Archive for November, 2008

Trish Crawford, Toronto Star, November 21, 2008, LIFE; Pg. L01

Every time Michelle Obama wears one of her unusual dress selections on television, the item flies off the shelves.

The famous $148 sundress she wore on The View and the J.Crew yellow suit she wore on Letterman were huge hits with shoppers, while the red dress she wore on her first visit to the White House proclaimed, says Bonnie Fuller in the Huffington Post, “I’m ready to be Page 1.”

Experts say it is she, not her president-elect husband, who will be setting fashion and cultural trends when the couple reaches the White House.

She nixed getting a designer pooch, saying her kids would adopt a rescue dog, and will continue this thrifty, socially conscious pattern throughout the term, predicts marketing guru Alan Middleton, of York University’s Schulich School of Business.

“She’s saying, ‘You don’t get much more down-to-earth that I am,'” says Middleton. He predicts there will be “a number of symbols that say, I am one of you.”

The American-made family car, a Ford Escape hybrid, is a perfect example of this, he points out, as it is both patriotic and environmentally responsible.

“It’s smart and good value,” Middleton says, “and I can see that in everything she does.

“This is the Hollywood side of politics. It’s that old star quality.”

Widespread interest, even adoration, doesn’t necessarily result in copycat behaviour, says political scientist Renan Levine, of the University of Toronto.

Jimmy Carter tried to get Americans to wear sweaters during the energy crisis of the ’70s and, even though he happily sported a cardigan, the style never really took off, Levine says.

On the other hand, he says, Ronald Reagan’s love affair with the colour brown was widely adopted in men’s clothing.

When fashions were adopted, such as Jackie Kennedy’s clothes and J.F.K’s refusal to wear a hat, they were widespread throughout the U.S., regardless of politics, Levine says.

“It has a bipartisan effect. The cultural impact is broad-based.”

He agrees it is Michelle Obama who is setting the style.

“No one has looked like her before. She is establishing a new palette.”

Alice Chu, an expert in fashion and colour at Ryerson University, notes the array of brightly coloured dresses provides a feminine silhouette.

“Her clothes say she is an individual, she’s intelligent and not fooling around.”

Her wardrobe differs greatly from the “very European and Anglo Saxon” outfits worn by Cindy McCain and Laura Bush, Chu says.

Michelle Obama is “showing a different side of the global, ethnic community.”

Chu, a member of the international team that yearly picks the fashion colours that will be popular, says the clear red dress Michelle Obama
wore to the White House after the election was an excellent colour for her.

Other good colours, Chu says, include black, white and purple, which she obviously has a fondness for, having worn it many times in public.

That “regal iris” evokes the royal purple of monarchy and is associated with strength and power, Chu says. Wearing black also evokes a “black is beautiful” undercurrent, she says.

Barack Obama’s preference for white shirts and dark suits sends a message that he’s “honest and straightforward.”

She expects white dress shirts to get a popular surge. Historian Gil Troy, of McGill University, agrees, saying everything about the new First Family will be scrutinized and copied by an adoring public.

“We’ve seen this thing before, with the Kennedys,” says the author of Mr. and Mrs. President, from the Trumans to the Clintons. “But the frenzy this time is going to be that much more intense.”

The press, which shares a “vibe” with the intellectual, urban Obama, is giving him a bit of a free ride right now, says Troy, feeding the public’s appetite for information about his favourite snacks (Planter’s Trail Mix), preferred drink (Black Forest Berry Honest Tea) and favourite book (Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls).

“This product placement is a boon for consumer manufacturers of all kinds.”

The Obamas, Troy says, are clever at making decisions, such as what car to buy, and “turning it into political points.” Saying this couple “is very coached,” he points out Michelle Obama has replaced early complaints about her “stinky, snoring husband” with the traditional supporting role. “Michelle didn’t play well. She was being passive aggressive,” Troy says of the early days of the campaign.

The couple has to give off an air of authenticity, Troy says. Any signs “that it is too faux, too calculating and on the make will cause a backlash.”

Their White House style will fit in with the new era of austerity, predicts Troy, but will still have sparkle and energy.

