Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Reagan Amidst The Democratic Race

I've always been underwhelmed by Reagan and wonder why he's so lauded by the Republicans. I was in India for most of the time he was President (that is, till August 1987) but read enough about international and US affairs to form an opinion about him even way back then.

His admirers say he "defeated" the Soviet Union and "won" the Cold War though they're quite vague about how he did it. Outspent the communists in an arms race? Dragged down the Soviets in Afghanistan by building up the Bin Ladens and the precursors to the Taliban against them? Some of these explanations for Reagan's supposed success sound quite bizarre. I think he was mainly lucky that enlightened leaders like Gorbachev realized the value of market driven systems and Democracy, and their reforms overlapped with Reagan's tenure. True, he didn't do anything stupid like GWB may have done in launching military adventures to re-unite the communist block against the US and halt their reforms. But that's hardly saying much.

On the domestic front, Reagan's policies were even less creditworthy. His tax cuts and build up of deficits created a temporary boom that borrowed against the future and pushed economic woes in the lap of his hapless successor, George H.W. Bush. I couldn't understand the Reagan nostalgia, but didn't have the words to articulate this. Then last year I came across this March 19, 2007 column by Paul Krugman in the New York Times which (to paraphrase Hillary) found my voice. He's since written many columns that drive the point of Reagan's fake legend home.

I'd have expected a literate and well-read person like Obama to have seen all this. So I was quite surprised like many others to see Obama compare Reagan and his Reagan years favorably to the Clinton years. I can understand his taking pot shots against Bill Clinton in order to get at his wife Hillary (I've always been skeptical about Obama's "clean campaign" promises) but this is the worst way to do so. Last night in the CNN Presidential debate in South Carolina Obama tried to qualify what he had said earlier, but it isn't enough. His comments prompted Krugman to write another column yesterday (January 21, 2007) about debunking the Reagan myth.

Last night Obama also took a cheap shot at Hillary mentioning he was doing all those grand things in the community while she was sitting on the corporate board of Wal Mart. Hillary returned the favor by referring to his work for a Chicago slum lord who is a campaign contributor. The exchange was unseemly and I may be prejudiced but Mr. (purported) Clean is the one who started it, and she'd have suffered if she had not retaliated.

So far Obama seems to be having it both ways on the racial front. He's winning the African American support simply because of skin color (even though ironically he doesn't share any of the typical African American history) and skillful references to issues like the Jena 6. Think about it - if all else was exactly the same, would Oprah have endorsed and campaigned for him the way she did if he was white? At the same time his other supporters don't yet seem turned off either by his subtle play of the race card, or by his lack of substance.

The polls show Obama will sweep South Carolina because of the African American vote, and I'd expect the Hillary camp to be braced for this. Hopefully, she'll be able to recover adequately for Super Tuesday on Feb. 5th when over half of the total delegates will be elected.


kenrod said...

You may have not been here physically to see the impact Reagan had on the nation, but it was profound. There was a mood of despair for years. We had just been bullied by the Iranians in the hostage crisis. We had just had ravaging inflation and unemployment. We had just had a constitutional crisis in the name of Watergate. You would have certainly given up on America.

But Reagan had that way of inspiring confidence. You may not have agreed with him. In fact, most didn't and they are called Reagen Democrats. And there's a reason for that term. People could disagree with him but he inspired them. And that like the Roosevelt speech of "nothing to fear but fear itself."

And remember the deficits were because of the Democratic Congress that he had to fight. Can you imagine the deficits if he didn't give his "line item veto" lectures. The president has very little power in terms of the budget and Congress has full control in that area.

Sandip Madan said...

Yes, maybe watching from a distance I missed the impact of Reagan's early years for those in the US. He must have done something right. And he did have a good sense of humor.

By the time I arrived in August 1987 I saw him having amnesia (that looked rather convenient) about the Iran-Contra affair and generally getting lampooned on TV for not knowing what was happening.

kenrod said...

Here are some sayings from Reagan. Whether you agree with them or not, he crystallized the position of the right.

