Saturday, June 12, 2004

nap time

Donald Sensing has a photo of the Clintons sleeping during Reagan's funeral. Much mockery is made. But... if memory serves, the two behind them are Gerald Ford and Madeleine Albright, and they both have their eyes closed also. We're talking four of four here. Instead of making fun of the Clintons, maybe we should be making fun of the speaker...
UPDATE: Oops. Finally added a link to the picture. Also, I should add that when I said "much mockery is made", I was referring more to the commenters than to Sensing.

fisking David Greenberg

Don't believe everything you hear about Ronald Reagan. And that applies to this article too. In the article, David Greenberg poses his own partisan view of Reagan as an attempt to clear up the myths. Let's fisk it, shall we?
During crises and other shared public experiences, the news media often stop worrying about their mission to tell the truth. Instead, they take on the role of national rabbi or shaman, fostering a collective sense of good feeling by recounting stories and myths we wish to hear. Since Ronald Reagan's death, the media have chosen mostly to do just that, sugar-coating his life and career rather than grappling with his difficult legacy. Herewith, then, some myths about Reagan now being bruited about and why they don't do justice to the man's complexity.
Yet Greenberg thinks he can do justice to the man's complexity in a short article. All those other commentators are taking the easy way. Only Greenberg has the courage and fortitude to tell us the truth. Amazing.
Myth No. 1: Reagan, the "Great Communicator," owed his success mainly to his facility with television and public relations. ... Above all, it comforted Reagan's liberal opponents, who could reassure themselves that the public didn't really support his conservative policies and had simply been duped by Hollywood showmanship. ...
Reagan, however, promised—and largely delivered—substantive policies that a majority of the electorate (at least come election time) desired. He may not have fulfilled his pledge to radically shrink the overall size of government, as Tim Noah has noted, but he reasserted American military prowess, led a backlash against liberal permissiveness, and pruned social services that many middle-class voters had no wish to keep supporting.
The size of the federal government is controlled by Congress, not the president. Reagan never had a Republican Congress. And at least once, Reagan signed a tax increase with a promise from Congress that they would cut spending. Everyone expected the lying Democrats to renege, and they did. As to "pruning social services", this is complete hooey. Social spending continued to increase under Reagan. That's why he couldn't cut the overall size of government.
Myth No. 2: Reagan was a uniter, not a divider. Reagan's tenure is being depicted as a brief moment of national unity before the advent of today's strident partisanship. In fact, apart from Richard Nixon, it's hard to think of a more divisive president of the 20th century. As I've noted, Reagan was, during his first two years, one of the least-liked presidents of the postwar age. The festering economic doldrums, the worsening Cold War tensions, and doubts about his temperament conspired to make him less popular than Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, and even Carter were at comparable points in their terms. Nor was Reagan's second term free of strife. Starting in 1986, the Iran-Contra scandal revived widespread criticism of his leadership—including calls for his impeachment—and his poll ratings went into free fall.
Reagan had an overwhelming election victory for his second term. I think it's fair to view this as "uniting the country". Approval ratings are no measure of how divided the country is except on the one issue of how good a job the president is doing. A president with a 0% approval rating is uniting the country superbly, and a president with a 50% approval rating is the most divisive possible. Obviously approval ratings are a silly way to gauge whether a president is a uniter. The fact remains, that regardless of how good a job Reagan did, the American people overwhelming endorsed his vision over that of the Democratic challenger.

There was never any justifiable reason to call for Reagan's impeachment. Those who did so were so deeply partisan that they were willing to damage the Republic in order to get rid of a popular president of the other party.
To be sure, from 1984 to 1986, a surging economy, a revival of patriotism, and Reagan's skillful appeals to disillusioned Democrats enhanced his image and ensured his landslide re-election. Even then, however, the intense dislike that Reagan engendered rivaled the most feverish Clinton-hating or Bush-hating of later years.
Of course Greenberg is right that Reagan was deeply hated, but that can hardly be blamed on Reagan (although Greenberg does so). The fact that Reagan was so deeply hated tells us nothing about Reagan and much about the political movement that hated him.
If his critics bear some blame for wallowing in the demonology, it was Reagan himself who polarized the country through his actions: aligning himself with the Christian Right; playing to racist sentiments by launching his 1980 campaign in Neshoba County, Miss.; nominating Robert Bork to the Supreme Court; appointing as attorney general the ethically challenged Edwin Meese; and so on. Indeed, by stoking feelings of resentment on both left and right, Reagan did probably more than anyone to sow the social discord that so deeply divides our fifty-fifty nation.
This sequence is absolutely shocking. Reagan polarized the country by aligning himself with a political group? If people hate Reagan for aligning himself with a political group that makes up about 40% of the country, isn't the country already pretty divided? Did Clinton polarize the country by aligning himself with the affirmative action proponents? Any credibility that Greenberg may have had was lost by this one sentence.

