George W. Bush has apparently decided to wrap himself in the Reagan legacy.
I've now obtained, exclusively, from a super-secret source who refused to be identified for fear of looking dumb, a classified strategy memo advising the president on how he can morph himself into a modern-day Reagan.
"Sir," writes Deep Cowboy, "you asked us to devise a plan that would enable you to seize the moment with respect to RR and subtly persuade the electorate that you are the 21st-century embodiment of the Gipper. Some of our finest political minds have been tasked with this sensitive assignment and, in coordination with Karl and B/C '04, have honed the following action agenda:
"--Your ranch visits aren't producing enough photo ops. We suggest you start clearing brush and riding a horse, but only after we've notified the AP photographer.
"--Our research indicates that Reagan was an actor in his younger days. We suggest you find an appropriate theatrical vehicle in order to show that you, too, have some show-business flair. Perhaps you can consult Arnold on Hollywood contacts for a Clint Eastwood-type film. Avoid anything with chimpanzees.
"--Wear a cowboy hat to all state dinners.
"--Invite Sam Donaldson to future news conferences and call on him repeatedly. Note: When the copter lands on the South Lawn after a trip, cup your hand and pretend to be unable to hear Sam.
"--Rather than stop with the small-minded proposal that Reagan replace Hamilton on the 10-dollar bill, you should issue an executive order that Reagan's image be printed on all United States currency. Denominations could be distinguished by a different pastel color for each Reagan bill.
"--Invite Gorbachev to the White House and call it a summit.
"--Invite Carter to the White House for a televised debate.
"--If you must debate Kerry, begin every answer with 'there you go again.' It would be helpful to manage a smile as you say this.
"--Find a group of union employees to fire. Better yet, abolish a government agency that provides little or no benefit to our base. Do we really need a Labor Department?
"--You've already lifted RR's 'evil empire' slogan with your 'axis of evil,' but the time has come to extend the brand. Find new targets to declare evil. Suggested evildoers: Michael Moore, Jacques Chirac, ACLU, Ted Kennedy.
"--Have Scott tell press on background that there was a mixup on your birth certificate and you're actually 77.
"--If the polls continue to slip, tell Cheney to bow out gracefully and announce your new running mate at Madison Square Garden: George H.W. Bush. If he was good enough to be Reagan's vice president, he's ready for an encore. Bonus: He can turn to Kerry's veep pick and say, "I knew Ronald Reagan, and you're no Ronald Reagan." Will also save money on shorter bumper stickers."
Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum | http://washingtonmonthly.com tackles the Bush/Reagan nexus:
"The problem with comparing Bush to Reagan is that Bush comes off as a mediocre painter trying to emulate Picasso. He sees the brushstrokes on the surface and knows how to copy them, but because he doesn't understand their underlying purpose he ends up being only a clumsy and ultimately damaging imitation when he tries to craft a painting of his own.
"No analogy is perfect, but in a lot of ways Bush strikes me as being to Reagan what LBJ was to Roosevelt. It's true that LBJ made some powerful and original contributions to the country, particularly in the area of civil rights, but in the end his legacy has been overshadowed by a pair of signature failures. The Great Society and the Vietnam War, consciously modeled on FDR's New Deal and his leadership during World War II, adopted the surface characteristics of FDR's great achievements but ended up as failures because LBJ didn't have Roosevelt's instinctive feel for public opinion or his grasp of why some things worked and some didn't.
"Much the same can be said of George Bush. He learned Reagan's lesson that tax cuts could be powerful political symbols, but then turned that lesson into a blind rule that tax cuts are the answer to every economic problem. Likewise, on foreign policy he saw that Reagan was admired for his steadfast anticommunism, but failed to learn when and where to turn down the volume. As a result, he's a man with only one gear, overreliant on military solutions whether they're appropriate or not.
"Like LBJ, Bush is a man who knows the notes but not the song. He learned the surface lessons of Reagan's presidency -- tax cuts, hawkishness, unyielding rhetoric -- but because he doesn't have the political sensitivity to understand what to do with them he has no choice except to simply offer more tax cuts and more hawkishness, whatever the problem. As a result, he overreaches in a way Reagan never did and will likely be the prime cause of the one thing he most fears: a liberal backlash."
Was Reagan an ideologue? Jonah Goldberg | http://nationalreview.com/goldberg/goldberg200406090918.asp says yes:
"For many in the press, Reagan's decency was a sort of hypocrisy -- since conservatism and decency are supposed to be contradictory terms. But rather than speak ill of the dead and condemn him for it, they call this perceived hypocrisy 'pragmatism.'
