Longtime readers know that I reject the typical left-right political spectrum in favor of a trichotomy of political philosophies called “cosmopolitanism”, “nationalism”, and “materialism”.

At present in the United States, we have a choice between a cosmopolitan, Obama, and a materialist, Romney.  The curious part is that Romney must try to persuade the nationalists that he is one of them, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.  He has not done a very good job of it so far, although he is bound to get some of the nationalist vote simply for not being a cosmopolitan.

You may ask: “why isn’t there a nationalist candidate?”  Well, there was. Rick Santorum was his name, but he failed to get the Republican nomination.  So now, in another renewal of the delicate alliance that is the Republican party, Romney has to try to get the people who didn’t want him and wanted Santorum to vote for him.

Romney has been fairly socially liberal himself in the past, and he now has to try to assure nationalists that this won’t happen again, whether by blaming circumstance, claiming his hand was forced, or saying he’s changed his mind and/or heart on social issues like gay marriage, abortion, contraception and gun control.  Some politicians might be able to get away with this sort of thing.  Not Romney, though, because he is not charismatic and hence people do not innately trust him.

Candidates like Reagan, and to a lesser extent, George W. Bush had the ability to use their charm to cover for the contradictions in nationalist and materialist philosophies,  and thus hold the voting coalition together through their personal popularity.  Paul Graham wrote in his influential essay on charisma in Presidential elections:

The charisma theory may also explain why Democrats tend to lose presidential elections. The core of the Democrats’ ideology seems to be a belief in government. Perhaps this tends to attract people who are earnest, but dull…

A different flavor of the same idea: The post-1970s Republicans need to have the more charismatic candidate to win, because otherwise the differences in the Republican coalition become apparent and the party fractures.  (The Graham essay is what first interested me in this topic, and I consider it required reading for those curious about this subject.)

This is why likeability is everything for Romney, and history suggests that it is something which cannot be learned; so if he does not have it now, he never will.  For that reason, there is very little reason to think Romney will win in November.

Here we observe one of the dangers of academic tenure…

The short version, if you don’t have time to watch the video, is like this: evidently having nothing better to do, Roberto Unger, a former professor of President Obama’s, has concluded that same President Obama must be defeated. This defeat will, so he says, “allow the voice of democratic prophecy to speak once again in American life.”

Obviously, the good professor knows this will not happen under President Romney.  But the defeat of Obama is necessary to allow for true progressivism to return, he believes.

Let us look at history, shall we?  From 1968 until 1992, the Republicans won every Presidential election but one.  The Democrats finally got Clinton in ’92, but this was largely through the “New Democrat” strategy of adopting many laissez-faire Republican economic policies.  In other words, the Democrats accomplished their victory only by becoming much more like the Republicans on economic issues.  Not exactly what Prof. Unger is looking for.

Cast back a bit further, and we find the shoe on the other foot: From 1932 until 1952, the Republicans did not win a Presidential election. When they finally did win, it was with Dwight Eisenhower, a war hero and a man so friendly to the New Deal that Republican extremists suspected him of communism.  Clearly, the Republicans had to capitulate a good deal to the Democrats on economic policy.

In recent times, there are two instances where a party lost an election and four years later returned with a more extreme candidate: 1964 and 1980.  Goldwater was more extreme than Nixon, and he was crushed.  Reagan was more extreme than Ford, and he won handily.  So, it’s kind of a mixed bag.  (Not, of course, if you factor in charisma; then it is all quite explicable.)

The record is pretty clear: parties rarely favor their more radical economic policies in the wake of sound defeats.  They do just the opposite, trying to emulate and subsume elements of the winning party’s policies.  This is especially true for Democrats.  I therefore judge Prof. Unger’s plan a bad one.

(Video via Huffington Post.  Also check out this post about Prof. Unger at The Reaction.)

Via Chris Bodenner of The Dish, an article about the wisdom of Richard Nixon. This quote from him is amazing:

“I think of what happened to Greece and Rome, and you see what is left — only the pillars… What has happened, of course, is that the great civilizations of the past, as they have become wealthy, as they have lost their will to live, to improve, they then have become subject to decadence that eventually destroys the civilization. The U.S. is now reaching that period.” 

How interesting. Especially curious to me is that Nixon said that in 1971, and almost exactly nine years later, Ronald Reagan, in his acceptance speech, said:

“The major issue of this campaign is the direct political, personal and moral responsibility of Democratic Party leadership –in the White House and in Congress — for this unprecedented calamity which has befallen us. They tell us they have done the most that humanly could be done. They say that the United States has had its day in the sun; that our nation has passed its zenith. They expect you to tell your children that the American people no longer have the will to cope with their problems; that the future will be one of sacrifice and few opportunities.

