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Reagan Roundtable: The Art of the Deal

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Ronald Reagan’s monicker as President was always “the Great Communicator“, for his command of message and the medium of television, though Reagan had a considerable ability to read a live audience as well. Everyone acknowledged Reagan’s rhetorical wizardry, even his Democratic critics, who took some comfort in imagining that Reagan was “only a B movie actor” reading his lines. A nickname that would have pointed to one of his greatest political skills would have been “the Great Negotiator” because Reagan’s talent for winning favorable outcomes, legislatively and diplomatically, is rivaled among presidents only by FDR and LBJ. Yet few pundits give Reagan that credit of being a master of the art of the deal.

Reagan’s strategic insight has been alluded to previously in this roundtable and the ability to look at a big picture and construct a strategy for acheiving favorable ends, using acceptable and effective ways that are within your means is the cornerstone of being a good negotiator. Reagan’s career as an actor is frequently cited but it is forgotten that if they gave out Oscars for running the Screen Actor’s Guild, Reagan would have cleaned up at the academy awards. He was a tough union boss and Reagan’s deft handling of contract negotiations with the studios, winning substantial concessions for actors in a politically charged, anti-Hollywood atmosphere, led to his being elected president of SAG seven times:

“At the request of the SAG National Board, Reagan returned to the SAG presidency in 1959 in order to head 1960
theatrical negotiations that ultimately resulted in the first pension and health plan for SAG members, not to mention residuals on filmsshot January 31, 1960, and after (once they were replayed on television).”

Not having anticipated the advent of television, having little bargaining leverage and facing punitive tax rates, many early film actors lived hand to mouth in their old age while the studios raked in a fortune selling their performances to TV networks. Most had been paid a pittance and the lucky few who had made real money had found Uncle Sam claimed up to 90 % of their paycheck. Reagan never forgot that bitter experience and made decreasing marginal income tax rates a key objective in his economic program, which he managed to get through a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives under the Speakership of Tip O’Neill. How? He negotiated for it and afterward, liberal Democrat Tip O’Neill paid conservative Republican Reagan the ultimate compliment that a political opponent can bestow:

How am I doing? I’m getting the whale shit kicked out of me!

As the former Speaker explained in his memoirs, belying his image as a genial and somewhat lazy figurehead, Reagan was a shrewd but relentless bargainer. “You fellas tell me who I need to call and I’ll make the calls” Reagan told his staff. Reagan called. He worked the phones like the winner of a national sales award. Congressmen, Senators, their supporters and newspaper editors back home, he charmed the wives of members of Congress, asked after their children and hand wrote them personal letters of thanks and gave them photo ops at the White House. He shared the spotlight and made compromises with Democrats like Bill Bradley and Dan Rostenkowski who were willing to advance Reagan’s strategic goals. Walking in to the conference room to talk with the Democratic leadership, Reagan would frequently begin discussions having dozens of their Democratic members in his pocket and an equal number wavering. Reagan would at the last minute, take half a loaf in legislation if it moved the ball down the field. Then in the next negotiation, he’d return for the other half and often as not, get some of that too.

The Soviet politburo fared no better with arms control with Reagan than did the leaders of the Democratic party on tax cuts and tax reform. That Reagan was disinclined to make the sort of breezy, one-sided, concessions that had been the hallmark of Kissinger’s approach to SALT was made dramatically clear by Reagan’s appointment of Paul Nitze, the father of NSC-68 and co-founder of Team B, as his adviser on arms control and chief negotiator foe the INF treaty talks. Reagan’s propensity to treat the Soviets in his public speeches as if their Communist ideology were illegitimate and dangerous gave the Soviet leaders fits.

Longtime Soviet ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Dobrynin remained a dedicated Communist apparatchik and a skillful advocate of the Soviet position even after the demise of the USSR, but his comments about Reagan in his memoir In Confidence, while laden with frustration and incomprehension, are not the picture often seen of Reagan in the MSM:

    • Brezhnev and his colleagus found themselves dealing with something truly new, a deeply disturbing figure who tenaciously advanced a course that profoundly offended and alarmed them.
    • To me, the directness and insouciance of his remarks confirms once again my belief that personal conviction underwrote Reagan’s approach to the Soviets and everything associated with us, and not just some political pose.
    • It was evident from Shultz’s Behavior during our White House conversation and long afterward that Reagan was the real boss, and that the secretary of state carried out his instructions. Shultz hardly intervened in the conversation and ostensibly agreed with Reagan throughout. I even had the impression, perhaps an erroneous one, that the secretary of state was somewhat afraid of the president.

As Dobrynin’s memois meander slowly, as diplomatic tomes are wont to do, the Soviets ultimately, by stubborn, painful inches born of endless meetings, bent to many of Reagan’s positions, orginally regarded by them as absolutely intolerable: the zero option, exit visas for Pentacostal dissidents, SDI research and most dramatic of all, consenting to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, occurring the year Reagan left office.

Ronald Reagan, not Mikhail Gorbachev, understood the art of the deal.

