Sunday, May 06, 2007

Not So Crimson Tide

In undergrad, I vaguely remember reading about some theory on presidencies. I don't remember the details, but basically it claimed that there were four kinds of presidencies throughout American history.
1. Presidents who usher in new eras. Not era as in time, but as in political ideology (Lincoln, Teddy?, FDR, Reagan).
2. Presidents who are elected in their own era. (LBJ, Harding, Coolidge, etc.)
3. Presidents who are elected in the wrong era. These are the ones who tend to get impeached because the political tide is against them. (A. Johnson, Nixon, Clinton).
4. Presidents who are the last of their era. They immediately precede no. 1 presidents. (Carter, Hoover, etc.)
The starking feature of a no. 4 president is low approval ratings. Well Newsweek has released a poll revealing that Bush's approval ratings are at 28%. The lowest number since Carter (who was also at 28). Think about that.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know what "starking" means.

5/06/2007 10:42 PM  
Blogger Armen said...

Ugh, neither do I. But I'm going to keep it up as a reminder not to write blog posts after a few glasses of wine. Let's read it as "startling." That works, doesn't it?

5/06/2007 10:46 PM  
Blogger Earl Warren said...

I think it's a little absurd to put Clinton in company with Nixon and Johnson. In fact, both those are incorrect for your typology. Nixon represented the inaugural win of a conservative surge than would run for 30 years. He was impeached largely because he was corrupt, dishonest, vindictive, and power-mad--not because he was in the "wrong era."

Similarly, Clinton was about to break the reign of conservatism and instantiate lefty Third Way policies as the dominant 21st century ideology (much as they have taken hold in Europe and Asia). That he failed to do so was largely the product of a zipper problem and 4000 elderly, mistaken Buchanan voters in Palm Beach. That Clinton was this close to doing so is largely born out by the results of GWB: 28% approval, driving strong toward the "worst President ever" moniker. So GWB might be hybrid of "wrong era" and "last of an era."

My definition of "wrong era" would be Presidents nominally opposed to the dominant ideology but largely acquiescent to its inevitability. In this group I'd put Ike (no real challenge to the New Deal order), Taft (quasi-progressive but not progressive enough for TR, etc.), and--this is bound to instigate--Jefferson, whose small-r republican ideals, while powerful, never really slowed the rise of High Federalism, centralization, commercial development, and nationalism that characterized the first quarter of the 19th century.

5/06/2007 11:25 PM  
Blogger Armen said...

EW, you're very knowledgeable about politics, but your characterizations are way off, and really unrepresentative of history. I will grant that it's still too early to judge the Bush 41-Bush 43 presidencies, but I think you're wrong. I'm going to post my notes from that class (ahh the wonders of taking notes on a laptop...where are the jerks who were arguing that it's better to take paper notes?)


A. Reconstruction – Come into office when the old ideas are discredited and the old coalitions don’t work anymore
1. Presidents address major problems with new ideas and conditions
2. Examples: Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, FDR, Reagan
B. Articulation
1. Presidents maintain the goals and coalitions of reconstructive presidents.
2. Example: George H.W. Bush ran on the platform, why change horses in mid-stream? LBJ fulfilled many of the long-term goals of the New Deal coalition. The existing parts of the Democratic coalition were dissatisfied because all their old goals were achieved but they did not have new goals.
C. Preemption
1. Presidents are opposed to dominant ideas and coaliton of their age. They may steal the issues of the opposite coalition, but they have to do it in a way that pleases their party.
2. Likely to be reviled for duplicity and even impeached. They are often seen as being insincere and doing things just to get elected, etc.
3. Examples
a. Andrew Johnson – brought on the Lincoln ticket in 1864 to balance the ticket
b. Woodrow Wilson – elected because Teddy Roosevelt stole votes
c. Eisenhower, Nixon – Nixon nearly impeached
d. Clinton -- Tax cuts, welfare reform
D. Disjunction
1. Presidents maintain old ideas in face of problems
2. Examples
a. Hoover – Unable to discard the idea that the government fosters growth individually. Very limited, etc.
b. Carter – Remained democratic ideally towards the Soviets

5/06/2007 11:40 PM  
Blogger Earl Warren said...

