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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Ronald Reagan, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 11 of 11
1. Calvin Coolidge, unlikely US President

By Michael Gerhardt


The Fourth of July is a special day for Americans, even for our presidents. Three presidents — John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe — died on the Fourth of July, but only one — Calvin Coolidge — was born on that day (in 1872). Interestingly, Coolidge was perhaps the least likely of any of these to have attained the nation’s highest elective office. He was painfully shy, and he preferred books to people. Nonetheless, he successfully pursued a life in politics, becoming Governor of Massachusetts followed by two years as Warren Harding’s Vice-President. When Harding died of a heart attack, Coolidge became an unlikely president. Perhaps even more unlikely, he became not only an enormously popular one, but also the one whom Ronald Reagan claimed as a model.

Helen Keller with Calvin Coolidge, 1926. National Photo Company Collection. Public domain via Library of Congress.

Helen Keller with Calvin Coolidge, 1926. National Photo Company Collection. Public domain via Library of Congress.

Coolidge faced more than the usual challenge vice-presidents face when they have ascended to the presidency upon the death of an incumbent. They have been elected to the presidency in their own right and must somehow secure the support of the American people and other national leaders on a basis other than their own election. Coolidge surprisingly handled this challenge well through his humility, quirky sense of humor, and, perhaps most importantly, integrity. Upon becoming president, Coolidge inherited one of the worst scandals ever to face a chief executive. He quickly agreed to the appointment of two special counsel charged with investigating the corruption with his administration and vowed to support their investigation, regardless of where it lead. Coolidge kept his word, clearing out of the administration any and all of the corruption uncovered within the administration, including removing Harding’s Attorney General. He went further to become the first president to hold as well as to broadcast regular press conferences. His actions won widespread acclaim and eased the way to Coolidge’s easy victory in the 1924 presidential election.

Over the course of his presidency, Coolidge either took or approved several initiatives, which have endured and changed the nature of the federal government. He was the first president to authorize federal regulation of aviation and broadcasting. He also signed into law the largest disaster relief authorized by the federal government until Hurricane Katrina. Moreover, he supported the creation of both the World Court and a pact, which sought (ultimately in vain) to outlaw war. Along the way, he became infamous for a razor-sharp sense of humor and peculiar commitment to saying as little as possible (in spite of his constant interaction with the press) and advocating as little regulation of business as possible. His administration became synonymous with the notion that the government that governs best governs least.

Coolidge, nonetheless, has become largely forgotten, partly because of his own choices and partly because of circumstances beyond his control. Just before his reelection, his beloved son died from blood poisoning originating from a blister on his foot. Coolidge never recovered and the presidency lost its luster. By 1928, he had no interest in running again for the presidency or in helping his Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover succeed him in office.

Despite the successes he had in office, including his popularity, Coolidge paid little attention to racial problems and growing poverty during era. When the Great Depression hit, the nation and particularly the next president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, construed it as a reflection of the failed policies and foresight of both Hoover and his predecessor. Despondent over his son’s death, Coolidge did little to protect his legacy and respond to critics throughout the remainder of Hoover’s term. When he died shortly before Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration, he was largely dismissed or forgotten as a president whose time had come and gone. Nevertheless, on this Fourth of July, do not forget that when conservative leaders deride the growth of the federal government and proclaim the need for less regulation, they harken back not only to President Reagan but also to the man whom Reagan regarded as the model of a conservative leader. Calvin Coolidge’s birthday is as good a time as any to remember that his ideals are alive and well in America.

Michael Gerhardt is Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. A nationally recognized authority on constitutional conflicts, he has testified in several Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and has published five books, including The Forgotten Presidents and The Power of Precedent. Read his previous blog posts on the American presidents.

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2. The decline of evangelical politics

By Steven P. Miller


Has the evangelical era of American politics run its course? Two terms into the Obama administration, and nearly four decades since George Gallup Jr. declared 1976 the “Year of the Evangelical,” it is tempting to say yes.