Reagan Roundtable:The Cold War Ends by Joseph Fouche

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Joseph Fouche at the Ronald Reagan Roundtable at Chicago Boyz.

Reagan Roundtable: The Cold War Ends

….Some observers (kind according to their own lights) take a more moderate course. They’ll concede that Reagan had something to do with the end of the Cold War. Perhaps mesmerized by the sight of his own reflection looking back at him from Gorby’s shiny bald head, the senile old dinosaur was stunned into a quiescence sufficient to allow Gorby to let peace break out without the hurdle of Reagan’s habitual warmongering. Under other circumstances, Reagan would wake up, eat his Wheaties, break out a map, and plan which bastion of worker’s solidarity he would besiege that day. Gorby’s charm and skill in handling this wild rampaging elephant of imperialist plutocracy was only just enough to overcome even the power of the Breakfast of Champions and end the Cold War.

Others concede that Reagan was more than a patsy skillfully played by a smooth talking Commie. Instead, he was a patsy skillfully played by a smooth talking State Department. In this version, George Schultz and other enlightened diplomats slowly weaned Reagan away from the Precambrian depths of his native Birchery and convinced him that speaking softly was more constructive than his unthinking waving of a big stick. The mandarins of Foggy Bottom supplied the script and Reagan, secretly yearning the direction of Hollywood days of yore, performed his role with all the aplomb a B-movie actor could summon. Reagan was convinced that the diminutive Gorby was Bonzo. It was his job to put the little bald chimp to bed with all the tender care a leading man could devote to an expensive studio prop. If Gorbachev happened to outshine him, it was all in good fun. Reagan understood in the light of the timeless wisdom of W.C. Fields: “Never work with animals or children”.

The heroic story that Reagan arose like a bronzed colossus from the hills above Los Angeles and not only consigned but personally muscled Marxism and Leninism on to the ash heap of history takes various forms. The most popular variant holds that Reagan won in spite of the serial arch-appeasers in State. His dedication to confidently waving around the DoD-forged mace of martial virtue in the face of Useful Idiot naysayers pushed the Soviets over the edge. The evil Commies strove to forge their own mace of martial virtue only to stumble over the inefficiencies of GOSPLAN. Gorby was simply playing for time by appealing over Reagan’s head to the useful idiots and fellow travelers in the West as the coils of Reagan’s grand strategy gradually squeezed the last breaths from the dying Bear. Faced with the unstoppable force of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, it wouldn’t have mattered who was leader of the USSR. Their place in the ash heap was prepared and furnished with all the trimmings of dread inevitability.

Reagan Roundtable: The past is a different country. Except that it’s not. by Onparkstreet

Sunday, February 13th, 2011


Charles has crossposted here his own contribution to the Ronald Reagan Roundtable at Chicago Boyz.

Doc Madhu, a.k.a “Onparkstreet” also had a post up last week:

Ronald Reagan Roundtable: The past is a different country. Except that it’s not.

….After the First Lady’s talk, while in conversation with someone or other, I remember saying that, “I would NOT shake the President’s hand” if I met him in person. The young man speaking to me was incredulous. “You wouldn’t shake the President’s hand?”

I can’t remember now why I was so adamant. I wasn’t political as a teen and my hard-working immigrant parents rarely mentioned politics at home. By what form of cultural osmosis had I absorbed the idea that President Reagan was a bad and terrible man? By the osmosis of growing up in a college town surrounded by the children of faculty and life-long Story County Democrats. If you click on the Ames Historical Society link above, you will find an Ames Tribune photograph of a demonstration against President Reagan’s policies held during the First Lady’s visit. “Cheese for the POOR and champaigne for the RICH” reads one sign.

In the college town environments of my youth and early adulthood, Republicans were universally understood to be cold-hearted stupid warmongers. There was no, “I don’t like his policies but I like him personally” stuff. By what process of misremembering and selective editing have we smoothed over the roughest edges of that era, the nasty snide anti-Reagan jokes, the huge anti-Reagan missile protests in Europe, the near universal disdain of the man and the movement among intellectuals? A certain percentage of said intellectuals admired their own personal starry-eyed vision of the Soviet Union and that’s the truth.

You want to know how bad the disdain was in some corners of our society? When President Reagan was shot, my junior high classroom erupted into spontaneous applause. To the credit of the teacher, she became immediately and visibly distressed and told us to stop. She was shocked. I am shocked to remember it. We were nice kids growing up in a middle-class Midwestern college town, dreamily innocent in some ways, and primarily concerned with getting good grades and impressing that cute boy or girl. Yet, our first instinct at that moment was to clap. I remember being surprised at first, then smiling in confusion, then noting that the teacher was upset so that our reaction must be very wrong. How had we preteens thought such horrible behavior appropriate? What must we have heard, day in and day out, for that to be our response? How bizarre. How remarkable. How shameful.

Ha! I have a similar memory.

