Mike Kueber's Blog

January 25, 2012

Newt Gingrich as Nixon-esque

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:20 pm
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While listening to Savage Nation on the radio yesterday, I heard Savage’s guest host provide a cursory summary of good things about three Republican presidential candidates – Rick Santorum (social conservative), Ron Paul (constitutionally sound), and Mitt Romney (knows how to fix the economy).  But when he turned to Newt Gingrich, he provided a long list of significant flaws, the most damning being that he was unelectable and the least conservative of the bunch.

Concerning Gingrich’s unelectability, the evidence is clear that a majority of the voters have an unfavorable opinion of him.  According to a recent article in the Washington Examiner, Gingrich badly trails Mitt Romney and President Obama in favorability ratings:      

  • Not every poll releases their full results, so here are the most recent favorability results I could find for Obama, Romney, and Newt.

Fox News, 1/12-1/14:

Obama, fav/unfav, 51%/46%, +5

Romney, fav/unfav, 45%/38%, +7

Gingrich, fav/unfav, 27%/56%, -29

 CBS/NYT, 1/12-1/17:

 Obama, fav/unfav, 38%/45%, -7

 Romney, fav/unfav, 21%/35%, -14

 Gingrich, fav/unfav, 17%/49%, -32

 PPP, 1/13-1/17:

 Obama, app/dis, 47%/50%, -3

 Romney, fav/unfav, 35%/53%, -18

 Gingrich, fav/unfav, 26%/60%, -34

Concerning the Savage host’s “least conservative” insight, that struck me as odd because Gingrich has strenuously argued that he was one of the original Reagan conservatives while attacking Romney as a Massachusetts moderate.  But upon further reflection, it occurred to me Gingrich’s politics are more reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s than Ronald Reagan’s.  Gingrich’s dalliances with cap-and-trade and health-insurance mandates reveal a pragmatic politician like Nixon, who formed the EPA and endorsed affirmative action and the ERA.  Like Nixon, Gingrich talks conservative to his base, but then governs pragmatically. 

Since few ideas are original, I wondered if anyone else had written about the Gingrich-Nixon similarity.  Sure enough, just a couple of days ago, Jon Meacham had written, “Why Newt is like Nixon.”  Meacham’s article focuses on their similarities in personality and psychology, while I’m thinking that their politics are similar.  Their objective of their politics is not conservative vs. liberal, but rather doing whatever is necessary to gain and retain power. 

During the first Florida debate, Mitt Romney accused Gingrich of resigning in disgrace as House speaker.  That sounds eerily similar to words often used in connection with Richard Nixon – i.e., the only president who resigned in disgrace.  I have always been a big fan of Richard Nixon, and so I don’t think Gingrich’s similarities to Nixon’s politics is a bad thing.  But the fatal flaw with Gingrich’s candidacy is his unpopularity.  Nixon may have been depicted by the media as unpopular, but he had the support of the “silent majority,” and shortly before the Watergate mess occurred, he was reelected in 1972 by one of the greatest landslides in American history.

Newt Gingrich is no Richard Nixon.

May 25, 2011

Hypocrital politicians or a double standard

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about Newt Gingrich’s imploding campaign for the presidency and suggested that he had committed two sins – (1) he demagogued Congressman Ryan’s plan to reform Medicare financing, and (2) he had a revolving charge account for several hundred thousand dollars with Tiffany’s jewelry store.  Although the first sin would appear to be a mortal sin while the second only a venial sin, that would be overlooking the longstanding practice in America of holding conservatives to a higher standard.

There is a tendency of conservatives to accuse the liberal media of creating a double standard – one for liberals and another for conservatives – and there might be some basis for this accusation because conservative sinners are routinely labeled as hypocrites whereas liberals are labeled as merely fallible.  For example, this week’s Time magazine included a “Misconduct Matrix” of leading politicians, and the “Massively Hypocritical” section contained six conservatives (Gingrich, Schwarzenegger, Craig, Thomas, Ensign, and Haggard) and only two liberals (Spitzer and Edwards).  By contrast, the “Just Plain Stupid” section contained no conservatives and four liberals (Clinton, Kennedy, and Hart).

But I think the more important reason for the double standard is that conservative voters demand more from their politicians than do liberal voters.  When Newt argued on “Face the Nation” that his jewelry purchases were a personal matter, the media would be forced to accept that unless it were willing to pursue this information from all candidates.  But that doesn’t mean that conservative voters have to accept it.  This issue resonates and the damage has been done regardless of Newt attempting to say the subject is off-limits.

