Dr. Joan Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge

Obama, Reagan and Change

Suppose you’re driving down the highway at 70 MPH due west to a destination some 100 miles distant. Which of the following constitute “change”?

Speeding up to 85.
Stomping on the brakes.
Leaving the highway to travel due north at 30 MPH through a freshly mowed field.
Swinging the car around and proceeding due east at 70 MPH.
Abandoning the car and continuing west by somersaulting head-over-feet down the median.

Of course, all of these constitute “change”. And that brings us to this little video of Barack Obama referring to Ronald Reagan as an agent of change in a way that neither Nixon nor Clinton were:

There’s been considerable uproar on the left side because of this, including the following diatribe from John Edwards:


Really? He’d never use Reagan as an example of change? That’s crazy. Reagan was an example of regressive change and Edwards put forth a number of reasons why. Some people seem to think that change can only be positive. Nope. Hitler was an agent of change. Mao was an agent of change. When they arrived, things changed alright; they just didn’t change for the better.

The talking heads need to get off Obama’s back on this one. What he said was factually correct. He did not say nor imply (as the title of the video suggests) that Reagan was a great president or that he prefers Reagan’s policies to Bill Clinton’s. The statements of Obama and Edwards are not mutually exclusive.

Comments

  1. #1 anon
    January 18, 2008

    Therein lies the problems.

    The media loves to make things bigger than they are, and they are willing to change the meaning of words to accomplish it.

    Having a prominent democrat come across as if s/he supported Reagan is big noisy news. However, having a democrat acknowledge that Reagan changed things in the states, regardless if it was good or bad, is not news at all.

    This is simply what happens when you have 24 hours of news to fill.

  2. #2 Rhapsody
    January 18, 2008

    First of all, it is hard to take this fragment of Obama and place in the correct context.

    And Jim, I am going politely disagree with you on the example of Hitler. Before he basically lost his mind, he did implement many things for the change of good (think of the autobahn, a car company that *still* produces good cars). All should be balanced out and be seen in a proper perspective because historians will just the same argue that leaders like that gave for example the Germans their identity, dignity and hope back during the recession years (robbed from them after WWI). After that, it went so wrong, but you cannot discount the years before that. Economy was flourishing, compared to the countries around Germany. Now I am not thinking Hitler is a great guy (on the contrary), but I can see various of things where change also brought good things there.

    That’s the price of leadership, and to me Reagan did bring forth a lot of good things as well. Obama has a good point there, Reagan did bring about a much needed change and Edwards just keeps on gloryfing himself by repeating things ten times over. Where the economy is failing and you are about to hit a recession so deep, you will need a leader who dares to bring you out of it, with the necessary changes (and not by how Bush has been doing it). And yes that means pissing off unions as well, no other country or leader can do that better or differently. Edwards has fallen deeply here, if you ask me, just very disappointing.

  3. #3 jsf
    January 18, 2008

    I agree with the logic of this post’s critique. Change need not necessarily be positive. But I think making this point misses something fundamental about how politics (and language) work. The same word need not always mean the same thing and the meaning of words can not be grasped from a purely logical perspective. Indeed, words often times come to mean their opposite, depending on how they’re used.

    Obama uses the word “change” frequently in his campaign to symbolize a specific idea of progressive politics. But when he speaks about Reagan, in the video above, Obama uses “change” in a more general sense, as this post points out. But it’s a blunder on Obama’s part, because he has worked so hard in the political arena to make “change” mean something more specific and symbolic for the purposes of his campaign.

    Edwards picks up on this political/rhetorical blunder and drives it home. Obama needs to be more careful about things like this, because of course if he does win the nomination, this is exactly the sort of skewering that the Republican “swift-boaters” are going to use against him.

  4. #4 Alan Kellogg
    January 18, 2008

    To correct a few errors…

    The original volkswagon was designed and developed by Porsche under Hitler’s orders.

    Volkswagon the company was established after the war in order to disassociate the car from Hitler and one of his pet corporations. (Some people were serious about de-Nazification.)

    The volkswagon was popular among allied troops because it was handy, useful, and easy to get around in. While not as capable over all as the American jeep, it handled European road conditions better than most anything Detroit was then putting out.

    Being cheap and easy to build meant the volkswagon could be put into production quickly, even with German industry in shambles. This made the job of getting the German economy back up and running easier. A task which became even more important once Stalin revealed his essential hostility to the west. It was this Western Ally directed effort, plus the Berlin Airlift, that would later turn the German people against Soviet agitation and secure western Germany for the West.

  5. #5 Rhapsody
    January 19, 2008

    To correct a few errors…

    The original volkswagon was designed and developed by Porsche under Hitler’s orders.

    And in what sense is that an error on my behalf? The fact that such an order was placed within the KdF programme, gave the Germans an enormous boost, also economy wise. That Porsche was involved is merely logical given the ties of Mussolini and Hitler.