To answer Greenberg's anti-Mississippi bigotry, the only people who thought Reagan was playing to racist sentiments were people who already hated him. He can hardly be blamed for doing something that people who hated him could twist around into yet another reason to hate him.

And finally, Reagan is accused of "sowing social discord" for nominating and appointing people who agreed with him politically. This is absolutely outrageous. No one, and I mean no one who didn't already hate Reagan was inspired to do so by his nominees and appointees. And Greenberg knows it. He should be ashamed of himself.

Reagan did nothing at all to sow discord, that's the Democrat shtick. It's the Democrats who tell minorities that all of their problems are caused by whites. It's the Democrats who tell the poor that all their problems are caused by the rich. It's the Democrats who tell women that all their problems are caused by men. It's the Democrats who tell gays that all their problems are caused by the religious right. It's the Democrats who tell union members that all their problems are caused by management. It has always been the Democrats who work by setting one group against another. There is a reason for the awful divisiveness in this country, and the reason is the Democratic party and their lackeys in the press.
Myth No. 3: Reagan was an incorrigible optimist. Or, as we've been hearing, his sunny disposition made him impossible to dislike. This is more a half-truth than a whole lie. Certainly, Reagan charmed political antagonists like Tip O'Neill. His morning-in-America campaign tapped into a public sense of hope. And he could deploy humor brilliantly. But Reagan also possessed an ugly mean streak. It was evident back when, as California governor, he warned student protesters, "If there has to be a bloodbath, then let's get it over with." Anyone who has watched the replays of Reagan saying, "I paid for this microphone, Mr. Green," or "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," can see the manifest ferocity that was as crucial to Reagan's persona as his self-effacing grin.
I don't know if Greenberg is deliberately slandering Reagan here or he really is incapable of distinguishing between "an ugly mean streak" and courage. His second two quotes suggest the latter. The fact that he thinks his readers will interpret those two quotes as "an ugly mean streak" suggests that Greenberg is just morally stupid and can't see the difference.

As to the first quote, Greenberg obviously hasn't seen enough westerns. When the good guy points a gun at the bad guy, he has to make the bad guy understand that he means to use it. That's the only way to avoid using it. By making the students believe there really would be a blood bath, Reagan was trying to avoid a bloodbath. This should be blatantly obvious to everyone, including the students at the time. And if Reagan really was willing to have a blood bath? Well, the alternative was anarchy. The willingness to do what needs to be done is not a mean streak, it's courage. Get a dictionary, Mr. Greenberg.
Myth No. 5: Reagan's get-tough policy with the Soviet Union brought about the end of the Cold War. Historians will be debating this one for some time, but the conventional wisdom—that Reagan, by building up the military and spouting feisty Cold War speeches, cowed the Soviet Union into submission—compresses all of Reagan's eight years into one brief moment. Reagan does deserve credit for bringing U.S.-Soviet hostilities to a close, but not for the simplistic reasons usually cited.
Uhhh. The position that Reagan's actions over eight years led by a slow cumulative process to the downfall of the Soviet Union "compresses all of Reagan's eight years into one brief moment"? Greenberg needs a more alert editor.
Though few Americans realized it, by the mid-1970s the Soviet system was collapsing. Its aggressive acts of that era, like its invasion of Afghanistan, turned out not to be harbingers of a renewed Red menace but the last gasps of a tottering power. Yet Reagan's coterie of hawkish advisers foresaw only an unending struggle.
Greenberg forgets to mention that Reagan's coterie of dovish opponents foresaw the same unending struggle. They wanted to avoid the struggle by surrendering.
Accordingly, in his first term, they cheered Reagan's provocative rhetoric and counseled hard-line policies—notably his abandonment of high-level summits and arms-control talks—that escalated tensions. But in Reagan's second term, Secretary of State George Shultz gained the upper hand in the administration (especially after the housecleaning that followed the Iran-Contra scandal). Reagan's more hawkish advisers had disdained his dreamy rhetoric about peace and abolishing nuclear weapons, but Shultz took it seriously. And both Shultz and Reagan broke from the hawks to embrace Mikhail Gorbachev as a historic reformer. The speed with which they moved from the 1985 Geneva summit to the 1987 INF treaty vouched for the wisdom of Reagan's turnabout. Thus the irony: Summitry, not missile defense or bellicose speech-making, marked Reagan's real contribution to ending the Cold War.
I was there during the Reagan years. I wasn't surprised by the arms control treaties. I didn't think they were a turnabout. And neither did anyone else I knew. If I had ever believed all the leftist rhetoric about Reagan being a warmonger I never would have voted for him. Nor, I believe, would most of his supporters. We all knew Reagan was just doing an arms build-up to force the Soviets into real arms reductions. How did we know? Because he said so. Oh, and we believed him.

