Tuesday, February 28, 2006

On Narratives 1: 'I am the Greatest!'

It seems to be conventional wisdom that the greatest US president of the latter half of the last century was Reagan, who is now viewed with a sort of Rushmore-like perfection of a year, making W all the more wanting to conservatives in comparison to the Gipper.

The arguments are a mix of covert and overt suggestions: that Reagan ushered in a era of growth; the social conservative idea that he slowed the excesses of liberalism going back to the New Deal; and most potently, that he single-handedly won the Cold War, staring Gorbachev down and psyching him out with the SDI. This narrative of course supposes that Star Wars, with its multibillion-dollar brilliant pebbles, was the straw that broke the back of the Russian economy.

I have to imagine, Reagan would be more humble, based on his autobiography, about his role in the Cold War. The argument that without Reagan, America would have lost the Cold War is attractive to the myth, but explicitly denies that our way was better. Was it the problems of Communism that lead to the system's collapse and not just the foreign policy of a single administration?

It reminds me of my candidate for greatest president of the latter 20th century, William Jefferson Clinton, and how he is so likely to be condemned by conservatives for being distracted by the troubles over his sex life they were excerbating. Such that, when a future threat to America was being targeted in Sudan and Afghanistan, they were doing all they could to mock this action as showboating with presidential power to distract the populace whilst tying his hands as to authority as commander-in-chief.

Both Reagan and Clinton had triumphs and mistakes, but no one will point out the elephant in the room, that Reagan's greatest mistakes were caused by his overreliance on delegation coupled with him now being non compos mentis in his 2nd term. If you compare his fluid rapport in his debates with Carter versus his more hesistant debates with Mondale, you can understand why concerns about his senility were palable enough for Reagan to need to defuse with "I will not make an issue of my opponent's relative youth and inexperience"(paraphrase). Joking aside, when Reagan was recovering from prostate surgery under various painkillers was when Col. Oliver North came to see him to authorize a classified policy which would ultimately lead to the Iran-Contra scandal.

Who today can think of all the scandals we heard of in Clinton's time, quaint in the light of smoking office towers which inaugerated our current era. We know see the effects of that time in its popularization and experiments with the Internet, something which is so interwoven into business considerations that one would be hard-pressed to imagine if this would be possible without Clinton's advocacy. So I say that if Reagan get this credit for ending the Cold War, Clinton should get the same credit for making possible the revolution in technology which we are only beginign to undestand today.

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2 Comments:

At 5:51 PM,

Just stumblin' through, but how you can put Clinton ahead of Roosevelt is beyond me.

 
At 8:34 AM,

Anonymous,

I wondered too why I would do such a thing (this entry is over a year old) but the key would be in the repeated emphasis on 'the latter half of the last (20th) century' which I would consider to include anything after 1950, thus in no way diminishing the efforts of FDR, who straddles the first half of that century as a political colossus.

 

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