Armen, you're very knowledgeable about posting something a UCLA poli sci professor said, but I'm going to stick with my thesis until I see evidence otherwise -- which does not include sentence fragments from an undergraduate course I could probably teach. And which, by the way, largely seem written by a right-wing kook with an axe to grind. (Woodrow Wilson was "opposed to the dominant ideas" of the time and "largely reviled"? Um, he was one of the leading Progressives of the era, worked with Congressional allies to pass a bunch of Progressive legislation, and led the country to victory in WWI. Which of those accomplishments was "against the dominant era"? I'm not sure what "Clinton -- tax cuts and welfare reform" means. Clinton raised taxes on the rich in his 1993 budget bill, and he signed welfare reform only after vetoing it twice and getting a bill he wanted (and one largely supported by the center-left). Carter was thrown out for not being tough on the Soviets?????)

As for the wheezing of the GOP machine, I don't even know if I'd put Reagan in the first category, let alone say Clinton was reviled for being "opposed" to what Reagan built.

If you think otherwise, answer me this: Which of the following tenets of either the 1980 GOP platform or the 1994 Contract with America came to fruition: Social Security privatization, elimination of food stamps, elimination of the Department of Education, banning abortion, expanding private school vouchers, cutting back on environmental regulations, reducing the scope of civil rights laws, repealing campaign finance laws, cutting the number of federal employees, reducing the growth rate in entitlements, reducing government spending, placing a moratorium on new federal regulations, reforming product liability law, cutting Medicare, expanding state control over public schools.

Answer: None.

For all their electoral success and rhetorical excess, the GOP has been fundamentally unable to alter the contours of the postwar administrative welfare state. I'm not talking bullshit ideology, I'm talking RESULTS. Not Reagan, not Gingrich, not Bush I, not Bush II. Meanwhile, Clinton expanded the EITC, minimum wage, environmental laws, civil rights provisions, etc.

In the wake of all that, to allege that Reagan addressed "major new problems" with "new ideas" in the same league as Lincoln -- and that Clinton was "reviled" because he was "out of place" with this -- is beyond facile. Your professor should issue you a written apology and see that your tuition money is refunded.

5/07/2007 12:26 AM  
Blogger Earl Warren said...

PS -- It's not personal. It's only business. ;)

5/07/2007 12:28 AM  
Anonymous Igor said...

It's still a too early to judge the Bush presidency, especially through something as fickle as public opinion. In many respects, Dubya is similar to Harry Truman. Toward the end of his tenure, Truman was immensely unpopular with the American public. By then, America had grown tired of war. The Truman Doctrine continuously placed American forces in harm’s way and put American support behind some really unsavory characters. Like the “War on Terror,” “Containment” of communism was a never-ending struggle against a faceless enemy.

I find it difficult to fit Truman into any of those four very neat categories. In many ways, Truman is like two presidents. One is the hard-ass, decisive WWII Truman who nuked Japan and contested the Soviet blockade of Berlin. And the other is the perhaps too-restrained Korean War Truman, who fired Douglas McArthur for being over-zealous, who got us into the fifty-year-old stalemate with North Korea, and whose domestic policy was sorely deficient. And when Ike replaced Truman, there was no new era. The only real change Ike brought was the increased domestic spending, though by then there was a cease-fire in Korea, and thanks to Sputnik, America’s attention had shifted to beating the Reds at math and science, rather than on the DMZ.

Truman will always be remembered for the two atomic bombs and for Korea, in that order. I’m betting that Iraq will figure foremost in Bush’s legacy, followed by 9/11 and Afghanistan. Yet in 50 years, Dubya is going to look a hell of a lot different than he does now. I don’t see him fitting into the fourth category. I’m willing to bet that he’ll be more like Truman than like Carter or Hoover. I’m sorry to say it, Armen, but neither Truman nor Bush fit into those categories.

5/07/2007 12:34 AM  
Blogger Armen said...

It's a league game EW.

Basically, yeah you're wrong. If you don't think there was a shift in the nation's ideology between Carter and Reagan, then really, let me know, and I'll stop writing. This isn't a comment on the MERITS of each president. It's simply an observation about how the political climate around them influences the nation's digestion of their ideas.

Hell I think Reagan was worse than Dubya, but if you take a poll, no one will say that. Why? Because he's seen as someone who moved away from the New Deal ideas. Nixon? He didn't try to undo the New Deal. Didn't the Clean Air Act pass under his watch?

Clinton blah blah blah TNR loves him/her blah blah blah. Two years after he came into office, we lost both houses. You're telling me he was operating WITHIN the dominant ideology?

