Archive for the ‘Quoted’ Category


Joanna Weiss, Boston Globe, 10-9-12

For those of you despairing about the nasty tenor of elections today, the ugly partisanship of politics, the polarity of the press: Be happy you weren’t around in the 19th century.

Fox News vs. MSNBC? That was nothing. The early 1800s were known as the “Dark Ages of Partisan Journalism,” says Gil Troy, a history professor at McGill University. Too much talk about Cherokees? Big deal. The fight between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, in 1800, got so ugly that Abigail Adams despaired that the shenanigans could have “ruined and corrupted the minds and morals of the best people in the world.”

So it went, at a time when the party apparatuses were as ruthless as any super PAC, the newspapers were proud to take sides, and outrageous charges went out in handbills, the precursor to TV ads and direct mail. The flip side: Everybody cared. Election season was “the great national pastime before baseball,” Troy says, filled with carnivals and rallies designed to get out the vote. Voting rates were high, and only started dropping toward the end of the century — at about the same time as a national move to clean elections up and talk more about the issues.

“The American heart itself is divided,” Troy says. “We want a campaign that is suitable for the salon and the seminar room, but we actually respond better to a campaign with mud and blood.”

Consider that while watching the next debate. And consider these highlights of 19th-century bare-knuckle politics.

Jefferson v. Adams, 1800: Attack of the Personal Attacks!

Remember those founding fathers, so brilliant, so inspirational? They were also mean. Jefferson was accused of being pro-French and running a “Congo harem” out of Monticello. Adams was accused of conspiring to marry his daughter off to the British king’s family, in order to establish a royal bloodline. Also, foes said he had smuggled British prostitutes across the Atlantic to serve his needs.

Andrew Jackson v. John Quincy Adams, 1828: Swift Boats + Birtherism!

Jackson was accused of murdering defectors in the War of 1812 — charges laid out in what becomes known as the “Coffin Handbill.” He was also accused of having an illegitimate marriage, because his wife, Rachel, had been divorced. Meanwhile, Jackson supporters accused Adams of serving as a pimp for the Russian czar. Jackson won, but Rachel died before the election, likely of a heart attack. Jackson believed the election had broken her heart.

Abraham Lincoln v. Stephen Douglas, 1860: Our Looksist Nation.

Yes, they had those rhetorically brilliant 1858 debates, but the election of 1860, waged in a fiercely divided country, also honed in on the candidates’ appearances. It’s hard to imagine political parties going there today: Lincoln supporters mocked Douglas, a stout man of 5’4”, for being “as tall as he is wide.” (Even Douglas’s allies call him “The Little Giant.”) Lincoln foes, well into his presidency, made fun of him for looking like an ape.

Grover Cleveland vs. James G. Blaine, 1884: Nasty attacks, plus rhyme.

Blaine, known for his corruption, had to put up with chants of “James G. Blaine, continental liar from the state of Maine.” (It’s a good thing he wasn’t from West Virginia.) Meanwhile, Cleveland was accused of fathering an illegitimate child, leading to chants of “Ma, Ma, Where’s my Pa?” When he won, his supporters came up with a response: “Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!”

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Associated Press, 9-4-12


Analysis: Obama has little choice but to persuade

Source: AP, 9-4-12

Remembered for soaring speeches at the last two Democratic conventions, President Barack Obama faces much tougher constraints Thursday when he accepts his party’s nomination for a second time.

Now he has a four-year record and must convince Americans to stick with the status quo in a climate of high unemployment, fallen home values and wide income disparity.

Given the tough environment, less lofty oratory is almost certain. And Obama has little choice but to walk a careful line as he unspools his vision for America’s future while picking apart Republican Mitt Romney’s plans for taxes, Medicare and the environment.

Overtly ambitious or novel proposals could invite an obvious rebuke: If it’s such a great idea, what hasn’t the president already done it?

“Obama is definitely in a presidential pickle,” said McGill University presidential scholar Gil Troy. “The candidate of hope and change now has reality to contend with, including disappointments and messes.”

The best re-nomination speeches — Ronald Reagan’s 1984 “morning in America” and Bill Clinton’s 1992 “bridge to the 21st century” — included “a heroic narrative of renewal,” Troy said. Obama must give a flavor of that Thursday, he said, despite a serious handicap: The economy lacks the obvious upward trend that boosted Reagan’s campaign.