As he puts it, “They give great celebrity.”

Copyright 2008 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.

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By Gil Troy,HNN, 11-19-08

I agree with three of Allan Lichtman’s four “simple rules” suggesting how Barack Obama could be another Franklin D. Roosevelt. Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, among others, also knew to “Strike Early.” Americans’ desire to see their new president succeed gives an administration a great launching pad. “Bringing the People With You” is essential in a democracy. Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill described Americans’ insistence in 1981 that he give Ronald Reagan a chance to succeed. “Thinking Big and Broadly” is the example FDR set, and other successes such as John Kennedy followed. I lost Professor Lichtman on his fourth rule “Don’t Govern from the Middle.” In fact, Obama should lead from the center – but as a muscular moderate not a spineless centrist.

Lichtman builds his case against moderation by mentioning a grab bag of mediocre presidents. Actually, the greatest presidents including FDR led from the center. Being a muscular moderate entails having core principles, thinking big, but mastering the art of compromise too. Franklin Roosevelt understood that, as did the other president whom Lichtman identifies as a success, Ronald Reagan.

To understand Roosevelt as a moderate we have to recall the historian’s favorite text – context. When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in March, 1933, America’s prospects looked bleak, radicals demanded revolution. “Mr. President, if your program succeeds, you’ll be the greatest president in American history,” an admirer told Roosevelt. “If it fails, you will be the worst one.” Roosevelt responded: “If it fails, I’ll be the last one.” Against that backdrop, Roosevelt’s reforms were pioneering but temperate. He preserved private property. He restored American capitalism. The American welfare state he created was a stretch considering America’s past, but a far cry from European varieties, let alone the Soviet model so many American intellectuals desired.

In the historian Richard Hofstadter’s apt metaphor, FDR was a nimble quarterback, always scrambling but usually remaining within America’s constitutional boundaries. Perhaps Roosevelt’s greatest failure – his attempt during his second term to pack the Supreme Court – resulted from running out of bounds. The Court-packing scheme – adding up to six new justices for each justice over seventy – failed because Roosevelt overestimated his own power and the American people’s appetite for revolution. This miscalculation set back the New Deal – but taught FDR a valuable lesson. When World War II broke out in Europe, Roosevelt was a model muscular moderate – advancing forward in an important direction, toward intervention, but always staying half a step ahead of the American people, rather than outrunning them.

Similarly, Ronald Reagan proceeded more cautiously than conservatives hoped and liberals feared. From the start of his administration, Reagan demonstrated that he was not the president of the Republican Party or its conservative wing but president of the United States. The Reagan Library has many files filled with letters from conservatives blasting Reagan for being too accommodating. Reagan’s Cabinet, filled as it was with moderates like Alexander Haig and Malcolm Baldridge, let alone Rockefeller Republicans like Richard Schweiker, infuriated conservatives.

One of the few ideologues Reagan appointed to a high position, his Office of Management and Budget Director David Stockman, would write a kiss-and-tell book, “The Triumph of Politics,” complaining that the so-called Reagan Revolution was headed by an amiable former actor more interested in being popular than storming the big government Bastille. Ultimately, the Reagan Revolution slowed the rate of growth of government – but it preserved the New Deal status quo. Stockman’s glum conclusion was that American government was more “Madisonian,” fragmented, temperate, incrementalist, than he had hoped.

This moderation provides essential ballast in a democratic system. America remains a center-right nation – and a country of pragmatists wary of revolution. Even the American Revolution itself was a relatively mild, reasonable affair – compared to the French, Russian, and Chinese Revolutionary bloodbaths. In his victory speech, Barack Obama acknowledged the tens of millions who did not vote for him, whose support he will need to succeed. George W. Bush presidency should be remembered as a cautionary tale warning against the Karl Rove strategy of mobilizing the base and neglecting the center.