Although I don’t remember Nixon’s “Checker’s” speech in 1952, I have read about it, and it provides a how-to guide for conservatives dealing with charges of hypocrisy from liberals.  Nixon had been elected to the Senate in 1950, and his campaign team decided to campaign continuously for his re-election in 1956.  To pay for these campaign activities, Nixon set up a fund that accepted large contributions ($1,000) from sixteen rich benefactors.

The fund was legal, and Nixon took the additional precaution of not being told who the benefactors were, but that didn’t stop his opponents from arguing that the fund was morally wrong and that a Senator who campaigned on returning integrity to the Senate shouldn’t be taking money from others so that he could live above his means.

Shortly after the existence of the fund was leaked to the press, there was an avalanche of criticism that threatened Nixon’s recently secured place on Eisenhower’s presidential ticket.  Nixon’s campaign was met with posters that read, “Pat, what are you going to do with the bribe money?” and “No Mink Coats for Nixon — Just Cold Cash.”

Unlike Gingrich, Nixon decided to meet the issue head-on.  He gave a speech to the nation that was heard by 60 million Americans.  In the speech, he said that none of the money in the fund was spent for personal use and there were no mink coats for the Nixons.  He was “proud of the fact that Pat Nixon wears a good Republican cloth coat, and she’s going to continue to.”  The only gift for personal use was a puppy by the name of Checkers for his daughters, and Nixon was keeping him.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Newt has as good an answer to give.  He seems to like buying expensive jewelry, and most frugal people would accept a vendor’s standard offer to accept payment over time with no charged interest.  Neither of these acts is particularly sinful, but together they are a lethal combination for a conservative politician.  RIP Newt.

December 11, 2010

Sunday book review #4 – Decision Points by George W. Bush

George W. Bush is my favorite contemporary politician.  When I was going door-to-door during my Congressional campaign, the 2nd-most common question was what I thought of Bush-43.  (The most common question was what I thought of Roe v. Wade.)  Although I realized I would be more successful in my door-to-door discussions if I distanced myself from Bush, or at least gave a more nuanced opinion, I responded truthfully that I admired the man.

With that disclosure, I begin this review of Decision Points.  Unlike most presidential books, Decision Points is not a chronological narrative of the Bush presidency.  Instead, it is a review of how Bush made the important decisions in his life.  Because there is so much interesting material in the book, I have decided to break the review into three parts – the pre-9/11 stuff, post-9/11 foreign policy, and post-9/11 domestic policy and conclusions.  I will review the first part this week and the other two parts, I hope, on succeeding Sundays. 

The pre-9/11 stuff

The pre-9/11 stuff comprises four chapters – Quitting (about drinking), Running (deciding to run for president), Personnel (hiring and firing), and Stem Cells (government research with stem cells).  In the course of explaining those decisions, Bush reveals a lot about his character and personality, which is the diametric opposite of my all-time favorite politician, Richard Nixon.  I supported Nixon because I related to a lot of his background, values, ambitions, and insecurities.  He was the perfect foil for John Kennedy.  My preference for Nixon seems inconsistent with my admiration of Bush-43, who background and personality is more Kennedy-esque and Nixonian.  What’s so special about Bush-43?


 Maybe it’s his love of sports.  Bush and I share the love of sports, and I think we share some of the fundamental values that sports teaches, the most important being sportsmanship.  Bush described with admiration the sportsmanship displayed by his dad in losing to Bill Clinton in 1992: 

  • Dad handled the defeat with characteristic grace.  He called early in the evening to congratulate Bill, laying the foundation for one of the more unlikely friendships in American political history.  Dad had been raised to be a good sport.  He blamed no one; he was not bitter.” 

Later in 2000, early in the evening, after the critical state of Florida had been called for Gore, Bush showed his own sportsmanship – “I was ready to accept the people’s verdict and repeat Mother’s words from 1992: ‘It’s time to move on.’” 

I love this attitude.  Defeat is not a failure or a personal rejection.  Politicians offer their services, but someone has to lose.  I disagree completely with those politicians who assert that their first obligation to their supporters is to win the election.  Their supporters have no right to insist that a candidate doing anything more than campaign hard and smart.  The voters will decide who can represent them best.