My fellow citizens, I utterly reject that view.” 

Kind of a major shift, no?

Mike Huckabee will not be running for President. Instead, he is apparently going to devote some of his time to selling videos such as this to educate children about American history:

All I can say is that, when I was a lad, it would have been my natural instinct to rebel against any message conveyed in such an obvious fashion as that. Certainly, every children’s program I watched that had a message made me viscerally want to contradict it. (Most of the messages, incidentally, were what the Conservatives would likely call Politically Correct, Liberal messages.)

In general, I suspect kids aren’t quite as malleable as people think, and more than ready to resist ham-fisted techniques, regardless of the message. I suspect that such efforts as the one you see above will be counterproductive.

But, as the title suggests, these seem like such poor efforts that I almost wonder if it’s a joke…

I am becoming increasingly inclined to think that Rick Perlstein is a genius. His books are both very excellent, and I have just got through reading his fascinating article on the lies the Republicans tell. Like all he does, it’s a sprawling piece, covering many people and incidents, but what interested me most was his contrasting the supposedly very honest-but-gloomy Jimmy Carter with the lying optimist, Ronald Reagan. Perlstein writes: “The Gipper’s inauguration ushered in the ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ era of political lying.”

Now, yes; Reagan is associated very much with optimism. (The word “sunny” often immediately precedes or follows the popular press references to him.)  Still, this isn’t all the Republicans are about. Paul Ryan’s whole budget plan is predicated on the idea of him being a man willing to tell the “tough truths” we need, but don’t want, to hear. (To hear the veracity of this claim questioned, see this, or anything Paul Krugman has ever written about Paul Ryan.)

So, the point clearly isn’t that Republicans sugarcoat everything; sometimes they say optimistic things and other times they say pessimistic things. The reason for all this, I think, goes back to the American exceptionalism thing; the Republicans don’t believe much stuff about America being flawed; they want to talk about the flaws introduced by those who are in some way “alien” to America.

The issue Perlstein explicitly raises is the matter of Climate Change–why are Republicans saying the science demonstrating it is false? One answer I can see is that they are all beholden to oil corporations. Another is that, as Perlstein says, they don’t want to hear they can’t use all the damn resources they please, if that is their wish. They feel, as the Governor of Louisiana said, that “Americans can do anything”.

You might say that the Republican version of events is optimistic and blithe. “We can use all the resources we want, at whatever rate we like, as intended by God.” is their view–correct me if I’m wrong. On the other hand, the fact that people complain of climate change requires, in the Republican version of things, a conspiracy of international Socialists and Dictators who control the Universities, the Democratic party, and many media outlets. This is not optimism.

Incidentally, I’ve written about this issue before, and I’ve always wondered: how many of the Republicans think of themselves as “lying for a cause”, and how many think it’s all completely true?

A new Gallup poll puts Ronald Reagan as the nation’s greatest President. Then it’s Lincoln, Clinton, Kennedy, Washington and FDR.

Yes, in that order.

My opinion: Lincoln, Washington and FDR are the only ones out of that crowd who could conceivably have any claim to the title of “greatest President”. And where is Eisenhower? I mean, maybe he wasn’t the greatest President ever, but he ought to have been in the running.

Also, George H. W. Bush should have gotten more votes than George W. Bush, in my opinion. Finally, I think President Obama shouldn’t even be eligible for this poll yet, since he’s currently President and we have yet to see what he’ll do the rest of his term and if he’ll win re-election.

Alex Pareene at Salon writes about the late President Reagan’s interest in alien life-forms and UFOs, noting:

“Ronald Reagan claimed to have seen UFOs on at least two occasions, according to reports from sources as disparate as the Wall Street Journal, Lucille Ball and the National Enquirer. He alerted the Navy to one of his sightings, and he and Nancy believed that Egyptian hieroglyphics referenced extraterrestrial flying crafts.

Pareene then goes on to contrast this with Reagan’s well-known attitude of indifference towards the AIDS epidemic. It’s rather horrible to read about, really.  But what I want to focus on in this post is the considerably less-important first bit.

Perhaps the most curious thing about this is that Reagan isn’t the only politician to have allegedly run into some UFOs in his time. His predecessor, President Carter, also filed a report that he had witnessed a UFO in 1969. And the man thought to have laid the groundwork for Reagan’s popularity, Senator Barry Goldwater, was also interested in the topic. He believed that the government was not releasing information concerning extraterrestrial life-forms.

