# Ronald Reagan

Church and state: Where's the wall?

Dan Piller was a business reporter for more than four decades, working for the Des Moines Register and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He covered the oil and gas industry while in Texas and was the Register’s agriculture reporter before his retirement in 2013. He lives in Ankeny.

Senator John F. Kennedy rose to a lectern at the Rice Hotel in Houston on September 12, 1960 to face the toughest audience of his presidential campaign; a roomful of Southern Baptist ministers who reflected the longstanding antipathy of the evangelicals toward Kennedy’s Roman Catholic religion.

JFK was just the second Roman Catholic nominee of a major political party, and older Americans remembered the fate of the first. New York Governor Al Smith lost to the lackluster Herbert Hoover in 1928, amidst charges that Smith’s Catholicism would put him—and the nation—under the control of the Pope in Rome.

If Kennedy didn’t win over the skeptical Texans, his sixteen-minute address at least neutralized their hostility by avowing his support for the longstanding doctrine of separation of church and state.

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Ron Reagan's message would surprise Linn County Republicans

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.

The image at the top of this post comes from the Linn County Republicans’ graphic promoting their upcoming October fundraiser. The event is billed as a Reagan Breakfast starting at 7:00 AM. We all know Reagan won’t be there. The former president, never one to get up that early, has been dead for nearly 20 years. 

A Reagan impersonator, the self-described MAGA presidential candidate Larry Elder, is the guest speaker. 

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How Grassley, Ernst approached debt ceiling under different presidents

The United States avoided a doomsday scenario for the economy this week, when both chambers of Congress approved a deal to prevent a default on the country’s debts in exchange for future spending cuts. Iowa’s entire Congressional delegation supported the legislation, marking the first time in decades that every member of the U.S. House and Senate from this state had voted to raise or suspend the debt ceiling.

The vote was also noteworthy for Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, who were part of the 63-36 majority that sent the bill to President Joe Biden. Bleeding Heartland’s review of 45 years of Congressional records showed Grassley had backed a debt ceiling bill under a Democratic president only once, and Ernst had never done so.

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Presidential debates: Candidates in search of that magic moment

Dan Guild reviews presidential polling since 1976 to gauge the impact of televised debates. -promoted by Laura Belin

Since the advent of television, politics and indeed history have occasionally turned on a few moments. Seldom do they last longer than 60 seconds (like wit, television values brevity above all else).

Senator Joe McCarthy, and the moment he led, were stopped when he was asked, “Have you no decency, sir?” During the Watergate hearings, Howard Baker summed up the entire scandal when he asked, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

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The ghost of 1980

Based on the latest Iowa poll for the Des Moines Register, Dan Guild wonders whether history will repeat itself, with an unpopular president taking down U.S. senators from his party. -promoted by Laura Belin

The presidential election of 1980 was by far the most important election of my lifetime. It gave power to social conservatives who had never tasted power before (Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford were both pro-choice). It also brought to fore and gave explicit expression to white racial resentment when Ronald Reagan spoke of “welfare queens” driving Cadillacs.

The 1980 election changed not only Republican politics (every GOP nominee since has been pro-life) but also Democratic politics. In the aftermath of the Reagan presidency, Democrats began talking about “ending welfare as we know it.” President Bill Clinton signed a major welfare reform bill 45 days before the 1996 election, in which he had a significant lead.

What is difficult to explain to those who have no memory of 1980 is how shocking the results were. It was not just that Reagan won, but that Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate for the first time in decades. The GOP picked up twelve Senate seats, beating some well-liked Democrats with national reputations.

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Deaths of despair in Clinton, Oelwein, and elsewhere

John Whiston reflects on several books about industrial decline and the social dislocation that has accompanied it. -promoted by Laura Belin

A friend emailed me the other day, a friend I worked with forty years ago at a plywood mill in Bonner, Montana. We pulled veneer on the green chain, very heavy repetitive work. He asked me to talk with his 30-something son, who might be having some legal problems. So, I spent about an hour in conversation with this young man.

His was familiar story, very much what I’d heard as a lawyer in Iowa for 25 years. I learned he had graduated high school with few skills. While his father and grandfather had been able to go to work at the Bonner mill with good wages, medical insurance, a pension, and a strong union, the mill had closed. He then described a few experiences that seemed to fit in a small way with a whole constellation of symptoms that I had seen in my working-class clients: unemployment, underemployment, injuries, illness, disability, substance abuse, terrible credit, family issues, run-ins with the law.

