January 31, 2011
The Media, Reagan, and ObamaBy Ed Lasky
As we approach the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan, the former president has been in the news once again. One way he has been used is to boost the image of Barack Obama.
Some presidents have been used to degrade the image of others. Herbert Hoover was a convenient whipping boy to tar various Republicans through the years. Nixon was the epitome of evil in the White House. The fate of Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, has been a curious one. The punditry that savaged him before, during, and after his years in office are now trying to burnish Barack Obama's image by comparing the two presidents.
This is just the latest gambit to try to boost the appeal of Barack Obama. He has gone through many image makeovers over the last couple of years. He has been Lincolnesque (an image he stoked by making his presidential announcement in Springfield), and then TIME Magazine morphed his image into the image of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and now the latest incarnation in a sense compares him with Ronald Reagan. They are paired together with a friendly Ronald Reagan placing his hand on the shoulder of Barack Obama.
The comparison alone is a not-too-subtle way to enhance Obama's appeal. The man has gone through as many shape shifts as has the man in the new Old Spice campaign.
How did the pundits treat the man they now pair with Barack Obama?
Let's take a trip down memory lane.
Clark Clifford, advisor to a string of Democratic Presidents and a major league elite, called Reagan "an amiable dunce."
The Chicago Tribune called Reagan ignorant and said his "air-headed rhetoric on the issues of foreign policy and arms control have reached the limits of tolerance and have become an embarrassment to the U.S. and a danger to world peace."
Washington Post columnist David Broder (still on the beat and front and center in the Obama cheering section) said the job of Reagan's staff is to water "the desert between Ronald Reagan's ears."
Henry Kissinger said that when you meet Reagan, you wonder: how did it ever occur to anyone that he should be governor, much less president?'
Jimmy Breslin, the columnist, said Reagan was senile and then insulted his supporters by saying they were proof that senility was a communicable disease. For good measure, he called Reagan "shockingly dumb."
Newsweek columnist Eleanor Clift said that "greed in this country is associated with Ronald Reagan." Joining in this common slur was USA Today's White House reporter Sarah McClendon, who said that "it will take a hundred years to get the government back into place after Ronald Reagan. He hurt people: the disabled, women, nursing mothers, the homeless."
Lesley Stahl of CBS News (and now "60 Minutes") said, "I predict historians are going to be totally baffled by how the American people fell in love with this man."
Hollywood director John Huston (not a pundit as such, but illustrative of a mindset in Hollywood -- a major source of Democratic donors) said Reagan was a "bore," with a "low order of intelligence," who is "egotistical."
Tip O' Neill (the powerful Speaker of the House) said Reagan's mind was "an absolute and total disgrace" and that it was "sinful that this man is President of the United States." Steven Hayward reminds us in his recent "Reagan Reclaimed" column that O'Neill said that "the evil is on the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He's cold. He's mean. He's got ice water for blood."
John Osborne in the New Republic magazine wrote that "Ronald Reagan is an ignoramus."
After his election, columnist William Greider said, "[M]y God, they've elected this guy who nine months ago we thought was a hopeless clown."
The Nation warned "he is the most dangerous person ever to come this close to the presidency" and that "he is a menace to the human race."
When, in his first term, the country faced some economic weakness and Reagan's poll numbers turned down, pundits were celebrating as they wrote his political obituary. Kevin Phillips, political pundit, wrote that "it didn't take a genius to predict on Inauguration Day that Reagan would unravel" and that it was foolish to think that Reagan could solve the nation's economic problems with policies based on "maxims out of McGuffey's Reader and Calvin Coolidge."
The New York Times joined in: "the stench of failure hangs over Ronald Reagan's White House."
When Reagan delivered his famous "evil empire" speech (that, by the way, also was critical of America's own historical failings), New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis was apoplectic, deriding it as "simplistic," "sectarian," "terribly dangerous," "outrageous," and in conclusion, "primitive...the only word for it" (then why did he use all the other words, one might ask -- a little overkill goes a long way).
I could go on with more examples of the invective and personal insults hurled at Reagan by the chattering classes and opinion-makers over the years. Even when he died after a long struggle with Alzheimer's, the derogation continued; he could not escape the obloquy even in death.
When Reagan was still alive, he brushed it all off with aplomb and good cheer. He was known as the Teflon President for the best of reasons. He did not stoop to the level of his critics, but instead stood above them.
He did not let them divert him from what he saw as his role: restore our sense of pride and spirit after Jimmy Carter had ground them down and boost the economy (despite some waves, he stayed the course and allowed "supply-side" economics to work its "magic").
