Politics & Policy

Reagan and Obama, &c.

The Obama-Biden line this year might be rendered as follows: “We inherited a mess. We thought we could fix it in one term. But we need more time. Give us another term, please.” (I’m not sure they say “please.”)

Contrast this with the Reagan example. He too inherited a mess. The first years were brutal. In January 1983, the New York Times published an editorial called “The Failing Presidency.” It began, “The stench of failure hangs over Ronald Reagan’s White House. The people know it, judging by the opinion polls.”

Certainly by the time 1984 rolled around, however, we were rolling. Reagan curbed government and unleashed the power of people in a free economy. He was opposed by the likes of Joe Biden — not to mention the New York Times — every step of the way.

And, in his reelection campaign, he was able to say, “We got the job done. We merit reelection. We must not go back to the errors of the Carter era.”

Note what he did not say: “Gee, one term is not enough. The problems I inherited were just too hard. Give us a try for one more term.”

Obama took office in tough times, and then he did the opposite of what Reagan did. He was supported by the New York Times — not to mention Biden — every step of the way. He increased the size and scope of government. He spent wildly, punishingly. He spoke of “shovel-ready jobs” that he later admitted were non-existent. In fact, he joked about it. He decided it would be a good time for national health care. He made sure that American energy development was off the table. Etc.

Do you recall what the president said in 2009? “If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.” Romney and Ryan should remind the country of this. And ask that the country hold Obama to it, so to speak.

They might also say, “Obama’s policies didn’t work in one term. They wouldn’t work any better in a second term. The problem is not time — the problem is their thinking.”

I think this would be good campaigning, in addition to true.

‐I have a friend who’s a businessman in Switzerland. (French nationality, however.) He sent an e-mail to me about a week ago.

“I was in the U.S. last week and saw the Denver debate [between Obama and Romney]. If I were an American voter, I would have started as sympathetic to the incumbent but would have switched sides as the debate unfolded. I guess I’m not alone. This is the first time I see a politician who understands what competitiveness really means.”

Alas, we are not a nation that really appreciates competitiveness, though we have thrived on it. But maybe enough do?

‐In an Impromptus last week, I reflected on the question, “Who is Obama?” And, in a column previous to that, I talked about Hugo Chávez — who said that, if Obama were a Venezuelan, he would vote for him. That is, Obama would vote for Chávez. (By the same token, said Chávez, he would vote for Obama. In other words, if Chávez were an American — think of that! — he’d pull the lever for our incumbent.)

Can you say for sure that a Venezuelan Obama would not support Chávez?

What if he were Cuban? What if an accident of birth had placed Obama in Cuba? Would he be with the regime? With the dissidents? Or would he be in between, with the great group of people who just want to keep their heads down and survive?

These are painful questions. Reagan talked about freedom and democracy a lot — incessantly. And promoted those things. George W. Bush did the same. And, when he did, a big segment of our Right cried “Wilsonian!” “Neocon!” “Israel Firster!” (I don’t know if that last term was around during the W. presidency. The sentiment certainly was.)

It occurred to me the other day: Obama doesn’t really talk about freedom and democracy. (Forget the promotion.) I don’t hear him giving encouragement to democrats around the world — particularly those struggling in the worst of circumstances.

For instance, Obama’s fellow Nobel peace laureate, Liu Xiaobo, sits in a Chinese prison. Couldn’t Obama make a little cause out of him? Even a relatively quiet cause? Would the price be too high?

I recently reviewed a book by Mark Mazower, a brilliant but leftist historian. One of the points I made was that, for him, the opposite of Communism is never democracy or freedom — it is “capitalism.” He’ll speak of “the Communist countries” and “the capitalist countries,” of “Communist policies” and “capitalist policies.”

Is Obama of the same mindset? Let’s hope not, for he is, after all, president of the United States. In last week’s podcast with Mona Charen, I said that if I could ask Obama one question, it might be, “Are you a capitalist?”

Now, if I am being disgustingly McCarthyite, please forgive me. But I find it hard to read Obama’s heart. With Reagan and W. — no problem. No problem even for those who hated them. Maybe even especially for them!

You know what I mean?

‐I was a little startled by an Associated Press report headed “Pussy Riot members face tough life in penal colony.” See if you are too.

It’s a far cry from Stalin’s gulag, but the guiding principle of the Russian penal colony — the destination of two members of the punk band Pussy Riot — remains the same: isolate inmates and wear them down through “corrective labor.”

Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova will have to quickly learn the inner laws of prison life, survive the dire food and medical care, and risk bullying from inmates either offended by their “punk prayer” against President Vladimir Putin or under orders to pressure them.

“Everyone knows the rule: Trust no one, never fear and never forgive,” said Svetlana Bakhmina, a lawyer who spent three years in a penal colony. “You are in no-man’s land. Nobody will help you. You have to think about everything you say and do to remain a person.”

Say what you will about the propriety of these women’s protest. I find the above horrifying. Unjust.

‐In American politics, some things never change. It’s the same old, same old, year in, year out, decade in, decade out. Zzzzz . . .

I thought of this when Representative Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said “witch hunt.” He was talking about a probe into the Benghazi disaster.

That’s what you do when you don’t want something investigated: say “witch hunt.” If you fear the consequences of an investigation, say “witch hunt.” If you like the investigation, say “necessary oversight” and “proper accountability” and “right to know.”

I had a friend — liberal Democrat — who had a refrain during the China fundraising scandal of the Clinton years: “Witch hunt! Witch hunt!” She continued this refrain, I’m sure, when Lewinsky arose: “Witch hunt! Witch hunt!” At the same time, if a Republican failed to put the cap back on his pen, she would want that investigated.

I suppose this is natural to all partisans, whatever they’re partisan about. (By the way, in those Clinton scandals? There were a lot of witches — skinny, ghastly creatures, cackling as they zoomed about on their brooms.)

‐For the last couple of days, I’ve said, “I’m going to watch the Tiger game — or the Yankee game, as you say here in New York.”

‐The Latinization of baseball is an amazing development. Last night, watching the game, I thought of the Asianization of music — classical music, I mean. Once, I asked Lorin Maazel (the famed conductor) about the future of classical music. The first words out of his mouth were, “Thank God for China.”

In the same spirit, I say, “Thank God for Latin America.”

‐Can it really be true that none of the major networks — CBS, NBC, ABC — is carrying the championship series? Can that really be true? What a commentary, on the state of baseball in our national life. On the national pastime, as we used to call it.

But maybe cable networks are just as “major” as any. I know, I know: Get with the times, daddy-o. Anyway, thank goodness for TBS.

‐But do they have to do interviews with managers and coaches during the game itself? Why do the managers and coaches accede to this? Life today is loaded with commentary. (I ought to be grateful, given my job.) Can’t an event simply occur, with commentary after, maybe? Does life have to be accompanied by running commentary?

You know what I’m getting at. If I weren’t rushing, I’d put it better . . .

‐This morning, I was on Canadian radio, talking about the Nobel Peace Prize. I was asked, “Who will accept for the EU?” I then quoted my mother, for the first time on radio or television, I think: “Might as well be Angela Merkel, who pays for the thing.”

Thanks for joining me, and if the scheduling stars align, I’ll be yakking at you again tomorrow. (Consider it a warning.)


To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.


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