Richard Nixon never struck me as someone I would want to meet, let alone consider to have as a friend. I am sure the feeling would have
been mutual. We all know the Nixon story, but we forget that during his years as president, there was progress in such matters of
environmental protection, for example. Yes, the “movement” was in the air, but Nixon approved of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts passed by
Congress. His rapprochment with China certainly served as a high mark in diplomacy. Would Humphrey or McGovern have done just as well? It is unlikely they would have had to leave the White House in disgrace.
A few months after the inauguration of James Earl Carter as president in 1977, I was attending a utility organization committee meeting in Texas as my company’s representative. Most of the members, I believe, were to the right of center in politics, but certainly none that I knew were of the extreme stripes we see today.
Since I came from the East and liberal New York City, during a conversation I was taunted about Carter and asked what I thought of
him. I gave them an honest answer:
“I didn’t expect much from him and he has not disappointed me.”
I have never had occasion to withdraw that criticism. He may have been a good peanut farmer, a fair governor of Georgia and a fine Sunday
school teacher–and he certainly has been a remarkable leader for humanitarian causes in the past few decades–but I think he was a weak
president. My best memory of him is that, persuaded by a professor from Syracuse University, he decided that his legacy would be
deregulation, a movement which has led to much damage to our economy over the years.
Now we come to the icon of many members of the GOP and the TPs. Ronald Reagan, former actor, former governor of California. It is worth
noting that when Adlai Stevenson ran against Dwight Eisenhower, much was made of the former’s divorce and remarriage. I can’t remember
anything of that nature being said about Reagan’s similar marital existence. Yes, we do make progress, as we can see from the history of
the former speaker of the House of Representatives. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone, right? But maybe only if they
are on your side.
But I digress.
Reagan was accused by George Herbert Walker Bush, who became his vice president, of “Voodoo Economics” when RR set out to change the
scene in Washington. Memory is short. During his eight years in office, Reagan approved of 11–count them, 11–tax hikes, all
in the name of “fiscal responsibility.” But that’s why politicians and so much of the public are infected with Permanent Political Amnesia
(PPA), as I have named it. It can’t be, you say.
Reagan is known as a tax cutter, which makes him such an icon.
Damn the facts; leave me with the false impression, summed up in a phrase, “Whether it’s true or not, I believe it!”
A late political leader in Flushing and a great friend of ours, said that about people with PPA. That was before I named the
But, Mr. Turner and I, as students of history, both know that pedestals can crumble under the weight of some statues. So, please, let’s
remember Reagan as a charming man, a so-so actor and something less than a great president. Since I think very little of Carter’s legacy of
deregulation, I must point out that Reagan was a follower of that philosophy, which, unfortunately, has taken on the aura of a cult.
Now, as to GHW Bush: A nice, decent man, I believe, but perhaps not among the best ever in the White House. His Gulf War was not something
many people cheered about, but at least he listened to Colin Powell and we went into Kuwait well prepared and we pulled out after the mission
was accomplished. GHW may have wanted to do more, but he thought better of it, it seems, and we did not stay longer than needed.
Clearly, that message was not passed on to his heir.
As for his “Read my lips. No new taxes” comment, it was held against him and, of course, taxes were raised, but the economy went into a tailspin
in his term in office and James Carville’s comment, “It’s the economy, stupid,” in 1992 is as true today as it was then.
That bring us to William Jefferson Clinton, a great politician, a very bright man and a flawed one, like every one of us. As time goes by, I
think we will remember his accomplishments rather than his flaws. He is someone I think I would like to know. And that goes for Reagan and the first Bush, as well. I include TR, Justice Holmes and Ike in that list.
Although Clinton won re-election in 1996, Congress was controlled by the Republicans during his entire second term. Despite impeachment
proceedings, enough was done by Congress and Clinton that he left office with a strong economy in place and with a budget surplus. Let me repeat that for those with a bad case of PPA: Clinton left office with a strong economy in place and with a budget surplus.
His one big mistake, in my opinion–and it is a very big one as it turned out–was to approve the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of
1933, which imposed much-needed controls on banks. We may never agree on all the sources of our Great Recession, but I think even TP types–just might–agree that the unruly banks had much to do with it.
It says something about GWH Bush and Bill Clinton that in their post White House days they seem to have become friends in many ways and
together they have done a great deal of humanitarian work. Both have been admirable in that respect.
But, my admiration comments will be in very short supply–if any at all– when we come to the next eight years of The Shrub. He has caused a
national epidemic of PPA, at least among members of his party.