“Obama has not gotten that statistical gift,” Troy said, “so he has to compensate with oratorical gifts.”

Great oratory has a mixed record in presidential campaigns.

Dwight Eisenhower and George W. Bush are among those who won two terms with lackluster speaking styles.

Obama excelled in big forums from the start. He rocketed to national fame at the 2004 Democratic convention, where his “one America” speech largely overshadowed the nominee, John Kerry.

“There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America,” Obama told the adoring crowd in Boston. “There’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”

When he accepted the nomination four years later in a huge outdoor stadium in Denver, Obama deplored “the broken politics in Washington.”

“America, we are better than these last eight years,” he said. “We are a better country than this.”

Now, of course, Obama is the incumbent under the microscope. Unemployment is higher, Washington’s politics are more bitterly partisan than before and the notion of no liberal-conservative divide seems naive at best.

Reagan’s “morning in America” optimism might be ridiculed in today’s climate. And rhetorical flourishes by Obama could add fuel to Republican jibes that he is much better at talking than leading.

But Obama can hardly afford to assume the dour demeanor of Jimmy Carter.

A presidential challenger can use big speeches to criticize the incumbent in detail while offering less-specific, even gauzy, alternatives. That’s what Romney did last week in Tampa, Fla., say Democrats, who repeatedly cite his lack of detailed explanations for claims that he can cut taxes, increase military spending and reduce the deficit.

Obama doesn’t enjoy that leeway. He’s constrained in looking both backward and forward.

He must defend his four-year record, of course. But fierce resistance from tea party-influenced Republicans has thwarted some of his key proposals, including jobs bills. His biggest legislative achievement, the 2010 health care overhaul, sharply divided the country and gave Republicans a new battle cry: “Repeal Obamacare.”

The same partisan dynamics could crimp Obama’s ability to offer a second-term agenda. With Republicans likely to retain control of the House along with filibuster powers — if not an outright majority — in the Senate, bold new Democratic proposals might seem implausible.

Still, a range of scholars and operatives urge Obama to err on the side of ambition and specificity.

“We think the country is desperate to know where the president wants to take the country — his vision and plan in the face of weak recovery but more important, the long-term problems facing the country,” veteran Democratic consultants James Carville and Stan Greenberg said in a memo released Tuesday. “The more robust and serious his plans are for American energy production and independence, for infrastructure and America’s modernization, for advancing education and innovation, for getting health care costs down,” they wrote, “the more the Republicans will look irrelevant.”

Carville and Greenberg urged Obama to hammer at Romney’s plans to preserve income tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans while also cutting taxes on investment income that applies mainly to the rich.

Voters “are rightfully angry and increasingly populist,” the two men said.

Troy agreed that Obama should risk being labeled too liberal if that’s what it takes to defend his stimulus plan and auto industry bailout. Both initiatives generally got higher marks from economists than from average Americans.

The president can talk about the bailout “as a reflection of a government that is good, a government that works,” Troy said.

He said the president should use Thursday’s speech to “invite Americans back into the Obama narrative. He has to sell Brand Obama.”

The president might skip many of the flourishes that wowed the crowd in Boston eight years ago. Instead, expect him to try to use the speech — one of the last remaining prime-time, heavily watched events of the campaign — to put the best possible face on a grim economy, and to convince voters that Romney would make it worse.

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Source: The Globe & Mail, 1-25-11

…History suggests Abraham Lincoln’s faith in “the better angels of our nature” has been a fleeting sentiment in American politics. Indeed, his 1861 inaugural appeal to secessionists preceded by only five weeks the outbreak of the paradoxically named Civil War.

Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, with its “self-evident” truths, among them the belief that all men are created equal. Yet, while campaigning for president in 1800, his political pamphlets derided John Adams as “having a hideous hermaphroditical character.”

“Politics could get very raw and tough in those days,” McGill University history professor Gil Troy explained in an interview. But incivility in American politics “has waxed and waned.”

The framers of the U.S. Constitution understood human nature. They wanted to prevent American society from degenerating into rigid, ideologically driven factions – and their potential for destructive conflict. They designed a political system to favour consensus over confrontation.

“They hoped there would be enough countervailing forces and conflicting loyalties, and enough of a sense of a common cause and big-picture nationalism, that there wouldn’t be these permanent parties,” Prof. Troy said.