Before Reagan, the history of arms talks was a long and humiliating story of the US giving up more and more military supremacy to the Soviet Union. We would sign a treaty that was already one-sided in favor of the Soviets, and then we would keep our side, and the Soviets would cheat on theirs. I blame the media. Whenever there was an arms control talk, the Soviets knew that if it ended without a treaty then the press would accuse the president of an awful failure that would someday lead to the destruction of the Earth. If the talks ended with a one-sided and unverifiable treaty then the National Review and Wallstreet Journal would bitch a little, but everyone would ignore them.

Regan said that we had to stop doing that. We needed equal and verifiable treaties. The only way to get those treaties was to convince the Soviets that they weren't going to be able to continue using the arms-control talks to their advantage. The US had to have something substantial to give up in order to convince the Soviets to give up something substantial. Those summits worked because the Soviets realized that the US was soon going to have an enormous military advantage and the only way to stop it was by treaty.

It was all part of a plan. A plan Reagan explained repeatedly. A plan everyone in the world understood except, apparently, for American and European leftists. Yes, there was disagreement about when to enter the second stage, and how much to give away. No one but Reagan realized when the time had come. But it turns out his instincts about Gorbachev were right. I thought it was risky, but I'm glad to have been more-or-less proven wrong (Gorbachev was still a brutal dictator).

Friday, June 11, 2004

blog stories

La Shawn Barber is asking why people blog and why they read blogs. Lots of interesting answers in the comments.

I started reading blogs when I cancelled my cable TV and found that I couldn't get any local stations so I was newsless. I could get a paper, but I don't want just one source of news. Blogs turned out to be a great solution. Not only do they give me a wide variety of news sources, they pick out the stories I'm most interested in (once I found the right blogs). Never again will I have to suffer through a story about a movie star's marriage or a story about a saintly family that works in a soup kitchen for an afternoon to demonstrate their Christmas spirit. Yuck.

Eventually, I decided to start blogging myself. Partly, it was because I wanted to practice writing. I've always wanted to be a writer, but I've never done anything to move my career in that direction. Sort of like I've always wanted to be an astronaut but I've never taken flying lessons (I may start the flying lessons soon, though). I could just keep writing on my own and start sending stuff to publishers, but I'm not very good at self-promotion (as my blog amply demonstrates). With a blog, I get occasional feedback. Other than rejection letters, that is. Maybe once I get more experience, I'll start actually trying to get something published. Or not.

The other reason I started blogging is personal. I'm not one of those intimate, this-is-my-life bloggers, so I'm not going to discuss it. I got enough flack over the caramelized underwear story.

UPDATE: On a hunch, I decided to see if "caramelized underwear" is a googlewack. No such luck, but my post is the first item listed.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Reagan's legacy

Ronald Reagan won the cold war. Even Ted Kennedy has said so, which tends to show how obvious it is. Some leftists still deny it though, claiming that the Soviet Union was on its last legs anyway and Reagan just happened to be president at the time. This position avoids what must be an uncomfortable truth for them though: when Reagan took office no one but him thought the Soviet Union was beatable. Here is an interesting historical retrospective. In 1980, everyone, even most of us who voted for Reagan, thought the Soviet Union was an enduring threat and that communism would always hold a large part of the world in slavery. We wanted Reagan to stem the tide. To turn back the communist empire just a little bit. We expected generations of conflict ahead and Reagan was just supposed to be one more in a long line of American presidents resisting the evil empire. When Reagan said he was going to defeat the Soviets and free the countries they occupied, we thought he was exaggerating for political purposes.

