2.03.2008

Campaign 2008: Claiming the Questionable Past to Remake the Future, Part I

(This is the first part of a two-part commentary. To read the next part, please go here.)

by Laura Snedeker


Remember the good old days? The good old days of JFK and Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton? They are back, courtesy of the 2008 campaign. But as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and former Governor Mitt Romney fight over Reagan’s legacy, and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) stake claims on two of the last century’s Democratic presidents, their grounding in reality looks shakier than ever.

CNN appropriately held the most recent Republican event that some called a “debate” at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, where the presidential candidates tried to conjure the spirit of the Gipper with the aid of moderator Anderson Cooper.

In response to a question about whether Americans were “better off than they were eight years ago,” Senator McCain tried to comfort those uncertain about the future with a reference to the past. “I think we went on a spending spree that, frankly, betrayed Ronald Reagan’s principles about tax cuts and restraint of spending.”

Republican talk about spending restraint, now as well as during Reagan’s two terms in office, never includes the bloated defense budget. As the White House’s official biography notes, Reagan “embarked on a course of cutting taxes and Government expenditures, refusing to deviate from it when the strengthening of defense forces led to a large deficit.”

Over the past eight years, defense spending has risen by more than 30 percent.* Reuters tells us this week President George Bush is expected to ask for $515 billion for the Pentagon for this year, on top of the $70 billion the administration has said it will request for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the president has indicated he will limit spending on transportation and education.

Cooper’s Reagan-centric questions at the debate pandered to the candidates’ quest to be the next Ronald Reagan. When asked whether the late president would have endorsed him, former Massachusetts Gov. Romney responded:

“I would be with Ronald Reagan. And this party, it has a choice, what the heart and soul of this party is going to be, and it’s going to have to be in the house that Ronald Reagan built.”

That “house” (probably built by scab laborers) proved remarkably unstable over time, although sadly absent from the conversation was any mention of Reagan’s poor record in the Middle East. “So too, in Afghanistan, the freedom fighters are the key to peace. We support the Mujahadeen,” he said in his last State of the Union address, a chilling reminder of what his blind hatred for the Soviet Union wrought in that country, and in ours. Any mention of Reagan’s cozy relations with Saddam Hussein was apparently deemed too sensitive to mention as well.

*Checking figures from the Center for Defense Information and GlobalSecurity.org reveal the rate is at least 38 percent.

(To see the second part of this commentary, please scroll down, or go here.)

(Political graphic by The Heretik, who offers graphics for use via Photobucket. To see a selection of the Republican discussion at the Reagan Library, please check below.)













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