Tags: Bush | Untermeyer | Darman | Brands

When Things Supposedly Went Right

By    |   Tuesday, 28 Oct 2014 08:11 AM

Jonathan Darman, former Newsweek correspondent and author of Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America, and former U.S. Ambassador Chase Untermeyer, author of When Things Went Right: The Dawn of the Reagan-Bush Administration, appeared at the Texas Book Festival in Austin on Oct. 25 to discuss their books.

With the 2016 presidential election looming ever closer, this event is a fitting companion to the recent article on the landslides of LBJ for president in 1964 and Reagan for governor of California.

The panel was moderated by H.W. Brands, a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. Brands began by asking Darman how politics changed during the 40 years between the Johnson landslide and the 2004 campaign Darman covered, a question that gave Darman an opportunity to present his thesis that the tone of politics has changed, and politicians were much more respected in 1964.

On Oct. 27, 1964, Johnson was trying to build the biggest possible landslide (this writer recalls that he seemed to believe he should get every vote). At the same time, Reagan was giving "The Speech" for Barry Goldwater that would launch Reagan's political career.

Darman presented a "split screen" of Johnson's promise of expansive government and Reagan's warning of the excesses of government, from these two contemporaries who both idolized FDR. Darman suggested that Johnson could not foresee that Reagan would have the biggest effect on his ultimate legacy, because Reagan was dedicated to dismantling not the New Deal, but the Great Society.

Darman went on to describe a "transformative moment" when politicians could get things done, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the enactment of Medicare, anti-poverty legislation and expansion of federal education programs, that transformed people's lives. He credited Reagan with the skill to measure shifts in the political mood of the country.

Brands used this as a segue to asking Untermeyer when he sensed that a shift had occurred to the right and one of which Untermeyer approved; thus things were going right. Untermeyer forthrightly stated that he came to the Reagan administration from the Bush camp and that he had gotten involved in politics with the Texas Bushes at a time when the state was "a hopeless cause" for Republicans, so he was delighted to find George H.W. Bush running for Congress in Houston, and after volunteering in the campaign, Untermeyer's career began as an intern on Bush's congressional staff. He was a state legislator when the call came to join the Reagan White House staff.

Untermeyer admitted further that he shared Bush's doubts that the Reagan program would work. Untermeyer asserted that Bush forgot he had uttered the phrase "voodoo economics" and that Bush himself had become a Reaganite. He recalled the primary campaign between Reagan and Bush as "long and bitter" but claimed that Bush had come to view Reagan as "not only his boss but his friend."

Brand then brought up the "Reagan Revolution," an event this writer did not observe, and he asked while both LBJ and Reagan had visions of the country's future, perhaps this is lacking today. The question invites resurrection of another notorious Bush expression, the "vision thing."

This writer sees the notion that there was a time in recent history when "things worked" as a combination of myth, fantasy and sheer propaganda. In the fall of 1956, the U.S. lined up with the Soviets against Britain, France and Israel and stood by while the Soviets crushed the Hungarian uprising. In 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik and raised the profile of their challenge to American power. In 1958 the U.S. experienced a destructive recession that marked the end of the post-war expansion

The decay of the political and financial system has proceeded apace, and the conservative movement was born, flourished and died in the meantime. The outlook for 2016 is for another chapter of primitive family politics as the Clinton, Bush and Kennedy families arrive at a new balance of power among them.

(Archived video can be found here.)

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Robert-Feinberg
Jonathan Darman, author of Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America, and former U.S. Ambassador Chase Untermeyer, author of When Things Went Right: The Dawn of the Reagan-Bush Administration, appeared at the Texas Book Festival in Austin on Oct. 25 to discuss their books.
Bush, Untermeyer, Darman, Brands
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2014-11-28
Tuesday, 28 Oct 2014 08:11 AM
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