I now suspect that the underlying problem is a profound despair. Granted, not every working-class person displays this despair, but it appears in an increasing portion. Their despondency bleeds out into their families and communities and affects us all.

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Bombs to balms

Paul W. Johnson is a preacher’s kid, returned Peace Corps volunteer, former state legislator, former chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service (now called the Natural Resources Conservation Service), a former director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and a retired farmer. -promoted by Laura Belin

I have reached a point in my life journey when I often wake at night and mull over the life this world and my country have given me.

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Civic religion and political priesthood

Gwen Hope argues that “the U.S. has its own civic religion. Born in pews, raised by wars, and cemented by money. An abominable worship of state and capitalism fused.” -promoted by Laura Belin

The United States has a religion problem. Primarily colonized by various factions of Puritan Separatists in the 17th century, this isn’t surprising. However, these original colonists’ faith in the Abrahamic deity has mutated over time – monarchic “divine right of kings” became democratic “divine right of nations.”

In place of worshiping the Judeo-Christian god, they instead worship the nation (or, rather, their conception of the nation.) This is the issue we have seen developing for some time now – civic religion – society in which the state and its history is regarded as sacred in the same way as sacraments and saints.

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Democratic gubernatorial candidates should go back to the future

Jeff Cox sees one gubernatorial contender best positioned to help Democrats become the majority party again. Bleeding Heartland welcomes guest posts advocating for candidates in competitive Democratic primaries. Please read these guidelines before writing. -promoted by desmoinesdem

There is only one word to use when surveying the damage the Republicans are doing to Iowa and America: depressing. We need to keep our eye on the ball, though, and avoid being diverted into competitive name-calling with Republicans. We need to elect Democrats until we regain a majority at every level of government. In the present crisis, any Democratic victory is a win, no matter how awful the Democrat.

In addition to issuing an “all hands on deck” call to elect Democrats, we should also have a discussion about how we got into this mess of being a minority party at every level of government. We could do worse than look back to a period of history when Democrats were the natural party of government, the half century beginning in 1932.

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Can anything make Trump popular?

Guest author Dan Guild has closely followed American presidential polling and elections for decades. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Consider three quotes: “It’s the economy, stupid”–James Carville, 1992

“Events dear boy, events”–Attributed to British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan

“That the prince must consider, as has been in part said before, how to avoid those things which will make him hated or contemptibleIt makes him hated above all things, as I have said, to be rapacious, and to be a violator of the property and women of his subjects, from both of which he must abstain.”–Machiavelli, The Prince, 1513

I cannot prove Machiavelli had Donald Trump in mind when he wrote those words 500 years ago. But the polling is consistent (we will explore it in a later post) – after his first year Trump is one of the most hated politicians in American history.

This was true on election day in 2016, when only 38 percent had a favorable impression of him, the lowest rating any major presidential candidate has received since exit polling began. He did not get the typical boost most presidents get after being elected. His numbers have not improved despite what by some indications is a good economy. In fact, about 75 percent of polls taken since May 2017 find his approval rating within 3 points of his favorable rating in the election day exit.

So the question must be asked: can anything change the public’s impression of Donald Trump?

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IA-Gov: Ron Corbett responds to critics of his labor record

As Ron Corbett seeks the GOP nomination for governor, his support of project labor agreements in Cedar Rapids will be a leading point of attack by Republicans supporting Governor Kim Reynolds. Corbett’s stance put him on a collision course with Governor Terry Branstad in 2011. The mayor explained his reasoning in chapter 25 of his memoir Beyond Promises and in an interview with Bleeding Heartland last week.

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Why my conservative values make me vote for Democrats

A guest commentary by a committed activist who served on the Iowa Democratic Party Platform and Rules Committees and currently serves on a county central committee. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I believe in obeying the Constitution. The 14th Amendment says that debts of the USA shall not be questioned. Steve King–and most Republicans–voted to not raise the debt ceiling which would have put the government in default. That vote led to the downgrading of the government’s credit rating. The 14th amendment also guarantees equal protection under the law. But Republicans don’t think the Constitution applies to same sex couples who wish to marry. George W. Bush violated the constitutional rights of Americans by spying on them without a warrant. Democrats objected; Republicans didn’t. President Barack Obama nominated a replacement for the late Justice Scalia. Republicans senators refuse to do their duty and vote to confirm—or not—that nominee.

