December 7, 2004


Get Along? Get Real. (E. J. Dionne Jr., December 7, 2004, Washington Post)

The power of negative thinking is greatly underestimated, especially in politics.

Leaders often define themselves by what they are against, and political movements often discover their affirmative purposes when they engage in principled battles against ideas and institutions that they believe are wrong, even evil.

Think of three of our nation's most important and effective presidents. Abraham Lincoln defined himself against the spread of slavery. Franklin D. Roosevelt attacked the "economic royalists" whom he accused of plundering the working class. Ronald Reagan stood against communism's "evil empire" and high taxes.

Today we associate all three with positive achievements. Lincoln preserved the Union and ended slavery. FDR (in addition to winning World War II) gave us a New Deal that encompassed Social Security, minimum wages and the rise of labor. Reagan gets credit for the fall of the Soviet Union and the spread of free-market ideas. Accentuating the negative can eventually achieve the positive.

The power of negative thinking is especially important to opposition parties that have little ability to set government's agenda. Which brings us to today's Democratic Party.

The Democrats started a Civil War in 1861--the Republicans won it. Republicans fouth the New Deal tooth and nail--no one even noticed them. Democrats sought to preserve the LBJ/Nixon/Carter tax code and the Iron Curtain--Reagan handed them their heads on a platter. The lesson we should all take from this--Democrats should throw the party on to the tracks to stop tax and entitlement reform? It's the old Ed Delahanty Strategy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 7, 2004 1:51 PM

In speaking of three presidents' legacies, Dionne plays a little rhetorical trick. Notice that ...

... "Lincoln preserved the Union"


... "FDR (in addition to winning World War II) gave us a New Deal"

But Reagan only "gets credit for the fall of the Soviet Union." In other words, Dionne can't bring himself to say that Reagan toppled the Soviet Union. For Dionne, Lincoln and FDR actively accomplished stuff; Reagan gets stuck with the passive voice.

Posted by: Semolina Pilchard at December 7, 2004 2:16 PM

E.J. feels free to quote the first two as mere historic figures because he wasn't around when they were in power. On the other hand, he was working for the Post when Reagan was in office and no doubt grumbled through every decision made then just as he does now with Bush, though IIRC, Dionne's writings in the 1980s seemed far more temporate in tone that his jottings during the past decade.

It may have been easier to be less surely about Reagan back then because the Democrats still controlled Congress and most of the state legislatures, and E.J. could comfort himself that The Coming Democratic Majority was just around the corner. Recent events have damaged that theory, though Dionne and others can still be counted on to make the claim.

Posted by: John at December 7, 2004 2:38 PM

Are you referring to the strategy of never playing for a first-place team, or the strategy of chasing a train while drunk, falling into the Niagara River and going over the Falls?

Posted by: pj at December 7, 2004 3:30 PM

The Democrats did not start the Civil War, the South did. And the Unionists won it - not a lone political party. Many of those Union dead (from the North and the 100,000 Southerners who fought for the Union) voted Democrat.

Truly disgusting. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at December 7, 2004 8:09 PM

This caught my eye:

Franklin D. Roosevelt attacked the "economic royalists" whom he accused of plundering the working class.

Is there anyone anymore who's not a Marxist who actually believes that FDR's description was anything but the worst kind of demagoguery?

Posted by: PapayaSF at December 7, 2004 11:04 PM

"Ed Delahanty Strategy"

Ed Delahanty was a 19th century ballplayer who was a big hitter, one of two to hit 4 HRs in one game in that century, who took a long walk off a short bridge one night after excessive consumption of adult beverages which brought his playing career to an untimely close. But I have never heard the phrase "Ed Delahanty Strategy" before. What does it mean?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at December 10, 2004 4:03 PM