In his review of Craig Shirley’s Rendezvous with Destiny (“Bliss Was It in That Dawn,” January 25), Jay Cost writes that Ronald Reagan “was the only candidate in the 20th century to defeat an incumbent of the opposing party who had served just one term in office.” I would be the last person to downplay the significance of Reagan’s 1980 victory, but Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton also defeated first-term incumbents in 1912, 1932, and 1992, respectively. In addition, Jimmy Carter defeated incumbent Gerald Ford after less than one term in office.
Nevertheless, Carter was the only incumbent in the last century to regain the White House for his party only to lose it in just four years (a feat that usually requires eight or more years of incumbent-party fatigue, stalemated wars, or a depression). It is our country’s great fortune that Reagan presented an inspiring alternative and was there to take over the job.
Jay Cost replies: That results from an unfortunate choice of words on my part. My original was ambiguous, and what in the editing process became “who had served” should in fact have been “that had served” — referring to “opposing party,” not “incumbent.” I did not notice this, however, until after the review had been printed.
Political scientists tend to think that first-term parties have an advantage going into reelection campaigns, and I was attempting to point out how extraordinary it was that Reagan could enjoy such a decisive victory. Mr. O’Donnell is quite right to say that, in the 20th century, only once did a party gain the White House in one election and lose it in the next: the Democrats, in 1976 and 1980, with Jimmy Carter.
Time spent in the company of Theodore Dalrymple’s prose is always a distinct pleasure, and it was delightful to listen to his language as he discoursed on the literary genius of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and of Conan Doyle’s archetypal hero, Sherlock Holmes (“The Eternal Detective,” December 31). The doctor examined with an eye (and ear) equal to the task, and turned a look at a favorite passage into an exemplary literary lecture, in which one depth after another is discovered. The passage he quotes has Holmes saying, “You are an enthusiast in your line of thought, I perceive, sir, as I am in mine.” How very conversational, how polite, how like Holmes; and how clunky and dull the sentence could have been if written otherwise. Dalrymple is right: Holmes is withal a perfect English gentleman. To finish by noting that “no film, however . . . bad,” can diminish Conan Doyle’s creation, in the week a film of that creation’s name appeared, without so much as mentioning the film by name, is a model of another English gift to civilization — the (cutting) understatement, here executed, again, with the skill of a medical man.