Wilson. "Victory" in WWI isn't officially recognized by the Senate. Next 12 years go back to Republicans. Remember, WW is the only Dem to be elected between Cleveland and FDR. Dominant political ideology of the time? Hardingly. See, e.g., WWII.

But you're right, the prof was a newly minted PhD who was having orgasms about the Reagan revolution. And you know what, when I took the class, I kept thinking, "Fuck, he's right. What's it going to take to change the conservative dominance of American politics." I'm going to enjoy a cold corona content that the answer is upon us.

5/07/2007 12:43 AM  
Blogger Earl Warren said...

Bush = Truman? !I thought I'd only read that in the Corner or the WSJ. Two teeny, tiny, little differences:

#1: Truman unpopular for NOT launching an ill-considered, unplanned, questionable, certain-to-escalate attack on another country. (China, which is what McArthur wanted)

Bush unpopular FOR launching an ill-considered, unplanned, questionable, certain-to-escalate attack on another country.

#2: Truman's foreign policy--containment, internationalism, economic aid, muscular liberalism--laid the groundwork for a 50-year strategy against Communism and was more-or-less accepted by every subsequent US President.

Bush's foreign policy--unilateralism, doctored intelligence, moral opprobrium, pre-emption, distraction from main threat with ancillary imperialist hubris, incompetence--has already been discredited in a stunning amount of time, so much so that there's not a single mainstream American politician today who will defend it. (Even McCain hedges.)

That's all!

5/07/2007 12:50 AM  
Blogger Earl Warren said...


1. Am I the only one who gives a shit about the rules?
2. OK, those are some fair points.
3. Re: Wilson. See, "Progressive Era, the"
4. Re: Reagan. See an old acquaintance, Josh Green, in the WaMo:
5. Re TNR: They hate the Clintons. They hate everyone.
6. We need to disentangle if we're talking about IDEOLOGY or RHETORIC or RESULTS.
7. We'll discuss this later.
8. As you can see, I have a new--and substantially easier--target for my finals-driven ire.
9. Honestly, I'll be lovable after Wednesday. Really, I will.
10. Miranda is a constitutional rule, I don't care what Scalia says.

5/07/2007 12:58 AM  
Anonymous Igor said...


I’m not claiming that Truman = Bush. Certainly, there are differences. But I’m more concerned with Bush’s legacy in relation to Truman’s than I am with a comparison of the day-to-day of each presidency.

The synopses you presented are quite skewed. Remember that Truman’s foreign policy, the one that, as you state, “laid the groundwork for a 50-year strategy against Communism and was more-or-less accepted by every subsequent US President,” also laid the groundwork on which the United States would lose sixty thousand men in Vietnam. And it laid the groundwork for boosting tyrants like Syngman Rhee, Pinochet, Ngo Dinh Diem, and Saddam Hussein. And for giving weapons and training to Osama and the mujaheddin, the Contras, and many others.

It's important to note that Truman’s actions in Korea were, in effect, unilateral. The Soviets had boycotted resolutions against North Korea, and the UN went on without them and the other Comm Block countries. At that time, the United States influenced the UN heavily, as it had a hand in rebuilding many of those countries (hello, Truman doctrine!) If you take a look, the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq is actually more expansive than the one in Korea. In the end, of course, it’s the US and local (ROK or Iraqi) troops who do most of the fighting and dying.

And Truman’s “containment” is very similar to Bush’s “preemption.” As history shows, containment was more about the projection of American power than about stopping the Soviets from building Kolkhozs. Of course, you must accept that Bush didn’t go to war because of WMDs, but rather in an attempt to shift the balance of power in the Middle East (and, perhaps, the world). That’s as obvious now as it was then. So “preemtion,” too, is a projection of American power. The pretense is irrelevant here (see Tonkin Bay incident).

To summarize: I believe that Bush and Truman are similar in that they are 1) wartime presidents 2) with low popularity ratings 3) whose policy it was/is to project American power “unilaterally.” I also believe that like the Truman Doctrine, Bush’s legacy will bring on more armed conflicts in various points of the globe for many years.

5/07/2007 1:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't read the really long comments above, but want to tell you Armen, that I read this post yesterday and can't stop thinking about it... I hope that you are right about us being on the cusp of change. It is difficult to gague change, being in California (and in a liberal law school), but I think that Bush may have been what this country needs to get moving again along a progressive path. There's my silver lining on the Bush presidency.

5/07/2007 9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you notice that you had LBJ down in two different categories? How rigorous is this analysis Armen?

5/10/2007 10:24 PM  

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