Sometimes, it seems that the lure of tax cuts is all that is keeping the Republican party going. The House Speaker, Paul Ryan, has consistently tuned out the political storm around him–Russia! Collusion! Roy Moore!–holding instead a feverish focus on his goal of cutting taxes, half-joking that it’s what he wanted to do since he was drinking from kegs.
Ryan duly follows the Reagan era wisdom that a tax cut, largely benefitting the richest Americans, will drive economic growth for all. In his plan, 80% of the benefits would go to the top 1%. The average tax cut of the top tenth of the top 1% would be $1 million dollars annually. The plan would additionally slash the corporate tax rate, even though corporate profits are at an all time high. Although there is some feeble insistence from the White House that this is a tax cut for the middle class, it clearly has its roots in ideology from 1980s.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran on the idea of a large tax cut in order to spur economic growth after a lagging decade. His opponent in the primaries (and future vice president) George H.W. Bush, labeled this idea “voodoo economics” during a debate at Carnegie Mellon University. As a candidate for vice president, Bush had to backtrack. He later got in trouble himself when, as president, he promised to not raise taxes (the infamous “read my lips” statement), but felt so strongly that they were necessary that he went back on his word.
After the Reagan tax cuts were passed in 1981, the U.S. government developed huge deficits. In fact, one of Reagan’s advisors and an architect on the 1981 tax cut recently wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post to warn that tax cuts do not equal growth.
The GOP–desperate for a legislative win–seems determined to push the cuts through. Democrats are united against the plan, but would need Republican support to stop their passage. Until then, it would be prudent for President Trump to look to history, to a living member of his exclusive club, to see just how tricky voodoo economics can be.
Yesterday, October 30th, 2017, was John Adams’ 282nd birthday. Adams was born in Quincy, MA and was a key figure in the American Revolution and the aftermath–he played an important role in the Continental Congress, worked with allies abroad during the war, and served as the nation’s first vice president and second president.
Adams is the only Founding Father to have never owned slaves; he is also the only one without a monument in Washington D.C.
Adams was known for his intelligence and vanity. He had a quick wit and wasn’t afraid to lash out (unlike his counterparts–who were often more strategic and sly, penning anonymous op-eds or communicating their feelings through friends–Adams couldn’t resist letting his feelings be known).
Adams’ family is remarkable as well–his wife, Abigail Adams, was as quick with a quill if not quicker than her husband. Their son, John Quincy Adams, went on to be president himself. JQA is also debatably the most intelligent of the presidents
John Adams made plenty of enemies as president, including his vice president and former friend, Thomas Jefferson. The two men, however, later reconciled in their old age. They died on the same day, July 4th, 1826.
Last week, President Bush gave a speech defending traditional American values, which many interpreted as a veiled attack on President Trump. The twittersphere was full of comments and memes about how Bush was no longer the worst president, how he had “joined the resistance”, and that, compared to the daily twists and turns of the Trump administration, Bush’s was almost idyllic.
It’s a strange thing, since Bush left office in 2009 with an approval rating in the mid 30s.
Still, Bush is not alone. Aside from Richard Nixon, whose legacy continues to suffer, most presidents who leave office as unpopular figures see their approval rating climb as the nation moves on. In 2017, Bush now has an approval rating of 59%. Harry Truman also left office with an approval rating in the mid-30s. Yet today he often finds himself in the top ten of lists of the best presidents. Lyndon Johnson, likewise, decided that he would not run for reelection in 1968 because of his deep unpopularity and his failure to end the war in Vietnam. Yet today he is lauded for his work on the Great Society and civil rights, and also often ranks high among the “best” presidents.
In this era of immediate news it seems society is expected to form opinions as fast as possible. Still, it’s worth noting that legacy is something alive, something that can change with time and perspective. It’s difficult to see how actions today can alter the events of tomorrow. Trump is currently one of the most unpopular presidents of all time, especially so early in his term. He does not seem to have the capacity or desire to change the course he’s on–yet it’s impossible to say whether this unpopularity will endure or whether Trump’s legacy, whatever that is, will be given the same, gentle treatment of his modern predecessors.
Then again, he might join universally acknowledge duds–duds like James Buchanan and Warren Harding, who through their ineffectiveness and corruption consistently find themselves at the bottom of presidential rankings.
On Wednesday, Senator Jeff Flake did a remarkable thing–he stood up in front of his colleagues and denounced the president of his own party. Flake called President Trump’s policies “destructive.” He declared he would no longer be “complicit or silent.” And Flake said he hoped that his words would have the same effect as Jack Welch in 1954, when Welch turned to Joe McCarthy and asked the question that ended McCarthy’s career–“have you no sense of decency?”
Welch expressed what many in government thought but feared to say and his words carried weight with Americans who’d watched the McCarthy hearings on TV. McCarthy’s popularity quickly dried up. He was censured by his colleagues in the Senate and died three years later at 48, an alcoholic. It was a spectacular downfall for a man who’d once cowed Eisenhower into dropping remarks praising McCarthy enemy John Foster Dulles.
For Flake to say he hoped his words would produce a similar reaction seems to suggest that Flake is gunning for impeachment. He joins his colleagues John McCain and Bob Corker in their outspoken disapproval of the president’s behavior (if not, judging by their votes, his policies). Flake seems to think that his words may encourage others to voice their opinions, since it’s widely acknowledged that many GOP senators share Flake’s view but are not willing to air their grievances in public. After all, aside from their dislike of the president, Flake, Corker & McCain have one other thing in common–none of them are running for reelection.
