Saturday, January 19

I'd Love To Have Me A Pony, Too, But I'm Not About To Put A Saddle On A Sheepdog

CJ, in comments:
C'mon...Obama was merely acknowledging that Reagan was politically savvy and embraced by the people enough to push his agenda...that doesn't mean that Obama or any other Democrat actually agrees with the agenda! Get real. Whether we like it or not, Reagan was able to accomplish a lot of (evil) change while he was president and united the public in a way that Clinton did fact, Clinton ignited the movement that put the GOP in congressional powera nd gave us 8 years of GWB. Just because you state that we need a movement that can create create change the WAY that Reagan did, doesn't mean you want the SAME policies and change that Reagan had!

1) Senator Obama (D-Triangulation) is running for the Democratic nomination for President. He's not running for tenure track in the History department of a community college. Which is fortunate for the students.

2) As such it would behoove him to acknowledge that the Democratic Party is not exactly the best recruitment grounds for the Ronald Reagan fan club and that, in fact, for much of the Democratic rank-and-file Ronald Reagan, his "popularity" and the subsequent confusion of his hagiographies with actual history are what they've been fighting for a quarter century. And one may include alongside this the Reagan-fluffing instincts of the Democratic party; see "Approval Ratings, 110th Congress" for an example of what failure to oppose naked dumbassery can bring.

3) No one, to my knowledge, parsed Senator Obama's comments to mean "he wants to re-enact Reagan's policies"; the piece you're responding to certainly didn't. I admit I'm frequently imprecise, unclear, or simply befuddled, and sometimes intentionally so, but I thought the point was graspable. If not, here's the remix: his professed admiration for the Reagan administration is either lacking in knowledge or a sadly-misguided pander. It may come at the service of the best man for the Oval Office, and the good shepherd of 21st Century Progressivism; I don't know, and I'm less than convinced by those who claim they know. Accepting on faith what in practice seems largely unachievable or hopelessly and unnecessarily conciliatory to a party which has wrecked the economy, exhausted the military, spied on citizens, shit on the Constitution, and destroyed our international stature for purely partisan reasons, very often with criminal intent--in the name of anti-partisanship!--is out of the question.

4) And don't tell me it's just brutal honesty; it plays upon a fictional account of Reagan and Reaganism which is at the center of our current pit of political cess. So, no, I do not agree that Reagan "accomplished a lot of change" while President, parenthetically evil or no; the Reagan Revolution is a large serving of flummery sprinkled with Cold War detritus and topped with whipped cream for an easily spoon-fed public. I don't deny their are opinions to the contrary which are not strictly intended to fluff the Old Boob; and I don't insist that every last thing he touched turned to shit. (Nor Nixon, for that matter.) But Reagan fluffery generally comes down to insisting this amorphous "bringing together" was something tangible, and that it affected some sort of legislative trailblazing that has put us on our current path (except-pfui!--when Bill Clinton is being blamed for George W. Bush). Yet--Ronald Reagan ran for President for sixteen years as Goldwater's smoother (slightly) younger brother, on the evils of National Debt, then nearly quadrupled it. He ran on an opposition to government regulation, and affected some change there--by putting industry mouthpieces in charge of their own industries, mostly--but deregulation was already in the air; the Carter administration had put a lot in into practice, and the end result was not a fundamental reformulation of the question, but a continuation of the need to regulate in opposition to tendency for campaign contributors to blunt it, rewrite it, and comandeer it. Candidate Reagan, like the rest of the anti-fluoridation bunch, griped about creeping socialism, but once in the Oval Office took his hand off Social Security like you'd drop a hot tin can. The Right-wing social agenda--abortion, school prayer, creationism, public monies for private religious schools, the great amorphous plaints of the Culture Warriors about Permissiveness--got his lip service and nothing else. His administration shepherded massive-to-the-point-beyond-insanity military spending increases. But the increases in military spending, following the lean post-Vietnam era, began in the Carter administration and were carried out far more intelligently, which is to say, with any measure of intelligence at all. geared toward combat-readiness and not space-launched lasers that can put out an A-rab's eye from 25 miles up. Reagan begat not just the vast black hole known to pundits as "Star Wars", but our program of building enough aircraft carriers that some later emperor could lash them together and ride across the Pacific on his snow-white charger. He resuscitated the unneeded and nearly unworkable Air Force Shiny Object known as the B-1 (which the Carter administration had cancelled). He insisted on creating a 600-ship Navy, and came damn close. Today, as sense has slowly crept back in, we're down to 300. Those are the headline-writer highlights. We could go on until the keyboard wears out.