I don’t believe judges should legislate from the bench, but I do believe they must strike down laws that violate the Constitution. Republicans applauded the U.S. Supreme Court for striking down the Washington D.C. handgun law, but went nuts when the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously struck down the law banning gay marriage. Republicans agreed when activist justices on the U.S. Supreme Court created a new right for corporations to spend unlimited secret money to try to buy our elections with misleading TV ads; Democrats want that decision overturned.

Originalists, who claim that the Constitution must be interpreted as the Founding Fathers meant it, are contradicted by the Founding Fathers themselves.

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Trump's bait and switch on manufacturing jobs

Thanks to Democratic activist Paul Deaton, “a low wage worker, husband, father and gardener trying to sustain a life in a turbulent world,” for cross-posting this opinion column that first appeared in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Since the general election I’ve been laying low, listening to people talk — in person — about the new administration and what President Donald J. Trump means to them.

It was about jobs.

Most supporters found a lot of what the president said and stands for to be objectionable, yet voted for him because of the hope for jobs — a central campaign theme. Manufacturing jobs specifically.

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The First Debate: Irresistible Force Meets Immovable Object

A must-read review of what recent history tells us about the impact of presidential debates. You can find Dan Guild’s past writing for this site here and here. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Debates have arguably remade the race for the Presidency in 1976, 1980, 2000, 2004 and 2012. Even in races where arguably they are less important, they still are significant events. Having said all of this there are patterns that repeat themselves. Guideposts that can help evaluate how they will affect this race. Here they are:

1. Typically debates consolidate support within their Party for each candidate. Where this is unequal, the candidate who is behind tends to benefit.

2. In races where there is significant discontent, debates often help the candidate of the party that is on the outside.

3. Third Parties frequently decline afterwards

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Throwback Thursday: When a computer malfunction may have robbed Ronald Reagan of a 1980 Iowa caucus victory

Steve Roberts is a walking encyclopedia of Iowa GOP politics since the 1970s. The Des Moines-based attorney is a past state chair of the Republican Party of Iowa as well as a longtime Republican National Committeeman. In 2008, state lawmaker Sandy Greiner suggested Roberts should be declared “king of Des Moines” after he helped beat back an effort within the RNC to take away Iowa’s first in the nation spot for the 2012 election cycle. Someone needs to persuade Roberts to write his memoirs or let a video archivist capture his entertaining stories.

I called Roberts on March 3 to ask about events at the 1980 state Republican convention, which I plan to cover in a future Throwback Thursday post. Roberts was the top Iowa GOP official at that time. While answering one of my questions, he mentioned in passing,

[George H.W.] Bush won the Iowa caucuses, but I’ll tell you now, in looking back on it, our computers broke down. We didn’t get to count a number of rural counties, and very possibly [Ronald] Reagan won.

Wait, what?

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Donald Trump's "Make America great again" pales next to Ronald Reagan's

Donald Trump’s first television commercial grabbed attention for its unsubtle race-baiting on the topic of immigration. His latest commercial hits Ted Cruz as “pro-amnesty,” citing the Texas senator’s past support for legislation that would have provided legal status for some undocumented immigrants.

In between those spots, the Trump campaign released an ad that has been in heavy rotation on Iowa tv stations since January 15. “Our Country” hammers home Trump’s promise to “make America great again,” which inspired me to look back at how Ronald Reagan used the same words in one of his 1980 campaign commercials.

Trump has communication skills, but he’s not on Reagan’s level.

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Comparing Bernie Sanders' "America" to Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America"

The best commercial of the 2016 presidential campaign started running on Friday. Set to the classic Simon and Garfunkel song “America,” the 60-second spot for Bernie Sanders evokes optimism and a sense of purpose. A dejected Hillary Clinton supporter told me a few days ago that this ad will win the Iowa caucuses for Sanders.

I don’t know about that, but “America” is so superb that I was inspired to compare its style and substance to one of the most famous presidential campaign ads of the 20th century. This 60-second spot for Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign was originally called “Prouder, Stronger, Better” but is better-known as “Morning in America” because of its memorable opening metaphor: “It’s morning again in America.”