During the run-up to the 2008 election, Barack Obama went out of his way to court moderate and progressive evangelicals, such as Jim Wallis of Sojourners. Yet their role in his administration has not been remotely comparable to that of the Christian Right just ten years ago. Joshua DuBois and Melissa Rogers (respectively the previous and present heads of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships) are hardly talk show fodder in the manner of the Bush administration evangelical lightning rods John Ashcroft and Monica Goodling.

The Bush years sparked books like Chris Hedges’s American Fascists. The Obama years tend to inspire pieces with titles like “The Changing Face of Christian Politics.” The point, made by former Obama administration official Michael Wear, is that Christian politics has a new lease on life.

President

President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan with Billy Graham, 1981. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

This new life comes at the expense of evangelical relevance, however. Evangelical political capital is quite scattered — useful for building fresh coalitions on immigration, while still holding the line on abortion. This configuration happens to resemble the world-view of Pope Francis. He is in the news a lot more than evangelist Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham.

Such is the view from on high, at least. In many statehouses, evangelical influence is alive and well. Even in red-state America, though, we see a defensive posture that spells retreat, if not outright defeat.

In a proliferating number of legislative initiatives, gay civil rights is cast as a threat to religious liberty. Rather than protesting excessive church-state separation, these efforts embrace an expansive interpretation of religious free exercise.

The contention, while not novel, is telling: conscience trumps open access. Here, conscience applies to commercial property, as in the case of caterers that refuse to serve gay weddings (as opposed to not inviting a couple over for Sunday dinner). This radical view of property rights does Kentucky Senator Rand Paul proud, even though he is often touted as the libertarian antidote to evangelical hegemony in the GOP.

At first glance, the religious liberty angle looks like a savvy strategy. After all, active Christians (including many Catholics and other non-evangelicals) far outnumber avowed secularists. But it is something of a leap of faith to believe that millions of Christian voters will prioritize religious liberty over, say, health care or education.

Thanks to former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed, religious freedom was a clarion rallying cry during the 2012 campaign. Yet it has always been a supplementary theme within the Christian Right. Back in the 1990s, Reed made waves by proclaiming that Christians should not be relegated to the “back of the bus.” Reed’s use of a Civil Rights Movement analogy (a habit that continues) turned critical attention away from his more important goal: electing social conservatives to office.

Another form of social conservative defense involves appeals to social science data. Several well-funded studies — most notoriously, one by University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus — are cited to suggest that children raised in heterosexual households fare better than those raised by gay parents.

Unsurprisingly, the research has sparked controversy. Touting the superiority of straight marriage for the purpose of keeping the playing field uneven seems the height of tautology. One can plausibly hypothesize that legalized gay marriage will lead to stronger same-sex households. Besides, in what universe are heterosexual households suddenly renowned for their stability?

Such strategic flailing does not mean that the Christian Right is over—far from it. Yet, as these defensive messages indicate, it has abandoned the pretense of being a moral majority. This is no small shift in a winner-takes-all democracy.

Social conservatives (evangelical or otherwise) are no longer only battling liberal elites. They are contending with a growing real majority of Americans who either vigorously disagree with them or do not see what the fuss is all about. These Americans have long separated their workplaces from their places of worship. They likewise assume the separation of church and health care (notwithstanding the names of their neighborhood hospitals). Some of them support increased access to contraception precisely because they are uncomfortable with abortion.

Many evangelicals affirm these common-sense approaches, of course. The Christian Right does not represent them; in most cases, it never did. Now, though, evangelical conservatives are having a harder time getting away with claiming to speak for all evangelicals, never mind for Christians as a whole.

We are witnessing the public de-coupling of “evangelical” from “Christian” when it comes to politics. Born-again Christianity is no longer the standard against which religion’s role in public life is measured. This is a pivot from forty years of Carter, Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson, and it seems unlikely to be reversed anytime soon.

