Tag: Ronald Reagan

Ranking the Recent Presidents

Gallup had an interesting poll out today asking people’s opinions of the last 11 presidents.

In assessing the legacies of the last 11 U.S. presidents, Republicans and Democrats diverge most in how history will judge Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Republicans believe Obama will be judged worst among recent presidents, while Democrats predict Bush will. At the same time, Republicans expect Bush to get a favorable historical review, and Democrats anticipate the same for Obama.

This should surprise no one. Barack Obama is President right now and Bush 43 was President just five years ago. It is very difficult to judge Presidents in the moment and it is often informed by partisanship as much as history. You’ll notice in the poll that the further back in time you go, the less disagreement there is. On Ford, Nixon, Eisenhower and Kennedy, the partisan gap in the approval ratings is less than 20%. You’ll also notice that Clinton now has a net approval rating among Republicans. When he left, I knew many people who told me he was the worst President in history who now think he was pretty decent. Reagan also has a net approval rating among Democrats. At the time, many said he was the worst thing that ever happened to America.

Here’s the partisan breakdown on net approval ratings for the Presidents:

Republicans: Reagan (+81), Kennedy (+65), Eisenhower (+53), Bush 41 (+26), Bush 43 (+25), Clinton (+14), Ford (-6), Johnson (-17), Carter (-34), Nixon (-42), Obama (-72)

Independents: Kennedy (+69), Reagan (+53), Eisenhower (+43), Clinton (+40), Bush 41 (+8), Ford (-3), Johnson (-4), Obama (-12), Carter (-12), Bush 43 (-31), Nixon (-34)

Democrats: Kennedy (+80), Clinton (+68), Obama (+46), Eisenhower (+43), Reagan (+25), Johnson (+17), Carter (+10), Ford (-3), Bush 43 (-17), Nixon (-35), Bush 41 (-51).

I find those numbers fascinating. First of all, we can see that Cult of Kennedy continues unabated. He was a mediocre President — yeah, I said it. But a halo effect surrounds him. And while I think Nixon was a poor President, his low rating is out of proportion to his actual Presidency. To rank him that much lower than Johnson is absurd.

I am gratified that Eisenhower is well-regarded, that even Democrats now approve of Reagan and that Bush 41 is slowly being recognized as the solid President he was (his low rating among Democrats is likely a residue of Bush 43 hatred). Note also that Carter and Johnson are poorly regarded by all but Democrats while Bush 43 is poorly regard by all but Republicans (although I think, in Bush 43’s case, it reflects a personal regard for the man himself, which I somewhat share, rather than a political judgement).

For kicks, my own rankings would be Reagan, Ike, Bush 41, Clinton, Kennedy, Ford, Carter, Nixon, Obama, Johnson, Bush 43. Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton and Ike I would characterize as good Presidents. Kennedy and Ford I rate as OK Presidents. Everyone else is varying degrees of bad. And yes, I rank Obama above Johnson and Bush 43 right now. I’m being a bit conservative in ranking Obama given that he’s President now so my negative feelings about his presidency are not objective. It takes time to rank a Presidency as historically awful or merely bad. Obama also has yet to bungle a major war, so there’s that. My ratings tell you a lot about what I look for in a President: someone who keeps government small but functional; avoids wars but fights them effectively when they are necessary. What I really want out of a President is eight years of peace and quiet. We haven’t gotten that since Eisenhower.

Hinckley Wants Out

It’s been a few years since I sped read through “Psychiatry For Dummies” so maybe some medical break throughs occurred when I wasn’t looking, but can a person who is seriously mentally ill, become mentally NOT ill? I’m not talking about your typical lite weight, someone who suffers through anxiety, depression, nervous habits, or even someone who has difficulty concentrating (ADHD), all these can be regulated with medication. Prozac, Ritalin, anti depressants, even Lithium, wonder drugs that can help those afflicted to cope better and lead productive lives. But what about those bat shit insane psychopaths that have proven themselves dangerous to society by past actions? Once it is discovered that the wiring is faulty and the result of this haywiring is a deranged dangerous animal, can any amount of psycho therapy make him not dangerous, to the point where he is allowed to interact with society again?