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Weekend open thread: What's wrong with this picture?

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers?  This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

I haven’t been watching this year’s freakshow CPAC convention, but I was struck by Senator Chuck Grassley posting a photo of himself smiling and shaking hands with Oliver North at the event. For those not old enough to remember the 1980s, North was an important figure in the Iran-Contra affair (brief history here). As a little-known National Security Council official in the Reagan administration, North diverted funds from arms sales to the Iranian regime to supply anti-Communist fighters in Nicaragua. He lied to Congress about the policy and responded to an investigation “By stuffing many documents into a shredder and sneaking out others in his secretary’s dress.” His felony convictions for destroying classified documents and obstructing Congress were vacated because of technicalities: specifically, questions about whether Congressional hearings before his prosecution had tainted the proceedings. There was never any credible case that North hadn’t committed those crimes.

Why would North appeal to a guy like Grassley, self-styled advocate of strong Congressional oversight of the executive branch? How was the policy to supply weapons to the hostile Iranian regime substantively different from those by officials in the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms who carried out the “Operation Fast and Furious” gunwalking scheme? How were Oliver North’s actions substantively different from those of Justice Department officials under Attorney General Eric Holder, whom Grassley has excoriated for not cooperating with the Congressional investigation into Fast and Furious?

Speaking of Grassley, here’s some unintentional comedy from the senator’s Twitter feed on February 15: “Every republican senator but one wants to debate Homeland Security bill that will block Obama immigration but Dems filibuster Why not vote?”

Great question. Democrats should answer right after Grassley explains why he and his Republican colleagues didn’t let the Senate vote on the DREAM Act and repeatedly blocked campaign finance disclosure rules that were favored by the entire Democratic caucus.

Rest in peace, Jim Jeffords

Former U.S. Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont passed away today at the age of 80. When he was first elected to Congress in 1974, New England Republicans were well represented in Washington, DC, and were more progressive than many southern Democrats in the Capitol. By the time he retired in 2006, only a few Congressional Republicans hailed from states to the north and east of New York.

Jeffords will be most remembered for becoming an independent in May 2001, shifting control of the Senate to Democrats just a few months into George W. Bush’s presidency. Emily Langer notes in her Washington Post obituary that Jeffords had been out of step with his party on many occasions before then.

In 1981, while serving in the House, he was the only Republican to oppose President Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts. Later, as a member of the Senate, Mr. Jeffords opposed President George H.W. Bush’s nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court and publicly agonized before supporting the president on the invasion of Iraq during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

During the Democratic administration of President Bill Clinton, Mr. Jeffords broke with his party by backing the president’s health-care plan and voting against the articles of impeachment brought against him in connection with the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Even so, leaving the GOP caucus was a difficult choice for Jeffords. You can watch his May 24, 2001 speech here or read the transcript at the Burlington Free Press website. Iowa’s senior Senator Chuck Grassley was among the GOP colleagues most hurt by Jeffords’ defection. Speaking to reporters on that day in 2001, Jeffords said his meeting with Republican senators had been

the most emotional time that I have ever had in my life, with my closest friends urging me not to do what I was going to do, because it affected their lives, and very substantially. I know, for instance, the chairman of the finance committee has dreamed all his life of being chairman. He is chairman about a couple of weeks, and now he will be no longer the chairman. All the way down the line, I could see the anguish and the disappointment as I talked.

So many elected officials have remained loyal to parties that no longer represent their views. It’s hard to redefine one’s political identity and jeopardize longtime relationships. Jeffords stands out because he took a painful step for principles he believed in.

Incidentally, Grassley focused on the policy implications of Jeffords’ switch, not his personal loss of power. As it happens, he didn’t have to wait long for another chance to chair the Senate Finance Committee, from January 2003 through December 2006.

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Five good reads on Ronald Reagan and race-based appeals

Republicans have been long been masters at demanding that prominent Democrats apologize for some obscure person’s offensive comment. Today the Black Hawk County Republicans used this tried and true technique to score a story by the Des Moines Register’s chief politics reporter. In a now-deleted post on the Black Hawk County Democrats’ Facebook page, a volunteer shared a graphic comparing Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Among other things, the graphic described Reagan as a “white supremacist.”

