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Second Coming

Chris Suellentrop says liberals should hope Bush's second term comes out like Reagan's, i.e. a period of greater moderation and bipartisan pursuit of grand goals. Obviously, we should hope for something like that. But thinking there's any likelihood of it happening is a pretty big misunderstanding of the political history of the Reagan years. The Gipper swept in with a solid, but narrow win in 1980 along with some congressional gains that gave him control of the Senate, though Democrats retained the House. Then in 1982 the Democrats made nice gains in the midterms. Reagan lucked into having his popularity peak in 1984 when he was up for re-election and swept to a decisive victory. Then he lost ground again in the '86 election, and the Democrats got the Senate back. In '87 the Iran-Contra hearings hurt his popularity, then it recovered but was never overwhelming. The fact that the Reagan program grew progressively more moderate reflected the fact that he was opposed by an effective Democratic congressional block and faced repeated setbacks for his agenda in the polls. It wasn't some mystical iron law of presidential politics or a late conversion to the joys of big government. If the Democrats make big gains in the 2006 midterms, Bush will moderate himself in 2007-8. If not, then not.

January 14, 2005 | Permalink


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» Reagan's Second Term from Kalblog
Matthew Yglesias contends that Reagan's second term was more moderate than his first. Aside from a quibble about whether Reagan's 9.7 point win in 1980 with nearly 500 Electoral Votes qualifies as "small," especially when there was a RINO in... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 14, 2005 11:34:40 PM


I think your analysis adds nicely to the Slate piece. Still I'm not sure it is the only reason. I think there's reason to believe that in a second term the president is less concerned with re-election and knows the job better and thus ends up being more moderate or, at least, open to new possibilities. Who knows? It's a poorly developed theory and may just be the wish being the father of the thought.

Posted by: Jesse Zink | Jan 14, 2005 9:31:59 PM

The name Reagan induces political amnesia in many of our conservative brethren. Which, in turn, evokes laughable historical revisionism in some Norquistian conclaves.

I wonder if this phenomenon has anything to do with the simple truth that every Republican President in the past 80 years has either been a dolt or an asshole.

(OK.... Ike was pretty decent, but the modern GOP would dismiss him as a RINO if he were around today.)

Posted by: def | Jan 14, 2005 9:37:24 PM

Never ceases to amaze how Matty Y, age what, not even 25?, will blog on topics he has Z-Z-Z-Zero knowledge of:

"The Gipper swept in with a solid, but narrow win in 1980..."

Uh, no, Matty. Reagan won 489-49 in the electoral college and by 10% in the popular vote.

Gee, Matty, you're really a guy whose position I like, totally want to hear on Iraq, Social Security, and everything else under the sun! Except that you're too busy posting 8 times a day to, you know, fact check!

This guy shouldn't be blogging. He should be bagging groceries at Harris Teeter.

Posted by: troll | Jan 14, 2005 11:34:14 PM

Reagan beat Carter by approximately ten points. That's a solid win. And yet, he only garnered 50.75 percent of the popular vote. That's a narrow win. Hence my description, "solid, but narrow." It was a complicated situation. As you can see from Carter's terrible 41 percent showing, and Ted Kennedy's reasonable strong primary challenge, there was a real collapse of confidence in Jimmy C.'s ability to run the country. At the same time, there was hardly a rush of people moving toward Reagan. In electoral terms, it was similar to the 1992 election where, again, you had a very solid rejection of the incumbent, but a rather feeble endorsement of his opponent.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Jan 15, 2005 12:32:57 AM

51% to 41% is a "narrow win"? Are you seriously arguing that with me, kid? And you comment on politics for a living?

489 to 49 in the electoral college is a "narrow win"? You can't be serious, son.

Georgia. DC. Minnesota. West Virginia. Rhode Island. Hawaii. Maryland. These places went for Carter. Every other state Reagan won. That's not a "narrow win". It's a crush.

I think you've got anti-GOP blinders on, kiddo.
Love how you managed to turn the 1984 election massacre into some kind of freakish circumstance of unlucky timing instead of a complete validation by the American people of RWR. You were still learning to read during that election, but Reagan won 525-13 in the electoral college.

Now, Matty, tell us what to do about Social Security and Iraq, since you know so much about the 1980 election!

Posted by: Troll | Jan 15, 2005 12:51:17 AM


Posted by: JP | Jan 15, 2005 1:06:15 AM

Notice Matty's loaded language:

"The Gipper swept in with a solid, but narrow win in 1980 along with some congressional gains that gave him control of the Senate, though Democrats retained the House. Then in 1982 the Democrats made nice gains in the midterms."