    Secondly, there are more examples, for example the invention of missile technology (you may not like it, but this was also developed under Hitler’s reign). It encompasses ground-to-ground, air-to-air, air-to-ground, ground-to-air, ship-to-ship, etc., using wire guidance, TV guidance, IR guidance (everything but laser quidance). Most of these missiles were not at the highest form of development then, but their work launched and made a bundle of money later on for corporations like Boeing, Raytheon, Hughes Aircraft, North American Aviation (Rocketdyne Div.), etc. I wonder if you know that all of these companies had their German “Chief Scientist” heading up research and development operations. Wow, that they dared to hire someone who was trained and educated under a leader that brought negative change! How daring.

    Or what to think of their inventions in audio technology? Did you know that using the magnetic tape was a Third Reich invention? Ampex (an US corporation) copied German tape recorders which enabled their start up. Magnetic tape was also essential later for the video tape recorder (betamax/VHS). Our allied troups just couldn’t figure out how the Axis was transmitting speeches and programs hours apart to different locations and having them sound “live.” Later this technology was of course re-used for our own entertainment industry. Oh my!

    So the next time you flip your remote, browse in nostalgia through your audio or video tapes, or step onboard a Boeing plane, ask yourself if that was a negative thing that you are using, brought to Germany during times where change was much needed. If Jim would have used Mussolini as an negative example of an agent of change, I would have agreed.

  6. #6 Jim RL
    January 19, 2008

    I don’t understand how people can parse Obama’s words so dispassionately. Obama is a very charisimatic politician. He knows the inner meanings of the words he is saying. No one uses the term “agent of change” as an insult. If taken literally, obviously it is fairly neutral, but when you build your campaign on the idea of change it seems odd to think he meant it as a nuetral term. His whole campaign is centered around how good change is. He also doesn’t offer any context to show that he is opposed the change brought by the Reagan years.

    I think it is clearly a dog whistle to Reagan Democrats.

  7. #7 Gingerbaker
    January 20, 2008

    Hey Rhapsody, great list!

    I think you are just scratching the surface when it comes to the wonderful contributions of Hitler and the Third Reich to technology and global well-being.

    For example, the next time you are in the soap aisle of your local supermarket, give a silent Thank You to the research and development talents of the tireless German scientists who did such ground-breaking work on the large-scale saponification of human adipose tissue.

    And when you are in the lighting section of Home Depot, think about the wonderful work the newly self-dignified Germans did on lamp shade design.

    Just imagine what our world would be like without the breakthroughs of the newly-hopeful chemists at IG Farben and their crucial development efforts on adsorbing hydrogen cyanide gas onto various substrates.

    Gosh, the list of the humanitarian efforts of Teutonic scientists seems endless. The fields of eugenics, the logistics of mass evacuations, furnace design specifications, physics of large trench excavation, gold and silver reclamation, ghetto maintenance, and ethnic cleansing would not be the same if it wasn’t for Adolph Hitler and his dedicated teams.

    So many people revile Hitler, but when it is “all balanced out and put into proper perspective”, his record of scientific and industrial advances will be his true and lasting legacy.

  8. #8 Doc Bushwell
    January 20, 2008

    Oh, for fuck’s sake, Gingerboy, way to go with the predictable kneejerk response. Read Rhapsody’s posts again. These are not apologies for the horrors of the Third Reich. The economic catastrophe of the Weimar Republic set things in play for Hitler’s rise and well, we all know what happened next.

  9. #9 JimFiore
    January 20, 2008

    If Jim would have used Mussolini as an negative example of an agent of change, I would have agreed.

    Which to me implies that Rhapsody thinks that Hitler was either a positive agent of change or neutral. I do not deny that some good things came out of the Nazi regime in the beginning or that we used some of their technology (and expertise) later, but one cannot look at the overall impact and conclude that he was a positive agent of change.

    Besides, complaining that Hitler had some positive impacts on some people at some time misses the bigger point: change itself is not necessarily for the good. Only an idiot equates change with good (or bad, for that matter).

  10. #10 g
    January 21, 2008

    Doc B said:

    “Oh, for fuck’s sake, Gingerboy, way to go with the predictable kneejerk response. Read Rhapsody’s posts again. These are not apologies for the horrors of the Third Reich. ”

    No, they certainly are NOT apologies for the Third Reich. They are paeans to Adolph Hitler and his poor, hopeless, post WW1 ( who was in that war again?) people who so needed the boost to their dignity that they accepted the racist murdering fascist we all have come to know and love today as Hitler.

    And when Rhapsody says this:
    “All should be balanced out and be seen in a proper perspective because historians will just the same argue that leaders like that gave for example the Germans their identity, dignity and hope back during the recession years (robbed from them after WWI)”.

    I have to say,that, “on balance” that’s about the most rancid rehabilitation of Hitler and the German people I have read recently.

