Tag Archives: Reagan

Ranking reeking presidents

The latest presidential rankings suggest #metoo and a reckoning with the men’s prejudices affected several reputations, notably Andrew Jackson (out of the top ten and tumbling, thank the lord or Jon Meacham) and Woodrow Wilson’s (same). The late Poppy Bush, stretching his legs and aglow with the knowledge that obituary writers praised him as the Last Sane Republican, gets comfortable in the top twenty. Andrew Johnson remains as reviled as ever, perhaps more so as we re-examine the catastrophe of the abandonment of Reconstruction. Ron Chernow’s superb bio has rehabilitated Ulysses Grant’s reputation much as David McCullough’s did John Adams seventeen years ago. But why Warren Harding gets more shit than Calvin Coolidge (who actually did sleep while the fires were set for the burning of Rome) I’ll never know;  he needs the Meacham Treatment, I suspect. But what the bloody hell is George W. Bush doing above Chester Arthur and Benjamin Harrison?

At the bottom, chewing on James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce while trapped in ice, is the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Here is the aforementioned top ten: Continue reading

Conservatism: the racism is the point

I’m not the only person who insists the GOP’s transformation into a racist death cult advocating tax cuts for the wealthy began on January 1981 when Ronald Wilson Reagan put his hand on the Bible. Too often Reagan’s bonhomie masked what Christopher Hitchens called a cruel and stupid lizard. I can’t wait for the Ronnie devotees to explain these remarks:

The day after the United Nations voted to recognize the People’s Republic of China, then–California Governor Ronald Reagan phoned President Richard Nixon at the White House and vented his frustration at the delegates who had sided against the United States. “Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did,” Reagan said. “Yeah,” Nixon interjected. Reagan forged ahead with his complaint: “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries—damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Nixon gave a huge laugh.

To be clear, no one had heard these remarks:

The exchange was taped by Nixon, and then later became the responsibility of the Nixon Presidential Library, which I directed from 2007 to 2011. When the National Archives originally released the tape of this conversation, in 2000, the racist portion was apparently withheld to protect Reagan’s privacy. A court order stipulated that the tapes be reviewed chronologically; the chronological review was completed in 2013. Not until 2017 or 2018 did the National Archives begin a general rereview of the earliest Nixon tapes. Reagan’s death, in 2004, eliminated the privacy concerns. Last year, as a researcher, I requested that the conversations involving Ronald Reagan be rereviewed, and two weeks ago, the National Archives released complete versions of the October 1971 conversations involving Reagan online.

At his office in Century City, Ronald Reagan would not comment despite several phone calls.

What is a neoconf?

After reading W.E.B. Du Bois, Eric Foner, and Lawrence Goldstone, I’ve distilled decades of scholarship about the ways in which the Democratic Party looked the other way when the South defied the federal government and encouraged racist violence while maintaining a kind of apartheid. Starting in 1968, the two political parties switched its worst members. In January 1981 the acceleration took place and onward through Newt Gingrich, the equal protection claims of the Rehnquist majority on the Supreme Court, George W. Bush and his cabal, and Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan.

A neo-Confederate believes in:

1. Minority rule.
2. “States rights”
3. A return to constitutional norms before 1860, i.e. before the passage of the Civil War and Reconstruction amendments.
4. The inferiority of certain classes of people.
5. The imposition of federal taxes as an infringement on liberty.

I should point out that “states rights” is the portmanteau for every canon I’ve mentioned.

“Neoconf” looks ungainly, but so did “neocon” in 2003.

‘Perhaps in Iowa. Perhaps in fields of grain.’

Yesterday, Splinter News published Paul Blest, who wrote the best John McCain obit I’ve read to date. This afternoon, Splinter News published Peggy Noonan’s latest slash fiction: a masterpiece of unintended comedy, failed poesy, tolerance for sexism, and self-pity. Classic Noonan, but more. This is, after all, the writer who praised the beauty of Ronald Reagan’s foot. Well, Beaut Foot popped up in again, a resident of the Valhalla to which McCain’s unsullied soul traveled.