There’s an old protest song from Vietnam days with the lyrics, “You can’t even run your own life; I’ll be damned if you run mine.”  (Sunshine by Jonathan Edwards.)  I thought of those when I read about Bush-43 deciding whether to leave Austin and the Texas governorship to run for president.  Surprisingly, Laura was quickly on board, but his daughters weren’t.  Finally, one night George sat down with Jenna (who was soon graduating from high school) on the patio of the Governor’s Mansion and said, “I know you think that I’m ruining your life by running for president.  But actually your mom and I are living our lives – just like we raised you and Barbara to do.”  

That is so refreshing and politically incorrect.  Yes, parents need to put their children first, but there needs to be consideration for the parents, too. 

Growing up

Bush has a reputation as a slacker, which he denies “My philosophy in college was the old cliché: work hard, play hard.  I upheld the former and excelled at the latter.”

Something I share with Bush is his dislike of campus politicians – “I had no interest in being a campus politician.”  When describing a young Karl Rove, “I assumed he would be another one of the campus politician types who had turned me off at Yale.  I soon recognized that Karl was different.  He wasn’t smug or self-righteous, and he sure wasn’t the typical suave campaign operator.”

Bush has a reputation as a young boozer, and he accepts that – “In reality, I was a boozy kid and [Dad] was an understandably irritated father.”  Even after marrying, this happened – “As we were eating, I turned to a beautiful friend of Mother and Father and asked a boozy question: ‘So, what is sex like after fifty?’….  Years later, when I turned fifty, the good-natured woman sent me a note to the Texas Governor’s Mansion: ‘Well, George, how is it?’  Laura saw a pattern developing, too.  What seemed hilarious or clever to my friends and me was repetitive and childish to her.” 

Although Bush graduated from Harvard Business School, he never bought into those people – “I knew what I did not want to do.  I had no desire to go to Wall Street.  While I knew decent and honorable people who had worked on Wall Street, including my grandfather Prescott Bush, I was suspicious of the financial industry.  I used to tell friends that Wall Street is the kind of place where they will buy you and sell you, but they don’t really give a hoot about you so long as they can make money off you.”


Many believed that Bush was unqualified to run for governor, but he persuasively disagrees – “My experiences on Dad’s campaigns and running the Rangers had sharpened my political, management, and communication skills.  Marriage and family had broadened my perspective.”  That makes perfect sense. 

In the final days of the campaign, this so-called lightweight was ready for a broadside from Ann Richards – “She did her best to set me off.  She called me ‘some jerk’ and ‘shrub,’ but I refused to spark….  On debate night, Karen and I were in the elevator when Ann Richards entered.  I shook her hand and said, ‘Good luck, Governor.’  In her toughest growl, she said, ‘This is going to be rough on you, boy.’”


An entire chapter in the book is devoted to Bush’s philosophy regarding personnel.  I think the following encapsulates that philosophy – “I was looking for integrity, competence, selflessness, and an ability to handle pressure.  I always liked people with a sense of humor, a sign of modesty and self-awareness.” 

I couldn’t agree more with those qualities, including the sense of humor. 

This chapter also contains a comment ostensibly on the selection of Cheney, but it seems more applicable to McClain’s selection of Palin – “The vice presidential selection provides voters with a window into a candidate’s decision-making style.  It reveals how careful and thorough he or she will be.” 

Stem-cell research

Another chapter in the book is devoted to Bush’s decision to deny federal spending for stem-cell research except for already existing stem-cell lines.  I have read other book reviewers commend Bush’s thorough and open-minded research prior to making this decision.  I disagree.  Bush may have conducted thorough research, but I’m not sure about it being open-minded.  To describe his pro-life position, Bush quoted from former PA governor Bob Casey, “When we look to the unborn child, the real issue is not when life begins, but when love begins.”  As a committed, staunch, pro-lifer, this was really a no-brainer for George Bush.  


Any warts?  Yes, I noticed three – one substantive, one personal, and one trivial:

  1. Mental illness.  I’ve always resented that the federal government required employer-provided health insurance to cover treatment of mental illness as generously as it covered treatment of physical illness.  I think that one is more essential than the other.  Imagine my surprise at reading about Bush’s pride in signing the law that required this.  His pride was based on his relationship with a Texas Ranger partner Rusty Rose, who suffered from a chemical imbalance that caused anxiety.  My question (and probably Rick Perry’s) to George Bush would be, “Did you think about federalism and whether you and the federal government had any business telling businesses what to do regarding this?”