Republicans picked up an amazing 12 Senate seats in 1980 (unmentioned by Matty!) and 35 House seats. Matty spins this as "some congressional gains". In 1982, the Senate was unchanged and the Dems gained 27 House seats. This Matty suddenly describes as "nice gains".

"Some gains". "Nice gains". "Narrow win". Matty chooses his words based on whether there's an (R) or a (D) after the candidate's name.

Just a kid, and already blinded by party loyalty...

Posted by: Troll | Jan 15, 2005 1:10:26 AM

Um, that's crazy. You're demanding Matt's ouster from the Halls of Credulity because you disagree with the use of the word "solid"?

And ... he says there were "congressional gains that gave him control of the Senate" and you complain he doesn't mention that "Republicans picked up an amazing 12 Senate seats in 1980"?

Can anyone really be this anal about adjectives? One must assume your psuedonym is meant as a wink.

Posted by: Dave Weigel | Jan 15, 2005 1:43:37 AM

Uh, Dave, it wasn't just one little adjective, dawg. Matty was intentionally misrepresenting Reagan's entire presidential history during the 1980s as a couple of overrated, lucky one-offs instead of what it was: two huge victories (combined electoral count: 1,009 to 62).

And I love:

"But thinking there's any likelihood of it happening is a pretty big misunderstanding of the political history of the Reagan years."

O tell us about the years 1981-1989, when you were in elementary school, wise 25 year old sage...you've already demonstrated your deep knowledge of the decade...

Next from Matty: The Nixon Years, from what my Harvard professors told me about it!

Posted by: Troll | Jan 15, 2005 2:00:10 AM

Troll - you're wasting your breath, or should I say fingers in this case. These guys are blind, close minded, what ever you want to call it. Then they flame anyone who doesn't agree with their point of view; typical left wings types who preach equality, open-mindedness, tolerance, understanding etc, etc, etc, when it is convenient for them. But when someone posts something contrary to their ideology, they get stretched out of shape and start to belittle the individual. If you don't believe me, go back and look at the post where people disagree, particularly myself, and see for yourself. I immediately got smoke merely because of the name I use (Bush4Ever). My postings were neither right nor left, but middle of the road, but I got smoked only because everyone jumped to the conclusion that I was some kinda hard core, right wind conservative. I am actually a registered democrat but consider myself an independent. Don't waste your time trying to convince anyone on this blog of anything or to try and make a point. They are like a race horse with blinders - can't see anything except what is directly in front of them and won't move in any direction unless beat by the mman on their back.

Posted by: Bush4Ever | Jan 15, 2005 2:42:30 AM

And yet, Mr. Troll, here we are all reading Matthew's blog, and no one gives a shit what you think on any subject whatsoever. Life sure is unfair, isn't it?

Posted by: Walt Pohl | Jan 15, 2005 3:09:44 AM

You seem to take serious issue with my brother's youth, troll. I fail to see how living through or being a certain age during a period of time is a necessary qualification to comment on it. Or perhaps you mean it makes one necessarily less qualified than someone who was an adult at the time. Either way I find you theory intriguing. If someone older than you shows up, is his view of the Reagan years more accurate than yours? And are all claims we could make about the Civil War, for instance, BS by virtue of our having learned about it from some source? Or is the problem the 'Harvard professors'? Perhaps some other kind of professor is empowered to disperse facts. Are you, by any chance, a college advisor as well as a world renowned liver through of things? It seems to me we would all be better served if you limited your beef with Matt to your factual disagreements and insulted him on that basis. Not that I would want to suggest you stop belittling him, thats what we do to each other here, I'm told. I find your absolute theory of age-and-living-through-stuff superiority fascinating, but I just feel like it may not be producing usefull debate at this moment. I could be wrong though; after all I barely know anything, I'm just a kid.

Posted by: Nicholas Yglesias | Jan 15, 2005 3:25:06 AM

I am actually a registered democrat but consider myself an independent. -- Bush4Ever

Huh. And yet you've fallen in love with the most incompetent, reactionary president this country has ever had.

Too bad you keep such an open mind, Bush4Ever. It appears the Freepers have thrown a lot of trash in there.

Posted by: Cal | Jan 15, 2005 3:44:09 AM

I guess it runs in the family.

Posted by: Dan | Jan 15, 2005 3:56:10 AM

so dellis, after being unable to score matt with all his comments on the glasses now tries to hit on matt as a young guy, insinuating that dellis as the older male will be able to each him a trick or two. poor lovesick dellis when will you get a solid 51% approval rating for your trollery.

Posted by: bryan | Jan 15, 2005 4:44:14 AM

My sense is that by 2006 Bush will have been defeated on Social Security, and the Iraq war will have been acknowledged by all to have been lost. Bush will be an empty shell the last two years.

