Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Name that President – Rewriting History

Many may have forgotten that it was Republican President Richard Nixon who opened the door to Mao’s China in 1972, traveling himself to our decades-long sworn enemy, whose forces slaughtered Americans in the Korean War and whose anti-American rhetoric echoed around the world. Makes Obama’s foray into Cuba is mild by comparison. Who woulda thunk that an arch conservative could even contemplate such a move?
OK, guess which late 20th century president meets these criteria. “He supported the biggest amnesty bill in history for illegal immigrants, advocated gun control, used Keynesian stimulus to jump-start the economy, favored personal diplomacy even with the country’s sworn enemies and instituted tax increases in six of the eight years of his presidency.” Jacob Weisberg writing an Op-Ed for the February 24th New York Times. Kennedy? Clinton? Carter? H.W. Bush? Ford? Try Ronald Reagan.
Listen to the current remaining viable GOP presidential candidates pledging massive tax cuts despite a federal deficit that is completely out of control, threatening to purge undocumented aliens from our country and build a wall to keep them from returning, who support private ownership of military assault weapons with large magazines with minimal background checks despite a spate of unprecedented serial gun-related mass killings, promising to unravel global détentes and to take a hardline against major global powers with little or no support from any of our traditional allies. Yet, whether you talk to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, they invoke Reagan as their role model, as the paradigm of Republican virtue… even as they eschew his effective pragmatism and trash so many of his most basic policies.
“The current field of Republican presidential candidates invokes Reagan as a patron saint, but the characteristics that made him a successful politician seem lost on them. Instead, they’ve turned his party into a swamp of nativism, ideological extremism and pessimism about the country’s future, in direct opposition to Reagan’s example. And they’ve transformed primary season into a reality show of insults, betrayals and open feuds, defying the so-called 11th Commandment that Reagan espoused: Thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican.
“Once in office, Reagan said that anytime he could get 70 percent of what he wanted from a legislature, he’d take it. Today’s congressional Republicans won’t settle even for 99 percent: Their mentality has shifted away from having policies and governing and toward a kind of bitter-end obstructionism.
“In the early days of the presidency of Bill Clinton, congressional Republicans essentially went on strike, treating any legislative accomplishment as a Republican defeat, but they came to the table for a budget deal in 1997. With President Obama, they have largely refused to accept the basic legitimacy of a Democratic president. The tactical obstinacy of the 1990s has curdled into the belief that any compromise constitutes betrayal, a dynamic now playing out in the primaries.
“The issue that shows the divide most sharply between Reagan and the current crop of presidential hopefuls is immigration. In the past, Republican candidates have been justly criticized for deploying racially coded messages around crime and welfare. But in the main, the party has for decades embraced Reagan’s notion of American identity based on immigration, assimilation and economic opportunity. Every Republican presidential nominee since Reagan has been a moderate on immigration, and has wanted to bring Latinos into the Republican fold.” Weisberg.
Reagan embraced an aggressive foreign policy (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” spoken in 1987 as he stood before the Soviet-era Berlin wall), a strong military and a smaller government, all elements in current GOP platforms. But the GOP’s current refusal to compromise, the attack on the kinds of constituencies the GOP needs to grow to survive, and the blind adherence to lowering taxes without taking responsibility for the consequences, are decidedly anti-Reagan.
Most of all, this new GOP presidential race is defined by a rather complete lack of pragmatism – the “my way or the highway” paradigm approach – that is accelerating the demise of the federal government’s ability to function. A world of gridlock, brinksmanship, and suggesting policies and programs that have absolutely no shot of delivering an effective result. Is the Republican Party hell-bent on self-destruction (even if they were to secure the White House in 2017) or fracturing into less components or will a new, calmer and more effective party evolve from the ruins of this anti-Reagan effort?
I’m Peter Dekom, and when will we see “I’m an American” rise from the polarized ashes of extreme partisanship that has become the United States political scene today?

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