November 2, 2005


Reagan's Second-Half Comeback (KENNETH M. DUBERSTEIN, 11/02/05, NY Times)

IN the depths of the Iran-contra fallout in early 1987, President Ronald Reagan was at 37 percent approval in some polls, lower than President Bush is today. Many viewed him as not just a lame duck but a dead duck. Pundits and politicians predicted that the country would drift aimlessly for the last two years of his term. The Soviet Union would become more adventurous abroad. And a Democrat would next win the presidency.

Obviously, none of those things happened. And if George W. Bush is going to change his presidential momentum, he might take a few lessons from the Reagan playbook.

First, every second term needs new blood. Reagan's initial move was to change his inner circle: he dismissed old hands like Donald Regan, John Poindexter and Oliver North, and brought former Senator Howard Baker as chief of staff, me as his deputy, Frank Carlucci as national security adviser, and a little-known general, Colin Powell, as Mr. Carlucci's second in command. Not only were we experienced managers and not tainted by Iran-contra, but Senator Baker gave the operation an instant dose of integrity: it was he, as a Republican legislator during Watergate, who demanded, "What did the president know, and when did he know it?" [...]

More significantly, we had to find some victories on Capitol Hill, even if it meant rethinking past policies. For example, until 1987 the White House had opposed a bill to pay some reparations for the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II. We revisited the issue, and Reagan became convinced that not only was the bill a decent thing to do, but money for it could be found in existing budgets and that it would be passed overwhelmingly in Congress. As a bonus, his decision helped renew ties with the opposition: the main sponsor of the bill was a Democrat, Representative Norman Mineta, who is now of course secretary of transportation under President Bush and a longtime symbol of bipartisanship.

We also stopped tilting at windmills. When our team came aboard, the Office of Management and Budget had threatened a presidential veto of virtually every appropriations bill in Congress; the result was that the threat had lost all meaning. We re-examined each bill individually, and found ways to compromise on many, winning more than our share.

Of course, the President's critics want him to tilt harder at the windmills.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 2, 2005 9:04 AM
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