Lessons From History

There is a saying often attributed to Mark Twain that goes, ‘History does not repeat itself but it does rhyme.’ Any fools with a nostalgia for the late 70’s learned the truth of that in the past few years. Being President is about more than smiling and speaking in grand platitudes. It is a harsh reality of perpetual crisis both foreign and domestic – many of which the American people never really learn about unless they spin out of control.

We like to look at candidates for the office and project onto them the mantle of some previous President. It gives us a false hope of how they will handle the unknown future. Sometimes the candidates try on the mantle of a previous President themselves and try to convince us that they wear it best. Call me crazy, but Michele Bachmann doesn’t look convincing in her Reagan costume.

For all the best hopes of pundits and packaging of candidates themselves, rarely are the mantles draped upon candidates accurate. Obama is no Kennedy nor FDR as claimed in his campaign in 2008 nor a TR as he claims now. He’s a Carter. It’s no wonder he is seeking a different comparison.

The Republican field is not full of Reagans nor does it have a Jefferson or Jackson in its midst. However, if we look closely at the candidates, their records, the political reality of today and history – we may be able to figure out which President each would most likely resemble once actually in office. Here in short form is my take on who each candidate actually would be most like if elected:

Mitt Romney – Romney claims to be Reagan. Romney is not a hard core anything. He is a pragmatist. He has a track record of working across the aisle and changing his position to side with prevailing opinion. He is slick, managerial and focused more on accomplishing something than on getting what he wants. Gerald FordRomney strikes me as being most like Gerald Ford. Government would probably hit a few bumps with him in office, but he’d learn to navigate the prevailing political moods and generally make things better. He wouldn’t distinguish himself or ever really connect with the American people. Congress would get more credit for any success than he would and while no one would really hate him, few would champion him.

Newt Gingrich – Gingrich claims to be Reagan and Jackson. Newt is mercurial, knowledgeable, an insider who sees himself as an outsider, not the ally of many in his own party and has a drive to prove he is better than his reputation from Congress. He was written off by most, yet inexplicably manages to keep hanging around. Richard NixonGingrich strikes me as being most like Richard Nixon. He is likely to fight with his own party and even go against the popular will of the American public to do what he thinks is the right thing to do. He’d use use his ability to speak plainly to the people to rally just enough support to maintain his ability to assert his agenda. Yet, his insecurities and anger at a media that jabs at him would detract from an ability to even enjoy his successes. He would likely have difficulty maintaining an administrative core.

Ron Paul – Paul claims to be Jefferson. Paul is a stubborn yet principled politician who would rather be right by his own views than compromise on anything. He has no real friends in Congress and is the enemy of the very machine he would seek to operate. He is constitutionally astute. Andrew JohnsonPaul strikes me as being most like Andrew Johnson. He’ll fight not only the opposing party, but the leaders of his own in Congress. The machinery of the bureaucracy assembled by previous administrations would be his main target as it would be something he thought he could change. A long train of vetoes, overrides, wiggling free from Congressional attempts to wrangle him and generally four years of being right, but equally disliked by all.

Rick Perry – Perry claims to be Reagan. Perry is a man of great ego, personality and amorphous convictions. He surrounds himself with advisers who define most of his actions and control access to him. That limits his ability to see more than just one side of an issue and sometimes puts him in a predicament. George W. BushPerry strikes me as being most like George W. Bush. He’s as likely to expand government to be ‘compassionate’ as he is to cut some part of it. He would likely be often caught misspeaking as the policies of his staff would not be his own and his answers to questions about them would lack grounding. He’d make numerous gaffes that pundits on both sides would wonder how he could have ever been able to be so stupid, but those gaffes would come as a result of the bubble his advisers would keep him in.

Rick Santorum – Santorum claims to be Reagan. Santorum is a strong social conservative who believes in using the power of the federal government to dictate domestic issues that were previously State and local matters. He is a party man who went along with government expansion and big spending when his party committed it – although he claims he realizes that was a mistake and wouldn’t do it again. John AdamsSantorum strikes me as being most like John Adams. He would likely push his ideology fiercely and fail to see when he had gone too far. He would surround himself with advisers and policy makers who once worked for or around his beloved mentor (in this case Reagan) but lack the wisdom of that mentor to know when those advisers and policy makers had drifted too far from the will of the people. He would not understand why his administration would become unpopular and instead entrench himself further.