Steven P. Miller, Ph.D., is the author of The Age of Evangelicalism: America’s Born-Again Years, which is published by Oxford University Press USA this month. His first book, Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South, appeared in 2009. Miller lives in St. Louis, where he teaches History at Webster University and Washington University.

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3. 35 years: the best of C-SPAN

By Kate Pais


The Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, better known as C-SPAN, has been airing the day-to-day activities of the US Congress since 1979 — 35 years as of this week. Now across three different channels, C-SPAN has provided the American public easy access to politics in action, and created a new level of transparency in public life. Inspired by Tom Allen’s Dangerous Convictions: What’s Really Wrong with the U.S. Congress, let’s take a look at the most notable events C-SPAN has captured on film to be remembered and reviewed.

Jimmy Carter opposes the invasion of Afghanistan

President Carter denounces the Soviet Union and their choice to invade Afghanistan in January 1980 as a warning to others in Southwest Asia.

The start of Reaganomics

Known for his economic influence, this is Ronald Reagan’s first address to both houses in February 1981.

Bill Clinton: “I did not sleep with that woman”

Slipped into a speech on children’s education in January 1998, this clip shows President Clinton addressing allegations about his affair with Monica Lewinsky for the first time.

Al Gore’s Concession Speech

After the long and controversial count during the 2000 Presidential Election, candidate and former vice-president Al Gore concedes to George Bush on December 13, 2000.

George W. Bush addresses 9/11

President Bush speaks to a joint session of Congress on 20 September 2001 about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon nine days prior.

Kate Pais joined Oxford University Press in April 2013 and works as an online marketing coordinator.

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4. Commentary: Digital Domain May Be On The Brink Of Disaster

Remember the CGI 2Pac “hologram” that Digital Domain created for Coachella earlier this year. The gimmick was well received, but Digital Domain CEO John Textor (above, right), who we’ve already established isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, somehow convinced himself that animating CG versions of dead celebrities was an actual business model.

A couple weeks ago, Textor boasted to investors that he was trying to “tie up the real estate” of virtual humans. How could anyone miss with such an obviously sure-fire business, Textor claimed, “as long as we’re the only people in the world that can do this work.” It was just a matter of “getting the contracts, securing the rights, negotiating with the families, making sure that the likeness rights line up with the music rights and the venue rights and that’s what we should be doing.”

What Textor didn’t tell investors is that there are literally hundreds of other high-end VFX/CG companies that can create computer-animated human characters nowadays. Textor’s scam unfolded when rumors began floating around of a Ronald Reagan hologram that would appear at the Republican National Convention. Textor quickly told the Wall Street Journal “that rumor isn’t true.” Except it is true. Today, businessman Tony Reynolds, confirmed to Yahoo! News that he is indeed working on a Ronald Reagan hologram, and he’s not using Digital Domain to make it.

Holograms of dead people are the least of Textor’s worries though. Since DD’s stock peaked on May 1st, the company has been in freefall. Today, Digital Domain’s stock plunged 21% to a 52-week low of $2.31. In the past four months, the company has lost $300 million in value.

It gets worse. Textor owns 24 percent of Digital Domain. He took out a $12.5 milion loan to buy the shares in the company, and now he can’t pay back the loan. But here’s where it gets Lehman Brothers-style sketchy—and downright insane, if you ask me: Textor got the loan from Digital Domain’s largest shareholder, Palm Beach Capital. The Palm Beach Post has the sordid story:

Corporate governance experts said it’s rare for a shareholder to lend money to a CEO to buy shares. “It’s just not a smart idea,” said Charles Elson, a finance professor at the University of Delaware. “If you can’t pay it back, what happens?” If Textor were to default on the loan from Palm Beach Capital, his annual interest rate would go from 12 percent to 19 percent, Digital Domain said this week. Collateral for the loan includes 8.5 million shares of Digital Domain stock owned by Textor and mansions in Stuart and Mountain Village, Colo.