  3. Silver spoon.  Bush was considered by many to be an aristocrat because of his family and connections.  Ann Richards famously commented about his dad being born on third-base and thinking he hit a triple.  One of the charges of aristocracy against Bush-43 was that he used connections to avoid Vietnam service by getting in the National Guard.  Bush’s description of this incident included a quote that sounded aristocratic to me:
    • I informed the Alabama National Guard commanders that I would have to miss several meetings during the campaign.  They told me I could make them up after the election, which I did.  I didn’t think much about it for another few decades.”

I don’t think most of us would “inform the commanders”; rather, we would humbly ask for permission.  Maybe it’s just me, but that quote was jarring.   

          3.   UT law school.  Before going to Harvard Business School, Bush tried unsuccessfully to get into the University of Texas Law School.  I think he should have mentioned that fact somewhere in this book because it makes the UT Law School look good and it makes me look good.  Only in America would I be able to go to a graduate-level school that George W. Bush could not get into.  Of course, it also reveals UT to be more of a meritocracy that admits a Kueber, whereas Harvard admits the Bushes, Obamas, and Castros of the world

Based on what I’ve read thus far, Bush has not disappointed me.  Despite the aristocratic trappings, Bush is more Texas than Connecticut.  His self-deprecation is frequent; his hubris is rare.  Of course, much of this is due to his mom and dad.  A perfect description of their parenting style occurred at Mile 19 of his first marathon.  He was running at an 8:33 pace as his parents cheered him on.  Dad – “That’s my boy.”  Mom – “Keep moving, George. There are some fat people ahead of you.”

A person’s most important quality, in my opinion, is that they be comfortable in their own skin.  They need to like and respect themselves.  The insecure and egoists do neither.  People who are comfortable in their own skin are better able to deal issues and challenges.  I look forward to reading about W. dealing with 9/11.

September 25, 2010

Lists from a 57-year-old man

Yesterday was my 57th birthday, but, no, I have not decided to create a bucket list.  Instead the following is more like The Book of Lists, which was a popular book first published in 1977 when I was attending law school.  The Book of Lists was written by David Wallechinsky, his father Irving Wallace (author of porn classic The Fan Club), and his sister Amy Wallace, and it contained hundreds of interesting lists.  I hope you find these lists interesting. 

My favorite sports teams

Having grown up as a provincial, parochial rube in North Dakota, I had five predictable favorite teams as a kid:

  1. Milwaukee Braves (with Hank Aaron) – the Braves were the MLB team closest to North Dakota until the Washington team moved to Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1961.  I stuck with the Braves while my brother Greg switched to the Twins.
  2. The Green Bay Packers (with Paul Horning and Bart Starr) – the Packers were the NFL team closest to North Dakota until Minneapolis/St. Paul was awarded a franchise in 1961.  I would rather fight than switch (an old cigarette commercial), but my brother Greg switched to the Vikings.
  3. Los Angeles Lakers (with Jerry West) – the Lakers were the NBA team closest to North Dakota until they moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1960.
  4. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (with Ara Parseghian, John Huarte, and Terry Hanratty) – although the school’s Catholicism probably had something to do with my fandom, it probably was due to their Midwestern base and nationwide network and prominence.
  5. The University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux (with Dave Osborn and Phil Jackson) – I only knew one other area team (North Dakota State Bison).  UND was a liberal-arts school while NDSU was a science/agriculture school.  I was a liberal-arts guy who planned to go to law school.

Forty years later, I have evolved into a sophisticated, cosmopolitan, worldly guy and my favorite teams reflect that evolution:

