Posts Tagged ‘World Environment Day’

Robert F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan each died on this day. It’s also World Environment Day; I must admit, I hadn’t realized “WED” existed; I’m trying to understand how it’s different from Earth Day. Nevertheless, in the spirit of World Environment Day, I thought I’d write a little about something these two prominent American political figures offer us in our current political environment.

As it happens, RFK and Reagan each offers something particularly valuable to his party’s opponents. Kennedy, a liberal Democrat, showed that sometimes, when you feel your own party is on the wrong track, you need to speak up. Kennedy saw Johnson as being from a different wing of the same political party.  He also found Johnson to be a dishonest, deeply flawed human being on a personal level. Nevertheless, Kennedy supported President Lyndon Johnson on subjects like civil rights and poverty, where he agreed.  But then Kennedy came around to thinking (rightly or wrongly) that Johnson had gotten the country mired in an unwinnable war in Vietnam early in 1967. He, like many in the media, saw a “credibility gap”, where the facts on the ground in Southeast Asia didn’t square with what the White House was saying.  At that point, Kennedy challenged Johnson on the subject. RFK knew that party loyalty had its limits. He was not going to continue following a man he loathed who was enacting policies he opposed.  Republicans may want to note this.

In 1976, Reagan also opposed a leader of his own party (ie. Gerald Ford); that was mostly ideological, not personal, as even Reagan would tell you Ford was a decent man. Democrats may want to take a fresh look at Reagan for a different reason. Reagan’s overarching philosophy in the 1980 campaign against Carter wasn’t all that different from Barry Goldwater’s in 1964, but his approach was miles apart. Goldwater saw himself as a courageous speaker of hard truths. Reagan was a bit more of a pragmatist, and crucially, he appeared transparently to like people, even those who disagreed with him. Democrat attacks on him as apt to start a war didn’t square with the warm images voters saw on television. It was said of Reagan that when a baby saw him, the baby smiled. People are more likely to tolerate policies from the other side of the political center if they believe the person is pushing those ideas actually likes them. Many of the 2016 voters who surprised with their votes were those who had felt forgotten or disregarded by the party in power. In the 80’s, it was different. Reagan liked the American people, including his opponents – and even his opponents knew that. Perhaps that’s one reason the political environment was a bit healthier then.

– 1TF


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