Executive compensation expert Paul Hodgson of GMI Research said such arrangements are “not very usual. It’s kind of generally been frowned upon because it tends to complicate relationships and undermine situations from a governance point of view. That would raise a red flag with us.”

There are already many victims in this situation. I feel awful for the artists who are working on Digital Domain’s first (and potentially last) feature The Legend of Tembo, as well as for all the other Digital Domain employees. I feel bad for Florida citizens who handed $132 million of their taxpayer dollars to a reckless and clueless businessman. I feel outraged for the incoming students of Digital Domain Institute who may have to perform slave labor because Digital Domain doesn’t believe in federal labor laws.

But you know who I don’t feel sorry for?

John Textor.


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5. Does Obama lead when he does not speak?

By Elvin Lim When the dust settles on the history of the Obama presidency, a major theme historians will have to consider and explain, is the startling contrast in his record in domestic policy versus his successes in foreign policy, which now include the assassination of Bin Laden and the toppling of Qaddafi. To put the matter in another way: if 2012 were 2004, and Obama would be judged purely on his foreign policy alone, he wouldn't have to be doing any bus tours in the battleground states now.

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6. Politicians at the Comic Book Store

For comic book publisher Bluewater Productions, it’s not superheros that bring in the big bucks, it’s politicians.

According to a piece on Politico, the publisher has sold 130,000 copies of a comic about Michelle Obama. “She competes with Justin Bieber just a little bit,” Darren Davis, the company’s president told Politico about the bestseller.

Comics about other politicians are also popular sellers. Politico has more: “More than 25,000 copies of both Clinton and Palin’s comic books were sold, and Davis and Schultz haven’t looked back since, going on to produce comic books on political figures including Colin Powell, Ronald Reagan, Bill O’Reilly, Caroline Kennedy, Al Franken, Nancy Pelosi, Michelle Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger and George W. Bush.”

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7. The Nine Lives of Ronald Reagan

By Gil Troy


As we mark the centennial (Feb. 6th, 2011) of Ronald Reagan’s birth, the tug of war over his legacy continues. Reagan’s popular image – and popularity — have fluctuated as wildly as the stock market. One way to make sense of this is to think of Ronald Reagan as having nine public lives.

Central to the Reagan legend is this conservative Republican president’s origins as a Hollywood Democrat. Ronald Reagan was a New Deal Democrat who by the 1950s felt that the Democratic Party had lost its way. He always insisted: “Maybe my party changed. I didn’t.” And yes, Reagan was an actor. Actually, he never understood how anyone could be in politics without first having been in showbiz.

By 1966, when he ran successfully to become California’s governor, Reagan’s transformation was complete. During his two terms as governor, and during his triumphal 1980 run for the presidency, Reagan was known as a Conservative Ideologue, beloved by the right, disdained by the left. Although he won in an ABC election, with most Americans choosing Anybody But Carter, Reagan claimed he received a mandate for change.

Reagan started strong in his third incarnation, as the Reagan Revolutionary. He promised to cut the budget, reduce taxes, trim the bureaucracy, revive America, face down the Soviets. During his first seven and a half months in office, Reagan secured the largest budget cut in history – some $35 billion in domestic spending from Jimmy Carter’s request – and reduced the personal income tax rate by almost one quarter. Initially, Democrats were flummoxed. But by the summer of 1981, with Americans experiencing the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression, Democrats attacked what they now called the “Reagan Recession.” Getting traction on the “Fairness Issue,” critics attacked the President as Mr. Magoo, a bumbling anti-Communist cowboy, a reverse Robin Hood and warmonger. They said he cut taxes for the rich and burdened the poor while risking nuclear war by calling the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire.” They mocked his gaffes, from blaming trees for causing air pollution to counting ketchup as a vegetable (which actually emanated from the Department of Agriculture not him). After Democrats surged in the 1982 Congressional midterm elections, pundits started eulogizing Reagan’s failed presidency.

