Archive

March 12th, 2016

In first lady, Nancy Reagan found the role of a lifetime

    Whether you loved her or hated her, Nancy Reagan was an American queen.

    In the democratic world of 20th-century politics, everyone politely pretended the first lady was merely a devoted wife, supporting her beloved Ronnie in anything he wanted to do. That was certainly true, but there have been plenty of first ladies who loved and supported their husbands.

    No, she was much, much more: A woman who derived power from her husband but wielded it freely. A woman with expensive tastes and glamorous friends who saw no point in acting like the girl next door. A woman who knew what she wanted and, more often than not, got it.

    Not many people would call her a modern feminist -- she never did -- but Nancy Reagan loved the life she lived and never apologized for her choices or her ambition. In first lady, she found the role of a lifetime and redefined the office for the women who came after her.

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When Fallacies Collide

    The formal debates among the Republicans who would be president have exceeded all expectations. Even the most hardened cynics couldn’t have imagined that the candidates would sink so low, and stay so focused on personal insults. Yet last week, offstage, there was in effect a real debate about economic policy between Donald Trump and Mitt Romney, who is trying to block his nomination.

    Unfortunately, both men are talking nonsense. Are you surprised?

    The starting point for this debate is Trump’s deviation from free-market orthodoxy on international trade. Attacks on immigrants are still the central theme of the Republican front-runner’s campaign, but he has opened a second front on trade deficits, which he asserts are being caused by the currency manipulation of other countries, especially China. This manipulation, he says, is “robbing Americans of billions of dollars of capital and millions of jobs.”

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The Republicans' race to the bottom

    On the day Mitt Romney called Donald Trump a con man, a fraud and a phony, and Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz subsequently ran Trump through a televised debate buzz saw, the Republican Party may have hit a new low in self-disparagement.

    Its 2012 presidential nominee first provided the Fox News debate team all the raw material required to keep Trump on the defensive for two hours. Then the debaters did the rest, as Rubio joined Trump in a display of gutter-speak over such matters as genitalia size and other matters better suited for locker-room chatter.

    For once, attempts were made to draw out Trump on his unending boasts about his wealth and charity, raising doubts about both and generating flashes of anger and impatience from Trump. But once again, it was all about Donald as near-panic seized the party over the prospect of his nomination in July.

    At one point, moderator Chris Wallace quoted verbatim from Romney's all-purpose indictment of Trump: "The bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics."

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The End of American Idealism

    Sometimes it’s hard to shake the uneasy feeling that we are witnessing the dissolution of an idea that was once America.

    The country is still a military superpower and an economic and innovation powerhouse, but so many of our institutions are proving to be either fundamentally flawed or deeply broken.

    This thought kept creeping into my mind as I watched Thursday’s Republican presidential debate in Detroit. It seemed to me the zenith of a carnival of absurdity, as the candidates descended into what appeared to be a penis measuring contest.

    I kept thinking with dread, “One of these men might actually be the next president” — either the demagogue from New York, the political arsonist from Texas or the empty suit from Florida. (I see no path for the governor from Ohio.)

    In another political season, liberals might greet such a prospect with glee. But this is not that season.

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March 10th

The End of American Idealism

    Sometimes it’s hard to shake the uneasy feeling that we are witnessing the dissolution of an idea that was once America.

    The country is still a military superpower and an economic and innovation powerhouse, but so many of our institutions are proving to be either fundamentally flawed or deeply broken.

    This thought kept creeping into my mind as I watched Thursday’s Republican presidential debate in Detroit. It seemed to me the zenith of a carnival of absurdity, as the candidates descended into what appeared to be a penis measuring contest.

    I kept thinking with dread, “One of these men might actually be the next president” — either the demagogue from New York, the political arsonist from Texas or the empty suit from Florida. (I see no path for the governor from Ohio.)

    In another political season, liberals might greet such a prospect with glee. But this is not that season.

Full text and e-editions are available to premium subscribers only. To subscribe to the digital edition, please visit subscription page. If you are already a subscriber, please login to the site.