That's what the anti-communists thought. There were also many, many people in this country who wanted communism to succeed. Marxist thought was taught unabashedly in colleges and universities, although sometimes without explicit mention of Marx. The mistakes of the west were (and still are) exaggerated to silly proportions while the mistakes of other cultures were covered over, excused, and even embraced. Marxism was the new religion for many who found Christianity too binding or too old fashioned. These people certainly did not think the Soviet Union was about to fail, it was their god.

Only Ronald Reagan believed that we could win. Only Reagan had the will, the vision, and yes, the faith. And this man, who tugged all the rest of us into history by our ears, was constantly derided in the press as an idiot. A stupid man who could act. An empty shell for his advisors who really set all the policies. It was a lie, obviously. Anyone who knows the history of Ronald Reagan knows that he developed and campaigned for his view of international relations long before anyone had any interest in using him as a shell. Anyone who has read his writing knows that he was extremely intelligent. And anyone who has read the writing of his advisors knows how deeply they all respected and admired him.

The press didn't only tell us that Reagan was a stupid, manipulated con man, they also told us that he was a racist. That he hated Russians. That he was recklessly endangering the world. They were lying and history has shown how very wrong they were. So remember that the next time the press tells you that George Bush is a stupid, manipulated con man. That he's a racist. That he hates Muslims. That he is recklessly endangering the world. If the left doesn't manage to destroy Bush's plan for the Middle East, history will also say that George Bush was right and his critics were liars.

Monday, June 07, 2004


David Bernstein is engaging in microboycotts against dishonest real estate agents. Good for him. I do that too, refusing to do business with someone after they have deceived me or done something else unethical. More often than not, this stand causes me more grief than the one I'm boycotting. Some people think I'm just being stubborn, but there is an ethical principle involved here: if everyone behaved like me, it would make it economically impractical to be dishonest. We should all behave in a way that we wish others would behave.

Book Review: The Holy Land by Robert Zubrin

The Holy Land is a novel in the grand tradition of heroic science fiction. Oh, sure, other readers will tell you it's a satire about the War on Terror. And yes, yes --there are a few small parallels. But mostly it's about an American soldier who meets a telepathic space babe from an advanced extraterrestrial civilization, falls in love with her and gets jilted and humiliated before... well, I don't want to spoil the ending for you. Some people might think it's a bit farcical that the hero is viewed as an experimental lab rat by the woman he loves. Others of us find that to be a surprisingly poignant commentary on modern courtship procedures.

There are actually two stories going on in this book, a strategic story and a tactical story. At the strategic level there is a political struggle between the United States (representing some unnamed Arab country) and the Western Galactic Empire (representing the United States). The US leadership is conniving, cruel, and audacious. The Western Galactic Empire doesn't quite know how to handle them, even though they could destroy the entire country with one warship.

There is some wonderfully pointed satire. For example, the WGE attacks Peru (Why Peru? Can't tell you--it would be a spoiler). The attack consists of a warship irradiating the entire country from space with one of those magic beams from 1930's science fiction, rendering the entire population helpless. A galactic reporter announces that since it will take weeks for all the Peruvians to actually die, the WGE is caught in a hopeless quagmire.

There are other elements that don't seem true satire because they aren't exaggerations. For example, there are huge government-sponsored riots in the US with people chanting threats against the WGE, but the WGE persists in viewing the US government as friendly. These elements make the book a bit sharper by being outrageous and realistic at the same time.

At the tactical level there is a lot of farce and cynicism too, but it makes up a very good heroic story, spiced with some wicked satirical commentary on just about everything. The Minervans and the WGE are targeted just like everyone else and all in all, the satire must be reasonably even-handed because I was alternately laughing and scowling.

The Holy Land would stand on its own as a great read even for people who don't see the politics. But with the politics, it's at times hilarious and at times annoying, as every good satire should be.