Michele Bachmann – Bachmann claims to be Reagan or Jefferson. Bachmann is a wannabe ideologue. She clings to the banner of the Tea Party, yet is easily dragged towards neoconservatism whenever she feels that she needs to sound tough. She is generally over-matched by the enormity of the Presidency even as a candidate. While she can spew soundbites, she is slow to hit the mark when thrown an unexpected question. Barack ObamaPolitical ideology aside, Bachmann strikes me as being most like Barack Obama. She would most likely struggle to find effective ways to get her big ideas turned into actual policies even with GOP control of Congress. She’d feel the need to embark on military adventures to prove she wasn’t weak on defense. She would reverse herself on executive orders and start issuing many of them as an alternative way to implement her agenda.

Jon Huntsman – Huntsman claims to be a Reagan. Huntsman has great executive experience and deeply understands the geopolitical and economic position of the Unites States in the world in relation to past, present and emerging world rivals. He is measured, reasonable and yet considered an outsider by even his own. Dwight EisenhowerHuntsman strikes me as being most like Dwight Eisenhower. He would likely chart a course that looked far more into the future than the leaders of Congress. He would be strategic rather than tactical in military and foreign affairs. He would challenge the status quo and risk rebellion from his own party when he put pet projects on the chopping block. He would be seen more as a fatherly President than a partisan one.

I could be very wrong in these associations, but I think they are fairly accurate. We just can’t really know until they sit in that office. But, we do have their histories and personalities as well as those of the men who already held the office and how that office changed them. From those, we can construct better guesses as to which President they will not repeat, but most rhyme with. In all cases, it is not the one they think they are – at least in my opinion.

In doing this exercise, my views of the candidates have changed a bit. Thinking not of who I would like them to be or who they sell themselves as, but who their history and personality most aligns them with has left me questioning my leanings in this race. I don’t accept the general media criticisms of our candidates or the wild histrionics by the champions of one candidate against opponents. However, viewing these candidates in an historical light and how their strengths, weaknesses and personalities would likely mix with the current economic, political and international reality does raise some new questions for me. Of Ford, Nixon, G. W. Bush, A. Johnson, J. Adams, Obama or Eisenhower, who could not only best beat Obama in 2012 but best address the foreseeable problems? Would stagnation and infighting in Washington be worse than misguided progress or the other way around? Is victory today and four years a stability worth backing a candidate that could probably be beaten in 2016? When there is no Reagan clone, on whom can we settle?

I don’t have the answers to those questions for you. They are for each of us to decide on our own when choosing a candidate. I don’t even have the answers for myself which is why I remain undecided and uncommitted. I’ve ruled out three of the seven, but have a long way to go before I get down to one.

What Is Best for the G.O.P. and More Importantly, the Nation?

Bookmark and Share    Several months ago, President Obama had announced the execution of Osama bin Laden, and a debt weary nation seemed to be hopeful that our economy was on the verge of coming back. Some were beginning to believe that President Obama was shaping up to be another unbeatable incumbent come election time.

Since then, things have changed dramatically. All the economic indicators that were expected to produce numbers indicating a turnaround for the economy, have consistently underperformed all reaosnable measures of a healthy economy. An ongoing military effort in the mottled mission of Libya continues, the largest number of casualties in a single day of our longest war in history have been seen, Middle East strife in Syria as well as Egypt weigh heavily on international affairs, the quadrupling of our debt has forced our credit rating to be downgraded, the stock market is dropping to a point of being declared a bear market, gas prices have soared, unemployment remains more than a percentage point above the 8 % that President Obama promised it would never rise above, talk of a double-dip recession is remerging, and in general, no one is happy.

So now suddenly President Obama is again looking like a Jimmy Carter, one-termer …….a President who instills no confidence in the people, the markets, the economy or anything else. A President who lacks leadership and is controlled by circumstances far more than they controls circumstances.