But he did more, much more.
For years, Reagan felt sorrow and anger that hundreds of millions of people suffered under Communism. While experts counseled détente and working with the Soviets, Reagan saw the immorality of accepting the "status quo" that deprived those enslaved by Communism of their freedoms and liberty. He thought it was shameful that such an abominable system persisted. Many were content with the Cold War. Reagan was not. He told Richard Allen, his National Security Advisor, "Here's my strategy on the Cold War: we win, they lose. What do you think of that?" I suppose the likes of Anthony Lewis might characterize that goal as simplistic or primitive.
But after decades of Soviet slavery and expansionism, Reagan not only contained the Soviet Union, but brought it to its knees -- giving the Russian people themselves the opportunity to deliver the coup de grâce. He beseeched Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, but all the walls crumbled. Those revisionists who refuse to give Reagan his due and credit Mikhail Gorbachev with the mercy-killing of Communism are wrong. They would do well -- as would we all -- to read about the detailed and multifaceted strategy Reagan designed and promoted to implode the Soviet Union. The story is superbly told in Paul Kengor's The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism. Reagan was a hero to the people being smothered by the Iron Curtain -- to Russians such as Natan Sharansky, imprisoned because he wanted freedom, and to Polish laborers who tore his black-and-white photo out of a newspaper and used it to rally protesters. He earned a Nobel Prize for Peace -- and, of course, was denied one.
Despite all that he accomplished, the pundits and media mavens slandered and insulted Reagan -- time and time again.
And now the pundits have the temerity to resurrect him to help Barack Obama's political future?
Haven't they spent the last three(-plus) years extolling Barack Obama -- from the "sort of God" comment by Newsweek's Evan Thomas to the "tingle up the leg" thrill he gave MSNBC's Chris Matthews to the New York Times columnist David Brooks, who succumbed to the Obama cult and wrote of Obama that "I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant and I'm thinking a) he's going to be president and b) he'll be a very good president"? I could go on and on regarding how often Obama has been described as an intellectual giant with God-given talents, so brilliant that he is bored by the rest of us yahoos. Obama even joked that all of the White House correspondents voted for him. They were his cheerleaders. They had "the vapors" for Barack Obama.
The media has been biased in favor of Barack Obama for years. He got rock-star treatment as a candidate (the obsequiousness was even satirized on "Saturday Night Live") and has had the media fawning and fainting in the newsroom for most of his term.
However, Obama has not been completely immune from some criticism. The economy is still weak, with millions unemployed. His poll numbers started falling in 2009 and took a nosedive in 2010. The Democrats took a shellacking in November that some pundits pin on Obama and his policies.
How does Obama deal with criticism? Does he have the character and strength of Ronald Reagan and let it roll off him? Need one ask? He takes it personally.
Reagan had Teflon coating; Obama has thin skin.
Reagan laughed off criticism -- it came with the job. Eugene McCarthy, a liberal icon whose 1968 run for the presidency was eclipsed when Robert Kennedy jumped into the race, endorsed Ronald Reagan for the presidency. When he was asked why, he answered, "It's because he is the only man since Harry Truman who won't confuse the job with the man."
Reagan was focused not on himself, but on the rest of America -- and the world. That was the "rest of him," and it mattered far more than the abuse heaped on him.
Does Obama respond with the same graceful equanimity? Or is he more focused on himself and his ego? (He is addicted to the word "I," said he has a "gift" when it comes to oratory, said he would make a better political director than his political director, and on and on.)
Barack Obama whines about being "talked about like a dog" (whatever that means). His peevishness towards the press and the punditry has emerged as one of his least attractive qualities. He won't listen to criticism and does not want us to hear it, either.
He has all but counseled us to ignore Fox News and the internet, he has cast unjustified and blatantly false aspersions regarding foreign money and the Chamber of Commerce political ads that took him to task for his policies and performance, and he has called for less incendiary language in political discourse (this from the guy who can't take it but can sure dish it out -- as in "get in their face," "bring a gun to a knife fight," "fat cats," "sit in the back," "punish our enemies and reward our friends" -- that is some heated rhetoric for a Nobel Peace Prize winner).
The media spin job that Barack Obama is the second coming of Ronald Reagan -- that Ron and Barack would be pals, that Barack Obama can hold a candle to Ronald Reagan -- not only misses the mark, but willfully ignores how unfairly and disgracefully the media treated Ronald Reagan when he was alive. To use him now that he is dead compounds the insult.
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.