Instead, rabid partisanship is as much a pillar of American politics as the separation of powers. And it is no coincidence that the current language of political debate rivals in vitriol the worst periods of past two centuries.

“What’s going on in our politics is a reflection of what’s going on in our culture,” Prof. Troy, an American native, added. “We’re in a phase in our history where our culture’s become extremely vulgar. The blogosphere is extremely shrill.”…

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FRANK RICH: Let Obama’s Reagan Revolution Begin:

Source: NYT, 1-8-11

…The present-day radicals donning Reagan drag, led by Sarah Palin, seem not to know, as Cannon writes, that their hero lurched “from excessive tax cuts to corrective tax increases disguised as tax reform” and “submitted eight unbalanced budgets to Congress in succession.” Reagan made no promise whatsoever of a balanced budget in the document that codified Reaganomics, his White House’s 281-page message to Congress in February 1981. The historian Gil Troy has calculated that spending on entitlement programs more than doubled on Reagan’s watch. America slid into debtor-nation status, and Americans “went from owing 16 cents for every dollar in national income in 1981” to owing 44 cents per dollar in 1988….

At this point the speed of our own halting recovery is not in the president’s hands. The ability to remake his style of leadership still is. But that makeover can come only from him, not from old Clinton hands in a reshuffled West Wing. Without it, the miracle of his Christmas resurrection could be over by Easter…. –

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Obama’s Choice of Daley Fits Mold for Embattled Presidents

Bringing in an outside critic to run his operation might help change the narrative of the presidency.

by Ben Adler, Newsweek, 1-6-11

President Obama listens as new White House Chief of Staff William Daley makes a statement in the East Room of the White House. J. Scott Applewhite / APPresident Obama listens as new Chief of Staff William Daley makes a statement in the East Room of the White House.

Bill Daley, whom President Obama has just named to be his new chief of staff, is a banker, former Commerce secretary under Bill Clinton, and the brother and son of Chicago mayors. This may sound like a fairly typical Obama appointment, but it is actually a significant shift. Daley, a centrist, has been publicly critical of the direction of the Democratic Party under Obama. In 2009 he wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post warning Democrats, “Either we plot a more moderate, centrist course or risk electoral disaster not just in the upcoming midterms but in many elections to come.” Last year he told The New York Times that the White House had “miscalculated” on health-care reform. “The election of ’08 sent a message that after 30 years of center-right governing, we had moved to center left—not left.” And when former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel asked Daley, the Midwest chairman of JPMorgan, to lend his support to financial regulations, which would have been a public-relations coup for the administration, Daley declined, saying he opposed the proposal.

Sure, Obama wants an emissary from the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party in a core strategic role. But Daley’s past harsh words could also help the ailing president. To bring in an external critic as chief of staff is an unusual move, but it is not unprecedented. Recent history shows that presidents have made such pivots at similar junctures, when they were politically embattled and seeking to recapture the political center or change the narrative of their presidency.

In 1987 Ronald Reagan replaced his chief of staff, Donald Regan, who had taken a lot of blame for the administration’s embarrassing Iran-contra scandal. Reagan brought in Howard Baker, the Republican Senate leader from Tennessee, a relative moderate. (Years earlier he had called Reagan’s supply-side tax policy “a riverboat gamble.”) “He reflected the more moderate wing of the GOP that felt Reagan had gone too far in his budgetary policies that were busting the deficit,” Julian Zelizer, an expert on American political history and professor at Princeton University, wrote in an email. “In this case, the criticism [Baker had made of Reagan’s policies] was in some ways a positive for his later appointment as chief of staff since it signaled that Reagan had moderated his views by bringing in someone who held different perspectives into his inner circle.”