Posted by: Bob H | Jan 15, 2005 8:56:12 AM

And if not, it will have been a fluke. LOL

The simple fact is, "Troll" has pointed out something quite significant. Republicans gain 35 seats, it's "some congressional gains", Democrats pick up 27 it's "nice" gains. Matt tends to downplay Republican victories, and play up Democratic ones. Not terrifically objective of him, and it's leading him to be over-optimistic about 2006. Yeah, it's possible you could make some gains in Congress in that election. But, hell, you thought you would in THIS election!

Frankly, I don't think you've reached the low water mark yet. Things ARE going to get darker before the dawn...

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Jan 15, 2005 9:20:00 AM

One reason Reagan was less agressive and more moderate in his second term is that he was more moderate than GWB. By today's republican standards, he would not be a red-meat conservative. Another reason is that he was probably already suffering from the early stages of the disease that eventually killed him. He was certainly less focused, less dynamic, and more rambling in speech and action.

Posted by: Paul Gottlieb | Jan 15, 2005 9:40:02 AM

Reagan wasn't nearly as inflexible as Bush is, and he was much more willing to change course when he thought it in the best interests of the country. He raised taxes when it became apparent his first round of tax cuts were contributing to huge deficits. After aggressively countering the Soviet Union in his first term, he started getting serious about negotiating arms control treaties and thawing relations.

As a fiscal conservative, I can't stand Bush anymore. I've given up on him. He hasn't even tried to exercise fiscal responsibility by curbing the growth of federal spending to match his tax cuts. Federal spending is way up, and it can't all be blamed on the War on Terror. He is also utterly incapable of recognizing when he has made a mistake. Personally, I think it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if Republicans lost bigtime in 2006. Divided government works best. Now that they control the Presidency and Congress, the Republicans are becoming as bad as the Democrats were when they controlled them.

Posted by: Orac | Jan 15, 2005 10:43:55 AM

Reagan was brain-dead and Bush is brain-dead too - that's the similarity. Otherwise Matt is right - they'll be as radical as they are able to get away with.

Posted by: abb1 | Jan 15, 2005 11:02:24 AM

Right, Brett. It's this overoptimistic Beltway Cocoon mentality that makes Matty's commentary not very useful; it utterly lacks objectivity.

Nicky, I realize you're kin, but, uh, YEAH, of course there's huge benefit in having lived through something. That's why historians read primary sources. Tell your kid brother about that concept sometime. Am I busting on him for being young? No. I'm busting on him for being young *and* acting like an expert on topics he's got a weak grasp of. He does it a lot. A LOT!

Commentators blinded by party loyalty -- on the left and the right -- produce drivel commentary like this post. Matty's attempt to paint Reagan's two crushing victories in the 1980s as lucky flukes is something beyond wishful thinking. And people wonder why the Democratic Party is in trouble? With Pollyanna-ostrich types like Matty in the party's future, it don't look good.

Posted by: Troll | Jan 15, 2005 11:10:58 AM

I agree with "troll" that both of Reagan's wins were decisive and Matt's language is questionable in places. On the other hand, it's hard to dispute that Bush--with a solid congressional majority--has less reason to moderate his agenda than Reagan did. I thought that was Matt's main point.

Other than that, I have two reactions. (a) Where did Troll get the idea that firsthand experience is the only valid credential for commenting on a historical period? (b) Why do "troll" and "bush4ever" expect anyone to take them seriously when they hide behind generic identities and fake email addresses. C'mon, this is a polite board. Nobody is going to email bomb you.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Jan 15, 2005 11:57:45 AM

Don't overlook the obvious - by his second term Reagan was utterly out of it. He'd gone from fuzzy old man living on stories to potted plant. People had to feed him his lines in even the simplest situations. Using "Reagan" as a shorthand for whoever was running things in that Whitehouse does no service to truth, justice, or, well, OK, maybe pretending is the American Way.

Posted by: Vegetius | Jan 15, 2005 11:58:56 AM

Matt tends to downplay Republican victories, and play up Democratic ones.

Did I miss the blog entry where Matt claimed to be non-partisan?

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Jan 15, 2005 12:04:19 PM

To expand on my previous comment, most partisan political commentary is not intended as a balanced assessment of facts. It's intended to motivate partisans: you want to put on a public face of highlighting your own party's victories. Republicans do this all the time and aren't stupid enough to apologize for it. The main flaw of Democrats is that they are often stupid enough to try pretend they're just being fair instead of admitting that politics is bloodsport.

Given that Matt's critics tend to be those that disagree with his politics, I don't see how he is failing in any way to motivate those who agree with him.

Obviously, you need a fair and objective understanding of your opponents' strengths to make effective strategy. But why on earth would you expect Matt to accentuate the negative in a public forum?

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Jan 15, 2005 12:18:52 PM

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