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Remembering Reagan: The passing of cordiality

One of the things I miss most from the Reagan era was the man’s grace and charm, especially with those who opposed him. He was the master of disagreeing without being disagreeable. Even when he was harshest with his opponents, it was done with a twinkle and was usually received with a wince.

Today, though, politics is a blood sport. Demonizing one’s adversaries has become a perquisite for high office. The bomb-throwers are now the mainstream, and the idea that collegial respect is now obsolete.

Looking back, I think I can see just when this began in earnest. It’s when the bomb-throwing members of both parties began to gain leadership roles. And it’s almost painful to admit that it wasn’t the Democrats who did it first.

The first bomb-thrower to gain great power had to have been Lee Atwater, who helped the first President Bush get elected. Atwater was a fun-loving man, but he was also a cold-blooded political operative who thought that virtually any tactic that got his man elected and kept the other guy out was fair game.

The second bomb-thrower had to have been Newt Gingrich. He was a firm believer in the spoils system when it came to Congress, and wasted no time in heaping scorn and contempt on those who opposed him.

Today, it seems that the Republicans have outgrown this stage, and a few are trying to recapture the Reagan spirit of fighting until 6:00, then getting together to share drinks and swap stories, much as Reagan and Tip O’Neill. But the bomb-throwers are in full ascendancy among the Democrats. John Kerry openly refers to the Bush administration as “corrupt” and “greedy,” Dennis Kucinich discusses them in openly conspiratorial terms, and Howard Dean… well, what can I say about Dean other than “YEARGH!”

I miss those days, of leaders recognizing the other side as “wrong,” but still respectable and honorable and decent. I miss the civilized discourse and debate. And I miss the needling rapier wit, now replaced with the meat cleavers, chain saws, and bombs.

Fortunately, there are signs that this is turning. The old cliché that “nothing succeeds like success” is nowhere more true than in politics. And the American people, especially when it comes to presidents, are much more comfortable electing someone who comes across as fundamentally happy than someone angry. Here’s hoping the trend continues.


Comments (12)

I used to have this (in ret... (Below threshold)

I used to have this (in retrospect, insane) vision in my head during the 80's. Tip and Gip, throwing down about whatever, and then Moynihan walks in the room:

"Can't I ever leave you two alone without the free world getting all a-glo?"

How are we supposed to have... (Below threshold)

How are we supposed to have drinks with people who think George Bush is the second coming of Adolf Hitler?

I'll drink only if I can spit it in their stupid, treacherous fucking faces.

Ummm... I didn't see Kenned... (Below threshold)

Ummm... I didn't see Kennedy or Bork anywhere in your analysis... one of the (if not the) first public lynchings in the current cycle.

Ken, I didn't mention Kenne... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Ken, I didn't mention Kennedy (I'm assuming you Anthony, not Ted) or Bork's confirmation hearings because I'm trying to trace it to when the bomb-throwers became leaders. Yeah, those were ugly incidents (as was Thomas'), but it was the escalation of the whackos to leadership positions that I'm marking as turning points.


Somehow you missed the whol... (Below threshold)

Somehow you missed the whole "hey let's impeach the president for an affair" crowd...

Jeez, Oliver, you need to p... (Below threshold)

Jeez, Oliver, you need to pay a little closer attention. Which leader was that? That wasn't a bomb-thrower, it was much of the Republican party.

And try as you and your fellow Clinton-lovers might, you still can't change the facts: Clinton was impeached (and disbarred) for lying about his affair, not the affair itself.

Which is not to say that he couldn't have avoided the whole issue by not having the affair in the first place.

Then again, there were all those other women...

I'm sorry guys, but this is... (Below threshold)

I'm sorry guys, but this is so delusional a thread I am nearly speechless. Are we forgetting that someone in this administration outted a CIA agent? Are we forgetting the misleading ads, like Kerry would raise the price of gasoline within 100 days of entering office. I will give you your comments on Kerry and the others, but Please do not make out Rove and Company to be Reagan Republicans, cause they are not.

David, what are you talking... (Below threshold)

David, what are you talking about? Who said anything about the Bush Administration being a reincarnation of the Reagan Administration? Granted, Jay did mention that he thought the tide was turning (I tend to disagree), but your comment sounds to me like you're reading a different conversation from the one I'm reading.

Hey Boyd. Sorry about that ... (Below threshold)

Hey Boyd. Sorry about that perhaps I worded my response poorly. What I was trying to say is that this administration does not share the civility of Reagans. As I mentioned recently on my Blog, I did not agree with Reagan on much, but he was a gentleman who created the kind of civility accross party lines that Bush promised. I dont see it in Bush, going back to the Election when McCain was attacked so viciously. Jay's comments imply that Kerry is doing something that Bush Chenney isnt. I disagree. There is as much nastiness (If not more), coming out of the Bush campaign.
Sorry for the misunderstanding. How are you Boyd?

I agree with you that there... (Below threshold)

I agree with you that there's nothing of Ronald Reagan in the current campaign. Glad we agree.

I've been busy with my new computer. I haven't been able to read many blogs since I picked it up on Friday.

Hope all's well with you in CR, David.

Sorry for the digression folks. You guys carry on with your own conversations. :)

Everything is going pretty ... (Below threshold)

Everything is going pretty good. We are having an event on the 24th with Cisco and a company called Sonic Wall, our second annual customer service seminar. Now back to topic, yes I am glad we agree too. I would love to see a campaign where we focussed on the issues, not the personalities. See the candidates address health care and employment and the war, without digressing into ancient history about who did what back in '78 on (EITHER SIDE).I believe both candidates would be more credible if they focussed on how they are going to solve the countries problems, instead of who is the biggest flip flop or liar (Cause frankly, arguments could be made for either side). I wrote a sort of conflicted piece on my Blog about Reagan... But one ofthe things I learned last week... or was reminded of... was what an incredibly kind and cultured man he was.
Man I can dissagree and debate with the best from the Right, but I dont see any reason to ever get nasty. I think that is one of the things that turns me off about absolutist from either side. There is Black. There is White, but there is also GRAY.

I concur, David. While I ma... (Below threshold)

I concur, David. While I may agree more with a right-wing shouter, I'd probably prefer to pass the time with a cordial, polite lunatic...er, I mean, liberal. :)






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