    And if my knee is jerking, it is only to reach out to kick his ass for saying something so repulsive. My relatives who died in Treblinka would probably find “the proper perspective” in that.

  11. #11 Rhapsody
    January 21, 2008

    Today I was watching a profile of the Dutch leader of the NSB, before you start to aim you knee at bodyparts that ain’t there G, a historian stated that only those who win wars, get to tell the story and get to write & colour history. Personal backgrounds aside, my grandfather played an important role in WWII restistance and well sorry that he could not hide your relatives as well as he made sure those who did, did not have to face the horrors could hide from the nazi regime. Don’t assume or attack someone personally if you read something you don’t like.

    That doesn’t hide the fact that what happened in Germany during the recession, gave Germans and surrounding countries a boost, also in science. If we want to be politically correct, we never ever should have adopted that German science to begin with, yet we greedily did so. There was not much scrupulus back then, so don’t do it here as well, it is so hypocritical. Many mistakes were made at the end of WWI, WWII is known war that came from it. You may not like the idea, but even in current history where ego’s have been bruised, people are willing to sacrifice a lot for something they never wanted thought of before, no matter the warnings from other countries before or at the time. In times of recession or loss, people will always turn to a charismatic leader or someone who promises to take those hurts away. They want to feel safe & secure, they want someone else to tell them it will be better. It is a natural psychological given. So before your knee start to itch again, think about the current sacrifices people make with Habaes Corpus suspended, secret CIA interrigation camps in Europe, sovereignity of other counties being violated, Gitmo Bay. But all for the cost of freedom and dignity lost right? Think critical.

  12. #12 Rhapsody
    January 21, 2008

    Which to me implies that Rhapsody thinks that Hitler was either a positive agent of change or neutral. I do not deny that some good things came out of the Nazi regime in the beginning or that we used some of their technology (and expertise) later, but one cannot look at the overall impact and conclude that he was a positive agent of change.

    Most definitely not a positive agent, if you must know. Hindsight is always 20/20 and many things only were revealed after his reign ended. But at that very moment, German people saw an postive agent, just as these days we tend to hearken to those who promise us that they will make life easier. Why do people fall so blindly for populists? Simply because they tell us what we want to hear because they act on fears and insecurities. Hitler did exactly the same and it blindsighted so many. Still it strikes me as odd that from that area we did claim the spoils of war, adopted or extrapolated on changes in science back then, which proved to be good for mankind. So something in your analogy doesn’t add up here, that is what I tried to point out.

    We can only make such a balance after a period of time, when there is enough distance and we can have a good overview of what has an impact on what. Was Lenin an a postive agent? Stalin? Castro? Napoleon (who despite his reign as a dictator brought upon changes which were for the good)? And on what areas does such an agent good things (Economy, science, social, lawmaking) and on what things not? Do you have a balance scorecard for that? Obama speaks of Reagan as a postive agent of change for economy for example, and yes he is right there, on other areas Reagan was not.

    In my book there can never be a clear balance or one absolutely good or absolutely bad. Societies fall in the end, to make place for another. Therefore change is necessary to evolve. Look back over the ages and you will see that.

  13. #13 JimFiore
    January 21, 2008

    I’m not arguing for absolutely good or absolutely bad. What I said was that because Obama made the statement that Reagan changed the course of the country, people are claiming that Obama said Reagan was good. That’s fundamentally untrue. Also, Obama does NOT “speak of Reagan as a positive agent of change”, for the economy or otherwise. He simply states that Reagan moved the country onto a different course and that he tapped into some existing feeling in the country. Obama does not critique Reagan’s policies.

  14. #14 Rhapsody
    January 21, 2008

    Cited from here:

    In an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal´┐Żs editorial board on Monday, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama said that under Reagan the GOP was the “party of ideas.” Of Reagan, he said he “changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way Bill Clinton did not.”

    “I think it’s fair to say that the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10 to 15 years in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom,” Obama said. “He just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

    In what sense is the optimism Obama speaks about not an indication that he states that Reagan’s policies weren’t good? Optimism, dynamism ect are very strong words here, which clearly states that it was not intended as negatively or neutral. Which made the other democrats go wild that Obama even dared to mention Reagan or even praise him. Obama is clearly flirting with the Reagan Democrats who feel appealed to such a message compared to others in the GOP camp, who at their turn might be appealing for them (McCain, Guilliani for example). Obama is all about change, optimism in his campaigning, that assumption and vibe you get from it is not that far off. I found this article:
    Obama and the Gipper, very enlightning.

  15. #15 JimFiore
    January 21, 2008

    You’re rationalizing.

    Optimism and policy are two entirely different things. And I will repeat for the final time that my point was that change does not equal good (or bad). If you wish to continue defending Adolf, be my guest (but let’s not forget that he was a racist from the word “go” in spite of whatever his scientists and engineers came up with).