When President Bush struck early, thinking big and broadly, one Democratic senator proposed minor changes to Bush’s controversial tax cuts. The senator promised that with those compromises, “I guarantee you’ll get seventy votes out of the Senate.” Rove replied, “We don’t want seventy votes. We want fifty-one.” This polarizing take-no-prisoners attitude alienated many and derailed Bush’s presidency. The writer who recounted that anecdote was Barack Obama himself, in “The Audacity of Hope.” Obama then wrote: “Genuine bipartisanship … assumes an honest process of give-and-take, and that the quality of the compromise is measured by how well it serves some agreed-upon goal, whether better schools or lower deficit.” This is a great description of what muscular moderation is all about – and what Barack Obama needs to remember as he reads about FDR’s presidency – and plans to lead from the center in an Obama administration.

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By Gil Troy, HNN, 11-12-08

Historians have to navigate carefully when entering the strange, alluring world of media commentary. To maintain our integrity, we need boundaries. Presumably, those of us who comment believe that offering historical perspective even as history unfolds can elevate public debate, using current events as “teachable moments.” But most of the time journalists want us – especially on television – to do things we should not do, namely predict the future or determine the historical meaning of fleeting events as they unfold. Even on the air, historians should dodge certain questions. We should never predict. And we should sidestep premature queries such as “Is George W. Bush the worst president ever,” halfway through his term. Anyone who survived oral exams should be able to handle it. During last week’s remarkable redemptive moment as Barack Obama won the presidency, it seemed that most of the media wanted to trot out historians to certify that this election was indeed “historic.”

Of course, it does not take a Ph.D. in history to note that the first elevation of a black man to the White House in a country with America’s racist past was momentous. Moreover, every presidential election is historic given the attention we pay to voting and the job’s significance. But this question of “was this election historic” was fishing in deeper waters. Reporters wanted historians to label 2008 as significant as 1980 when Ronald Reagan launched his revolution or 1960 when John Kennedy inspired a generation or 1932 when Franklin Roosevelt tackled the Great Depression. And historians can safely say that there never had been such a cataclysmic domestic event during a general election campaign as this Crash of 2008. But we all know that it is too early to know whether Barack Obama’s presidency will be as transformative as he hopes. He could be the next Franklin D. Roosevelt – or Jimmy Carter redux.

As we wait to watch, and assess the historical impact of Barack Obama’s administration, we should start debating just what caused his victory. Here we have a legitimate “teachable” moment – showing how historians start thinking about a problem, start solving an historical mystery. One debate I have started with my students is whether Barack Obama won this election, or John McCain and the Republican lost it?

In asking the question, we have to acknowledge its artificiality. The accurate answer is “yes,” meaning it was a combination of factors. But the question gets students thinking about what were the most significant causes. My next step is suggesting that we construct a timeline of turning points, which helps answer the question and gets us to start weighing historical significance. I propose four turning points in this election:

— The first is Obama’s extraordinary 2004 Democratic National Convention speech. I believe historians will deem it more significant than William Jennings Bryan’s 1896 speech because it launched Obama into the celebrity stratosphere and toward the presidency.

— The second turning point is something that did not happen – or happened subsequently. Had Hillary Clinton run a war room as tough and efficient as her husband’s, and had her campaign uncovered the Jeremiah Wright tapes in the winter of 2008 before the Iowa caucuses, I doubt Obama would have won Iowa. This is a mischievous turning point, which raises questions about how historians assess missed opportunities, and speculate about potential outcomes. It also helps raise the question that will emerge as we start debating George W. Bush’s legacy – how do we assess something that did not happen, in his case, the fact that as of this writing there has been no catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil since 2001. How much credit can someone get for a bell that did not ring, a fear that was not realized. As for Hillary, how harshly do we judge a candidate or a campaign for overlooking what could have been a knockout blow?

— The third turning point is the market implosion. Whatever momentum McCain enjoyed after the Soviets invaded Georgia during the summer and his energized convention (thanks to Sarah Palin’s debut) vanished. As the fourth major disaster under George W. Bush’s watch, following 9/11, Iraq and Katrina, the financial crisis made it all but impossible for a Republican to win.

— Finally, I point to Obama’s performance during the debates, especially the third debate. That the young, inexperienced upstart Democrat appeared to be the mature candidate against his older, more experienced rival, made Obama look presidential and helped allay many Americans’ anxieties about this relative unknown.

