The way the stock of presidents rises and falls on the historical market is endlessly fascinating.
After all, you'd think that those who lived through an administration would have a clear-eyed sense of its strengths and weaknesses. But the weeklong media frenzy over Ronald Reagan's passing reminds us that, even beyond the fickleness of journalists, presidents often look very different in the rear-view mirror.
Harry Truman was seen as some as a haberdasher and a hack, an accidental president who somehow managed to win in 1948 but was too damaged to run again. But now, thanks in part to David McCullough, he is seen as the feisty, plainspoken, buck-stops-here, "Give 'Em Hell" Harry.
Dwight Eisenhower was popular during his eight years in office, but scholars and intellectuals considered him a plodding, inarticulate, uninspiring man who'd rather be off playing golf. Now Ike is considered the master of the "hidden-hand presidency" and given credit for being far shrewder than he sometimes appeared.
Jack Kennedy will forever be the president of vig-ah and the martyr of Camelot, but revelations about his womanizing and dishonesty about his health have tarnished his sterling reputation.
LBJ was undone by Vietnam, but we have a greater appreciation today for his achievements in civil rights. Johnson's Great Society programs, however, are viewed far more skeptically in this anti-government era.
Richard Nixon was never really rehabilitated because the crimes of Watergate (and the ugliness of the White House tapes) were too great. But he is viewed as a masterful foreign-policy president who was more liberal than he appeared at the time.
Gerald Ford had only 2-1/2 years, and Jimmy Carter is still viewed as an ineffective president, though his post-White House efforts have brought him a Nobel Prize. The elder George Bush is seen by some as having handled Iraq more deftly than his son.
Bill Clinton was the peace-and-prosperity president, more than a few people now view the Monica tawdriness as lesser transgression than it seemed at the time. But Clinton's failure to make terrorism a higher priority has depressed his stock in the post-9/11 world.
One other thought on Reagan: He had a great knack for deploying memorable, albeit sometimes borrowed, phrases. We remember his "shining city on a hill," his view of America's "rendezvous with destiny," government as the "problem," not the "solution." Carter's most famous address was the so-called "malaise" speech. Clinton, for all his long-winded eloquence, seems to be remembered mainly for "I did not have sex" and his rumination on "the definition of is." In politics, words matter.
The Bush team has shifted to an RR strategy, says the
Boston Globe: | http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2004/06/09/campaigns_seize_on_reagans_legacy/"After three days of suspended political activity, the Bush campaign began openly incorporating Ronald Reagan's death into its reelection message yesterday, revamping its website to give Reagan a dominant role and distributing official campaign letters that invoke the former president.
"Since Reagan's death Saturday, Bush has repeatedly offered glowing praise of the 40th president in ways that echo his own reelection efforts, but were not overtly political.
"Yesterday, his campaign took the refrain into the political realm. Bush officials sent an e-mail inviting supporters to add to a 'living memorial' on the campaign website -- one click away from the page that solicits campaign donations and recruits volunteers. Visitors to the official campaign site were automatically redirected to the Reagan tribute, paid for by the Bush/Cheney committee."
The Philadelphia Inquirer | http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/nation/8874316.htm?ERIGHTS=8784958778730028045philly::email@example.com&KRD_RM=8ooxoovrwquwrwtrpqrooooooo | Howard | Y cuts through the blather about the effect on Kerry:
"This is the last thing that John Kerry needed - a full week of Ronald Reagan hagiography, a 24/7 media festival featuring various Reagan alumni telling Americans how Reagan conservatism made the nation great again.
"And, potentially, that's a great subliminal advertisement for President Bush, who has long portrayed himself as the heir to Reagan's legacy. Bush can buttress his credentials merely by delivering the eulogy Friday; all Kerry can do is sit in the crowd and cede the spotlight.
"Maybe Democrats can find a way to suggest that Bush is no Ronald Reagan, that Bush isn't fit to fill the man's shoes - indeed, that Democratic strategy is slowly beginning to emerge - but, for now at least, the coverage is All Gipper, All the Time."
And in an astonishing development, a newspaper--the Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-hometown9jun09,1,5678779.story?coll=la-home-local--has interviewed people who did not like Ronald Reagan:
"In pockets of Los Angeles, Reagan's hometown, and in the cafes of West Hollywood -- a city only minutes from the Reagans' Bel-Air estate -- his death stirred memories of the often divisive policies of his 1980s administration.
"Many African Americans like Williams remain bitter over Reagan's perceived neglect of the poor. And many gay men like playwright Jon Bastian still feel Reagan 'did nothing, basically' about the AIDS epidemic that exploded during his eight years as president...