Reflections of a Political Man

Besides chastisement in front of the class, Alex wasn’t allowed to Go Out and Play, my fourth grade class’ term for recess. Drawing a mustache on the vice president was an act of disrespect; that the Groucho face drag appeared on a Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign poster turned the defilement into an act of treason as perfidious as Alger Hiss’. Continue reading

‘A freeze is not a fix’

I confess to having little experience with unions, but judged from a distance the developments in the West Virginia teachers strike are quite new in the modern history of organized labor. The teachers have ground the state to a halt and have gotten even the state senate to scramble for ways to yield to their demands while saving face:

On Thursday, one week into the statewide public school employee strike, which will continue Friday with public schools in all 55 counties closed, the West Virginia Senate pumped the brakes on a bill that would give teachers, school service personnel and the State Police a 5 percent raise.

Instead, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, sent the legislation (House Bill 4145) to the Senate Finance Committee to change it and create a long-term revenue source for Public Employees Insurance Agency health coverage.

tate school employee union leaders suggested Tuesday evening, when the 5 percent raise for school employees was proposed by Gov. Jim Justice, that workers return to schools Thursday. But with the strike now continuing two days beyond what the state union heads called for, it isn’t clear what effect the proposed alternative will have on ending the strike, and it isn’t clear if any end to the strike will be unified statewide.

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to meet Friday afternoon.

Growing up in the aftermath of the 1981 PATCO strikes induced me to accept Ronald Reagan’s assertion, borrowed from idol Calvin Coolidge (who made his reputation when as governor of Massachusetts he fired striking cops), that public union employees couldn’t walk out of their jobs. To fuming parents who argue that their children’s educations are endangered, I respond: teachers who live paycheck to paycheck and face the possibility of deducting three hundred dollars from a $1300 biweekly check for health insurance can’t concentrate on the basic duties of education.

As far as I know, no Democrats with national profiles have breathed a word of support.

Responses to violence

Julia Azari reviews the history of presidential responses to acts of violence on black citizens:

In 1906, for example, a group of African-American soldiers in Brownsville, Texas, was accused of shooting multiple people. They were acquitted by a court and there was no real evidence of their guilt — but President Theodore Roosevelt issued a dishonorable discharge for all of the accused soldiers. Roosevelt’s critics accused him of placating the angry mob for political reasons, as Roosevelt’s Republican Party had long tried to make electoral progress in the South.

Later in the 20th century, several presidents struggled to respond to lynchings, the violent, extra-judicial killing of African-Americans accused of crimes. (Recent estimates suggest that nearly 4,000 people died this way in the South between 1877 and 1950.) The NAACP had to lobby both Democrat Woodrow Wilson (who held and acted on racist views) and his Republican successor Warren G. Harding. Wilson did eventually speak out against lynching, but it took several years of lobbying by the NAACP to convince him to do so. As political scientist Megan Francis has written, “Only through an unyielding onslaught of protest was [the NAACP] able to obtain support from Wilson.” Harding, meanwhile, made some initial statements about lynching, Francis found, but did not continue to pressure Congress to adopt anti-lynching legislation. Like Theodore Roosevelt, he was limited by his party’s ambitions in the South.

Including Wilson among them is a tonic. Readers may recall a time in the early Obama administration, sometime around 2010 and 2011, when the legacy of Wilson obsessed Glenn Beck and his ilk; in Barack Obama they saw the Wilson who signed legislation creating the Federal Reserve and approving a federal income tax. This segment of the right was more obsessed with Wilson the than the left. As the incarnation of early twentieth century Progressivism, Wilson was a complicated figure who should have lost his re-election bid (Charles Evans Hughes may not have kept us out of the Great War, but this is an argument for another time). The left hasn’t had trouble assessing his legacy. When National Review and its kind smugly confuse the Democratic Party and liberalism, their writers act as if they didn’t know the two weren’t synonymous and, more importantly, forget that the Republican Party was the more liberal party – the more Progressive party – between Reconstruction and 1920.