  1. Minnesota Vikings.  If only one of my teams could win its championship, I would want it to be the Vikings, and Brett Favre is the reason.  Two years ago, when he was at the Jets, they were my favorite team.  And before that, the Packers.
  2. San Antonio Spurs.  Although they are the only MLB team in San Antonio, I suspect they would be one of my favorites even if I lived elsewhere.  Pop is my kind of coach (reminds me of Tom Laughlin of the NY football Giants), and Duncan, Ginobli, Parker, and owner Holt are great.  What’s not to love?
  3. Texas Longhorns.  I fell hard for the Longhorns during my law-school years, during which I experienced first-hand Darrell Royal’s last year of coaching and Earl Campbell’s Heisman victory.  My love for the Horns ensured that I had no mixed emotions when the Horns played and lost to Notre Dame for the national title in the 1978 Cotton Bowl, and I’ve never rooted the Irish since, except when I felt sorry for their coach Jerry Faust.
  4. Dallas Cowboys.  I have almost forgiven Jerry Jones for firing Barry Switzer.  Although Switzer was a mortal enemy of my all-time favorite coach Darrell Royal, I took a shine to Switzer and rooted against the Cowboys for several years after his firing, but Wade Phillips and Tony Romo are winning me back.
  5. Los Angeles Dodgers.  My love for New York City caused me to switch from the Braves to the Yankees many years ago, and their Torre years were the best.  But when the Steinbrenners rudely showed Torre the door, I went with him to LA.

My five least favorite teams: 

  1. New Orleans Saints.  If I could only one team to lose its championship, it would be the Saints because they are the only team that can threaten my most cherished record in sports – the Green Bay Packers under Vince Lombardi won three NFL titles in a row (1966-68).  The Saints have only won one, but any streak that reaches two is too close for comfort.  (I know this sounds like the small-minded Dolphins rooting against any unbeaten team.)
  2. Miami Heat.  It’s natural to hate a team that is loaded with dominating talent.  Thus, the Heat should be the most hated team of all time.
  3. USC Trojans.  I hate coaches who show no loyalty to their school.  Lane Kiffen appears to be the quintessential opportunist.
  4. San Diego Chargers.  Ever since they discarded Drew Brees for Phillip Rivers, I’ve been rooting for Rivers to fail.
  5. St. Louis baseball Cardinals.  I’m tired of hearing that LaRussa is a genius, and I don’t want Puhols to replace Aaron as the greatest home-run hitter of all time.

My favorite politicians

Although not nearly as important as sport teams, politicians are one of my fascinations.  My favorites are the following:

  1. Richard Nixon.  I like to describe Nixon as a junkyard dog.  By that, I mean that he grew up having to scrap for everything he got; kind of like a kid in a big family with not enough money.  That’s why some characterize him as having a chip on his shoulder and not fully refined or civilized.  I have some of those same traits, and I attribute some of it as due to affirmative action, which became popular in government and large corporations just as I was looking to get ahead in the world.  All of a sudden, these employers that were traditionally a route for all disadvantaged people to get ahead were reserved primarily for women and minorities.  Disadvantaged white males were supposed to “take one for the team.”  
  2. Dwight Eisenhower.  Although Nixon and Eisenhower grew up in similar circumstances, Eisenhower’s personality was diametrically different in that he was always a graceful winner and comfortable in his own skin.  His biographers describe him as not particularly creative or brilliant, but someone with integrity, intelligence, personal skills, and an abundance of judgment and common sense.  I wanted to be like him, and when Debbie wouldn’t let me name our third son after Nixon (she hated the nickname Dick), I compromised with Thomas Dwight.
  3. George W. Bush.  W. is a Texan, a sports guy, a patriot, and a right-center politician who transformed education policy and tried to fix immigration.  And he was just what America needed after 9/11.  His big mistake was to cut taxes instead of raising them to pay for our wars.
  4. Ronald Reagan.  I was a huge Reagan fan during his administration and was so happy when Bush-41’s election provided the ultimate popular ratification of Reagan’s tenure.  But I grew tired of the Reagan revolution by the end of Bush’s term and voted for Perot.  By that time I had become a deficit hawk, and although Reagan made fundamental changes to America’s direction by cutting taxes and increasing defense spending, he sacrificed fiscal responsibility by failing to cut domestic spending.  
  5. Mitt Romney.  While looking for a presidential candidate for 2012, I read Romney’s No Apologies and found his positions to be a perfect match for right-of-center me and America.  Just as importantly, his positions were based on a sound analysis.  My only concern is that, although his book stayed away from social issues like abortion because they are not as amenable to analysis, he revealed some intolerant righteousness when he discussed legalization of marijuana.