"AIDS activists said Reagan did too little to combat the epidemic, and criticized the president for waiting until 1987 -- six years after the discovery of AIDS -- to deliver his first major speech on the subject."
National Review's Rich Lowry | http://nationalreview.com/lowry/lowry200406080844.asp compares 43 and 40:
"He's alienating Europe! He is too bellicose! He speaks in undiplomatic language! He is motivated by an unrealistic vision of international change!
"These charges have been hurled at: (a) Ronald Reagan, (b) George W. Bush or (c) both? The answer, of course, is "c." That tells us something about both 'cowboy' presidents and their critics, including Reagan and Bush scourge John Kerry. To change the world requires angering the defenders of the status quo, enunciating a clear vision and taking risks. Doubters will therefore always be able to point to diplomatic upset, to a lack of 'nuance' and to the possibility of failure, respectively, when criticizing a transformational foreign policy.
"An appropriate epitaph for Reagan's historic accomplishment of winning the Cold War would be: 'They said it couldn't be done.' If Bush manages to effect his vision in the war on terror, his success will deserve to be similarly memorialized.
"Reagan's grand strategy -- spending so much on defense that the Soviets couldn't keep up -- was considered literally crazy by critics at the time. It would only backfire and embolden our enemies. Opposition to Reagan's policy was especially fierce in Europe, where millions protested his decision to place intermediate-range nuclear missiles there. Sound familiar?"
Paul Krugman | http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/08/opinion/08KRUG.html makes the opposite case, recalling that Reagan "followed his huge 1981 tax cut with two large tax increases. In fact, no peacetime president has raised taxes so much on so many people. This is not a criticism: the tale of those increases tells you a lot about what was right with President Reagan's leadership, and what's wrong with the leadership of George W. Bush.
"The first Reagan tax increase came in 1982. By then it was clear that the budget projections used to justify the 1981 tax cut were wildly optimistic. In response, Mr. Reagan agreed to a sharp rollback of corporate tax cuts, and a smaller rollback of individual income tax cuts. Over all, the 1982 tax increase undid about a third of the 1981 cut; as a share of G.D.P., the increase was substantially larger than Mr. Clinton's 1993 tax increase.
"The contrast with President Bush is obvious. President Reagan, confronted with evidence that his tax cuts were fiscally irresponsible, changed course. President Bush, confronted with similar evidence, has pushed for even more tax cuts."
Salon's Joe Conason | http://www.salon.com/opinion/conason/2004/06/08/reagan/index.html says Reagan's strengths should be balanced against the following:
"His naive faith in the private sector's capacity to regulate itself, along with his disdain for many of the necessary functions of the modern state, allowed cronies and crooks to flourish. Inept government, corrupt government and cynical government became severe problems during his tenure, leaving fiscal wreckage that remained for many years after he returned to private life.
"The millions of words of hagiographic copy uttered and written this week will make scant mention of the scandal epidemic that marred Reagan's presidency (aside from the Iran-contra affair, which few commentators understand well enough to explain accurately). Disabled by historical amnesia, most Americans won't recall -- or be reminded of -- the scores of administration officials indicted, convicted or expelled on ethics charges between 1981 and 1989.
"However historians will assess Reagan's responsibility, the record is what it is. Gathering dust in the news archives are thousands of clippings about the gross influence peddling, bribery, fraud, illegal lobbying and sundry abuses that engulfed the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Justice Department, and the Pentagon, to name a few of the most notorious cases...
"So let the former president be remembered for his optimism, his achievements, and his love of country. But let his mistakes be remembered as well."
The Weekly Standard's Katherine Mangu-Ward | http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/004/196zculs.asp rounds up some of Kerry's anti-Reagan rhetoric, saying that occasionally he "crossed the line into strident invective:
"* In November 2002, U.S. News & World Report carried this Kerry assessment of Reagan's presidency: 'You roll out the president one time a day. One exposure to all of you [the media]. No big in-depth inquiries. Put him in his brown jacket and his blue jeans, put him on a ranch, let him cock his head, give you a smile, and it looks like America's OK.'
"He repeated the same sentiments in an interview with Vogue last year, this time drawing a parallel to Bush: 'They have managed him the same way they managed Ronald Reagan,' Kerry contended. 'They send him out to the press for one event a day. They put him in a brown jacket and jeans and get him to move some hay or drive a truck, and all of a sudden, he's the Marlboro Man.'
"* That's not the only time Kerry has offered unflattering Bush-Reagan comparisons. In an interview last September with the Manchester Union-Leader, Kerry said, 'We've seen governors come to Washington . . . and they don't have the experience in foreign policy, and they get in trouble pretty fast. Look at Ronald Reagan. Look at Jimmy Carter and, now, obviously, George Bush.'