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Dress Codes and Female Dignity

    How many among us recognize the name of Yolande Betbeze Fox, the Alabama beauty who died recently at the age of 87? Fox blazed quite a trail through American culture when, as Miss America of 1951, she refused to reign in a bathing suit. The swimsuit-maker sponsoring the pageant was not pleased.

    Educated in a convent in Mobile, Fox championed a certain propriety in dress. She found the idea of parading half-naked around America most distasteful. Fox moved on to become a prominent progressive activist in New York and Washington, D.C. She knew at the age of 22 that no one would take her seriously in a bathing suit.

    You wonder how Fox would respond to a convoluted feminist debate, one side of which holds that women should be taken seriously no matter how they dress. It's been expanded to condemn high-school dress codes -- arguing they are sexist because they force the girls to de-emphasize their breasts, legs and rear ends. A kind of "body shaming," if you will. If the girls' fashion choices arouse the boys, it's the boys' problem.

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The GOP vulgarians

    It was William Bennett, education secretary in the Reagan years and the Republican Party's premier moralist, who embedded a phrase in the American consciousness when he bemoaned the fact that "our elites presided over an unprecedented coarsening of our culture."

    Well, to borrow another famous phrase, it is Bennett's party and two of its presidential candidates in particular, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, who are merrily defining our politics, our discourse and the American presidency down. The 2016 Republican primary campaign is now on track to be the crudest, most vulgar and most thoroughly disgusting contest in our nation's history.

    A policy wonk who has spent nearly two decades in politics was watching last Thursday's GOP debate with his two teenage daughters and was horrified when one turned to him and asked: "Is this what you do?" The dad, who didn't want to be named because he didn't want to embarrass his daughters, said their acquaintances had higher standards than the debaters: "They would be humiliated if their friends talked to them that way."

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The debate we need on Libya

    If Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton really are our choices in the presidential election this fall, we'll witness an ugly debate about the great wall of Mexico, emails, Trump University and, here and there, maybe trade or torture. But we also could hear a lot about a small North African country of 6 million people, Libya - and we should.

    Trump will point to Libya as prime evidence of Clinton's incompetence. He'll claim she pushed for U.S. intervention in the 2011 revolution against dictator Moammar Gaddafi and the result was a disaster: chaos, civil war, a new base for the Islamic State and the slaying of a U.S. ambassador. Gaddafi, Trump now says, should have been left in place. Clinton might well respond that NATO's air operation prevented genocide on a Syrian scale - and that Trump strongly supported the operation at the time.

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Remembering Nancy Reagan, formidable first lady

    The list of influential modern first ladies always includes Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton, but not usually Nancy Reagan. That's a mistake.

    Reagan, who died Sunday at 94, had a big influence on her husband, President Ronald Reagan, both in shaping White House operations in his first term and encouraging his breakthrough relations with the Soviet Union in his second.

    For more than a half century, the Reagans' love story was so intense that at times it burned at the expense of family, friends and politics.

    That could be a political liability. Reagan's lavish spending habits and social friends became political baggage. Her fixation on astrology after the 1981 assassination attempt on her husband was a distraction for the White House.

    Before Ronald Reagan reached the White House, including during his two terms as governor of California, his wife was seen more as a stylish, protective spouse than a substantive mover and shaker.

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Mourning more than the loss of Nancy Reagan

    While I was growing up in the 1980s, Nancy Reagan, who passed away March 6 at the age of 94, wasn't my favorite. Then the first lady of the United States, wife of President Ronald Reagan, seemed to my teenage self a cold, stern figure who lectured us to "Just Say No" to drugs. The Hollywood glamour she and her husband brought to the White House those eight years only added to the distance -- psychological and experiential -- that seemed to be between her and me. That view of Reagan continued long after she left Washington.

    But all that changed in the evening hours of June 11, 2004.

    We all watched the nation pay its respects to the 40th president of the United States. The man who led the Reagan Revolution and who so many Republican leaders struggle to emulate was being laid to rest after succumbing to Alzheimer's disease. The pageantry started in Washington and ended in the glowing sunset at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

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