Just Above Sunset
June 13, 2004 - Capturing lightning in a bottle - The Reagan Magic Formula

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Do the Democrats need their own Ronald Reagan?  Ezra Klein has some thoughts on that:


Much is made of Reagan’s intelligence, or lack thereof.  What’s lost in the constant condescension is that simplicity can be a weapon and complexity a handicap.  While we revel in politicians who can easily rattle off budgetary minutiae, that sort of speech turns off most listeners.  So while our great orators let their rhetoric soar around the specific, hopscotching from fact to argument to evidence; his built up from the general, consciously converting oversimplifications into policy statements.  While studies back us up on welfare, his invocation of the welfare queen with her Cadillac was a much stronger retort than our Brookings report.  It’s less honest but more effective, a devil’s trade we rarely make. 

Finding a candidate with the communicative ability and the brilliance we desire is tough; Clinton was such a man and it was that silver tongue that saved him from his wandering crotch.  John Edwards was another, though he lacked the wonkish quality that comforts us.  Kerry’s speech almost parodies the problem, if and when he wins, his victory will repudiate Bush more than glorify him.  His inauguration will be a triumph over his talent on the podium, not a function of it. 

The upside is that the right hasn’t recaptured the magic either.  Neither Bush Sr. nor Dole could be considered powerful orators.  Bush Jr. captures Reagan’s simplicity but can’t translate it into powerful rhetoric.  As his string of failed speeches attests to, Americans are not turned on by reduced absolutism alone. 


So, let’s see here. 


Keep it powerful AND keep it simple-minded.  The Reagan magic. 


Bush only has the simple-minded part down pat.  The other half is missing – something to say. 


Kerry has much too say.  And says it with nuance and detail – that man just cannot keep it simple, because it never is simple.  But, damn, it’s dull. 

It sure is hard to please the American electorate. 

And too I see the British fellow turned American, Andrew Sullivan, who thinks Ronald Reagan hung the moon (he just worships the man), and thinks Margaret Thatcher was our modern Athena (Minerva) – simply the best of all women - in spite of all this, has just about given up on the Republican Party.  He’s ticked off.  Yes, it is hard being a gay conservative. 

His problem? 


Just read this story about the Texas Republican Party.  Their convention began with prayers and invocations, as any religious gathering might do.  One pastor who spoke to the group said the following: "Give us Christians in America who are more wholehearted, more committed and more militant for you and your kingdom than any fanatical Islamic terrorists are for death and destruction.  I want to be one of those Christians." Then [he] read the platform, proposing, among other things, "new restrictions on lawsuits brought over exposure to asbestos" and making it a felony for anyone to perform a marriage for a same-sex couple.  If you want to know why someone who loved Ronald Reagan can no longer support the Republican Party, then the extremism of George W.  Bush's own party in his home state is Exhibit A. 

Republicans who say that these people do not represent the GOP as a whole can prove this by taking them on.  But they won't, will they?  They never do. 


Things are never so simple. 


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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