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Posts Tagged ‘Gil Troy’

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

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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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

CTV NEWS, 9-19-12 

McGill professor Gil Troy on Mitt Romney

Source:  CTV Montreal, 9-19-12 

Gil Troy speaks about Mitt Romney

McGill professor Gil Troy speaks with Paul Karwatsky about American presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

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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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

McGill News, 8-31-12

The battle for the White House

Source: McGill News, 8-31-12

Questions & Answers

Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill and an expert on U.S. politics and the history of American presidential campaigns. Sylvain Comeau recently approached Professor Troy for his thoughts on the current race between Republican nominee Mitt Romney and U.S. president Barack Obama.

American politics seem to be polarized between right and left. Which side will “get out the vote” most effectively?

The biggest problem both candidates are facing, at the moment, is that neither of them has really excited the American people yet. When you compare Obama in 2012 to Obama in 2008, he’s not going to get the same kind of vote, the same passion and enthusiasm. As for Romney, he hasn’t shown an ability to stir the nation. I believe this will be a vote characterized by a little bit of exhaustion, and a sentiment that “we’d rather have him than the other guy.” My fear is that we won’t have a winner; we will have the one who doesn’t lose. And at this point in American history, I think the nation needs a winner.

So the election will be won by default?

The winner will be the one left standing. Obama should have increased his lead in the polls by now, but that hasn’t happened. On the other hand, Romney should have been able to [capitalize] on the current high levels of anxiety in the country. He hasn’t. So both of them are more distinguished by their weaknesses than by their strengths so far in this campaign. And that’s unfortunate.

Does the incumbent normally have some kind of built-in advantage?

In American politics, that is usually the case. Name recognition, a certain conservatism among voters, fund raising, infrastructure; all these are huge advantages. Also, in the last half-century, the only sitting presidents to lose the White House were the ones who faced very serious challenges in the primaries, before getting the nomination. This year, Obama got the nomination in a cakewalk, so historically, that means the odds are much more in his favour. On the other hand, the economic numbers are pretty weak.

How would you evaluate Obama’s first term?

It would not be controversial to say that it has been a disappointment. But that was inevitable, considering the incredibly high expectations surrounding him, and the set of problems he faced. It has been a very sobering first term. It’s interesting to note a certain convergence between the policy decisions of the Bush and Obama administrations. Bush responded to the initial housing crash and financial crisis by stimulating the economy by pouring in hundreds of billions of dollars. What did Obama do? The same thing. Bush locked away suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, a policy which Obama promised to eliminate; that never happened. The president who tracked down and eliminated Osama Bin Laden was not Bush, it was Obama. What do we learn from that? The world looks very different from outside the Oval Office, compared to inside. Outside the Oval Office, we emphasize the differences. But once in office, there is a lot of similarity [between administrations] when it comes to key government ideas.

Obama inherited many of his administration’s key economic challenges from the Bush administration; will that hamper his chances, or will the voters take that into account?

Obama’s narrative is that he inherited all these Republican problems. He applied Democrat solutions to them, the economy has improved, and we will have improved health care now. The Republican narrative is that those problems were the result of both party’s policies, going back to Reagan and then Clinton, and that we have to take a long term view in order to understand how this mess developed.

What role will health care play in this election?

The Democrats are coalescing around health care as a new American right, and that plays well for Obama. In order to win, Romney has to mobilize the Republican base against universal health care. He has to help them overcome their doubts about him, by making them realize that they need him in order to overturn the health care reforms.

Do you think the bullying incident involving Romney will come back to haunt him during the vote?

So far, Romney appears to be a Velcro candidate: all kinds of negative stories have stuck to him. He has allowed the Democrats to define him by these negative reports. He needs to reintroduce himself to the American public, and to focus on basic issues such as the economy and health care.

What about his “silver spoon” image, in which he is said to be responsible for layoffs at companies where he worked, and to favour tax policies that benefit the rich?

During a time of depression or recession, it is very difficult for a super-wealthy person to succeed in American politics. And yet, [Franklin Roosevelt] pulled it off. How did he do it? He was able to turn his aristocratic air into a jaunty, breezy self-confidence that transcended class barriers. He turned a negative into a positive, and that’s what Romney has to do. Romney has to make the case that his skill set in business is not about outsourcing and destroying American jobs; he has to show that they’re exactly the kind of skills needed to lead the country into a healthy 21st century economy.

Has Romney deliberately positioned himself as a far-right candidate? For example, he said that he would eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, and oppose gay marriages.