The man who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan is asking to spend more time outside a Washington mental hospital, but a government lawyer says John Hinckley’s request is premature and that he recently lied to cover up the fact he looked at books on Reagan and presidential assassinations.

It wasn’t for lack of trying that Hinckley failed in killing the president, a police officer and secret service guy also took bullets, and press secretary James Brady never recovered from his gunshot wound to the head.

Thinking you are Travis Bickle, winning the heart of your beloved by shooting the president definitely qualifies you as a looney tune, but now the doctors and his lawyer thinks he is right as rain, cured, and now ready to be turned lose on society again.

See, that is one the big advantage of going with the insanity defense (although in this instance, who doubts the diagnosis?) you don’t get incarcerated, you get treatment, and nicer digs. And given the right amount of persuasion, it is common for these doctors to declare themselves successful (do they right their own evaluations for themselves?) and declare the patient cured, happy days.

Hinckley has had unsupervised visits in the past to visit his mom, now he and his lawyer wants “convalescent leave” without court approval, which would allow him to live with his 85-year-old mother for an indefinite period, meaning he is out and about, walking amongst us.

Not all agree that Hinckley is a changed man:

“Hinckley still is not sufficiently well to alleviate the concern that this violence may be repeated,” United States Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and other Justice Department officials wrote in a court document arguing against allowing Hinckley more unsupervised time away from St. Elizabeths. “Hinckley’s mental health is better, but his core diagnoses remain and there is recent evidence of deception toward his treating physicians as well as narcissism, both of which are significant risk factors for future violence.”

I wonder, is Hinckley getting a longer leash because he didn’t actually kill anyone? Does the actual outcome matter in instances like these? Spraying bullets into a crowd for the purpose of killing the President, can that act be mitigated at all because he was not successful?

Today I read that Anders Breivik was officially declared mentally ill:

The courts will still have to rule on the report, but if the conclusion is upheld than Breivik will face forced psychiatric treatment, rather than prison, and could be released if he’s later determined to no longer be a threat to others.

OK, what about this guy? He was more successful in his killing rampage, probably not any more mentally ill then Hinckley, given a sufficient amount of time (up to the doctors and their miraculous powers of healing) should this guy ever see the light of day?

Ditto with Jared Lee Loughner, his actions where fairly similar to that of Hinckley, yes, deaths were involved, but is there any doubt that insanity will play a major role in his defense? How many years does he sit on ice before his doctors (not a parole board, where victims and their families can speak and influence the decision) declare themselves successful, in making him sane again?

The main reason we have prisons (aside from making the criminal pay for his crime) is that society deserves to be protected from those that will do them harm. And in committing a dangerous deadly crime, you forfeit your right to interact with others, you don’t get the protection of the herd anymore and you get removed. Committing murder, or attempted murder, regardless of sane or insane, you have proven to society that you are not safe and they can’t be safe around you. Sorry, but Hinckley, Breivik, Loughner, and those like them don’t get a second chance, too risky.

Smart Asses

Shikha Dalmia had an interesting post up at Reason about why smart presidents do dumb things.

The team of the “best and brightest” that Lyndon Johnson inherited from John F. Kennedy embroiled America in an ignominy like Vietnam—not to mention Medicare, a fiscal quagmire that, unlike Vietnam, the country can neither exit nor fix without courting bankruptcy or seriously screwing over millions of seniors.

Moreover, George W. Bush’s failures resulted not from his alleged stupidity, as his most vitriolic critics believe, but the brainiacs in his Cabinet. Bush himself might have reveled in his Forest Grump image. But he assembled a team of intellectual stars including Dick Cheney, who was so smart that Beltway Republicans and Democrats wished that he had run for president; Paul Wolfowitz, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies; Condi Rice, provost of Stanford University; and Donald Rumsfeld, who made his mark in academia, politics, and military service. But this Mensa-worthy team, backed by Ivy League neocon intellectuals, left a legacy of Afghanistan, Iraq, and deficits as far as the eye can see.

