OxBlog

Thursday, July 20, 2006

# Posted 6:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REAGAN THE TERRORIST: Fred Barnes has posted an interesting column about liberal efforts to romaticize the Reagan era in order to establish an imaginary standard against which to measure the current president.
Liberals pretend the Reagan years--in contrast to the Bush years--were a golden idyll of collaboration between congressional Democrats and a not-so-conservative president. When Reagan died in 2004, John Kerry recalled having admired his political skills and liked him personally. "I had quite a few meetings with him," Mr. Kerry told reporters. "I met with Reagan a lot more than I've met with this president."

Of course, that wasn't Kerry's take on Reagan during his presidency: In 1988, he condemned the "moral darkness of the Reagan-Bush administration."
That's about right. The partisanship and bitterness of the Reagan era were overwhelming, at least within the Beltway. One thing we often forget now is how often Democrats in Congress branded Reagan as a "terrorist".

"Terrorist" meant something different, back then, however. Reagan accused Central American Communist guerrillas of being nothing more than terrorists. Left-wing Democrats turned the charge back around at the Gipper, arguing that he actively supported the real terrorists in the region, i.e. the Salvadoran army and the Nicaraguan contras.

According to a precise academic definition, it is a bit misleading to describe either side in the Central American conflict as terrorists, but Reagan's allies in the region often behaved in an unspeakably brutal manner. The Communists were often just as bad, but their death toll was lower.

Getting back to the point, I think there is one point about which Barnes is very, very wrong. His article begins as follows:
I was recently asked about President Bush's chances of a political resurgence. Might Mr. Bush be able to recover as strongly as President Reagan did from a slump in his second term in the 1980s? My response was, Reagan recovery? What Reagan recovery?

Though he continued his ultimately successful fight to win the Cold War, Reagan achieved nothing new--practically nothing--after the Iran-contra scandal broke in 1986.
Actually, there was a Reagan recovery, and it was dramatic. Reagan's approval rating suffered the greatest plunge in the history of the modern presidency during the early months of Iran-Contra, only to recover fully by the time he left office.

This wasn't a result of good public relations or good rhetoric, but of the fact that Reagan aggressively pursued a remarkable friendship with Mikhail Gorbachev. Numerous conservatives blasted Reagan for his naivete about the Communist leader, but the Gipper was not deterred.

I don't think there is much prospect for a similar recovery by the current president, although no one would have expected much in the way of a Reagan recovery, either. As the saying goes, predictions are very hard to make, especially about the future.
(11) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
Seems to me when you have a balance between Dems and the GOP, you've got more checks and balances.
 
This wasn't a result of good public relations or good rhetoric, but of the fact that Reagan aggressively pursued a remarkable friendship with Mikhail Gorbachev.

Interesting theory. Care to elaborate a little bit more? I'm sure that there are alternate explanations for Reagan's resurgence in popularity, including people concluding that Iran-Contra wasn't that big a deal
 
Your construction on the myth of Reagan and Gorby reminds me of the prattle about Ford's "honeymoon" ending with the Nixon pardon. Ford, a terrible president, signed foot-in-the-door federal aid to education, and foot-in-the-door federal aid to urban mass transit, and failed to decontrol gas prices at the wellhead, which had been delegated to the president by earlier congresses... Those were the means by which he secured his honeymoon... Only liberal Democrats got excited about about "Iran-Contra" and violation of the Boland amendment. The public liked the old man in the White House, liked the fact Central American had shaken off communism, and really didn't care whether Ollie North and Admiral Poindexter had skirted a bad law.
 
I don't have the poll numbers from 1986/1987 at my fingertips, but when Iran-Contra broke, Reagan's approval rating dropped more than 20 points in a month, from the mid-60s to the mid-40s. As I said in my post, it was the largest downard spiral in the history of approval ratings.

