Thursday, November 04, 2004
Revisionist history: During the campaign, Sen. John Kerry invoked former President Ronald Reagan's foreign policy as a model that he would attempt to emulate as commander-in-chief. This was a laughable assertion because Kerry spent much of his Senate career opposing the Reagan defense build-up and Reagan's support of anti-communist rebels in Latin America.
Over at The Wall Street Journal the resident liberal, Al Hunt, makes the case that Bush's "impressive victory" is "not a mandate." [Link for subscribers only] This coming from a man who predicted Democrats would gain five seats in the House (the GOP picked up 4 -- off by a net 9), Democrats would gain one seat in the Senate (they lost 4 -- off by a net of 5) and that Kerry would win with 279 electoral votes and a 2 percent margin in the popular vote (it looks like Bush will end up with 287 electoral votes -- and a 3 percent margin of victory).
The Republicans' margins are all bigger than those Hunt predicted for John Kerry -- is there really any doubt that had Hunt had turned out to be right that he would have come out with a column claiming that Kerry "has a mandate"?
In his article, Hunt tries to appeal to Americans' ignorance of history as he tries to rewrite Reagan's second term.
Moreover, the history of second term presidents is sobering; many either overreach or become early lame ducks. Ronald Reagan was an exception of sorts as he focused more on legacy than ideology. Although with his landslide win 1984 he could have claimed a mandate for more of the same, he didn't. He moved to the center on both domestic issues -- the landmark 1986 tax bill was a genuinely bipartisan effort -- and on foreign affairs, particularly in his dealings with the Soviet Union and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Hunt has it exactly backwards, Reagan didn't move to the center -- he pulled the center towards him. As former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson noted over at National Review's group blog:
This is ignorant.
Reagan’s 1986 tax reform, which sharply reduced personal income tax rates, was precisely “more of the same,” a deepening of the tax cuts he had enacted in his first term. Did the 1986 reform receive bipartisan support? It did indeed. Because Reagan moved to the center? No. Because by 1986 Reagan had shfited the entire political landscape, forcing the center to come to him.
In his dealings with the Soviet Union, it is certainly true that Reagan held summit meetings with Gorbachev, and even that, here and there in arms negotiations, Reagan proved conciliatory toward the Soviets. Yet this represented not a shift in Reagan’s attitudes but the fulfillment of his strategy. He had already engaged in a massive arms buildup, called the Soviets the names they deserved, and launched the strategic defense initiative, in effect shoving the Soviets against the wall and slapping them silly. (Note also that his sharpest exchange with the Soviets took place at Reykjavik in 1987—well into Reagan’s second term.) Once the Soviets themselves had come around—and remember that the INF treaty Gorby and Reagan signed in 1987 agreed to the same “zero option” that in 1981 had caused the Soviets to break off negotiations—Reagan quite happily proved sweetness and light. But he hadn’t changed his strategy. He’d won.
Hunt is attempting to give Democrats cover for when they begin to whine about President Bush not attempting to renew a spirit of bipartisanship -- Bush isn't behaving like Reagan (allegedly) did. If the Democrats want to remain relevant, they need to move to the right, not whining about Bush's failure to move to the left.