Saturday, March 31, 2007

OFK? Sen. Fred Reagan?

Bill Kristol in Time magazine on how this election could be (should be?) RFK Jr. (aka Obama) versus Reagan Jr. (Fred Thompson).

It's pure Kristol---interesting analogy, well argued and written--and mostly wrong I think.

Key passage:
The Democrats' situation is different. For them, recent history does not feature a grand triumph (Reagan) preceded and followed by mixed results (Nixon and the Bushes)--a narrative that yields the hope of reliving the moment of success. The modern Democrats are more a party of tragedy than of triumph: John F. Kennedy assassinated; Lyndon Johnson's presidency wrecked on the shoals of the Great Society and Vietnam; electoral defeats in the '70s and '80s interrupted only by the (failed) Carter Administration; Clinton's victories in the '90s accompanied by the Republican takeover of Congress. And at the heart of the Democrats' quasi-tragic account, at the very center of the wistful might-have-been-but-wasn't-quite-to-be narrative, is the leader who was cut down before he had the chance fully to lead: Robert Kennedy.
On Reagan and Republicanism as a narrative of triumph.

1.Both Democrats and Republicans share credit for the Cold War. Though in different forms (rollback Rep., containment Dems) there was a shared foreign vision from Truman through Nixon, Carter, and Reagan.

2.The Soviet Empire collapsed at least as equally if not more due to its own inherent weight. It was a shame, which is why it fell so quickly. Reagan it could be argued knew when to push, but without a Gorbachev it never happens. Nor would Reagan have ever been elected if the Iranian Hostage Crisis had not taken place. He was losing in the final week to Carter--Carter not exactly the greatest of presidents ever mind you.

3.Kristol recall is a neoconservative and when Reagan was busy "destroying" the Soviet empire, Kristol was busy creating the fantasy that the entire evil world order was controlled by Moscow. Kristol mentions this because for he has now changed his story to the evil world Islamic empire that is threatening all Western civilization---as sinisterly, if not more, as centrally co-ordinated as was the Soviet threat. Hence one man's true heroism (Reagan) alone brought down that evil empire. Hence also Kristol's backing of George W. Bush, who he even now must admit is no Reagan. Now Fred Thompson? Looks like straw pulling. Does Kristol really believe this or is this another "noble lie" neo-cons (via Strauss) are he falling for it himself. I just can't get this Fred Thompson thing.

4.Not mentioned is any dark side to Reagan. Those could include any of the following:

--Iran Contra
--Right wing death squads funded and trained by the US military and security establishments rampaging through Central/Latin America, killing civilians, nuns and priests.
--The 80s Junk Bond Scandals, lack of oversight of Wall Street
--The stripping of the social safety net and the massive rise of crack in the ghettos
--Anti-gay AIDS hysteria and his administration's hardline stance on the issue.

On the Democratic side, while I generally agree with the downward slope issue, Kristol wants to jump over the achievements of the Clinton years. Peace and prosperity. Kristol correctly points out Clinton left the White House with his Party in worse shape in Congress and state-wide across the country. Not to mention one of the key issues of that decade was not the Republican takeover of Congress--usually things work when the President and Congress are from different parties....Reagan in the 80s, Clinton in the 90s--but the insane and shooting your own foot impeachment trial over Lewinsky.

In other words, another narrative could be the stupidity of the Republican party and its increasingly destructive connection with social conservatives. As well as the Democratic Party's downfall through alliance with out of touch left-wing policies. Hence, the narrative might better be each party fails when it gets too extreme in either direction.

The Republicans to my mind would do better to have a much more nuanced vision of their own legacy. I think George HW Bush is underrated, Reagan overrated, and Nixon though a crook on some many fronts, with Kissinger, the man who has charted the course for the 21st century by going to China (something neocon Kristol loathes. hence his negative image of Tricky Dick). I guess that doesn't make for a good bumper sticker nor op-ed piece though. Every Republican candidate trying to convince the voters that he is the re-incarnation/disciple of Reagan is in my mind what is actually holding the Republicans back. See Giuliani hanging out with Steve Forbes this week.

Instead of the Reagan image, if the Republicans followed the Schwarzenneger model they would destroy Hillary.

Still while everyone has compared Obama to JFK, the RFK comparison is an interesting one.
Obama is, like Kennedy, a charismatic freshman Senator, running before his time but--supporters think--uniquely suited to the time. Obama follows Kennedy in being a bold liberal and a skeptic of simple ideological stances, a gifted politician and an antipolitician, a man familiar with the halls of power yet a charismatic critic of them.

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