Jennifer Jacobs’ story leads with a Republican press release and includes an apology from the chair of the Black Hawk County Democrats for this “unfortunate” and “unacceptable” post. However, nowhere does Jacobs hint at why anyone would think to apply this label to Reagan in the first place. Maybe she’s playing dumb, or maybe she’s too young to remember.

Sad to say, the U.S. has had more than a handful of white supremacist presidents. I don’t think Reagan was one of them. But I recommend the following reads on his use of racially charged language to win support for his political agenda.

Ian Haney-Lopez provides a good overview of how Reagan “used coded racial appeals to galvanize white voters.”

During the 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan traveled to Philadelphia, Mississippi, site of the most notorious murders of the civil rights movement, to deliver this speech declaring his support for “states’ rights.” (full transcript) As Bob Herbert wrote many years later, “Everybody watching the 1980 campaign knew what Reagan was signaling at the fair. Whites and blacks, Democrats and Republicans – they all knew. The news media knew. The race haters and the people appalled by racial hatred knew. And Reagan knew.”

David Love chronicles Reagan’s “troubling legacy” on race. Not only did he oppose the Voting Rights Act of 1965, during the 1980 campaign he criticized that law as “humiliating to the South.”

In 1981, Reagan White House aide Lee Atwater gave a remarkably frank interview about the GOP’s “Southern strategy.” He described how overtly racist political rhetoric evolved into conservative slogans about busing or economic policies that hurt black people more than whites.

Peter Dreier reminds us that Reagan’s “indifference to urban problems was legendary” and notes that his administration “failed to prosecute or sanction banks that violated the Community Reinvestment Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in lending.”

On a related note, Reagan’s riff about “welfare queens” is perhaps the most famous example of how he used racial code words. Josh Levin published a fascinating profile of the con artist who inspired that part of Reagan’s stump speech.

Weekend open thread: American history edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread. Last night I watched a fascinating CNN program about John Hinckley’s attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. I had no idea that Hinckley had been stalking Jimmy Carter during the fall of 1980. Twice he got within a few feet of the president at campaign events.

I also taped the CNN “Our Nixon” documentary first aired earlier this month, based on home movies shot by Nixon’s aides. Looking forward to watching that soon.

Rob Christensen published an interesting essay about conservatism in the south: “Few states took the idea of minimalist government as far as North Carolina. All of the 1800s was a case study of the proposition that North Carolina works best with bare-bones government.”

Speaking of small-government conservatives, here’s an oldie but goodie by Reagan administration economist Bruce Bartlett on Reagan’s forgotten record of raising taxes as California governor and president.

Moving to more recent history, I strongly disagree with what Patty Judge told the New York Times about Hillary Clinton needing a strong ground game if she comes back to Iowa. If Clinton runs for president, she will win the Iowa caucuses and the Democratic nomination without any question, whether or not she spends time on retail politics here. There won’t be a repeat of 2007-2008, because she will have only token opposition during the primaries.

Weekend open thread: Rand Paul in Iowa edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? Rand Paul was in Cedar Rapids on Friday to headline the Republican Party of Iowa’s spring fundraiser. Links and highlights are after the jump. Nothing I read convinced me that Paul has any chance of becoming president someday, but count on him to try.

Speaking of Rand, did you know that he was never board-certified? I learned that recently from an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon. After I mentioned that Iowa Department of Public Health Director Mariannette Miller-Meeks is also an ophthalmologist, she looked up Miller-Meeks in the academy database and commented, “She’s well-trained.” Miller-Meeks did her residency at the University of Iowa and a fellowship at the University of Michigan. She is board-certified and was re-certified about ten years ago.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. In previous years I’ve posted Mother’s Day links here, here, and here. Best wishes to those who celebrate today, and healing thoughts to those who grieve on Mother’s Day.

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Margaret Thatcher legacy discussion thread

One of the most influential world leaders of the 20th century died today. Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was 87 years old. The BBC posted her obituary and other links about her life, as well as reaction to her passing and a collection of her most famous quotes.

It’s hard to overstate how much Thatcher changed British politics and society during her eleven years as prime minister. On the other hand, she was such a lightning rod that her own Conservative Party replaced her in 1990 rather than face another parliamentary election with her leading the government.

