Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shades of Reagan: Dan Fagan take note


This weekend, John McCain was less than committal about supporting his running mate, Sarah Palin, should she seek the presidency in 2012. His words were interpreted as a slam against Palin, but it's nothing compared to the intra-party warfare some have launched against her.

The trashing of Sarah Palin continues. Some of the shots have been downright ugly, such as the “Retarded Republican Babies for Sarah Palin” t-shirts. Equally notable, however, is the odd one-two punch of liberal journalists and moderate Republican leakers pounding Palin as a right-wing extremist and dummy. This tandem is responsible for some of the phony smears, including ridiculous claims that Palin doesn’t know Africa is a continent, or that she refused to appear with “pro-choicers” like Senator John Sununu (Sununu is pro-life).

These smears place Sarah Palin in good company. My mind races back to what Ronald Reagan endured: the same kind of leaks, by the same kind of moderate Republicans, to the same kind of liberal journalists, and with the same kind of allegations. Reagan, too, was portrayed as a Midwest dolt, a conservative zealot, a rube from a backwoods college in “fly-over” country.


Conservatives nostalgic for Reagan have forgotten the problem their favorite president faced with leaks. Judge Bill Clark was brought into the White House in January 1982 in part to try to stem what Reagan called “a virtual hemorrhage of leaks,” which had become “a problem of major proportions,” particularly in foreign and defense policy.

It got so bad that Clark today confirms that he and Reagan actually considered employing a polygraph for White House staff. In response, the leakers were furious, and began leaking stories about the nefarious effort by Reagan and Clark to halt the leaks. The Washington Post and New York Times ran almost comical stories on the alleged fascistic attempts to halt the leaking, stories which themselves were the products of the very same leakers. It was nuts!

Not surprisingly, the leakers also sought to take out Clark, to which they devoted unrelenting attention until Clark resigned in late 1983. Like Sarah Palin, and like Reagan, Bill Clark was a committed across-the-board conservative, socially, economically, religiously—a pariah to the moderates.

Once the Reagan presidency finished in 1989, these Republican leakers followed George H. W. Bush into his administration, where they extended the same treatment to Vice President Dan Quayle, another principled conservative, who they disliked from the outset of the presidential campaign.

Worse, once these moderates failed to reelect Bush, they blamed Quayle for dragging down the ticket. This was a harbinger of the John McCain defeat, where the moderates tried to pin the loss of the moderate McCain on the conservative Palin.


Clay said...

Great analysis. I never thought about making a comparison to Quayle.

Coincidentally, I met both Dan Quayle and Sarah Palin during their losing elections for Vice President.

Tom said...

Clay, I saw her at her best when she talked about the Republican platform.

There is a learning curve with her but she learns fast.

A very approachable person.