This list is intended to trigger debate. Others would mention Hillary Clinton’s Super Tuesday strategy that ignored the causcuses, Sarah Palin’s nomination, McCain’s decision to suspend his campaign, Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war. It is important also to go beyond this event-driven list and talk about Obama’s extraordinary strategy, his effective use of the internet, and his brilliant ground game, organizing thousands of workers across the nation. And while the four turning points offer two affirmative actions of Obama’s and two events beyond his control, I ultimately conclude that Obama was lucky to be blessed with two flawed opponents.

For all the skills Obama demonstrated and the forces he marshaled, I argue that Hillary Clinton, John McCain, George W. Bush, and the Republicans lost this election as much as Obama won. Just as Ronald Reagan won an ABC election in 1980 – anybody but Carter – Obama won a GO George – Get Out George W. Bush –election this year. This conclusion does not diminish from the dare I say it, historic nature of Obama’s victory. Rather, it is an early attempt to plunge into the debate assessing the outcome of the wild, rollicking, unpredictable, and potentially transformative 2008 campaign.

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CBC Radio Canada International – The Link – Monday, November 3, 2008

Listen to the second part of the program 

Hour 2… 
VOTERS FROM U.S. MINORITY GROUPS SEEN AS PIVOTAL IN 2008: Throughout the U.S. Election campaign, we’ve heard much about American voters and what influences how they vote. But how do various ethnic groups, immigrant populations and other minorities figure in the 2008 presidential race? Gil Troy, a McGill University history professor specializing in modern U.S. political history and American presidential elections, joins Marc Montgomery to talk about the pivotal role ethnic and religious minorities could play in the outcome of the election, especially in the key states of Pennsylvania and Ohio.

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“This is not a generation of enduring loyalty,” said Gil Troy, a presidential historian at McGill University. “They have quicksilver loyalties compared to their parents. At some point, there’ll be a confrontation between hope and government.”


How Generation Y became Obama’s political animal

For a brief moment on election night, a 21-year-old University of British Columbia student and 15,000 friends managed to temporarily eclipse Barack Obama’s victorious glow.

Networks cut away from Chicago’s Grant Park to show a horde of fist-pumping youths chanting outside the White House.

Was it an angry mob? Or a rapturous celebration?

No one seemed to know, including CBC’s Henry Champ, who reported that the Secret Service was in a tizzy and that the crowd had co-ordinated the gathering using “text message machines.”

It was a symbolic capstone to Mr. Obama’s campaign, which lit a fire under Generation Y, those voters under 30 whose purported characteristics are anathema to the democratic process: apathetic, over-coddled, narcissistic, illiterate, hopeless.

The results could mark the biggest generational power shift in North American politics since baby boomers took the reins nearly two decades ago.

And thanks to a few Canadian political missionaries who volunteered for Mr. Obama, it’s a stumping style that is already creeping northward.

“That was no riot,” says Braeden Caley, a UBC political science major who campaigned for Mr. Obama in five states before marching to the White House gates on election night. “That was a celebration. And it was completely spontaneous, which gives you an indication of how this campaign worked.”

Mr. Obama’s campaign was a full-fledged youth movement. His field offices and online campaigns were run almost exclusively by bushy-tailed voters under 30 years of age.

They harnessed the young brains of Silicon Valley to co-ordinate everything from Mr. Obama’s rallies to his personalized text messages. And in the end, Mr. Obama drew an eye-popping chunk of the youth vote, outpacing John McCain in the under-30 segment by an unprecedented 2-to-1 margin.

As Mr. Obama said in his victory speech, the campaign “grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy, who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep.”

One of those sleep-deprived campaign workers was Ajay Puri, who along with Mr. Caley founded Canadians for Obama, a web-based group that sent 20 volunteers to Washington State, where they made up three-quarters of Mr. Obama’s Snohomish County team during the winter primaries.

“We didn’t care about sleep,” says Mr. Puri, 28, who spent most nights in a sleeping bag on the campaign office floor. “We cared about Obama.”

So what is it in Generation Y’s DNA that predisposes them to Obama devotion?