My top-ten BFFs (girls and family excluded)

  1. Landis Tande
  2. David Odegaard
  3. Mike Crocker
  4. Marv Leibowitz
  5. Tom Wynne
  6. Mike Vigus
  7. Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez
  8. Kevin Brown
  9. Don Iverson
  10. Mike Callen
  11. George Joy – not
  12. Michael Foley – not

My top-ten favorite books of fiction

  1. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
  2. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  3. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
  4. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  5. The Fan Club by Irving Wallace
  6. Sayonara by James Michener
  7. Wheels by Arthur Hailey
  8. Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig
  9. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  10. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

My top-ten favorite books of non-fiction

  1. The Great Bridge by David McCullough
  2. The Power Broker by Robert Caro
  3. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  4. A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen
  5. The Next 100 Years by George Friedman
  6. Free to Choose by Milton Friedman
  7. Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose
  8. The Dilbert Principle by Scott Adams
  9. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  10. The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch

My top-ten favorite movies

  1. Lonesome Dove
  2. Hud
  3. Casablanca
  4. Gone With The Wind
  5. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence
  6. Shane
  7. Centennial
  8. Patton
  9. Pretty Woman
  10. American President

My top-ten movie stars

  1. John Wayne
  2. Clint Eastwood
  3. Paul Newman
  4. Robert Redford
  5. Marilyn Monroe
  6. Mel Gibson
  7. Clark Gable
  8. Humphrey Bogart
  9. Robert Duvall
  10. Angelina Jolie

My top-twenty favorite songs

  1. Universal Soldier by Donovan
  2. Father & Son by Cat Stevens
  3. Amarillo by Morning by Terry Stafford
  4. Wrapped by George Strait
  5. Ringo by Lorne Greene
  6. It Must Have Been Love by Roxette
  7. Wild Geese by Joan Armatrading
  8. Austin by Blake Shelton
  9. I’m Gonna Be Strong by Gene Pitney
  10. Angie by The Rolling Stones
  11. No Place That Far by Sara Evans w/ Vince Gill
  12. Burn by Johnny Cash
  13. The Poor Side of Town by Johnny Rivers
  14. The Lady in Red by Chris de Burgh
  15. I Will Always Love You by Vince Gill and Dolly Parton
  16. I Want to Love You Forever by Jessica Simpson
  17. Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers
  18. Something in Red by Lorrie Morgan
  19. El Paso by Marty Robbins
  20. Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler and Meatloaf

My top-ten evocative songs

  1. Rumors by Fleetwood Mac – Valerie Lebeaux and Tom Wynne
  2. Fire & Rain by James Taylor – Katie Taylor and Julie Ophaug
  3. Kind of a Drag by the Buckinghams – Debbie Lee
  4. Tiny Dancer by Elton John – Larry Honnel, West Hall, UND
  5. Billy & Sue by B.J. Thomas – Mark Kueber in Korea
  6. Mr. Lonely by Bobby Vinton – Winter chores in ND
  7. He’ll Have to Go by Jim Reeves – Dad
  8. Foolish Games by Jewel – Sakina Hassonjee
  9. Should’ve Never by JLo – Tejana Temptress
  10. Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground and anything else by Willie Nelson or John Denver – Debbie Kueber
  11. She’s in Love with the Boy by Trisha Yearwood – Stephanie Melain
  12. I Wanna Talk About Me – Tina Spencer

Upon further reflection, maybe I haven’t evolved into a wordly, cosmopolitan, sophisticated person after all.

September 18, 2010

A Patriot’s History of the Reagan-Clinton years

Earlier this week, I finished reading A Patriot’s History of the United States.  Like finishing all enjoyable books, finishing this book left me with a feeling like I had lost a friend or fellow traveler.  I am grateful for his company and his memory will stay with me for a while, but I will push on without him. 

As I indicated in my recent Vietnam post, the authors’ conservative politics clearly manifested itself when they started describing the United States history that they had personally observed – i.e., the ‘60s.  Their politics became more discernable, even jarring, with their discussion of the Reagan and Clinton administrations.