I was in Jr. High school at the time, and in Social Studies class, when President Reagan was shot and, most unusually, a TV was rolled in by the instructor, so we could watch the news reports. One of the class fools, a minor bully, stood up and laughed very loudly and brazenly said something to the effect that he hoped Reagan was dead. The class started to laugh but it turned to shock in a heartbeat because the teacher, a  bantam rooster sort of guy in thick spectacles, had sprung from his chair and unceremoniously knocked the kid flat on this behind with something that was less than a slap but a lot more than a shove.

He had our attention.

Today, if he had done that, the teacher would be fired and sued, if not hauled away in handcuffs, but my school was in a blue colar community in the era when male teachers, especially coaches and assistant principals, were still known and expected to occasionally use a hand to straighten out boys who were acting like punks. It was less true of classroom teachers of academic subjects but it happened. We just never saw it happen so fast!

We were also surprised because our teacher, an ardent liberal, had never hidden his political disdain for Ronald Reagan and everything he stood for in his lectures, offhand comments or jokes. Most of the teachers had the same attitude. But our instructor launched into an impassioned speech about how the POTUS, whomever he was or what we thought of him, represented all the people of the United States and that his assassination would be an attack on not just the president, but on America. That we had certain obligations and duties as citizens of the United States at a time like this, and showing respect to the President of the United States was one of them.

He went on to describein detail  how he felt and how people had behaved when President Kennedy was killed and contrasted it with our behavior, telling us he was ashamed and embarrassed for us that we did not know any better. When he was finished, a loud silence reigned supreme.

A teachable moment.

Ronald Reagan Roundtable: “full of jovial doom” by Charles Cameron

Friday, February 11th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron ]

Yesterday I made my post on the ChicagoBoyz roundtable about President Reagan’s enthusiasm for prophecies of the end times:

Knowing of my interest in matters apocalyptic, you wouldn’t expect me to pass up President Reagan‘s connection with Ezekiel and the Revelation of John of Patmos on an occasion such as this, would you?
I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of people who believe in prophecy having their fingers on the triggers of nuclear weapons. Ronald Reagan was one such, and didn’t press the trigger — a fact for which I am profoundly grateful. Perhaps it was his “jovial” approach to “doom” that made the difference.
The story is actually quite fascinating…

and (quoting the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, a group which advocates for nuclear disarmament):

According to his wife, Nancy, “Ronnie had many hopes for the future, and none were more important to America and to mankind than the effort to create a world free of nuclear weapons.”
President Reagan was a nuclear abolitionist…

Since that time, Lex has strongly critiqued my post, I’ve responded, and y’all are cordially invited to chime in…
But I didn’t want to clog that more serious business with what one might term “apocalyptic trivia” – even though such things can be interesting in their own right as samples of humor, conspiracy etc – so I’ll follow that up today with one of my DoubleQuotes here on ZP.

Reagan Roundtable: Reagan and the End of the Cold War by seydlitz89

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

seydlitz89 at the Ronald Reagan Roundtable at Chicago Boyz:

Ronald Reagan Roundtable: Reagan and the End of the Cold War

Ronald Reagan gave one of his most famous speeches in Berlin in June 1987, the famous one where he invited the Soviet leader of the time to “tear down this wall”. I was in the audience of that speech, about five rows back, and close enough to see the man very clearly. I had voted for Ronald Reagan in both 1980 and 1984 and had been present at his first inaugural in Washington DC. Count me as a true believer. At the time in Berlin we thought it a rather significant speech and he was after all not only addressing Berlin, but the whole world. There were indications that big changes were in the works, but no one could have guessed how momentous those changes would in fact be.

Too often, the legacy of Ronald Reagan and the Cold War is seen from a military-technological perspective, which is the way we have come to view military affairs in general, simply as a endless quest for “enhanced capabilities” in search of a threat. That confusion has particularly taken root since 1992 (the “Defense Planning Guidance” of that year is significant in this regard). This is not what I wish to point out and I hardly see defense spending in general as a positive legacy, although spending on personnel in the 1980s did much to allow us to respond quickly to the changing political environment exploiting to the full the military intelligence collection potential, as we did between 1989-92.

In my view, Reagan’s significant contribution to ending the Cold War was in what he brought to diplomacy. Specifically his ability to negotiate effectively with Soviet Leaders, particularly Mikhail Gorbachev, and convince them that he could deliver on his promises. Ronald Reagan realized that Gorbachev was serious in his reform efforts and quickly discarded any confrontational approach adapting one of cooperation instead.

Things did not start off well however. Gorbachev had not appeared impressed with Reagan at first, but soon Mitterrand and other Western leaders convinced Gorbachev that Reagan was a person he could negotiate with and not the “clown and fool” that Gorbachev had portrayed him as previously. This set up Reykjavik in 1986 which in turn set up the INF treaty. Without this relationship between Reagan and Gorbachev there would have been no treaty and Soviet reformers would have shelved much of their reform program since it would have been impossible to face Gorbachev’s domestic opposition (the Soviet Military industrial complex or “VPK” and the state security apparatus) without having the road open to negotiation with the US….

Read the rest here.

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