Believe it or not, I had this week’s column outlined in my head before the Malaysian jet was shot down over the Ukraine this week. I happened to be reading Ronald Reagan’s autobiography last weekend and was ready to write about the different approaches to leadership Reagan took as compared to those of the current President.
In my house, FoxNews is usually on somewhere in the background. (Yes, I know I’m getting my news with a conservative bias – I trust myself to filter it.) I came home Thursday night to footage of the speech Reagan delivered in 1983 following the Russian downing of a Korean passenger plane. Megyn Kelly was contrasting that with President Obama’s response to the current disaster, where he hinted at tragedy before telling some jokes and heading off to a fund-raiser, not to be heard from again that night. Other Fox personalities also noted the contrast.
Well, it wasn’t the example I was going to use, but it’s exactly on point with what I had been planning to write. I just missed the chance to be prophetic.
The topic: leadership and politics. Our current President is intensely interested in one and seemingly annoyed at the obligations of the other – I’ll let the reader pick which so as not to be labeled a racist. (Be careful how you choose reader, very careful.)
This isn’t about ideology. FDR was every bit as good at accomplishing his goals as Reagan was at accomplishing his. Knowing what to do intuitively, being able to convince others to come along, and having the resolve to move forward despite bad polls – that’s the subject here. Reagan made hugely unpopular decisions in his time but carried them through until they proved right.
Reagan won the Cold War and he saved millions of lives in the way he did it. It wasn’t like the killing of Osama Bin Laden where the President had no more to do with it than saying “Go!” The whole strategy of bringing down the evil empire came from Reagan and his staff. It was innovative but it was also political dynamite – very easy to criticize in the short-term. Early on, Reagan took a bath in the polls.
In retrospect, the decline of the Soviet Union might seem to have been inevitable. In 1981, nothing seemed inevitable. After four years of appeasement under Jimmy Carter, we were well behind the Soviets in the arms race and everyone on both sides was scared feces-less. But Reagan noticed how globally stretched on credit the Soviets were (similar to where we are now). If America utilized its superior economy to outspend the Russians in arms, the Soviet Union could very well collapse trying to keep up.
The Left screamed for arms reduction, as if the Soviets were ready to agree to such a thing. They labeled Reagan a warmonger for the dramatic increase in military spending. It would have been politically expedient to change course, but Reagan didn’t. Eventually, the Soviet Union did collapse, unable to financially maintain the grip on its empire. We won the most critical war this world has known so far without firing a shot.
Reagan dealt with his enemies decisively, but he was just as decisive in handling friends. The Iran-Contra affair involved Israel selling arms to a moderate element in Iran that was helping to negotiate the release of hostages held by terrorists. When Oliver North illegally diverted some of the money from the sales to support the Contras opposing communism in Central America, a scandal ensued.
What did Reagan do? He immediately appointed a special prosecutor, knowing that it would be the end of his National Security Advisor John Poindexter, who knew of the transfers. Any appearance of impropriety in government beyond the few bad actors was promptly eliminated. You could trust the Reagan government.
Reagan’s famous tax cuts that led to a decade of prosperity were passed through a Democratic Congress. In contrast, President Obama passed the Affordable Care Act without one Republican vote, creating the bitterest bi-partisanship in this country’s history. He now refuses to work with Congress at all – it’s too difficult.
The President refuses to hold friends accountable, prohibiting some from answering questions about the IRS and Benghazi and allowing others to arrogantly ignore requests for information. He changes course on tough political questions – like he did a few weeks ago on immigration – when his big donors disagree with him.
His international strategy is a puzzle wrapped in an enigma. What will be our response to the jet downing? What can our allies or enemies expect from us? Who are our allies and our enemies anymore? What is our long-term strategy with Iraq, Iran, Israel and Russia? Is there one? Even if it’s non-intervention, why isn’t that clear?
With Reagan, you knew where he stood on an issue as soon as you asked him. When air traffic controllers went on strike, they were fired. Air traffic controllers didn’t go on strike anymore. When IRS agents illegally targeted conservatives, Obama was outraged. What happened next? Nothing. Not one person held accountable.
That old footage of Reagan has to make the staunchest liberal long for the days when the country’s leader exuded commitment and strength. Whatever this leader has been exuding for five and a half years, it doesn’t resemble either of those two things.