“So what?”, you ask. Well, frankly, I assume it means nothing; Carter and Reagan probably just saw some airplanes or clouds, and Goldwater was probably willing to believe all sorts of things if they showed the government in a bad light. But it is nonetheless sort of strange, (if unimportant) in my opinion.

And if you think I can get through this subject without a passing reference to “Citizen Kang” from The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror VIIyou’re wrong.

[Although I know it will make no difference to anybody, I feel oddly compelled to write about this.]

The late President Ronald Reagan’s son Michael claims his father was “better” for African-Americans than President Obama is. He reasons:

“Under Obama, black unemployment rose from 12.6 percent in January 2009 to 16.0 percent today. This means that black unemployment has increased by more than one-fourth since Obama took office.

And the Reagan record? African-American columnist Joseph Perkins has studied the effects of Reaganomics on black America. He found that, after the Reagan tax cuts gained traction, African-American unemployment fell from 19.5 percent in 1983 to 11.4 percent in 1989.”

Alright, this practically refutes itself. He is comparing two years of a deep downturn in the business cycle (a recession) under Obama and from which we only started recovering in summer 2009 to six years of a recovery from a (milder) recession which ended in late 1982. (He could have at least started from the beginning of Reagan’s term for a better comparison.)

It seems to me fairly obvious that these statistics regarding African-American employment are nothing more than the products of broad economic trends, rather than the outcome of a particular policy on the part of either President.

It’s a pet peeve of mine that the President, whoever he happens to be, always gets undue credit or blame for the fluctuations in the business cycle which he cannot come even close to fully controlling.

As a follow-up to this post, I realized that I neglected to mention another President who made use of appearing on entertainment television, or at least was not hurt by it: Ronald Reagan.

Sarah Palin herself made note of this fact, arguing against those who say it’s not Presidential to star in a reality show by noting that Reagan had been an actor, and had appeared in some not-especially-Presidential films.

Fair point, I suppose. And Reagan, like Palin and unlike Nixon, had charisma, which made it seem acceptable. (I have a theory that all actors, even lousy ones, have high levels of charisma compared to the general population.) There is, it seems, little which charisma cannot overcome.

On the other hand, Reagan quit working as an actor in 1965, 15 years before he became President. As Peggy Noonan writes as a rebuke to Palin:

“Ronald Reagan was an artist who willed himself into leadership as president of a major American labor union (Screen Actors Guild, seven terms, 1947-59.) He led that union successfully through major upheavals (the Hollywood communist wars, labor-management struggles); discovered and honed his ability to speak persuasively by talking to workers on the line at General Electric for eight years; was elected to and completed two full terms as governor of California; challenged and almost unseated an incumbent president of his own party; and went on to popularize modern conservative political philosophy without the help of a conservative infrastructure. Then he was elected president.”

These qualifications do seem rather more than Palin’s. (As an aside, it’s hard to imagine any artists-turned-union-leaders running for the Republicans nowadays.)

In the end, though, it goes back to the idea that our standards that have changed with time. Reagan was considered an intellectual lightweight in his day and age, as Palin is in the present day. Call me a pessimist if you like, but I believe this is due to a decline in what we expect of our politicians. If someone with Palin’s credentials had tried to run in Reagan’s time, imagine the reaction. P M Prescott‘s comment here says it very well: “The electorate is getting more and more into voting as fans of someone famous, even if it’s famous for being famous.”

And if Reagan’s charisma and celebrity overcame his relative lack of real policy credentials, then what is there to stop Palin’s charisma and celebrity from overcoming hers?

P.S. Incidentally, having read Noonan’s argument that Reagan’s time as SAG President helped him as a politician, I find that I cannot resist quoting these rather prescient lines of Ernest’s song “Were I a King” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Grand Duke:

“Oh, the man who can rule a theatrical crew,
Each member a genius (and some of them two),
And manage to humour them, little and great,
Can govern this tuppenny State!”

I know a lot of people are thinking it makes her look foolish, but in my opinion, the way Sarah Palin handles the whole “writing-on-hand” thing is absolutely ingenious. Very much the sort of thing humorous touch Ronald Reagan would have used. It’s easy to see how it must appeal to her base, especially compared with the stiff formality of alleged GOP front-runner Mitt Romney. (Who, I just realized, reminds me disturbingly of Henry Leland from Alpha Protocol.)

The old Karl Rove strategy was to attack your opponent’s perceived strength. The Palin strategy is to turn your own perceived weakness into a strength.