Like her political “soul mate” Ronald Reagan, Thatcher is admired by many conservatives on this side of the pond. But whereas the Tories have moderated their policies under the last few party leaders, the Republican Party has moved much further to the right since Reagan’s presidency. Today’s GOP politicians reject any tax increases (failing to acknowledge Reagan’s many tax hikes) and view compromise on immigration reform as betrayal.

Any memories about Thatcher’s life or thoughts about her legacy are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: In this speech from 1988, the British actor Ian McKellen lambasted the Thatcher government’s “queer-bashing.”

New Ron Paul tv ad calls Perry "Al Gore's Texas cheerleader"

Representative Ron Paul just answered my question about which Republican presidential candidate would be the first to go after the new front-runner, Texas Governor Rick Perry. A 60-second television commercial going up in Iowa and New Hampshire presents Paul as a longtime supporter of Ronald Reagan, in contrast to Perry, who backed Al Gore’s 1988 presidential campaign. I’ve posted the video and transcript below.

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Weekend open thread: Nightmare in Japan

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? The footage coming out of Japan the last couple of days has been horrifying. At least 10,000 people are now estimated to have died in the 9.0 earthquake near Sendai and subsequent tsunami. Hundreds of aftershocks, some of them quite powerful, threaten to destroy structures the first earthquake weakened. Power outages will occur because several of Japan’s nuclear reactors have been shut down. Radiation is leaking from the 40-year-old Fukushima nuclear plant, where one of the buildings exploded on Saturday and a meltdown seems to have occurred.  Authorities are distributing iodine to protect people nearby against some adverse health effects from radiation exposure. The nightmare scenario is northerly winds blowing a radioactive cloud toward Tokyo. Although Japanese nuclear plants have more containment features than Soviet reactors like the one destroyed in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, people are comparing the two catastrophic events. Chris Meyers and Kim Kyung-hoon reported for Reuters,

However, experts said Japan should not expect a repeat of Chernobyl. They said pictures of mist above the plant suggested only small amounts of radiation had been expelled as part of measures to ensure its stability, far from the radioactive clouds Chernobyl spewed out 25 years ago.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency said it was rating the incident a 4 on the 1 to 7 International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), less serious than 1979’s Three Mile Island, which was rated a 5, and Chernobyl at 7. […]

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters the nuclear reaction facility was surrounded by a steel storage machine, which was itself surrounded by a concrete building.

“This concrete building collapsed. We learnt that the storage machine inside did not explode,” he said.

Saturday morning I was disgusted by MSNBC’s coverage of the nuclear plant explosion. The only “expert” they interviewed to discuss the meltdown risk was from the Nuclear Energy Institute. He spent almost all his air time talking about how the radiation leak was very short-term, affecting a small area, and anyway we’re all exposed to radiation every day just by virtue of living on planet earth. I’m sure General Electric (major shareholder in NBC communications) wouldn’t want viewers to get too worried about nuclear power. GE built the Fukushima facility.

This disaster reveals one of the major hidden costs of nuclear power:

The liability costs associated with cleaning up after the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant will ultimately be borne by the Japanese government instead of the private insurance market, according to experts from the insurance industry.

Those liability costs, if they prove substantial, will place an added burden on the government as it copes with tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars in other expenses linked to the massive rebuilding effort that lies ahead.

This is an open thread.

UPDATE: Added YouTube clips from Ronald Reagan’s 1980 Labor Day address after the jump. Speaking about Polish workers, Reagan said, “Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.” Reagan served six terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild in the 1940s and 1950s (when he was a Democrat). As Republican governor of California and president of the U.S., however, he did a lot of damage to the organized labor movement.

SECOND UPDATE: What a total disgrace. The Obama administration has forced State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley to resign because he said last week that the Defense Department’s treatment of accused Wikileaker Private Bradley Manning is “is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” President Obama was asked about Crowley’s comments at Friday’s press conference and (disgracefully) defended the way Manning is being treated in custody.