Flake’s words could turn the tide. He could be the Jack Welch in this saga. Or he could be the Nelson Rockefeller.
In 1964, Barry Goldwater won the Republican nomination through tough talk, endorsements of extreme methods, and his blasé attitude toward using nuclear weapons–he was the inspiration for LBJ’s “<a href="http://”Daisy” ad and he once said the U.S. should “lob one into the men’s room at the Kremlin.” The Republican party faced a struggle for its soul over his nomination but given the ferocity of his popularity among many Republican voters, no one wanted to speak out against him. Nelson Rockefeller, who’d run but lost the nomination tried. During the GOP convention in which Goldwater declared, “extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice,” Rockefeller denounced “extremists” in the Republican ranks.
His words were drowned out by boos.
It’s too early to tell if Flake will encourage his colleagues to speak out or if he’ll be shunned by Republican voters. It certainly seems that two kinds of Republicans are emerging from the Trump presidency. But then again, maybe this all started in 1964, when a Republican had to decide if s/he were a “Goldwater” Republican, or something else entirely.
Former FBI Director James Comey made some social media waves Monday morning when he posted a picture of himself on Twitter. This was remarkable for a couple of reasons. The internet had long speculated that the twitter handle “Reinhold Niebuhr” belonged to Comey–the photo seemed to be an outright confirmation. Secondly, the picture depicted Comey standing among the corn in Iowa, wearing athletic shoes. Twitter responded with: “he’s running.”*
Regarding Comey, is it really that crazy of an idea? Many Americans are sick of both parties, as evidenced by the strong trend toward third party and outlier candidates during 2016. If Comey were to run in 2020, he could present himself as someone who always puts country first–and he certainly has the enemies on both sides of the aisle to prove it.
Comey could, in theory, try to create an Eisenhower like aura around his candidacy. He is someone who is accomplished in his field, who is seen by most as trustworthy and honorable, and he knows the ins and outs of Washington as well or better than other possible 2020 candidates. He is seen as steady and straightforward (a contrast to the current administration) and has the history to prove that he’s not partisan. Comey stood up to George W. Bush, refused to be rattled by Hillary Clinton, and kept his cool around Donald Trump.
Of course, he does have enemies. Democrats blame him for throwing the election to Trump by reviving Clinton’s email issue in the waning days of the campaign. Many Republicans see him as a “showboat” (Trump’s word) and disloyal for his conduct during his time in the Trump administration. But if Comey’s campaign were able to spin this as a positive, as an indication that he has always gone with his country over his party, no matter the consequences, he could be an appealing candidate for Americans tired of partisan rancor. And they’re sure to see plenty of that during the 2020 campaign.
It’s early. Still, stranger things have happened.
*For those who don’t know, the twitter comment “he/she’s running” is used ironically, and can be posted about almost anyone doing almost anything. It’s a mockery of the rampant speculation surrounding 2020.
Political ads have come a long way since the Eisenhower era. This jingle is impossible to forget–even the most stalwart Democrat will find themselves humming it.
A lot of things contributed to Ike’s victory in 1952–fatigue among Americans of the Democratic party (after all, Dems had been in power since 1933), a feisty and well defined campaign by the Republicans (Ike’s VP pick, Richard Nixon, was able to emphasize the three “Cs”–China, Communism, Corruption), and the disdain of Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic nominee, toward ads like Ike’s. Stevenson refused to be “sold like soap.”
Although this ad is the most famous, Eisenhower also utilized television to reach out to Americans by producing dozens of 20 second videos called “Eisenhower Answers America,” in which he’d respond to a question posed by a sympathetic citizen.
In this way, Ike was way ahead of the curve when it came to using television to advertise and promote a political campaign. Who knows what he might have done with Twitter.
A handful of American presidents have been assassinated while in office–Garfield, Lincoln, McKinley, and Kennedy. More, however, have survived attempts on their life–often in stunning ways.
Andrew Jackson, known today perhaps because of the controversy surrounding his place in history (and on the twenty dollar bill), was no less polarizing as president. He holds the dubious honor of being the first president to experience an attempt on his life. Jackson was leaving a funeral at the Capitol building when his would-be assassin, Richard Lawrence, ran up to him and shot his gun–but the gun misfired. Jackson, never one to back down from a fight (it was Jackson who said, “I was born for the storm; calm does not suit me”) began to beat Lawrence with his walking cane. Lawrence pulled out a second pistol but–incredibly–this gun also misfired. Experts later claimed that the odds of both guns misfiring were 1 in 125,000.
Approximately 105 years ago, on October 14, 1912, Teddy Roosevelt also survived an assassin’s bullet. Roosevelt was campaigning for president, having decided to run for a non-consecutive third term against his former friend and the incumbent Republican president, William Howard Taft. Arriving at a campaign event, Roosevelt was making his way through the crowd when John Schrank fired. Roosevelt was knocked down, but he struggled back to his feet and asked that the man–apprehended by his stenographer–be brought over. Roosevelt looked his would-be killer in the eyes and asked, “What’d you do it for?” When he got no response, he said,”Oh what’s the use. Take him away.”
Although his staff wanted him to go immediately to the hospital, Roosevelt insisted on giving his planned speech, since he could breathe fine and he wasn’t coughing up any blood. To the audience, Roosevelt announced that he’d just survived an assassination attempt but that “it takes more than that to kill a bull moose!” He withdrew his speech–fifty pages of thick paper, folded in half, from his breast pocket. Although Roosevelt had escaped the incident (mostly) unscathed, the speech had not. It, and an eyeglass holder, had deflected the bullet from hitting Roosevelt in the heart.