"After all, when the very liberal Senator Paul Wellstone died tragically in a plane crash in 2002, the nearly universal consensus among the same journalists was that what made him a great man was his refusal to compromise his ideological agenda. With Reagan, it's the reverse.
"But for the record: Reagan was no pragmatist, at least not in the way so many claim. Richard Nixon, the first President Bush, Bill Clinton: These men were pragmatists. Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, was an ideologue. Proudly so. And that's why conservatives loved him."
The New Republic's Jonathan Chait | http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=express&s=chait060904 says no way:
"What's most interesting about Reagan-worship is not so much that it overlooks his flaws but that it specifically overlooks his departures from conservative orthodoxy . . .
"Conservatives Reagan as an uber-supply sider. In a lengthy obituary, The Washington Times recalled, 'Mr. Reagan resisted congressional attempts to raise taxes, despite a deficit exceeding $200 billion by 1986. "Go ahead, make my day," the president baited Congress.' Curiously absent from this and other hagiographic accounts is the fact that Reagan signed two large tax increases in 1982 and 1983 (the former, it should be noted, in the midst of a severe recession).
"Conservatives hail as Reagan's crowning achievement the tax reform he signed in 1986. Today, conservatives remember it as one sweeping movement. 'He pushed down incomes taxes, too, from a high of 70% when he entered the White House to a new low of 28%,' wrote Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal. In fact, tax reform was a deliberate effort by the Reagan administration to scale back some of the abuses of its original 1981 tax cut, which allowed many businesses and wealthy individuals to escape taxation completely . . .
"It's also inconceivable that moderates like Donald Regan--or Howard Baker, Richard Darman, David Stockman, or James Baker--could be given decision-making authority over domestic policy in George W. Bush's Republican Party . . .
"The reality of Reagan differed from the memory of Reagan is precisely the point: Myths are created in order to teach certain lessons. "
The Washington Times | http://washingtontimes.com/national/20040610-122510-9761r.htm sculpts Bush in the Reaganite mold:
"America's affectionate farewell to Ronald Reagan has focused attention on the similarities between the 40th president and President Bush, whose policies of tax cuts and a stronger defense parallel his Republican forefather.
"'Whether it was economic policies, national security policies, like national missile defense, or reforming Social Security, everything Bush talks about was something Ronald Reagan had tried to do,' said Martin Anderson, who was chief domestic adviser in the Reagan White House.
"But some of Mr. Bush's conservative supporters also point to key differences between the two men, especially noting the president's expansion of the Department of Education -- which Mr. Reagan sought to shrink -- and the creation of a new Medicare prescription-drug benefit for the elderly...
"Raising similarities between the two presidents is a sensitive subject for the White House and the president's re-election campaign right now, although Republican officials say it is likely that the Republican National Convention in New York from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2, where Mr. Bush will be nominated for a second term, will include a major tribute to Mr. Reagan in prime time. Mr. Bush's senior aides and his campaign advisers are uncomfortable making any comparisons at a time of national mourning for the late president."
The Philadelphia Inquirer | http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/8884534.htm?ERIGHTS=8755286009050303370philly::firstname.lastname@example.org&KRD_RM=8ooxoovrwquwrwtrpqrooooooo | Howard | Y&is_rd=Y is turned off by the TV coverage:
"Reagan is rising in the public regard to Diana's beatific level, not because of his policies but because we long for optimism and a strong friend, who could identify the enemy and defeat it, at the top.
"The TV news folks haven't been about to thwart that desire or disappoint viewers, constantly harping on Reagan's international successes, ignoring critics who decry what they see as the abandonment of suffering citizens, particularly AIDS victims and African Americans, under his watch.
"But last evening the TV people should have just shut up completely. This was a national moment of emotion, not a news event, and television handled it poorly. Garish graphics and logos, particularly on CBS and NBC, destroyed the power of the images. Punditry and blather intruded on the feelings of the national community.
"'Stop me ... when you want to talk,' ABC's Barbara Walters told colleague Peter Jennings. How about when you just want to sit silently in a solemn experience?
"NBC's Tom Brokaw was worse. 'Let's just watch this for just a moment, absorb the majesty of it all,' he said. But he couldn't keep quiet even for 30 seconds.