The prize for discrediting intelligence, however, goes to President Obama. Unlike Bush, he wore his intellect on his sleeve, raising hopes that he could fix the country with sheer brainpower. But he has presided over a deterioration on every front: Deficits are worse, unemployment is higher, a double dip is imminent, and we have added another foreign misadventure.

She asks why smart people are capable of making such dumb policy and concludes that it’s because they are basically smart enough to talk themselves into anything. I think that grazes the point. It’s not like being smart is an impediment to being a good governor. Chris Christie is pretty smart. So is Paul Ryan. So was Ronald Reagan. Our Founding Fathers were the most educated men of their time.

So why has the concentration of intellect in Washington failed us? It’s because the current generation of intellectual titans are mired in groupthink and unable to accept the verdict of reality. Because they fail to realize that brains are a necessary but not sufficient condition for governance. Because they are, as hist_ed so succinctly put it, “Ivory Tower Dumb”.

The difference between smart people and dumb people is not that smart people have good ideas and dumb people have bad ones (although the former are statistically less likely to have ideas that begin with “Watch this!”) The difference is that smart people have ideas and dumb people don’t. Really smart people — and I’ve been around a few — are fountains of ideas. For a smart person, especially one with Ivy on their degree, all of these ideas seem brilliant.

But they’re not. Most ideas, no matter how beautiful they seem and no matter how much intellectual firepower is behind them, suck. The only way to tell the good ideas from the bad ideas is to try them out on reality, accept reality’s verdict and use any failure to inform better ideas.

Almost every business owner in America has had a business fail. Steve Jobs, memorialized last week as the most brilliant businessman in America, had numerous mis-steps along the way. Netflix, a smart company, just reversed course on an incredibly dumb business decision (hopefully not too late to save the company). When you look at some of the worst business decisions in history, you’ll frequently find they were dreamt up by smart people. The guys who made New Coke weren’t morons; they were smart people who were dead wrong, who extrapolated an idea badly because they were missing information.

For every scientific theory supported by acres of evidence, there are a dozen that not only failed, but failed badly. When I was a graduate student, all smart people regarded the cosmological constant as Einstein’s biggest blunder. Now it’s cannon. And Einstein himself was wrong about quantum mechanics. Robert Millikan, a brilliant physicist, famously predicted that the atom would not produce enough energy to blow the whistle on a peanut vendor’s cart. Kepler said he stumbled on the Laws of Planetary Motion only by exhausting every other possibility. Edison failed a hundred times as often as he succeeded.

Communism and fascism had tons of smart people who thought they were great ideas. Both Keynesian and Austrian economics have geniuses supporting them. There’s not a failed political idea out there that hasn’t had a team of PhD’s, Ivy League professors and Rhodes Scholars insisting it was awesome.

Americans especially can get fooled by smart people because the smart men who founded our country got it right (mostly). But that had less to do with genius than with collaboration. As individuals, they were perfectly capable of idiocy. Jefferson opposed industrialization; Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts; Hamilton tried to get us into dumb wars; Burr killed Hamilton; Franklin wanted all blacks sent back to Africa. They achieved great things because they argued out their ideas, made compromises and ultimately yielded when reality issued is verdict. They amended the Constitution twice immediately after it passed to correct blunders.

One of the most important books of the last decade or so is James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds. He demonstrates the way that smart people get lost in bad ideas. Using the Columbia disaster, where a bunch of brilliant engineers signed off on a re-entry that killed seven people, he shows the two flaws that make smart people do stupid things: groupthink and stubbornness; a tendency for people to start to all think alike under peer pressure and a refusal to admit when a mistake has been made. The former is a big reason, incidentally, that academia is so liberal. When you’re surrounded by like-thinking people, it’s hard to go against the grain.