THIRD UPDATE: Physicist Michio Kaku: “At present, it seems that Unit 1 has only suffered partial melting. The situation at Unit 1 is stable, but the situation with Unit 3 continues to worsen hour by hour. The danger is that a further secondary earthquake or pipe break could cause the sea water to flush out of the core, uncovering the uranium and initiating a full-scale meltdown. “

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Weekend open thread: Reagan's 100th birthday edition

Sunday, February 6 would have been Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday, and the occasion will be marked by a graveside ceremony in California and a tribute video to be aired during the Superbowl. I try not to speak ill of the dead, but I honestly struggle to think of anything Reagan did that benefited the country, besides signing the arms control treaty with the USSR. Not only was he nowhere near one of the great presidents, his main legacy was massive income inequality. He cut programs aimed at helping the poor and demonized welfare recipients successfully, paving the way for the welfare reforms of the 1990s. I disliked Reagan’s politics so much that Barack Obama’s rhetorical similarity to the Gipper was a big reason I never could warm up to Obama’s “inspiring” speeches.

The Reagan-worship in today’s Republican Party is comical. If Reagan were a candidate today, he’d be assailed as a “RINO” for his tax-raising, big-spending policies. Yes, Reagan raised many taxes as governor and as president, not that many Republicans would admit that today. At Think Progress, Alex Seitz-Wald published “10 Things Conservatives Don’t Want You To Know About Ronald Reagan,” and one of them was news to me, even though I remember the 1980s well: “Reagan signed into law a bill that made any immigrant who had entered the country before 1982 eligible for amnesty. […] The bill helped 3 million people and millions more family members gain American residency.”

This is an open thread. What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers?

UPDATE: I like Robert Borosage’s post on “The Reagan Ruins.”

SECOND UPDATE: Daily Kos user Clarknt67 on Reagan’s years-long non-response to the AIDS epidemic.

The impact of Reaganomics, amped up by Bush

Between 1984 and 2007, “The gap between the wealth possessed by white and black families grew more than four times larger,” in part because of tax cuts and policies that favored high-income groups. Researchers from the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University also found in a new report that the average middle-income white family was able to accumulate more wealth (assets minus debts) than the average high-income African-American family: “Consumers of color face a gauntlet of barriers – in credit, housing and taxes – that dramatically reduce the chances of economic mobility.”

The growing wealth gap between the races in the U.S. is the focus of the new report, which you can download here. Other researchers have found equally damning evidence of the widening gap between the very rich and everyone else. This graph shows how “the top 10 per cent of income earners in the US took home an ever more outsized share of the total national income starting at the end of the 1970s.” From the World War II era to the early 1980s, the “top 10 percent took 30-35 per cent of total national income,” but by 2007 that figure had grown to about 50 percent–a level not seen since just before the Great Depression.

Ronald Reagan’s fiscal policies started this trend, but George W. Bush accelerated it with his enormous tax cuts for the highest earners. During Bush’s presidency, “The share of the nation’s income flowing to the top 1 percent of households increased sharply, from 16.9 percent in 2002 to 23.5 percent in 2007 – a larger share than at any point since 1928.” In addition, approximately “Two-thirds of the nation’s total income gains from 2002 to 2007 flowed to the top 1 percent of U.S. households […].”  

This enormous wealth gap is invisible to the Reagan-worshippers who now dominate the Republican Party. For them, any attempt to increase working-class wages is a “job-killer,” and tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the well-off are the solution to every problem. Look at how the Republican candidates for Iowa governor balk at spending $42 million to send more than 12,000 kids to pre-school but brag about plans to cut corporate taxes by $80 million to $160 million. Their priorities would be laughable if the real-world consequences were not so tragic.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

The young generation may be a lost cause for Republicans

Looking at this graph of party identification by age in the U.S., I was not surprised to find 40-year-olds like me in the best cohort for Republicans. My peers vaguely remember the oil shocks and high inflation of the 1970s, and then came of age during Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America.” In those days, many young people proudly identified with the Republican Party. As they grew older, lots of them continued to vote that way.

Americans who were growing up during the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are much more likely to call themselves Democrats or independents than Republicans. They also voted Democratic by large margins in the 2006 and 2008 general elections. If Republicans can’t figure out a way to compete with this group of voters, Democrats will have a built-in advantage for decades.

Fixing this problem won’t be easy for the GOP and may even be impossible, for reasons I discuss after the jump.

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Presidential rankings: William Henry Harrison was robbed!

Update: Read the comments under my Daily Kos cross-post for lots of good insights. There are also some fascinating comments in Beltway Dem’s thread; for instance, Charles Lemos makes a case for Arthur as one of the great presidents.

