Friday, February 04, 2011

York Spins a Bit Out of Control

UPDATE: Byron York meet Victor Davis Hanson (it's probably not fair to mention Jonah Goldberg)

The usually solid, clear thinking Byron York has gone a little wobbly. Maybe a small touch of Palin Derangement Syndrome? It's hard to break completely free of it since it's at a media high point right now what with WaPo's Dana Milbank calling for no mention of Palin in February irrespective of what happens in the real world.

York, in his usual insightful manner, points out that there is a division in the Reagan legacy ranks. There are the more establishment, personally conservative types who run the Reagan Presidential Library. But, only 60 miles away is the Reagan Ranch Center and Library run by the types who wanted Reagan to say "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" rather than drop it from his speech as was advised by their more cautious, politically correct brethren. It's sort of like the "cowboy" foreign policy of George Bush vs. the "bowing" foreign policy of Barack Obama. One is more interested in changing the world and the other in oiling the gears already in motion.

Governor Palin has been invited to give the primo address at the Reagan Ranch, thus highlighting the division since she is on the "cowboy" end of the spectrum.

York points out that Palin is going to speak on Reagan's 1964 "stark", "hard edged" call to action, "A Time for Choosing".
"At the Ranch Center, Palin will take another iconic Reagan text as her subject. 'A Time for Choosing' was Reagan's case for the presidential candidacy of Barry Goldwater, delivered a few days before the 1964 election. Speaking to a studio audience in Los Angeles, Reagan painted a stark choice between a government headed toward socialism and one dedicated to freedom. 'This is the issue of this election,' Reagan said. 'Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.'

"'It's time we ask ourselves,' Reagan continued, 'if we still know the freedoms that were intended for us by the Founding Fathers.'

"Does that sound familiar today? Watch Reagan's speech -- it's available on YouTube and elsewhere on the Web -- and you'll be struck both by the freshness of its message and the sternness of Reagan's delivery. This was not the soft-voiced grandfatherly man people remember from the White House years. This was Ronald Reagan in his prime -- he was 53 at the time -- delivering a hard-edged message."
Ah, there's the rub. Though it's still a fresh message, Reagan was immature in its delivery (if not its content). He was not "soft-voiced" nor "grandfatherly". Fortunately, he matured.

Interestingly, Palin is not stark or stern in her speaking style. She is upbeat and happy when she speaks and uses lots of humor to make her points, as Reagan did in his maturity. Palin has already matured as a speaker.
"But echoing Reagan's words and being Reaganesque are two different things. In 1964, Reagan was still 16 years away from becoming president. In that time, he not only served two terms as governor of California; he also devoted himself to studying the most important political questions of his day, carefully thinking through positions and gathering a team of advisers to work through a broad range of policy issues. It was a lot of preparation, and we haven't seen Palin doing that."
It was a lot of preparation. Reagan, himself, thought he was ready at least four years earlier in 1976 when he challenged President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination and lost.

Funny how 20-20 hindsight works. At the time no one saw Reagan doing all that studying and maturing. In fact one of the criticisms he faced in the 1980 campaign was that he was washed up politically. He had been out of office 5 years and had done nothing politically except lose the 1976 nomination and weaken Gerald Ford's chances of re-election. He was not on the cutting edge either in getting Republicans elected or driving policy discussion. He lost on the Panama Canal treaty debate--the most visible policy issue he pushed after leaving the governorship.

Conservatives loved him not because of his well thought out policy positions. It was not a slam dunk to defend him against the charge that he had problems with policy details. Conservatives loved him because he was, well, conservative. He championed smaller government. His policies, as well studied and formulated as they were, did not allow him to deliver on that as president. He championed American strength and going toe to toe with the Soviet Union. President Reagan won big on that.

York asks:
"Will she ever develop the substance to back up the Reaganesque message she will deliver this weekend? She's got time -- Palin is six years younger today than Reagan when he delivered 'A Time for Choosing'-- but she has a long way to go."
Palin has been very successful politically in her two years out of governorship. She has endorsed and campaigned for more than 60 winning candidates. She has been the most effective driver of popular and political rejection of ObamaCare. She has been the most effective force to keep the Tea Party within Republican ranks.

Reagan and Palin are different people, with different lives, interacting with different times. Greatness cannot be copied. York's desire for Palin to prove herself by shadowing Reagan's steps does not meet the common sense test of daily life. No person is a copy of any other person, nor does anyone achieve great success merely by copying another person's life steps.

However, just as Reagan's political preparation and greatness were mostly hidden before he became president, it's a good bet that neither we nor Byron York have the authoritative view of Governor Palin's "substance".

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