One hardly need add (except to Senator Obama, perhaps) that an administration which instituted a war-time defense build-up in peacetime at a time when it knew the Soviet Union was bankrupt simply threw money at defense contractors, rather than a) innovate or b) determine and implement long-term strategic goals. Just as a headlong rush into Iraq did not result in the promised game of Middle East Democratic Dominoes, the drunken spending spree of the Reagan years did not result in an improved defense posture or necessary, sustainable growth; it just bought more stuff. A lot more stuff. Depending on your age you, or your parents, paid for it. Today, you're paying to warehouse and maintain it. Billions for a spasm, and all of it for tribute.

The Reagan administration made a showpiece of taxes, which they cut (via a Democratic Congress) in 1981, and then were required to use the phrase "it's a revenue enhancement, not a tax hike" when it came time to raise them again. (Guess who benefited in the interim? It wasn't the blue-collar Reagan Democrats so enamored of his unitin' good ways.) The economy improved during Reagan years, particularly for some, after a decade in the oil-embargoed doldrums, but not nearly as well after those tax cuts as it did after taxes were raised again in the early 90s. (This, by the way, being a prime example of how bald-faced Reagan hagiography is; when the unrestrained effusiveness over the Reagan-era economy ran headlong into the much larger, less stratified, decade-long uninterrupted growth of the Clinton years, Clinton's contribution was immediately discounted.)

We suggest, in fact, that what was "savvy" about the Reagan administration was its advertising department, which was the first to understand that if the truth isn't particularly in your favor an adequate temporal response can be formed by calling the very concept of truth into question. This was "successful" in that it won them elections, and was later the basis for further electoral gains in 1994 and the Bush II years, but in terms of governance it's an unmitigated disaster that took twenty-five years for a lot of people to recognize, while many more have yet to get it. We don't find much that changed according to the Reagan "plan" beyond the current percentage of self-described "conservatives" who answer pollsters' phone calls; we find this mainly an artifact of wishful thinking. We think the reorganization of a post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, hubristic consumer society into a supposedly united and upbeat one was, and is, mostly predictable, self-fulfilling prophecy, a matter of moderate white suburban and blue-collar society deciding to chuck difficult and sometimes ugly reality in favor of that split level, cable teevee, and an easy pretense of moral clarity. And Reagan was its affable face. But his underlying political agenda advanced surprisingly little, and that mostly to the extent that the ruling Democratic party-now shorn of its Dixiecrat helpers, fell into disfavor. People climbed on board; the American public has to climb on bandwagons the way a shark has to swim forward, and if it's not accompanied by reassuring blather they check to see if they hit the mute button by mistake. The Reagan hagiography is partisanship in action. Someone who doesn't see that isn't likely to pull us out of the muck.

So, no, this is not about reenacting the Reagan years (hold that thought while I get my gun); it's about portraying them as years of accomplishment which "united the public in a way Clinton did not". Bill Clinton left office--after being hounded by Reaganauts for eight years--with higher approval ratings that the Gipper. You could look it up.

5) Reagan wasn't elected. or re-elected, nor did he sweep to "unprecidented" popularity, out of a rejection of "the excesses of the 60s and 70s". The construction contains something of a tell: the 70s were themselves a period of retrenchment from the social uphevals of the 60s; Jimmy Carter was the moderate Democratic candidate in 1976. They're blended into a haze of patchouli simply because Obama needs to account for Reagan not making it to Washington until the 1980s. But he'd been the favored backlash candidate since 1964, and there was plenty of that, enough to make him governor of California in the acid is groovy 60s. Pretending that anti-civil rights, pro-war, religious and culture war factions didn't exist until the Gipper became President is ahistorical nonsense acquired from teevee sitcoms, and it belongs, if anywhere, in the Republican primaries. The Vietnam War remained more popular than the war in Iraq until the last helicopter was shoved off the last flight deck. Reagan coasted in on dissatisfaction over Carter, which coalesced in the last week or two of the campaign. You could look it up.