Fortunately for Reagan, the economy revived before he had to face the electorate for re-election. With inflation tamed, jobs being created, American pride returned. Reagan reigned as a Popular Patriot. He blessed the prosperity as “Morning in America.” He pushed for a peaceful ending to the Cold War by going to Berlin to say to his Soviet counterpart, “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.” He repeatedly spurred Americans to build their county as “a shining city upon the hill.”

Yet by the time Reagan retired in January, 1989, even many Republicans were losing enthusiasm for him. By promising a “kinder, gentler” nation, Vice President George H.W. Bush became president implicitly casting Reagan as the Unkind, Ungentle President. The disrespect for Reagan in the Bush White House as lazy, ignorant, detached, became so overt that former President Richard Nixon fired off a note to Bush’s Chief of Staff John Sununu urging discretion. Bush then called Reagan to apologize.

When Bill Clinton ran for President in 1992, he joined the pile-on, targeting Reaganite “greed” and accusing Reagan of neglecting middle class Americans.

As Reagan faded into the haze of Alzheime

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8. The President’s Church

Elvin Lim is Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency, which draws on interviews with more than 40 presidential speechwriters to investigate this relentless qualitative decline, over the course of 200 years, in our presidents’ ability to communicate with the public. He also blogs at www.elvinlim.com. In the article below he looks at presidents and church. Read his previous OUPblogs here.

Americans do impose a religious litmus test on our presidents, and there is a tradition that proves it. President Obama and his family attended Easter service at St John’s Episcopal Church. Just across from the White House, it is known as the “Church of the Presidents,” the unofficial White House Chapel. Almost every president since James Madison has found occasion to worship in this church and in particular at pew 54, the presidential pew.

The selective presidential need to prove a religious point proves my point. Consider the case of President Eisenhower, who was raised a Jehovah’s Witness and whose home served as the local meeting hall for Witnesses for 19 years. Twelve days after his first inauguration, Eisenhower was baptized, confirmed, and became a communicant in the Presbyterian Church. No president before or after him has ever had to perform such rites while in office. The religious litmus test was so powerful in this case that it was voluntarily taken by a president who had already been endorsed by the people and sworn to protect and defend the Constitution.

Contrast Eisenhower to President Reagan or Bush, neither of whom belonged to a congregation or attended church regularly (or even sporadically) while in Washington, justifying their decision on the basis that the security requirements would be too onerous and disruptive to the congregations they joined. Faith is a personal thing only if the public already believes that a president possesses it. If not, no security arrangement is too onerous to trump the need to publicize it. This is true of President Clinton when he attended Foundry United Methodist Church while in Washington (one of the candidates for the Obamas’ new home church by the way), and it is also true of presidential candidate John Kerry when he made much public display of his Sunday church attendances.

The speculation about which church the Obamas will ultimately settle on as a home church in DC has been fueled, in part, by his past association with the controversial Jeremiah Wright and his membership in the Trinity United Church of Christ. The speculation about where the Obamas will end up has taken on more than normal political significance because there is a greater need for this president, unless others who didn’t even have to attend church, to demonstrate that his religious views are squarely in the mainstream.

So on this Easter weekend, to those who bemoan the secularization of America, take heart, because presidents who appear godless know that they will be judged on earth before they are judged in heaven; to those who believe the separation of church and state is not yet complete, take stock, because where and whether or not President Obama ends up worshiping every Sunday has become a topic of paramount political importance to the administration. So much so that White House aides reportedly considered over a dozen churches before deciding on St John’s as the safest place for a president to go to observe Easter Sunday.

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9. Ronald Reagan v. the Tea Party Movement

Elvin Lim is Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency, which draws on interviews with more than 40 presidential speechwriters to investigate this relentless qualitative decline, over the course of 200 years, in our presidents’ ability to communicate with the public. He also blogs at www.elvinlim.com. In the article below he looks a Reagan and the Tea Party Movement. See Lim’s previous OUPblogs here.

