Magazine | February 8, 2010, Issue


Incumbent Slayers

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.

John O’Donnell

Vienna, Va.

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.

Literary Sleuthing

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.

Greg Butler

Pawtucket, R.I. 

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

In This Issue


Politics & Policy

Assimilating Down

If Rep. Luis Gutierrez gets his way, Americans will soon be engaged in another bare-knuckled brawl over the future of U.S. immigration policy. On December 15, the Illinois Democrat unveiled ...
Politics & Policy

Balancing Act

The Obama administration’s signature education initiative, Race to the Top, has produced genuine headline news: The Democrats, usually seen kowtowing to organized labor’s demands, for once are standing up to ...
Politics & Policy


A trailer for the new movie Daybreakers invites us to “ima­gine a world where almost everyone is a vampire.” That shouldn’t be too hard. It seems like we’re already living in ...


Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

Future Imperfect

In this intriguingly contrarian re­work of the Thomas Friedman “hot and flat” motif, Gregg Easterbrook asserts that venture capitalists are no better than lottery players when it comes to choosing ...
Politics & Policy

Generation Gap

The dilemmas of youth are universal. Consider Nicholas and Victoria, a pair of late-blossoming youngsters cur­rently making their way toward adult­hood at a multiplex near you. Respectively male and female, ...
Country Life

Upstate Blues

Christmas has come and gone, even for the Eastern Orthodox, and the stores are looking ahead to Valentine’s Day. But many upstate lawns still have their Christmas decorations: Santa, Frosty, ...


The Long View

From the Wednesday Inbox

TO: FROM: SUBJ:  our clients Dear Joe: I just got an e-mail from my client. He has been watching the Massachusetts Sen­ate returns closely — he says it reminds him a lot ...
Politics & Policy


FOOTNOTE *He lied. [When he left and said he didn’t love you anymore, that he needed to find some space to grow as a person, above all, as an artist, a writer of some ...
Happy Warrior

Carried Away

‘It’s ’Elf ’n’ Safety, mate, innit?” You only have to spend, oh, 20 minutes in almost any corner of the British Isles to have that distinctive local formulation proffered as ...
Politics & Policy


Incumbent Slayers 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 ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ Just wait to see what we have planned for Vermont. ‐ The earthquake spared nothing, from ordinary homes to the palace and the cathedral, and cost tens of thousands of ...

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Economy & Business

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The Kaepernick Saga Drags On . . . off the Field

Colin Kaepernick’s workout for NFL teams in Atlanta this weekend did not run smoothly. The league announced an invitation to scouts from every team to watch Kaepernick work out and demonstrate that he was still ready to play. (As noted last week, the workout is oddly timed; the NFL season is just a bit past its ... Read More

Israel’s New Way of War

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