"* In 1992 Kerry said, 'Ronald Reagan certainly was never in combat. I mean, many of his movies depicted him there. And he may have believed he was, but he never was. And the fact is that he sent Americans off to die.' "
And how many nice things has Bush said about Democratic presidents?
Wonkette | http://wonkette.com/ (and maybe a few others) is losing patience with the coverage:
"So glad that the nets are going wall-to-wall with the Reagan stuff for the fourth consecutive day. Otherwise we might forget that he's dead. At this point, however, the strain of keeping the story alive is starting to show. Fox, for instance, has run out of famous Reagan fanatics; this morning they interviewed one of the soldiers guarding the president's casket.
"Fox: Did you ever meet Reagan?"Marine (who appears to be approximately 18 years old): Uh, no, sir."Fox: How much of an honor is it to be doing this duty?"Marine: It's a great honor."
In non-Reagan news--yes, there's a little bit of that--it's Kennedy vs. Ashcroft:
"Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose subordinates have written confidential legal memorandums seemingly approving of torture, told a Senate committee today that President Bush had 'made no order that would require or direct the violation' of either the international treaties or domestic laws prohibiting torture," says the New York Times. | http://nytimes.com/2004/06/08/politics/08CND-TORT.html?hp.
"Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Ashcroft was assailed with questions about a cascade of recently disclosed memorandums in which lawyers from his Department as well as those from the Defense Department and elsewhere in government provided legal justifications for using torture in interrogating people detained in the fight against terrorism.
"In heated exchanges with Democrats, Mr. Ashcroft refused to provide several of the memorandums, saying they amounted to confidential legal advice given the president and did not have to be shared with the Congress. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat and committee member, challenged Mr. Ashcroft on his unwillingness to release the memorandums and said that the reported abuses of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison facility in Baghdad were the inevitable outcome of the administration's efforts to find ways to evade legal responsibility...
"'In other words, the President of the United States has the responsibility,' he said holding up a photograph of prisoners cowering before American guards and their dogs at Abu Ghraib. 'We know when we have these kinds of orders, what happens. We get the stress test, we get the use of dogs, we get the forced nakedness that we've all seen on these and we get the hooding. This is what you get with those kind of memoranda out there.'"
Special free-of-charge bonus: I've got a rare midweek print column out today about media viewership and credibility.
Here's the top of it. | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A26345-2004Jun8.htmlIn a country increasingly divided into red and blue states, the media are taking on a more partisan coloration as well -- at least in the eyes of those who read and watch.
Republicans have come to distrust the media in greater numbers since President Bush took office, says a new poll released yesterday, while Democratic views are mostly unchanged.
Only about half as many Republicans as Democrats find the usual media suspects credible, says the Pew Research Center, including the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, U.S. News & World Report, CBS, ABC, NBC, National Public Radio and PBS's "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." "CNN's once-dominant credibility ratings have slumped in recent years, mostly among Republicans and independents," the survey says. "By comparison, the Fox News Channel's believability ratings have held steady -- both overall and within partisan groups."
While the percentage of people who rate CNN as highly credible has slid from 42 percent six years ago to 32 percent now, the study says, "more continue to say they can believe all or most of what they hear on CNN than say that about Fox News Channel," whose credibility rating is 25 percent. MSNBC clocks in at 22 percent. ("60 Minutes" edged the field with 33 percent.)
In a finding that surprised Andrew Kohut, the Pew center's director, 29 percent of Republicans say Fox News Channel is credible, only slightly more than the 26 percent of GOPers who feel that way about CNN. Among Democrats, though, 45 percent give CNN a thumbs up for credibility, compared with 24 percent for Fox News Channel.
You can read the rest here.
And, sports fans, you don't want to miss this bit of breaking news:
The Tampa Bay Lightning may have won its first National Hockey League championship in a dramatic seventh game Monday night, but word didn't seem to reach the local paper.
The Tampa Tribune | http://tampatrib.com/News/MGBPAJIF7VD.html ran an editorial yesterday praising the team even though it had lost the Stanley Cup, which would be news to anyone who watched the game in Tampa.
"I was sick to my stomach," says Editorial Page Editor Rosemary Goudreau. "It's probably the worst feeling you can have in this business. There's no excuse for it, you got it wrong, our system didn't work."
As Goudreau explained in an online editor's note, she had prepared two editorials depending on the outcome -- a common newspaper practice -- and put the victory editorial on the computerized page. It was like taking "a puck in the gut," she wrote, when the wrong version ran. One reason the mistake wasn't spotted was the uplifting headline: "Lightning Gave Community More Than a Championship."
"People were very angry and upset," says Goudreau, who has become a hockey fan this year, but some callers appreciated the explanation. "It's just awful," she says. "The worst part is that we let our readers down."