Ideas are great. But they ultimately have to be tested against reality and you have to accept reality’s verdict. I’ve been harping on liberals lately for refusing to admit their Keynesian stimulus didn’t work, so I’ll take a swipe at conservatives. It has become cannon that tax cuts are needed to stimulate the economy. This is despite a lost decade in which taxes were the lowest since before World War II, but jobs grew slowly, incomes stagnated and we ended up making almost no progress. This is despite four separate waves of tax cuts aimed specifically at this recession. But groupthink and stubbornness keeps smart conservatives from acknowledging that tax cuts may not be the answer. Hell, I don’t want to acknowledge that myself. I still think a payroll taxcut isn’t a bad idea.

That’s what I think we need to look for in politicians in general and a President in particular. A willingness to acknowledge mis-steps, to go against the grain and to acknowledge reality’s verdict on seemingly good ideas. I had hoped that Obama would be that way, but his stubbornness on Keynesian economics is just the latest illustration of his refusal to acknowledge reality. Of course, I don’t know that any of the GOP field feel bound by reality.

To me, this is one of conservatism’s core values: a willingness to acknowledge reality over dogma. Reagan reversed course on taxes when the deficit got big, reversed course on nuclear talks when the landscape changed and reversed course on Catastrophic Care when seniors went into open rebellion. Now this would be seen as flip-flopping. Then it was seen as a virtue: changing your opinion when the facts changed. Today’s slate — both liberal and conservative — seem more interested in just ignoring the facts. And all the brains in the world can’t overcome that.

State of the economy

The next time some libtard tells you that the left cares about jobs and is actually concerned about employment, remember this Bloomberg report on how bad things are:

McDonald’s Corp. (MCD), the world’s biggest restaurant chain, said it hired 24 percent more people than planned during an employment event this month. McDonald’s and its franchisees hired 62,000 people in the U.S. after receiving more than one million applications, the Oak Brook, Illinois-based company said today in an e-mailed statement. Previously, it said it planned to hire 50,000.

Bold is me. Get that? 1 million people applied for work at McD’s. That’s one million. That’s one million people without jobs willing to work at McD’s and ask you if you would like fries with that. Some 62K got jobs. That’s how the demcorats create jobs for ya. Obama was too busy to comment. Joy, joy.

UPDATE: Lucky for those of us that are not insane, it looks like most Americans get it. This economy sucks. What the left believes in sucks. The dollar is in a death spiral, and they don’t care. For those of us that know history means something, there is this great article about the Reagan vs. the Obama recovery

Growth: It’s been nearly two full years since the recession officially ended, and the economy is still struggling to get off the ground. It didn’t have to be this way. When the Commerce Department released its estimate for first-quarter growth — a meager 1.8% — President Obama’s chief economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, at least conceded that “faster growth is needed to replace the jobs lost in the downturn.”

And granted, the economy needs to expand by at least 2.5% just to keep up with growth in the labor force. So at 1.8%, we’re essentially losing ground, a fact that last week’s 429,000 initial jobless claims underscores. But what Goolsbee didn’t acknowledge is that the economy could be growing at a much faster rate, and would be if it weren’t saddled with Obama’s reckless policies. How do we know this? Compare the two worst post-World War II recessions. Both the 1981-82 and the 2007-09 downturns were long (16 months and 18 months, respectively) and painful (unemployment peaked at 10.8% in 1981-82 and 10.1% in the last one).

What’s dramatically different, however, is how each president responded.

Obama massively increased spending, vastly expanded the regulatory state, and pushed through a government takeover of health care. What’s more, he constantly browbeats industry leaders, talks about the failings of the marketplace and endlessly advocates higher taxes on the most productive parts of the economy.

In contrast, Reagan pushed spending restraint, deregulated entire industries, massively cut taxes and waxed poetic about the wonders of a free economy.

For the economic illiterates this means Reagan trusted in the ingenuity of the American people, set them free of their government bureaucracy, and they flourished. Obama on the other hand expanded government, scammed the tax payers out of over a trillion dollars for his friends, lobbyists, operatives, and the many demcorat campaign coffers, and has run the most anti-business government – unless you are one of these mega corps in bed with the left of course like GE – since the stupid demcorat imposed schemes, laws, and scams resulted in the worst economic collapse of my life time, then promptly blamed Bush for that.