American candidates have a tendency to swing to the extremes of the right or left during the primary debates. Campaigns tend to bring candidates back to the centre, but Romney hasn’t really shown that ability yet. So his challenge will be: can he recalibrate and go back to the centre without appearing to be inauthentic? If he only plays to the right, he will not win.

How will his choice of Paul Ryan as vice presidential candidate change the campaign?

Ryan is an experienced congressman with a strong ideological record. This choice shows that Romney is not afraid to run with someone who is articulate, energetic and ideological. This was a bold way of defining the Republican ticket.

Was it a gamble, picking a running mate who is favouring big budget cuts for medicare, and is considered a fiscal hawk?

No matter who he picked, it was going to be someone who is more of a deficit hawk and more fiscally conservative than the Democrats — but picking someone like Ryan defines it very clearly. And I think Romney recognizes that Ryan is not afraid to fight and can articulate his vision — he won’t just sit there and absorb blows.

Romney could have made a “safer” choice. Did he feel that he had to do something, since he has been behind in the polls?

Yes, I think he needed to make a move that shows that this is not business as usual; that was equally important for the morale of the troops as it was for the campaign. This choice also means that the rest of the presidential race will focus on more substantive issues than where Obama was born or what Romney did to the family dog.

Do you think Obama’s handling of the financial crisis, including the unpopular bank bailouts and the ballooning deficits, will hinder his chances?

There is a gut feeling [among the American people] that not enough was done, and yet too much debt was taken on. Also, there is an impression that his decisions are too closely tied in with the philosophy of the Democratic Party, yet he dealt with the crisis in much the same way as Bush. So there are a lot of contradictory, mixed feelings when it comes to the financial crisis.

Do the Republicans face any challenges in this election associated with the fact that the last Republican president, George W. Bush, was not a popular figure when he left office?

I think Obama wants to cast Romney as Bush II — and even Republicans understand that the baggage from the Bush administration persists. Romney has to show — without disrespecting Bush, because some Americans still support the former president — that he is a true Republican, an effective Republican, a competent Republican, and that the Republicans have the answer.

Do you believe that any third-party candidates could dilute support for either of the main party candidates?

Six months ago, I could have speculated about all kinds of people. Today, it doesn’t look like any serious third party contenders are emerging. This is definitely the kind of election in which a third party candidate could have made some noise and possibly done some damage, but so far, that doesn’t seem to be the dynamic. On the Republican side, during the nomination process, the third party phenomenon played itself out. They gave a lot of room to a lot of voices, some of them quite extreme, and ultimately, those were defeated. On the Democratic side, the power of the Obama myth, and, frankly, his status as the first African-American president, means that it’s not viable for anyone on the far left to contend with him.

Since Reagan, every sitting president has presided over a ballooning deficit and national debt. Will that continue to colour both the campaigns and the terms of future presidents?

Reagan tried to start a conversation about deficits and limits, but even he failed. He only succeeded in limiting the growth of government. There has been an addiction to government spending and deficit spending, and no politician has had the power, the courage or the standing to really take on this problem. There have been government commissions and lots of good ideas are out there, but what it really take is leadership, and guts. It is a toxic mix of special interests trying to protect their turf, and politicians who are more concerned with the next election than with long term solutions.

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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Montreal Gazette, 4-30-12

It was the kind of big, fancy cocktail party I attend rarely enough that I enjoy the occasion. I was looking forward to this one because, in addition to liking the honoree and his family, there were half a dozen friends whom I rarely see amid the 1,500 guests, just enough to make for an interesting evening.

Yet as soon as I arrived, I wanted to leave. I felt nervous, vulnerable, endangered. For the first time in my life, I entered a crowded room full of partying people enjoying themselves and not really thinking about who they might bump into – literally – while I was hobbling on crutches.

Less than a week before, I had been soaring, running in the Jerusalem halfmarathon while on academic leave in Israel this year. Running with thousands of people with this ancient city as the backdrop was magical. Unfortunately, an undiagnosed and improperly healed fracture from a bicycle accident two years before turned into a stress fracture, and I collapsed at the 20.5-kilometre mark of the 21-kilometre race. I ended up with emergency surgery, a plate, and five screws in my femur two days later.

Ironically, both the bike accident and this stress fracture resulted from a health kick. For decades I had a sedentary professorial lifestyle that resulted in no hospital runs. I started jogging and occasionally biking with dramatically mixed results – weight and blood pressure down, heart rate excellent – but two sports injuries.

Fundamentally, I am fine. This setback is temporary. But my two crutches – the low-forearm kind, not the painful under-the-armpit type – offer a visa to the world of the handicapped. In this alternate universe, innocuous settings like cocktail parties can feel dangerous, and so many actions that most of us take for granted must be thought through and planned out, or sometimes skipped because the extra effort is not worth it.