6) For us the answer doesn't really matter, a point we've made several times during the campaign season: Pig in a Poke, Lick and a Promise, Wishin' an' Hopin', Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens. Obama may not be Ronald Reagan, but his voting record ain't much different than Hillary Clinton's, and we're not voting for her either. He's another in a long line of Presidential candidates who pretend not to be calculating, but won't show the work to prove it. We were willing, once, to listen; now the first thing we want to hear is an apology. Senator Obama needs to explain himself, not for the Reagan remark, but for why the country at large should put its faith in charisma when the argument in its favor is the disaster that was the Reagan administration.

7) As for Bill Clinton leading the way to George W. Bush: a limited perspective is one thing; presuming to lecture on that basis quite another.

UPDATE: Saying that he shouldn't be criticized by people who bought into the Iraq war, since it was the worst of GOP excesses kinda raises the question of what the best were, doesn't it?


Anonymous said...

I am voting for you. Yes, I know you don't want to be the POTUS. I'm still going to do it. We will change "Hail To The Chief" to a minor key, and play it as a dirge, and your inaugural parade will feature you handcuffed to the limo, but damnit, we will have us a good president, and we will have kicked the cult of personality to the curb, and we will get to work, and it will be slow and often boring, but things will slowly get better.

Oops. I should probably stop trying to imagine a better world and start trying to live in this one.


Anonymous said...

I like imaginary worlds better. I'm voting straight Green Party after voting for Kucenich or Edwards (Elizabeth) in the primary.

Anonymous said...

I'm still trying to figure out why Senator Clinton was the only absention from the bankruptcy bill (Obama voted no), especially since the bill was clearly going to pass, so a No vote wouldn't hurt the financial interests.

I think you can look at verbal posturing or political posturing. I think the reference to RR has been blown out of proportion - maybe wasn't a great idea, but at least there is some controversy over what he has said, I can't listen to Clinton without going to sleep.

Maybe experience is the issue - but bad experience (failed health care with stupid strategy when all the cards were aligned, vote on Iraq, vote on Iran, no vote on bankruptcy) is not the 2nd coming of FDR either.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 1:33:

You're right. Yours, however, wasn't even remotely the point of the post.

James Stripes said...

Americans "think" in symbols and sound bites. Reagan's genius was that he could move people who were a lot smarter than he was through his symbolic language. Of the many problems with Clinton, we should not forget the extent of the ways he seemed to have bought into Reagan's stories--the welfare queen immediately comes to mind.

I agree that that compromise with evil is not an option and that Obama lives in a bubble if he thinks he can unite Americans as "one people" when we have never been any such. On the other hand, he might have the capacity to woo a handful of social conservatives back towards the path of justice about which Jesus spoke. That makes him both attractive and unsettling.

I'd love to duplicate your Reagan rant the next time I get to teach 1980s American history. Can I do this without hearing from your attorneys?

Fort Wayne Democrat said...

Dear Grantmad:

If I assume you live in Indiana, then go ahead, vote Green - it doesn't matter.

But if you live in one of those wonderful Other States where there is actually political competition at the federal level, don't kid yourself that a Green vote is very much the same as voting for whichever appalling Republican is nominated.

And yes, I'm still bitter about how Nader put his ego ahead of our nation's interests in 2000, with the result being War Without End and a tax policy that no longer even pretends to care about the middle class. Sorry, but I'm not sure I'll get over it.

Fort Wayne Democrat said...

I see from my previous comment that I had some problems with negatives, or double negatives, or something. Please accept my apologies - but I think my point is pretty clear.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ft Wayne Dem,

I live in Massachusetts. I think the state is going to vote for the democrat by a wide margin -- call it a hunch.