Is Gingrich or Romney the true heir of Reagan? Depends on which aspect of Reagan’s legacy you regard as central.

So Gingrich and Romney are fighting over which one is the true heir of Ronald Reagan. (And Sarah Palin thinks the Romneyites and the media are being mean to poor widdle Newtie.) Seems to me that depends on which aspect of the Reagan legacy you’re counting.

If you liked the idea of running a cocaine-dealing operation out of the White House basement, then Romney the CEO should be the better bet. But if what you really admire is selling weapons to Iran to finance an illegal war in Nicaragua, that’s the kind of hare-brained scheme that comes naturally to Gingrich but would never occur to Romney.

But the real essence of Reagan, it seems to me, was his post-modernism. Remember the woman who bought an orange with Food Stamps and a bottle of vodka with the change? Utterly impossible, of course. But that didn’t matter to Reagan; it was a good line, and he read it well, and its truth-value was utterly irrelevant.

In that regard, Romney wins the Reagan Look-Alike Contest hands-down. Gingrich tells his share of whoppers, but you get the sense (at least I do) that he knows he’s lying, and feels slightly bad about it. Romney, like Reagan, seems to regard politics as a truth-free zone, where you can say “I approve this message” one day and claim you never heard it the next, without even blushing.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

11 thoughts on “Legacy”

  1. I’m reminded of your incredible animus towards Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries 4 years ago. Stared into the heart of the beast and become the beast and all that. I voted for her because I thought she’d been through the ringer and had a better understanding of what the Republicans were and what was coming, and would therefore be able to cope with it better. I think President Obama has mostly done a good job given the situation he inherited but in this respect I believe subsequent events have proven my judgment at the time absolutely correct.

    Here we have the same thing. Neither Gingrich nor Romney are anything like Reagan. Reagan lied with aplomb because he was an actor who’d been hired for a role in a remarkably cynical response to JFK. It wasn’t really him lying, it was other people. He was a bullshitter in the Frankfurt sense. Truth wasn’t even a relevant category.

    Gingrich lies because of narcissistic injuries. Both he and his audience know that these are lies, they actually like the sense of transgression they get from it. Do they really think Obama was born in Kenya? No, but they like sticking it to the (black) man. Making a lie stick is a form of power, and it doesn’t work as a public display of power unless everyone actually understands that it’s a lie.

    Romney seems to me a garden variety political liar. He isn’t even good at it as you allege because it’s clear that his audience can tell he doesn’t really believe it; or rather, they can tell that he disapproves of lying as a weak person’s token of power. That’s because he has a better grasp of what actually constitutes power.

    In any case as I’ve said before the current circumstances are very fraught and notwithstanding the fact that the Republicans and their policies are responsible for these very problems, if G-d forbid the economy dips again before the election there’s a good chance the Republican nominee will be elected. I won’t vote for Romney but on the other hand I won’t be scared shitless if he’s elected (whereas I would be if Gingrich were). He seems a lot more competent than George W. Bush.

  2. Romney strikes me as the kind of person who lies even when it’s unnecessary and not at all useful. I’ve known people like that, and maybe others have too.

    “What time is your flight scheduled?”


    And it turns out that it’s really scheduled at 8:15, and there’s no reason at all for the misrepresentation. It’s not a mistake, and no illicit 45-minute activity is going on. It’s just a lie for the sake of lying. Some people do that, and I suspect Romney is one of them.

  3. Re Byomtov’s post: I had the same problem with Bush II. It seemed to me that if he stated strong support for a particular policy that meant that that policy was dead. (Except for waging war. That he was true to his word.)

    It got so that I could not watch him give a speech because every bone in my body would scream “He is lying.” No matter what he was talking about. I have the same reaction to Newt. Not sure about Romney. He may be better at it.

    1. Of course, Dubya constantly insisted he had no wish to wage war.

      Once it started, he insisted he;d stick it out – but that was usually in the vein of “victory is around the corner”, so it can hardly be seen as a truthful statement of an intention to dig in for the long haul.

      1. “Around the corner?” “Long haul?” Warren, you’re being very charitable.

        He stuck it out for six years *after* his declaration of “mission accomplished.”

  4. (And Sarah Palin thinks the Romneyites and the media are being mean to poor widdle Newtie.

    If you continue to give oxygen to the hillbilly grifter, she will continue to live. Just let her die a lonely death so she won’t take any more money from the gullible.

  5. My mother and I were on food stamps in the 70s, long before electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards. Back then, food stamps (the correct, and more descriptive, name was “food coupons”) came in a book like checks and looked vaguely like currency (though not US currency). The smallest denomination, I believe, was $1, though it might have been $2 or $5. When change was given, it was sometimes given as food stamp scrip that could be used only at the supermarket that issued it, but sometimes it was given in coin. In the latter case,were one of a mind to game the system, one could buy a 10-cent item with a $1 food coupon, pocket the change, and repeat until one had enough cash to buy vodka, though more likely one would use such ill-gotten gains to buy toilet paper or toothpaste, which, though necessary, are not food-stamp eligible.

    At the time, we received about $200/month for food, which was extremely generous for a family of two. I recall us eating very well. We also received a similar sum in AFDC, which didn’t go very far at all.

    I’m no fan of Reagan, but this particular story is not entirely impossible, or would not have been at the time. Now, with EBT cards, it would be, unless one’s card also contained TANF (then AFDC) or other benefit money (which is of course completely legal to spend as one wishes, even on vodka) separate from food stamps.

  6. Re: Reagan Look-Alike Contest,

    On Foreign Policy, Ninja-Assassin Obama gets the prize: remarkably successful, perhaps transformative…and touched with some extra-legalities.

    On Style, Obama again, though he losses points for not dyeing his hair. Romney pulls in 2nd.

    On the Southern Strategy, Hillary Clinton wins followed by Newt. Ron Paul is more George Wallace than Lee Atwater, so he’s disqualified.

    On Economics, Hillary again…assuming we can credit her with Bill’s successful appropriation of the Reagan Revolution: Welfare Reform, NAFTA, repeal of glass-steagel, deregulation of derivatives, globalization, and even raising taxes.

    On political skills, Obama again…Two-termer who confuses his opposition.

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