In 1966, Ronald Reagan won his first political campaign in a landslide victory against the two-term Democratic Governor of California, Edmund Brown. What is sometimes forgotten is that the preceding Republican primary had been a highly contested one. According to Reagan, it was “very bitter at times, largely because of the lingering split between conservatives and moderates in the state party.” The intra-party attacks became so heated that state Republican chairman, Gaylord Parkinson, proposed the Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican,” a rule that Ronald Reagan obeyed ever since because the intra-party strife he experienced in his first political contest left him with a bitter taste in his mouth. Henceforth, his political career was dedicated to building coalitions and fitting as many people as he could squeeze under the Republican tent.

Forty years later, on the day on which Reagan would have celebrated his 99th birthday, Sarah Palin called on his memory when she delivered the keynote address at the first National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, TN, rehearsing a litany of bumper sticker lines that the Old Gipper would have approved. But Sarah Palin is no Ronald Reagan.

While like Palin, Reagan exuded charm and a common touch; unlike Sarah Palin and the general tenor of the Tea Party movement, he was not categorically, viscerally, or paradoxically anti-establishment. While Sarah Palin has admitted to being a pittbull with lipstick, Ronald Reagan was no pittbull. He was as as mellow and as measured as politicians came. He didn’t feel dispossessed or victimized. And if he felt it, he never showed the one sentiment – even if it had been legitimate – that permeates the Tea Party Movement: anger. Red, hot, seething, Glenn Beck Fury.

Most illustratively, Sarah Palin and the Tea Partiers do not believe
in the 11th Commandment. Next week, Palin is off to campaign for Texas Governor Rick Perry against his primary challenger, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson. Palin has already campaigned against Dede Scoozzafava running for election in NY 23, where she had supported Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman because he had “not been anointed by any political machine.” At Nashville, she reiterated her support for intra-party competition: “Despite what the pundits want you to think, contested primaries aren’t civil war. They’re democracy at work, and that’s beautiful.”

Democracy at work – grassroots movements without the backbone of a machine – has too often, in a dominant two-party system such as the US is, meant politicians out of a job. To survive after the surge of populist disaffection at a recession has subsided and to be more than a spoiler in elections, the Tea Party Movement must, paradoxically, go mainstream. And it should take it from a icon they have wrongly called their own. Ronald Reagan pulled the various factions of the Right together under a large, fusionist electoral tent that delivered him to victory. Sarah Palin and the Tea Partiers are trying to do the reverse and (perhaps inadvertently) break this tent up in a battle fo

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10. Politics & Paine: Part 1

Earlier this month, Harvey Kaye led a discussion of Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, Common Sense, and Other Political Writings at the Bryant Park Reading Room. It got me thinking: what is the influence of Paine on Americans today? Who among us are the devotees? Are we over-quoting, over-citing, over-appropriating his politics?

So, I decided to introduce Harvey Kaye to Elvin Lim, and ask if they wouldn’t mind corresponding about this matter. They readily agreed. Below is the first of four installments of this conversation; the second of which will appear tomorrow.

Kaye is the author of Thomas Paine and the Promise of America, and Professor of History, Sociology and Director of the Center for History and Social Change at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. Lim is author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency, Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University,  and a regular contributor to OUPBlog.

Hi Harvey,

I’m almost done reading your book, and I read it, in part, as a call to return Paine as much to the American Left or Center as he has been appropriated on the Right in recent decades.

To get things started, I’d start with a contrarian volley. If Paine was the major harbinger of the democratic impulse in American society, I do wonder if he nevertheless has a natural affinity to the American Right. I say American, because Burkean conservatives / traditionalists, American Tories of the Russell Kirk and Richard Weaver variety, have always been a minority within the American conservative movement. The conservatism that has had any salience in America has been of the Barry Goldwater / Reagan kind. This mainstream conservatism has always been trenchantly populist.