'Here's my strategy on the Cold War: We win, they lose.'-

'The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'

'The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they're ignorant; it's just that they know so much that isn't so.' -

'Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong.'

'I have wondered at times about what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the U.S. Congress.' -

'The taxpayer: That's someone who works for the federal government but doesn't have to take the civil service examination.' > -

'Government is like a baby: An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.'

'The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program.' -

'It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.' -

'Government's view of the economy could be summe d up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.' -

> 'Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed, there are many rewards; if you disgrace yourself, you can always write a book.' -

> > 'No arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is as formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.'-

Sandip Madan said...

If lack of government is so good how come the ancient cavemen, the unorganized nomads, or the native Americans were not all the super-powers of yore?

Reagan borrowed against the future to allow some good times on his watch. That's the way a lot of US corporate managers behave as well, so it's nothing new. As Paul Krugman said, GWB is a worthy emulator of the Reagan approach.

kenrod said...

Reagan, and the right wing in general, don't advocate no government. That would be anarchy or libetarianism at best. What he was simply saying is that governments should not do for people what they can do for themselves.

Let's examine the three sources of power. You can have religious, political and corporate power. Can you think of any other?

Well, in the old theocracies, religious power was supreme. What ever Moses or Mohammad said was the final word. Today, Iran is kind of one where mullahs have big sway in public policy.

Then the old kingdoms emerged where royalty had the final say. Henry VIII may the best example, and his split from Rome finally tried to balance political with religious power.

With the advent of the East India company, corporate power emerged. There you had a totally limited company with the agenda of making money for its shareholders. So not only could the royalty have power but companies could.

Now where does this balance lie? Washington has the never ending quest for power and projects. They have unlimited taxing ability. They have the ability to make laws that favor them. So I'm glad to see some ability for the private citizen to have some say through corporate shareholdership to balance the scales. Of course, I'm glad to see religious power go by the wayside.

It's not that we should have one over the other. It's where the line is that bothers me because every single government program is overspent and abused. Look at social security. Broke! Medicare? Broke! Reagan just wanted to bring the balance back. The sad thing of course was a lot of mental patients were thrown out on the streets. But in general, I have to say it was a reflex reaction to the excesses of the New Deal. Sorry for my long lecture.

kenrod said...

I'm glad to see you back from the flu. I thought you had quit the blog because you had lost too many arguments:)

Sandip Madan said...

I agree that nothing is black or white. Depending on what self-interest and competition achieve, some activities are better left to the private and competitive sector and others performed as public goods. Even my bastion of free markets ideology, the University of Chicago, recognizes that.

Publicly funded programs do have to watch out for waste and inefficiency. They're also often broke as you put it because taxes required to fund them are unpopular, so using deficits (i.e., printing money) is often a politically easier choice. This is gross over-simplification of course.

And btw, I don't mind losing arguments that much. :-)

kenrod said...

With the Russian aggression in Georgia, you can see that Reagan had the foresight to keep the oil pipeline out of Russian hands. It flows into Georgia and finally into Turkey. The Evil Empire, as he called tham, has once again reared its head.

Russia has always been imperialistic. They will seek to reassemble the Soviet empire if they had the chance. Earlier, I had explained that the Iraq war was about establishing a Mid East base so the US military could be in any region within 24 hrs. Forget WMD, forget spreading democracy, forget Saddam. Those are just fronts for the real reasons, ie oil and military bases. Now, I realize the war is very unpopular as most wars are. But I assert that the US accomplished its mission by putting 100,000 troops there for any contingency, including one such as Georgia. And it was Reagan that was suspicious of the bear all along.

Sandip Madan said...

When Reagan was President 1980-88, Georgia was very much part of the Soviet Union. It gained independence only in 1991. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline through Georgia was conceived way later, in 1998-99 and construction started in 2002. So let's not credit Reagan with any foresight on this.

Regarding Iraq it looks as if they may insist on complete US withdrawal within a certain time frame. From being a counterweight to Iran we may leave them as an ally of Iran, after spending a trillion dollars and losing (so far) 4200 US lives. Apart from the defunct WMD argument where's the geo-political wisdom in all this?