Another analogy is Erskine Bowles, whom Bill Clinton tapped as chief of staff in 1997 during his period of “triangulation,” after the Democrats had suffered their massive defeat in the 1994 midterms, similar to what they endured this past November. Bowles brought many of the same qualities to the job that Daley will. “Clinton was turning to someone who was corporate, pragmatic, centrist—to signal his move to the center, and actually get there effectively,” says Gil Troy, an expert on the American presidency who teaches history at McGill University.
Of course, President Obama emphasized Daley’s experience rather than ideological convictions in announcing his appointment. In that light, the historical analogy is Ronald Reagan’s choice of James Baker as his first chief of staff in 1981. Baker had worked for President Gerald Ford in his bitter primary battle against Reagan in 1976 and had managed the campaign of Reagan’s primary rival, George H.W. Bush, in 1980. Baker could be said to come from the mainstream establishment wing of the party relative to Reagan’s conservative insurgency. But Reagan was not perceived as choosing Baker to signal an ideological shift, but just to take advantage of his managerial skills and political savvy. To the extent that President Obama’s perpetually grumpy liberal base perceives Daley’s appointment as fitting that mold, rather than as a directional pivot, it may dampen their criticism. Liberal standard-bearer Howard Dean, for example, praised Daley even while acknowledging their ideological differences.

While the progressive grassroots organization MoveOn.org has criticized the selection of Daley, liberal backlash has so far not been as dramatic as one might expect. Robert Kuttner, a fellow at Demos, a liberal think tank, and coeditor of The American Prospect magazine, who has frequently criticized the administration from the left, suggests that Obama may get a partial pass simply because liberals want to pick their battles. “I suspect that progressives are saving their fire for issues where they think they can actually have some influence, such as pressing Obama not to save on needlessly cutting Social Security benefits,” he told NEWSWEEK.

It is also possible that Daley’s selection will be packaged with choices that mollify liberals, since Larry Summers, another Wall Street–friendly centrist, just left his role as head of the National Economic Council. “Maybe appointing Daley frees up Larry Summers’s job for someone not Wall Street–connected, like Gene Sperling,” suggests Stephen Hess, a senior fellow emeritus at the Brookings Institution who served in the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations. (Sperling, the leading candidate for NEC chair, actually did some consulting for Goldman Sachs, but he is considered more liberal than Summers and most other potential replacements.)

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tried to split the difference between highlighting and downplaying an ideological shift by telling NBC’s Chuck Todd on Thursday morning that Daley would be “new blood” and a “new voice.”

Of course, to Obama’s critics on the left and fans in the center, he has always been a cautious moderate anyway. “Daley is a Democratic centrist who believes that the center is where his party can thrive and win,” says Chester Pach, a history professor at Ohio University who has written histories of the Nixon, Reagan, and Lyndon Johnson presidencies. “It seems as if Obama has similar views. Maybe he’s come to that conclusion only since Nov. 2.”

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Canada.com, 11-5-10

….Gil Troy, an American who teaches U.S. political history at McGill University in Montreal, cautions that however passionate Canada’s Tea Party wannabes might be, their ideals are unlikely to ignite the same fires in this country as in the U.S.

For one thing, Canada’s economy is in far better shape. Troy says the wreckage in the U.S. — high unemployment, shuttered factories, foreclosed homes — is the real reason behind the Tea Party’s success this year.

“Their victories are the result of economic distress, and the fear that there’s something seriously wrong with the country,” says Troy. “If we take out the recession, if we take out the sense that there’s serious dysfunction going on, would there be the same kind of phenomenon? I don’t think so.”…

Troy says not only is that divide less acute in Canada, but that political discourse here remains far more civil. Canadian debate has not yet been hijacked by what he calls the “toxic media culture and the toxic blogosphere” that feed the Tea Party’s populist anger.

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Source: Globe & Mail, 7-9-10

Obama’s ‘we’ philosophy collides with capitalism’s ‘me’

US President Barack Obama speaks on the economy and job creation  at Smith Electric Vehicles in Kansas City, Mo.

Business leaders accuse President of using failures of a few to justify expansion of government regulatory authority

…For McGill University political historian Gil Troy, Mr. Obama’s attacks on business put him well within a presidential tradition that goes back at least as far as Andrew Jackson in the 1830s. But they also betray his particular world view and a career spent entirely outside the private sector.

“Not only does Barack Obama lack corporate experience, but his defining experiences were as a community organizer, public interest lawyer and law lecturer,” Prof. Troy said in an interview. “That puts him ideologically, structurally and professionally in opposition to business.”

Mr. Obama, Mr. Troy continued, is “trying to convince Americans of the efficacy of government. He’s enough of a [Ronald] Reagan baby to know that is not necessarily the easiest sell to make. So, if [the economic crisis] is not a God-given opportunity, it’s at least a Goldman Sachs-given opportunity to make that sell.”…

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