A reason why, I propose, is that the conservatism that emerged in the 60s was anti-New Deal and anti-establishment. And that was a natural fit with the ideas of the revolutionary generation. Paine et al were not (yet) concerned with building “a more perfect union” – that would be left to the Founding generation. In the 1770s, the concern was one of NEGATIVE liberty, freedom from tyranny (and this was sometimes operationalized as freedom from government – hence the high correlation with natural rights talk).

It is perhaps no surprise then, that the Federalists who took over the reigns of government in the 1790s were in fact highly anti-democratic and anti-Jacobin. (The electoral college, the Senate, and the Supreme Court were institutional instantiations of their anti-democratic bias.) The Federalists had seen the dangers of too much anti-governmentalism and now saw the virtues of POSITIVE liberty, which could only be delivered by good government.

I wonder what you thought of my “affinity” arg

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11. Happy 100th Birthday, Ronald Reagan!

This Sunday, February 6, 2011, will mark the 100th birthday of the late U.S President, Ronald W. Reagan. In addition to serving as the 40th President of the United States (1981-89), Reagan also served as the 33rd Governor of California (1967-75). He enjoyed a successful career as an actor before coming into office, served in the U. S military during the Second World War, and survived an assassination attempt in March 1981.  In honor of his life, we offer the following excerpt from Michael Schaller’s book, Ronald Reagan.

During his eight years as president, and especially after, supporters praised Reagan as a transformative leader who, like Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, used his power to alter fundamentally the nation’s direction. Even many Americans who disliked Reagan’s policies agreed that he might well be the most influential president since Roosevelt, turning the nation away from many of the “big government” programs initiated during the New Deal. Reagan received widespread praise for restoring national pride and an unembarrassed muscular patriotism that had lapsed after the debacles of the Vietnam War, the Watergate Scandals, and the economic reversals of the 1970s.

Democratic Party leaders acknowledged Reagan’s political skill but disparaged his ideas and programs. Clark Clifford, an influential power broker since 1948, called Reagan an “amiable dunce.” Democratic Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill put it more gently. Questioning Reagan’s understanding of his own administration’s policies, O’Neill described him as better suited to be a ceremonial “king” than a president.

Biographer Gary Wills explained Reagan’s self-assurance and determination in another way. Wills described Reagan as the real-life embodiment of the nearsighted Mr. Magoo. Like the cheerful cartoon character whose myopia prevented him from seeing anything either unpleasant or that did not conform to his mental map, Reagan simply plowed forward, oblivious to external realities.

Satirist Phil Hartman, part of the Saturday Night Live television ensemble, captured Reagan’s several sides in a 1987 skit. Hartman impersonated a silver-tongued but airheaded president sleepwalking through “photo ops” such as honoring Girl Scout cookie captain of the year. But when the photographers leave, Reagan morphs into a hard-charging executive, telling aides exactly how to supply weapons secretly to anticommunist guerrillas, performing complex currency calculations in his head, and even taking a call apparently from Saddam Hussein in Baghdad (conducted in Arabic) that results, Reagan boasts, in a “lucrative deal with the Iraqis.”

Yet these varied portrayals failed to account for the fact that throughout his career as an actor, governor, and president, most Americans felt comfortable with Reagan. They saw him not as a fool or an extremist but as something of an everyman who shared many of their hopes and fears. Critics who ridiculed his ignorance of complex policy issues misunderstood the source of his appeal, according to journalist Bill Moyers. “We didn’t elect this guy because he knows how many barrels of oil are in Alaska,” Moyers remarked in 1981. “We elected him because we want to feel good.”

Reagan’s presidency coincided with major changes in the economy, the erosion of support for liberalism and big government, and a crisis inside the Soviet Union that led to its demise. He shifted the l

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