According to the authors, Ronald Wilson Reagan was a savior.  Although they clearly admired Richard Nixon, they conceded that his presidency and the failed presidencies’ of Ford and Carter left America staring into an abyss – “On every front, the United States seemed in decline.  Economically, socially, and in international relations, by 1980 America was in retreat.  Yet at this point of weakness, the nation stood on the edge of its greatest resurgence since the months following Doolittle’s bombing of Tokyo.  The turnaround began with the upheaval within the Republican Party

The authors believed that the resurgence started with the Republican Party returning to its conservative Goldwater roots.  Although they didn’t use the term RINO (Republican in name only), they clearly felt that way about Nixon, Ford, and Rockefeller.  The authors called them “the blue-hair wing of the country-club GOP.”  You can almost sense the authors’ hero-worship of Reagan when they wrote:

Then onto the scene came a sixty-nine-year-old former actor, Goldwaterite, and governor of California – Ronald Wilson Reagan.  At one time a New Deal Democrat who had voted four times for FDR, Reagan was fond of saying he “didn’t leave the Democratic Party; it left me.”  Reagan contended the liberals of the 1970’s had abandoned the principles of John Kennedy and Harry Truman, and that those principles – anticommunism, a growing economy for middle-class-Americans, and the rule of law – were more in line with the post-Nixon Republican Party.

After telling the Gipper story, the authors revealingly took to occasionally using that term of affection throughout the book.  Other over-the-top statements included the following:

  • Never as overtly religious as Coolidge before him or George W. Bush after him, Reagan’s moral sense was acute.
  • Branded by his opponents as an extremist and an anticommunist zealot, Reagan in fact practiced the art of compromise, comparing success in politics to a batting average.
  • The debates made the incumbent look like a sincere by naïve child arguing with a wise uncle.
  • The Gipper accomplished this [replacing malaise with can-do optimism] by refusing to engage in Beltway battles with reporters or even Democrats on a personal basis.
  • Criticized as a hands-off president, he in fact was a master delegator….  This left Reagan free to do the strategic thinking and galvanize public opinion. 
  • His grasp of the details of government… shows that in one-on-one meetings over the details of tax cuts, defense, and other issues, Reagan has mastered the important specifics.
  • [Despite the recession in 1981-1982] Reagan knew in his soul that the tax cuts would work.
  • Yet despite oceans of new money and Reagan’s foot constantly on the brake, government continued to spend more than it took in.

By way of contrast, the authors made the following comments about Bill Clinton:

  • For one thing, he had dodged the draft during the Vietnam War.
  • Clinton’s flagrant disregard of traditional morals outraged large segments of the public.
  • Understanding the Clinton presidency requires an appreciation for the symbiotic relationship between Bill Clinton and his aggressive wife, Hillary….  Her personal demeanor, however, was abrasive and irritating and doused any hopes she had of winning a political seat on her own early in her life.  When she met Clinton at Yale, he seemed a perfect fit.  He was gregarious, smart, and charismatic, but not particularly deep.  A sponge for detail, Clinton lacked a consistent ideology upon which to hang his facts.  This was the yin to Hillary Rodham’s yang; the driven ideologue Hillary ran her husband’s campaigns, directed and organized his staff, and controlled his appearances.
  • Clinton had invoked quotas on nearly every cabinet position, regardless of competence.
  • Ever attuned to image and style, Clinton early in his presidency had suddenly begun attending church regularly.

The authors saw Reagan’s greatest accomplishment as the resurrection of the American economy, and this was accomplished primarily through deregulation and the 30% tax cuts in the Economic Recovery Act of 1981.  This lowered the top tax rate from 70% to 50%.  The Act also lowered the capital-gain tax from 28% to 20%.  In international affairs, “Reagan dealt with foreign usurpers quickly and decisively.”  More importantly, he developed the Reagan doctrine – i.e., instead of containing the Soviet Union, American should actively attempt to roll it back.  Among Reagan’s memorable quotes – “Marxism-Leninism would be tossed on the ash heap of history like all other forms of tyranny that preceded it,” and “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”  The Soviet Union finally collapsed during Bush-41’s term, but Reagan was the proximate cause.

Bill Clinton, however, did little more than coast on Reagan’s economic coattails.  Reagan’s tax cuts and deregulation caused the booming American economy for which Clinton claimed credit, and Reagan’s defeat of the Soviet Union enabled Clinton to cut military spending significantly.  Clinton’s two policy successes – NAFTA and welfare reform – were enacted because of Republican support and despite significant Democratic opposition.  Clinton’s conduct with international affairs was characterized as Missions Undefined – “Having avoided the military draft during the Vietnam era, President Clinton committed more troops to combat situations than any peacetime president in American history….  Handshake agreements with photo opportunities… played perfectly to Clinton’s own inclination for quick fixes abroad….  Another figure, whom the Clinton administration totally ignored, actually posed a more immediate threat.  Osama bin Laden….”  Clinton’s failure in foreign affairs manifested themselves for Bush-43 shortly after Clinton left office.  And, of course, the authors provided a detailed description of Clinton’s conduct that resulted in him being impeached.