Born in 1961, Mr. Obama is the first Generation X president, though his personal tastes can skew much younger: from basketball and the Fugees to The Godfather and ESPN SportsCenter, according to his Facebook page.

His hopeful message resonated with a generation raised amid political cynicism, brought on largely by George W. Bush’s unpopular presidency in the United States and guarded minority governments here.

“He didn’t talk down to us,” says Rahaf Harfoush, a 24-year-old Torontonian who moved to Chicago for two months to volunteer with Mr. Obama’s new-media team. “He’s one of the very first politicians I’ve taken note of who spoke directly to us with policies like putting the lobbying database online and making himself and government more accessible online.”

In Chicago, Ms. Harfoush worked across from Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who directed the new-media campaign.

The social-networking guru helped launch My.BarackObama.com, a digital staging ground for ad-hoc rallies, volunteer opportunities, phone bank requests and other campaign events.

“You really felt like you were connected to a movement of people driven by the same goals,” says Ms. Harfoush, who cried 40 feet away from Mr. Obama when he delivered his victory speech. “He gave us the tools and said, ‘You be the change you want to see.’ He came to where we were – on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter – and said, ‘Here, you call the shots.’ ”

Mr. Caley has already brought the skills he learned on the Obama campaign to Canada. During the federal election he worked for Stéphane Dion’s UBC ground campaign, sending out numerous text messages and Facebook updates. Liberal support in the area increased from 30 to 50 per cent, according to Mr. Caley, who is supporting Bob Rae in the upcoming Liberal leadership race.

Others Canadian youths are waiting for a more inspiring candidate to come calling.

“Canadian politics are so dull, so boring,” Ms. Harfoush says. “If a candidate comes along who’s willing to invite our generation into the process, I’ll get behind them.”

But is there a best-before date on this youthful fervour?

“This is really a permanent generational sea change,” said David Madland, director of the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress. Mr. Madland predicts that Generation Y, which is nearly as large as the baby-boom generation, will form a huge block of voters who favour liberal policies, such as universal health care and high education spending, for decades to come.

But that view could overlook the fickle nature of under-30 voters, some say.

“This is not a generation of enduring loyalty,” said Gil Troy, a presidential historian at McGill University. “They have quicksilver loyalties compared to their parents. At some point, there’ll be a confrontation between hope and government.”

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A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)

by Gil Troy (Author)
Now Available for Pre-Order from Amazon.com
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA

Editorial Reviews

Product Description
“They called it the Reagan revolution,” Ronald Reagan noted in his Farewell Address. “Well, I’ll accept that, but for me it always seemed more like the great rediscovery, a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.”
Nearly two decades after that 1989 speech, debate continues to rage over just how revolutionary those Reagan years were. The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction identifies and tackles some of the controversies and historical mysteries that continue to swirl around Reagan and his legacy, while providing an illuminating look at some of the era’s defining personalities, ideas, and accomplishments. Gil Troy, a well-known historian who is a frequent commentator on contemporary politics, sheds much light on the phenomenon known as the Reagan Revolution, situating the reception of Reagan’s actions within the contemporary liberal and conservative political scene. While most conservatives refuse to countenance any criticism of their hero, an articulate minority laments that he did not go far enough. And while some liberals continue to mourn just how far he went in changing America, others continue to mock him as a disengaged, do-nothing dunce. Nevertheless, as Troy shows, two and a half decades after Reagan’s 1981 inauguration, his legacy continues to shape American politics, diplomacy, culture, and economics. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush modeled much of their presidential leadership styles on Reagan’s example, while many of the debates of the ’80s about the budget, tax cutting, defense-spending, and American values still rage.
Love him or hate him, Ronald Reagan remains the most influential president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, and one of the most controversial. This marvelous book places the Reagan Revolution in the broader context of postwar politics, highlighting the legacies of these years on subsequent presidents and on American life today.

About the Author

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Visiting Scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, DC. A frequent media commentator, his writings have appeared in the Washington Post, Newsday, the New York Times Book Review, the National Post, and other publications. He is the author of Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s and Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.

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Leading from the Center

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Leading from the Center (Kindle Edition)

by Gil Troy (Author)

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