This strongly suggests that it was not just liberal Democrats who cared about Iran-Contra and the Boland amendment. These were many of the same voters who gave Reagan his landslide in 1984.

With regard to Reagan and Gorbachev, there is no myth. For elaboration, I recommend Dinesh D'Souza's book about Reagan. D'Souza is a Reagan booster with solid conservative credentials, and he makes the case that Reagan saw the end of the Cold War long before his fellow conservatives did.
 
How do you know the communist death toll was lower?

Is it the same way that we know only six Hezbollah terrorists have been killed. Because they said so.
 
How do you know the communist death toll was lower?

In the case of El Salvador, because of the research done by Truth Commission.

Sometimes it's as easy as shooitng fish in a barrel.
 
Actually, there was a Reagan recovery, and it was dramatic. Reagan's approval rating suffered the greatest plunge in the history of the modern presidency during the early months of Iran-Contra, only to recover fully by the time he left office.

Mightn't you be referring to two different things here, though? He says: "Reagan achieved nothing new--practically nothing--after the Iran-contra scandal broke in 1986," and you respond, "No, his poll numbers recovered." If that popularity doesn't enable him to achieve his political goals, then it doesn't really count for much as a "political resurgence," no? Now, when you say:

Reagan aggressively pursued a remarkable friendship with Mikhail Gorbachev.

That might count as achieving political goals and so on. But personal relationships with foreign potentates are kind of the low-hanging fruit of presidential achievements -- Congress can't exactly tell the President, "No, you may not visit this country," or "No, you may not put a call in to that foreign power." At least, not that I am aware.
 
I think you should point out the divergence of beltway/elite opinion on Iran/Contra and that of the great unwashed: 85%+ of the pundits and MSM focused on the Contra portion of the "scandal" - how could the CIA finance those unfashionable old guys against the groovy Sandinistas. The reason Reagan's popularity dropped like a stone amongst the general public was due to the Iran half of the issue: Reagan was breaking his word/being hypocritical about enforcing an embargo on Khomeni's govt. Everyone knew Reagan supported the Contra's and blew off the debater's points about funding them, but the idea that Reagan would lie to them about an issue of moral weight still had the power to shock people. It was kind of like Clinton wagging his finger and saying "I did not have sex with that woman."
 
TopCat and Balfegor,

Personal relationships with foreign leaders are low-hanging fruit? I beg to differ.

A strong, positive relationship between a US and Soviet leader was unprecedented (with the possible exception of certain unusual aspects of the Nixon-Brezhnev relationship.)

Moreover, the achievement of this friendship reflected Reagan's insight into the nature of Gorbachev's Soviet Union. Moreover, it resulted in tangible achievements such as the destruction of the Soviet INF force and a massive withdrawal from Eastern Europe.

Re: Iran-Contra, I think TopCat is mostly correct that it was Reagan's straight up lie about Iran that did far more damage than the revelations about the Contras. But that isn't just because the left was more hung up on the Contras. It's because Reagan's Contra policy was never popular, usually running more than 20 points behind his overall foreign policy rating.
 
My own 2 cents:

In the 1980's I was working for film distributors and attended a screening for a film called Delta Force IIRC around the time of Iran Contra.

There was a scene in which some character said something along the lines of the following:

"I tell you this with the specific authorization of the president. The United States will never, I repeat, never negotiate with terrorists."

The laughter in the audience went on for about five minutes.
 
Personal relationships with foreign leaders are low-hanging fruit? I beg to differ.

A strong, positive relationship between a US and Soviet leader was unprecedented (with the possible exception of certain unusual aspects of the Nixon-Brezhnev relationship.)

But how has that got anything to do with his political standing at home? It may have improved it, but developing that relationship is not, as far as I can see, an exercise or indicator of renewed domestic political influence or power. He could have managed it were he at 20% in the polls (although perhaps with somewhat less credibility), since there's no way I'm aware of for Congress to stop him.
 
Post a Comment


Home