Between Reagan and Clinton, there were four years of George H.W. Bush (a/k/a Bush-41), and the authors made a great insight to explain his failure to get re-elected:

  • Although Bush didn’t believe in supply-side economics and had called it voodoo-economics when he ran against Reagan in 1980, he had no choice in 1988 but to run on Reagan’s record.  “This proved to be a great mistake: by lashing himself to a mast that he had no real faith in, his convention pledge – ‘Read My Lips!  No New Taxes’ – would come back to haunt him.”

Because of his convention pledge, Bush-41 lost the presidency in 1992 to Bill Clinton.

To summarize — if the authors thought Reagan walked on water, it would be accurate to say they didn’t think Clinton deserved to carry Reagan’s water bucket.

September 15, 2010

A Patriot’s History of the Vietnam War

When I tell friends that I am reading A Patriot’s History of the United States, they often ask how a patriot’s history is different from a non-patriot’s history.  Until recently, I have responded that, although the differences are minor, I have noticed a few instances where the two authors put a more positive spin on America’s conduct.  But those minor differences have disappeared now that I have progressed to reading about the Vietnam War.  All of a sudden, the differences have become dramatic.  

According to the authors, incompetent LBJ regularly rejected recommendations on Vietnam from his Joint Chiefs and required the military to fight the war with its hands cuffed behind its back – e.g., severely limited bombing, gradual escalation, and tolerance of cross-border sanctuaries.  Despite these handcuffs, the U.S. military won every major engagement in Vietnam, including the watershed Tet offensive in early 1968, during which enemy forces were decimated.  But victory on the ground and in the air was not enough and gradually public support began to erode. 

The erosion of public support started on radicalized campuses.  According to the authors, the baby boomers inundating America’s colleges were coming from “a background of abundance, self-centeredness, and permissiveness, combined with instability and lack of direction,” and they were greeted at the college gates by a radical, post-McCarthy faculty.  That is quite an unsubstantiated generalization.

The authors state that the agenda of the radicals was nothing short of the overthrow of America as we know it – capitalism, foreign affairs, and morality (drugs, sex).  The radicals failed because Americans ultimately became disgusted with the radicals and responded to a call for “law and order.”    

The authors portray the media as either co-conspirators or duped accomplices of the campus radicals:

A symbiotic relationship, which developed between the Chicago protestors and the news media, accelerated.  But the journalists also failed to see the adroit manipulation by the demonstrators.  Witnesses reported an absence of violence until the mobs saw television cameras, at which point they began their act….  demonstrators stepped up their activities when reporters and photographers appeared, and, worse, camera crews “on at least two occasions did stage violence and fake injuries.”

The next indication of the authors’ political bent is their description of the Vietnam War being handed over in 1969 from incompetent LBJ to Richard Nixon – “he was a remarkable man.”  According to the authors, Nixon delivered on his promise of “peace with honor” by freeing up the military to defeat the northern invaders and then Vietnamizing the war (handing over the fighting to South Vietnamese soldiers).  But the war was ultimately lost (“snatching defeat from the jaws of victory”) when Congress failed, post-Nixon, to continue providing South Vietnam with financial and air support.  Five months after Nixon’s resignation in August 1974, North Vietnam invaded and conquered South Vietnam.  Despite Nixon’s resignation in disgrace, the authors noted that he made one last comeback as a “valuable resource for world leaders….  It was high irony indeed that by the time of his death, Richard Nixon had achieved broad-based respect that he had never enjoyed in life – and that he had lived long enough to make sure that five living American presidents attended his funeral and, even if unwillingly, paid homage to him.” 

I am an unrepentant fan of Richard Nixon, but I certainly don’t think such praise to be appropriate to a history book, even a patriotic one.

Did the authors have a personal stake in their story?  According to their joint website, Schweikart went to college during the Vietnam War and following graduation, became a drummer in a rock band for a few years before obtaining a graduate degree and becoming a college professor and author.  Allen served in Vietnam as a Marine before obtaining a BA, MA, and PhD and becoming a college professor and author.  These men obviously lived this part of their History first-hand.