Democrats and leftists have long since come to terms with Woodrow Wilson. The GOP and conservatives have not come to terms with Ronald Wilson Reagan’s legacy.

Meanwhile a belief in progress continues to be a symptom of the economically secure. “The belief that America is somehow better than its white-supremacist history is sometimes an excuse masquerading as encouragement, and it’s part of the reason why the K.K.K. is back in business,” writes Jia Tolentino, a University of Virginia graduate, in a disturbing essay for The New Yorker.

The modern roots of Charlottesville

On Sunday, Aug. 3, 1980, the Republican candidate for president made the following remarks at the Neshoba County Fair:

Today, and I know from our own experience in California when we reformed welfare, I know that one of the great tragedies of welfare in America today, and I don’t believe stereotype after what we did, of people in need who are there simply because they prefer to be there. We found the overwhelming majority would like nothing better than to be out, with jobs for the future, and out here in the society with the rest of us. The trouble is, again, that bureaucracy has them so economically trapped that there is no way they can get away. And they’re trapped because that bureaucracy needs them as a clientele to preserve the jobs of the bureaucrats themselves.

I believe that there are programs like that, programs like education and others, that should be turned back to the states and the local communities with the tax sources to fund them, and let the people [applause drowns out end of statement].

I believe in state’s rights; I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level. And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the constitution to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I’m looking for, I’m going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there.

Conservative boilerplate perhaps, familiar to anyone following Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon. The Neshoba County Fair took place, however, in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Sixteen years earlier, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney, arrested for a traffic stop in the same town, vanished from the earth. These members of CORE had also worked during the Freedom Summer registering black Americans to vote. Investigations later showed that local police had pulled them over, driven them to another location, shot them at point blank range, and dumped their bodies in a makeshift dam. A chapter of the Ku Klux Klan had collaborated with police.

Picking Philadelphia as a campaign stop was no accident. Making forthright statements about states rights, about federal overeach in “programs like education and others” was no accident.

A year after the murders, Everett Dirksen of Illinois delivered the Republican votes for the Voting Rights Act, completing the work started by Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney. The minority leader, at best a “laggard” in the words of critics when it came to securing the civil right of black Americans, voted for cloture. By January 1969, a Republican once lauded for his own commitment to civil rights began the work of undoing Dirksen’s legacy.

The danger with the Mueller investigation

As readers know, Ronald Reagan is such a, uh, touchstone that his influence persists even in our contemporaneous scandals. What most dispirited me about Iran-Contra was the determination of the Tower Commission not to even whisper “impeachment,” despite abundant evidence from newly hired chief of staff Howard Baker and the remains of outgoing chief of staff Don Regan’s henchmen that Reagan was such a basket case that he wasn’t even reading memoranda.

Well, Scott Lemieux worries about the parallels between Iran-Contra and the Mueller investigation:

The discovery that officials within the administration had facilitated the sale of arms to Iran partly in order to illegally fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua and partly to secure the freedom of some hostages was a substantial embarrassment, and lower-level officials were implicated in illegal activity. But it was never proven that Reagan himself was involved, and he was never seriously threatened with impeachment. With partisan polarization having intensified, this is probably the more likely scenario even if Trump’s actions turn out to be more like Nixon’s than Reagan’s.

Iran-Contra didn’t lead to Reagan’s removal, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t matter. Reagan’s approval rating dropped by roughly 20 points after the illegal arms deal was revealed. This caused the Reagan administration to pivot in a more moderate direction. Most notably, the collapse of Reagan’s popularity helped contribute to the defeat of Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, which in turn almost certainly saved Roe v. Wade from being overruled.

Let me point out that these events occurred in the seventh year of Reagan’s presidency; we haven’t even gotten to six months into Trump’s. Of course the GOP may rally; it has a talent for rallying while Dems struggle to coalesce behind a theoretical liberal base. But with the likes of Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp reluctant to confirm former senator Droopy Dawg as a potential FBI chief even putative Dems have reached a point at which challenges at home have turned against the president. Let’s see.