"CBS's Dan Rather and Co. were generally more respectful, though they did digress into a discussion of cicadas."
As for the current presidential campaign, the Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/custom/timespoll/la-na-poll10jun10,1,1874410.story?coll=la-home-headlines has good news for Kerry, sort of:
"Widespread unease over the country's direction and doubts about President Bush's policies on Iraq and the economy helped propel Sen. John F. Kerry to a solid lead among voters nationwide, according to a new Times Poll.
"Yet in a measure of the race's tenuous balance, Times' polling in three of the most fiercely contested states found that Bush has a clear advantage over Kerry in Missouri and runs even with the presumed Democratic rival in Ohio and Wisconsin . . .
"More than one-third of those polled in the nationwide poll said they don't know enough about Kerry to decide whether he would be a better president than Bush. And when asked which candidate was more likely to flip-flop on issues, almost twice as many named Kerry than Bush. Yet Kerry led Bush by 51% to 44% nationally in a two-way match up, and by 48% to 42% in a three-way race, with independent Ralph Nader drawing 4%."
Maybe flip-flopping has its advantages.
"Lifting Kerry is a powerful tailwind of dissatisfaction with the nation's course and Bush's answers for challenges at home and abroad. Nearly three-fifths believe the nation is on the wrong track, the highest level a Times poll has recorded during Bush's presidency."
The Wall Street Journal sees the news cycle breaking Bush's way:
"A little more than a week ago, President Bush did something that surprised White House aides: He went out of his way to take questions from reporters in the Rose Garden.
"Mr. Bush made his appearance to hail the formation of a new Iraqi government. He came with a prepared statement, and aides told reporters he would take one question, maybe two.
"Instead, an animated and clearly buoyed president answered reporters' questions for half an hour. As that suggests, after a grim spring of bad news on several fronts, Mr. Bush finally has good things to talk about as the crucial summer of his re-election campaign arrives. And he seems to realize it.
"An Iraqi government is ready to take power in less than a month, and the world has just blessed it with a resolution at the United Nations. The U.S. economy is starting to hum, producing 248,000 jobs last month, the second straight month of good job production . . .
"The combined effect of the aligning diplomatic and economic forces underscores the fact that, for all of Mr. Bush's perceived weaknesses, he still has institutional advantages that will serve him well as the campaign unfolds this summer."
Online political ads are all the rage, reports
Salon's Farhad Manjoo: | http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2004/06/09/blog_ads/index.html "Jim Newberry, a Democrat who's trying to unseat Blunt in November, has flooded the blogs with a slew of anti-Blunt ads. In Newberry's ads, [Missouri Rep. Roy] Blunt is no semi-anonymous cog in the Republican machine -- he is the epitome of conservative iniquity.
"Between massive tax breaks, and slipping tobacco company favors into the Homeland Security Bill, Roy Blunt has proven he's the best man that money can rent," reads the copy on one of Newberry's ads. It ends with a tagline that has become a Newberry rallying cry: 'Boot Blunt.' . . .
"Everywhere you look, aspiring politicians are hawking their platforms, or more likely, they're urging you to stick it to their opponents, who are often portrayed as the cause of all our nation's ills. Almost without exception, the blog-based ads for local candidates pursue Newberry's strategy, demonizing under-the-radar opponents by tying their actions to national problems.
" 'Now, anyone can be Jesse Helms,' notes Glenn Reynolds, who runs the popular conservative blog Instapundit, which has published ads for Republicans and Democrats. 'In the old days, you could take somebody like Jesse Helms or maybe Ted Kennedy and you could demonize them in order to raise money. With the Internet, you can hit any candidate and raise money by turning him into Jesse Helms for a small demographic.'
"It's easy to see why so many candidates are hoisting their billboards on blogs: Blog ads seem to offer office-seekers an easy tap into the vein of partisan discontent that (at least at first) worked so well for Howard Dean. The ads hold the promise of donations and, even more important, a community ready to support the candidate on Election Day.
"But are they working? Reports from the candidates are mixed. Some campaigns have used ads on blogs to bring money and national attention to their candidates, though many of these people are running in races that were likely to attract attention anyway. Other campaigns report barely breaking even with blog ads."
I still think Tom Vilsack is a long shot as veep, but the Kerry camp has asked for hundreds of newspaper columns written by the Iowa governor.
And if you want to read how security lunkheads treated a visiting British reporter in this age of terror, check out this piece in the Guardian. | http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1231089,00.html