Wednesday, January 13, 2016


In a The New York Times commentary on President Obama's State of the Union address, Peter Baker states the obvious:
The country described by the president on Tuesday night in his final State of the Union address is the most powerful nation on earth and on the rise again, with more jobs, better health care and stunning innovation. Although grappling with serious challenges, it is poised for greater progress.

By contrast, the country that Republican presidential candidates will depict on Thursday night in their next nationally televised debate is a darker place, a once-great power that has lost ground in a dangerous world, surrendered its authority and leadership with allies and enemies alike, and diminished freedom and opportunity at home.

Whichever view ultimately seems more credible to the public will help determine who succeeds Mr. Obama next January and sets the nation’s course for the following four years.
Baker quotes a former Obama speechwriter, who thinks -- as many observers do -- that the GOP approach, at least in the Donald Trump version, is doomed to failure:
“Tonight was President Obama’s morning-in-America response to the malaise speech that the Republican candidates have been delivering for the last year,” said Jon Favreau, the president’s former chief speechwriter. “From Reagan to Clinton and Obama, people have never elected a pessimistic president who talks about America like it’s a ‘Mad Max’ movie.”
But is that true? Specifically, is that true about Ronald Reagan?

Everyone remembers Reagan's "sunny optimism," but in his acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican convention, he really brought the doom and gloom:
Never before in our history have Americans been called upon to face three grave threats to our very existence, any one of which could destroy us. We face a disintegrating economy, a weakened defense and an energy policy based on the sharing of scarcity....

First we must overcome something the present Administration has cooked up: a new and altogether indigestible economic stew, one part inflation, one part high unemployment, one part recession, one part runaway taxes, one part deficit spending and seasoned by an energy crisis. It’s an economic stew that has turned the national stomach. It is as if Mr. Carter had set out to prove, once and for all, that economics is indeed a “dismal science.”

Ours are not problems of abstract economic theory. These are problems of flesh and blood; problems that cause pain and destroy the moral fiber of real people who should not suffer the further indignity of being told by the White House that it is all somehow their fault....

Our problems are both acute and chronic....

The American people are carrying the heaviest peacetime tax burden in our nation’s history – and it will grow even heavier, under present law, next January. This burden is crushing our ability and incentive to save, invest and produce. We are taxing ourselves into economic exhaustion and stagnation....

Thanks to the economic policies of the Democratic party, millions of Americans find themselves out of work. Millions more have never even had a fair chance to learn new skills, hold a decent job, seize the opportunity to climb the ladder and secure for themselves and their families a share in the prosperity of this nation....

Adversaries large and small test our will and seek to confound our resolve, but the Carter Administration gives us weakness when we need strength; vacillation when the times demand firmness.

Why? Because the Carter Administration live in the world of make-believe. Every day, it dreams up a response to that day’s troubles, regardless of what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow. The Administration lives in a world where mistakes, even very big ones, have no consequence.

The rest of us, however, live in the real world. It is here that disasters are overtaking our nation without any real response from the White House....
Yes, I'm cherry-piking these quotes to some extent -- but there's a lot to cherry-pick. Reagan did also say,
The American people, the most generous on earth, who created the highest standard of living, are not going to accept the notion that we can only make a better world for others by moving backwards ourselves. Those who believe we can have no business leading the nation. I will not stand by and watch this great country destroy itself under mediocre leadership that drifts from one crisis to the next, eroding our national will and purpose. We have come together here because the American people deserve better from those to whom they entrust our nation’s highest offices, and we stand united in our resolve to do something about it.
In other words, he was going to make America great again.

In 1980, the public bought this. Will the public buy gloom and doom this year? Well, Frank Luntz conducted a State of the Union focus group last night, and it's clear that the Republicans, at least, agree that America is a nightmarish hellscape:

And that we're failing at all sorts of things:

Close to half the country apparently thinks we live in Mad Max America. That's not unprecedented. It's reminiscent of 1980.

Reagan seemed sunny because, ultimately, he radiated cheerfulness. But Donald Trump often seems to be enjoying himself, too. In a pessimistic country, that may be enough positivity to get elected.


Victor said...

Luntz is one of the people responsible for turning the GOP voters into rabid versions of Pavlov's dogs, ready to salivate at approved talking points, and snarling and snapping, trying to get a juicy hold of the jugular, of anyone who who doesn't agree.

Nothing short of turning Iran into the largest nuclear-heat fused desert, would cause the rabid base to think positively of US policy towards that long term nemesis.

And nothing short of seeing trainloads of Hispanics heading South past fields of singing darkes working in the fields, would make them think positively of out economic situation.

Frank, you were one of the primay sociopathic assholes who taught this rabid GOP monster of a base what to say, and what to snarl and spit, in response.

Enjoy your handiwork.
Because soon, it may come for your juicy jugular.

Mark Kromer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BKT said...

Here's where I meant to leave this comment:

I really don't understand the Conservative fear of everything. Daesh is not a credible threat to this country. Hell, I don't even think China or Russia are serious threats to do us harm, and they actually HAVE long-range nuclear weapons. If we could get through the tension of the mid-20th century Cold War without annihilating ourselves, I'm pretty sure we can weather whatever a penny-ante regional religious sect can cook up.

If you're going to traffic in anxiety, at least make it about something that is real. This Tom Engelhardt piece does a nice job of putting things in perspective:

Glennis said...

Seriously? They laughed to hear that the US was the strongest in the world? WTF is wrong with these people?

Feud Turgidson said...

Standard psychology requires the one already leading the pack to be upbeat about what's been done, where things are headed, how things are better than before, who should get the credit, & that the pack should Stay the Course - while the one who wants the lead the other already has needs to sow wintry discontent, throw poop on the fading day as a sacrilege on a crusted-over sepia memoire of a past full of puppies every day frolicking in the Sun, cartoonishly depict a future of Armageddon in comic sans, point the Fickle Finger of Fault at the current leader of the pack, & remind the pack of its heroic history of having used its superior its superior breeding to rebel against its origins in puppy mills & dumpster diving.

Unsalted Sinner said...

So the Republicans in Luntz' focus group laughed at the claim that the US is the strongest nation in the world. I wish he had asked them which country they think has taken that place. Russia? China? Iran? ISIS?