But as quickly as things went from good to bad for President Obama, they could again change from bad to good. That is the nature of politics. But for Republicans, which condition is best for them to confront the President in during the 2012 election?

Are Republicans better off facing a President Obama who is severely wounded and hanging on to the doorknob of the Oval Office by his fingertips? Or a President Obama who has some clear positive results to hang his hat on? The answer may seem obvious but it is not.

When voters, particularly Republicans, are facing an incumbent President who is serving in times of great dissatisfaction, they often tend to go to extremes and produce a nominee  that is at the total opposite end of the Democrat incumbent President’s  ideology. In other words, they tend to nominate an extremely conservative presidential candidate. The best and most recent examples can be found in the 1964 and 1980 presidential elections.

In ’64 a troubled nation that was in the midst of riots and war protests and was embrking on the expansion of the welfare state, nominated Barry Goldwater to run against incumbent Lyndon Johnson. Goldwater lost big. But one must also consider the fact that in that election, Johnson was representing the legacy of a martyred President who was abruptly taken away from us by an assassins bullet. Nonetheless, political dissatisfaction did force Republicans to nominate an extremely conservative candidate who was as contrarian to Lyndon Johnson as possible.

In 1980, again a weary nation faced foreign strife that held Americans hostage, was in the midst of an energy crisis and had a crumbling economy with double digit unemployment and extremely high inflation (but as bad as it was, we still didn’t see our credit rating downgraded). In that election, Republican voters turned to Ronald Reagan, probably the most conservative voice of the day. That year Reagan won.

Depending on how bad things are in the nation under a President of one ideology, the futher to the opposite end of the ideological spectrum they go in the oppsoition leader they seek. So if President Obama remains critically wounded, does that mean the G.O.P. will nominate the most conservative candidate running? Will it turn to Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry or draw Sarah Palin into the contest and nominate her? If President Obama’s approval and the economy stabilizes, will Republicans nominate a more seemingly moderate voice like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty?

And of those two scenarios, which is better?

Is the G.O.P. better off nominating a candidate that is perceived as an extremist? Will such a conservative be able to defeat even a severely damaged President Obama? Or is the Party better off nominating a moderate voice and hope that the dissatisfaction with President Obama is so high that voters will still flock to ABO…… Anyone But Obama?

I do not have the definitive answer to those questions.  Given the infinitessimal number of factors that play a role in any given election and the endless number of different logisitcs between one election and another, I am not sure anyone can have a definitive answer to those questions.   But I  have a feeling about them. I believe that Barack Obama’s presidency has been so far to the left that in the minds of most Americans, it has highlighted an abundant degree of liberal thinking that is so antithetical to American democratic principles that people are willing to lurch quickly and sharply to the right in an attempt to take corrective measures that get the nation back on track and restore balance. Perhaps that is why many voters are still waiting for a voice that seems to be more conservative than the ones that are currently in the race.  It is certainly why Republicans regained control of the House in 2010.

How this dynamic will play itself out  is uncertain. That is what elections are for. If we knew who would win, we would forgo the process and save ourselves a lot of time and money. But in the interim, each of the most viable Republican candidates for President are seeking to prove themselves to be more conservative than the next.   That leaves the last question which is, can a nominee be too conservative?  Under the current TEA movement atmosphere, one can be too socially conservative but they can’t be too fiscally conservative. And there in lies the moderation that is key to winning the general election.

No matter what,  moderation of some sort is required to win the general election. For the most part, the independent voter does not want an ideological animal for President, they want a person with good  judgement and while ideology is important, it is not desired by them in extremes.  Richard Nixon’s saying is true. In the Republican primary you run far to right but in the general election you run to the middle. From the way things look right now, the G.O.P. candidate won’t have to run very far to the middle to beat President Obama, but for the sake of our nation, the G.O.P. must prevent President Obama from winning reelection. I believe the key to being successful at that lies within a G.O.P. that will be conservative enough to respect the Constitution.  That means they will stay out of our bedrooms, respect states rights, support a limited federal government, stand up for a strong national defense, and push for a government of less spending and more liberty.

That is easier said than done, but if the message is articulated right, American voters will be willing to give that messenger a chance and leave President Obama behind.

Bookmark and Share
%d bloggers like this: