Sunday, November 24, 2013

Chris Matthews' delusion in Tip and the Gipper

If the New York Times had asked me to write a review of Chris Matthews’ new book on the relationship between ’80s era House Speaker Tip O’Neill and President Reagan, it would have pretty much been, at least in substance, exactly what David Greenberg wrote on Friday.

Beside having a good guffaw at the suggestion that so many wonderful things got done because of the friendly relationship between the two men, I would have pointed out, as did Greenberg, this:

But on the key legislative issue of Reagan’s presidency — the 1981 fight over his budget, which slashed taxes on the rich — O’Neill simply got rolled. Spooked by the president’s popularity, which surged after he was shot by John Hinckley in March of that year, O’Neill failed to compete with Reagan in the new age of media politics. Worse, he also came up short in his supposed strong suit — riding herd on his caucus — as scores of Democrats, fearing the tax-cutting bandwagon, defected to back the Reagan bill. The consequences — skyrocketing budget deficits and debilitating inequality — have plagued us ever since.

There other thing about the Reagan presidency that I find crazy-making is the suggestion, frequently accepted by the dolts on Morning Joe among other places, that Reagan presided over a period of peace, love and good will in which everyone felt included in America’s prosperity and to which we should return if we understand our own best interests.

Many insiders did indeed swoon over the president’s ready charm, but his election depended just as crucially on his very public meanness, his zest for the punitive — the vows to crack down on domestic spending, “welfare queens” and the Evil Empire. An account of Reagan’s triumph that locates the key in his Hollywood smile cannot explain the victories that the conservative movement continued to enjoy after his exit.

Yes, Reagan did usher in something, and we are now living with the ugliness of the Tea Party movement as a reminder of exactly what that was.

(Cross-posted at Raggy Waltz.)

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