Thanks to Beltway Dem’s diary at MyDD, I saw that C-SPAN asked these 65 professional historians or observers of the presidency to rank the 42 presidents on the following criteria:  

   * Public Persuasion

   * Crisis Leadership

   * Economic Management

   * Moral Authority

   * International Relations

   * Administrative Skills

   * Relations with Congress

   * Vision/Setting An Agenda

   * Pursued Equal Justice For All

   * Performance Within Context of Times

Here are the overall scores and rankings. George W. Bush ranked 36th, ahead of Millard Fillmore, Warren G. Harding, William Henry Harrison, Franklin D. Pierce, Andrew Johnson, and James Buchanan. Doesn’t that strike you as unfair to William Henry Harrison? Granted, he didn’t accomplish much in the six weeks he was president before dying of pneumonia. But it’s not as if he turned a record surplus into record deficits or got this country mired in the longest war in U.S. history or anything.

Other notable findings:

Abraham Lincoln ranked first again, as any normal person would expect (even though none of the men who sought to lead the Republican Party named him as the greatest GOP president). Lincoln is even more remarkable when you view his leadership in the context of his times. The three presidents who immediately preceded Lincoln and his successor all ranked in the bottom six overall.

George Washington moved ahead of Franklin Delano Roosevelt this time to finish second. That is a tough call, and I could see it either way. The New Deal changed this country forever, but Washington’s commitment to regular presidential elections and serving only two terms set enormously important precedents.

Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S Truman ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, as they did in the 2000 survey. I’m no professional historian, but that seems high for Truman.

John F. Kennedy moved from eighth place in 2000 to sixth in this survey, putting him just ahead of Thomas Jefferson. They cannot be serious. Kennedy did more for this country as president than Jefferson did?

Dwight D. Eisenhower also moved up from ninth place in the last survey to eighth. Woodrow Wilson dropped from sixth in 2000 to ninth, which probably says something about current academic trends in the International Relations field, but I don’t know what exactly.

Republicans will be pleased that Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson switched places; Reagan moved from eleventh into the top ten, while LBJ dropped down one notch to eleventh.

I have problems with putting JFK ahead of LBJ. I don’t think Kennedy could have gotten such far-reaching civil rights legislation through Congress during that era. The great tragedy of LBJ’s presidency was continuing the Vietnam policy begun by JFK. Johnson had serious doubts about this policy, but he stuck with it, and in doing so he was following the advice of almost all the Kennedy advisers who stayed on for his administration. I do not believe Kennedy would have kept us from deeper involvement in Vietnam, and I don’t think he would have achieved nearly as much on the domestic front.

Speaking of which, ranking Reagan ahead of Johnson seems outlandish. I know Reagan is now a conservative cult hero (they whitewash his tax hikes during in his second term), but can his admirers explain to me which of his policies changed this country forever? Did he make the government smaller in some way? Did he manage the country’s money responsibly?

Look at this list of LBJ’s accomplishments, which Paul Rosenberg compiled at Open Left. (I hope he will forgive me for posting the list after the jump as well.) Can anyone imagine this country without Medicare or Medicaid? Head Start or Food Stamps? The Department of Transportation? Republicans may hate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, but they have been unable to get rid of them. The long list includes consumer protection and environmental progress as well.

The war in Vietnam was a terrible mistake, but even so, Johnson made lasting changes for the good in so many policy areas, it’s mind-boggling. The Republican presidents who followed him were unable to undo this legacy.

Getting back to the historians’ survey, Bill Clinton looks a lot better now than he did before George W. Bush screwed up the country. As a group, the historians ranked him 21st in 2000, but he has moved up to 15th place.

George H.W. Bush moved up slightly from 20th to 18th place.

Did someone’s book launch a revisionist view of Ulysses S. Grant during the last eight years? He ranked 33rd in 2000 but moved up to 23rd place. No other president showed as large a jump in the historians’ rankings. UPDATE: In the Daily Kos thread Judge Moonbox says:

Such a revision is almost certainly due to Eric Foner’s Reconstruction; which wiped away nearly a century of the racist received history–a legacy which proves that history is not always written by the victors. Here it had been written by the Mugwumps.

Also, ORDem linked to this diary by NNadir on how Grant wasn’t a bad president.

Jimmy Carter dropped from 22nd to 25th, and Richard Nixon dropped from 25th to 27th.

This is an open thread for any opinions about how the U.S. presidents should be ranked.

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