement. Now, I can understand why Edwards and Hillary take that point up, but I think what’s happening here is that Hillary has a sense of playing to the base, as Edwards was, and the base doesn’t like Ronald Reagan. They don’t like Bush. But what Obama was trying to say was, if you want a transformative presidency, if you want somebody who is going to be able, as Teddy Roosevelt was, as FDR was, as perhaps John Kennedy was, to inspire and move the country forward, you’ve got to have those skills that Ronald Reagan had. It’s an historical fact! There was nothing wrong with saying that.
Thank you to Lowell at the Raising Kaine blog for pulling out the above tidbit, as well as the one soon after, where Tom Brokaw pointed out how Hillary Clinton is also on the record as having admired Reagan’s middle-class economic balancing act and tough-on-the-Soviets stance. She just doesn’t have the guts to say so in this campaign, and risk alienating her combative, Reagan-hating elitist Democratic base (some of whom may have voted for Reagan themselves at the time, speaking of dirty little secrets).
For another opinion on how Obama is actually like Reagan (an interesting, though clearly neo-conservative, pro-Reagan opinion), see Fred Barnes, an editor at The Weekly Standard, who put out an interesting column yesterday entititled Obama Is Not Reagan.
Now twenty eight years later, the task of bringing Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan into the 21st century with any international political legitimacy is still proving very difficult. Meanwhile, Russia is turning more conservative and combative again. China’s got their hands bloody with oppression in Darfur and Burma and unjust labor practices (not to mention faulty products worldwide). And saber-rattler John McCain is loudly pandering to right wing anti-Cuban sentiment down in Florida this week (reminding us that he was aboard one of Kennedy’s “missile crisis” boats), while at the same time downplaying his realistic, somewhat pro-immigrant platform (that’s why he’s “McCain squared” in the photo construction above –somewhat duplicitous, since the traditionally isolationist Republican base wouldn’t like it if they knew what a centrist and pragmatist he actually is at heart).
Meanwhile what are the Democrats doing, as the world runs down like this? Whining about whether Reagan was the Antichrist or not, while accepting and ignoring the deep flaws of an unstable, narcissistic, debt-dependent federal economic system that his Reaganomics first put in place. (All except Edwards, whose new “war on poverty” isn’t getting much traction with the self-involved middle class, in case you haven’t noticed.) Thanks to Reagan, and his disciples the Bushes, the gap between rich and poor has continued to widen for thirty years straight. Plus we’re more isolated than ever, in a worldwide economy headed in the opposite direction — a position which threatens to drag us all down if we don’t take a more multi-national approach.
Ugh! Is it too late to get Doris Kearns Goodwin, or some other historian or economist, elected president? I’m tired of people who play upon our ignorance of our own ugly history, and the long-term results of bad policies.
[ Like this? Here’s my minor update for July ’08, as the Iran situation gets weirder still… ]