Monday, November 01, 2010

The President under siege

According to the New York Times, the president,
contending that his Administration never got from Congress the full economic plan needed to cure the recession, hailed his first two years in office today and insisted that he now had ''America on the mend.''

''For all our troubles, midterm finds this Administration and this country entering a season of hope,'' the President said at a White House news conference...

''We inherited a mess, we didn't run away from it and now we're turning it around''...

That's Ronald Reagan at his polling nadir -- 35% approval -- in January 1983. The unemployment rate: 10.4%, down slightly from the month preceding, when it peaked at 10.8%. The Democrats had just won 27 house seats with 54% of the aggregate House vote, boosting their majority to 267 seats (since they started the election with the majority, they had fewer targets to aim at than the Republicans today).

How did Reagan defend an economic stewardship that saw unemployment rise three full percentage points on his watch? 
''Acting forcefully and fairly,'' the President's review declared, ''President Reagan has averted the calamity-in-the-making which greeted him when he took office. By significantly reducing record inflation, taxation, interest rates, excessive spending and regulation, Ronald Reagan kept important promises to the American people.''

In his self-assessment at the White House, the President contended that the persistent recession marking much of his tenure was inherited, in effect, because the nation's troubles turned out to be ''even worse'' than those he described in seeking the office.

''My biggest regret is that because the accumulated damages piled up so high for so long, putting America's house in order has been a tough and painful task,'' Mr. Reagan said at a brief televised news conference designed to focus on his claim of success. Satisfaction With Cours

Though of course, things would have been better if there had been no opposition:
the President devoted the heart of his public appearances today to defending his record, hailing the drop in interest and inflation rates, and underlining the point, key to the Republicans' campaign for retaining the White House in 1984, that compromise with Congress had crimped his success.

Prompting this liberal media carp:
This was in contrast with proclamations by Administration officials in 1981 that the President had won ''95 percent'' of what he sought from Congress, and that the nine-month delay and 5 percent cut made in his tax reduction plan would have no major effect on his economic recovery plan.

Back then, Mr. Reagan himself had hailed the enacted program as proof that ''more cooks were better than one.'' He told Congressional supporters, ''We've got to prove that what we said about it is true - it'll work.''

There are those who say that Reagan communicated more effectively (and cheerfully) through his dark days than has Obama.  Perhaps:
In his own verbal reassessment, Mr. Reagan laced his comments with good cheer, beginning his review with the observation, ''How time flies when you're having fun.''

At the rally of party loyalists who took time off from their Government jobs, Interior Secretary James G. Watt warmed the crowd up with an exhortation that instantly brought them to their feet, cheering, applauding and offering rebel yells.

''Let Reagan be Reagan!'' Mr. Watt's cry rang through the hall, in obvious reference to conservative complaints that Mr. Reagan was being guided dangerously by moderate advisers.

The President, who seemed visibly excited when a giant American flag unfurled from the ceiling, called for persistence from his workers. He quoted the verse of Robert Service: ''So don't be a piker old pard! Just draw on your grit; it's so easy to quit: It's the keeping-your-chin-up that's hard.''
 To which I respond: let Obama be Obama. Detached, calm competence and propensity to speak to the American people as adults will wear well over time.

UPDATE: the WSJ's Jerry Seib notes some interesting parallels -- and differences -- between Reagan's situation in the winter of '82-83 and Obama's now.

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