As I am still in post-op recovery, I frequently fall into an unusually deep sleep. Whenever I awake, I assume I am fine and can stand – until I see those darned crutches. Hobbling about with them invites sympathetic stares, stopped cars when I cross the street, and far too much discussion when I socialize.

When I am using the crutches, my hands are helping me walk and can’t do much else. Even breakfast is an ordeal, although I can now grasp the big orangejuice container with my fingertips while gripping the crutches with my fist. What was once an easy, automatic morning routine now requires three laborious round trips: yogurt and OJ from fridge to table; glass, bowl and spoon from cabinet to table; and cereal from pantry to table. Of course I could ask my wife or children, who have been extraordinarily helpful. But when you ask for so much so frequently – because everything is always in the wrong room or on the wrong floor – you also want to do something yourself.

My breakfast trial is repeated morning, noon and night. Getting dressed, showering, fetching the newspaper – each action requires too much planning, too much strain, too much improvisation. After two weeks of this, I should feel cranky. Yet I am more often humbled and awestruck.

I am humbled because I know my visa will lapse soon and I will return to “normal.” I have friends with permanent passports to this challenging world of the disabled. Some have always lived there, while two friends in particular are learning to cope with dramatically more limited and more lasting limitations. All I need to do is remember their predicaments – or those of countless others – and my drops of self-pity transform into tidal waves of empathy for them and their families.

Moreover, while as a historian I am more the rationalist than the mystic, my visit to this demanding, draining world has made me awestruck by the miracles of the everyday. We take for granted our health, our functioning, the many things we do instinctively, automatically. Our brains process so much and orchestrate so many actions hour by hour, flawlessly, and our bodies co-operate magnificently. I would wish my experience on no one. But I want to share with everyone my new-found appreciation for what most of us do have, for what most of us can do.

In modern society, despite all we have materially, technologically and politically, we are enduring epidemic levels of unhappiness, discontent and psychological distress. The therapy business is booming; we consume psychotropic drugs by the warehouse-full. I have long believed in Vitamin P: perspective. We need to view our concerns, challenges, worries and fears in a broader context. North Americans should see their problems – as pressing as they may feel them to be – in comparison to the poverty and the sanitation and safety challenges that most humans in Africa and Asia endure.

And those of us lucky enough to be healthy – and I still define myself as belonging to that happy club – should appreciate the simple joys of getting breakfast, going to work, being able to play, and living the basic miracle of life.

Meanwhile, my sojourn in the land of the disabled has helped teach me that those with physical limitations also find joy and meaning in the important things of life – relationships, ideas, values, achievements – despite their challenges.

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INTERVIEW ANNOUNCEMENT

Midmorning
Midmorning
Thursday, August 25, 2011Midmorning with Kerri Miller, Minnesota Public Radio

Minnesota Public Radio Stories

MPR News Radio — Listen Now

  • Barack ObamaThe changing presidential campaign
    The 2012 presidential election is 15 months away, and campaign coverage is pervasive in the media. We know about Obama’s summer reading list and can look at pictures of Bachmann eating a corn dog. Has the level of scrutiny changed? What can we expect from the presidential campaigns in the coming months — 9:06 a.m.

    Guests
    Gil Troy: Professor of History at McGill University in Montreal, and a Visiting Scholar affiliated with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. His latest book, “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.”
    Karen Tumulty: National political correspondent for The Washington Post. She joined the Post in 2010 from TIME Magazine, where she had held the same title.
    Resources

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Date: Mon, 03/28/2011 – 12:30pm – 1:30pm

With the U.S. midterm elections over, President Barack Obama faces a complex array of challenges, choices and expectations. Join us for a thought-provoking lecture with McGill History Professor Gil Troy, who will offer a non-partisan analysis of, and questions about, (though no predictions for) President Obama’s promises, performance and prospects from a historical perspective. A native of Queens, New York, Prof. Troy is also the visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and the author of several books, including “Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s” and “Hillary Rodham Clinton: Polarizing First Lady.” He comments frequently about the American presidency on television and radio, and has published articles in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe and USA Weekend. Seating for this event is limited so please register online as soon as possible to reserve your spot (one ticket per person). If you can’t attend, don’t worry, the event will also be streamed live on the Campus Community Committee’s website. This event is part of a Lunch and Learn series presented by the Campus Community Committee, which is working to bring the McGill community together through activities and helping Campaign McGill achieve its ambitious $750-million fundraising goal.

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