Everything you think you know about Reagan is wrong

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: September 22, 2016

By: Jeffrey A. Engel, an American history scholar and director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. Email: jaengel@smu.edu

Woe to the Republican candidate who doesn’t pledge to be the Gipper reincarnated. But woe to the American people who try to find a candidate today who represents all they remember Ronald Reagan to have been.

Having canonized his memory, Republican nominees invoked his name 15 times at one GOP primary debate in February. God got only five mentions.

Even GOP nominee Donald Trump, a nontraditional Republican candidate for sure, willingly embraces his newfound role as Reagan’s heir, though he wasn’t always a fan. Critical of the country’s 40th president in his self-lauded 1987 book, The Art of the Deal, Trump called Reagan “a con man” who couldn’t “deliver the goods” for the American people. Asked in 2011 to name which presidents he admired most (no doubt having determined his political future was with Republicans), Trump offered a distinctly different response: “Well, I really like and knew a little bit Ronald Reagan. … I loved his style. I loved what he represented.”

Reagan’s shadow looms large over the contemporary political landscape, his core beliefs setting inviolable tenets of modern Republicanism. Reagan believed in tax cuts. So, too, does Trump, as did the other 16 GOP candidates. Reagan believed in a strong defense. Again, there was unanimous support among the GOP possibilities.

The center of American politics stands further to the right today than when Reagan took office in 1981, in large part because of the clarity of his message. Even Democrats recognize his appeal. Bill Clinton famously declared “the era of big government is over,” in 1996, sounding more Reaganesque than like his party’s own patron saint, Franklin Roosevelt. Barack Obama, too, recognized Reagan’s core appeal, modeling his own message-driven presidency accordingly. Obama said in 2008 that Reagan “put us on a fundamentally different path” because he “tapped into what people were already feeling, which was, we want clarity, we want optimism.”

Today’s America is Reagan’s, but what if I told you everything you think you know about the man, and most everything his compatriots praise, is wrong? Americans love the Reagan they remember, not the Reagan that was. READ MORE

Jo Guldi, History, Between Experts and Citizens

Boston Review

Originally Posted: September 20, 2016

It is safe to say that the Brexit vote—only the third nation-wide referendum in the history of the United Kingdom—disrupted ordinary political norms and expectations. There was the surprise of the vote itself, and David Cameron’s quick abdication; the baffling disappearance of Boris Johnson, followed by his appointment in Theresa May’s new government; and then the failed coup in the Labour Party, leaving Jeremy Corbyn at the helm. Britain’s systems of representational democracy have traditionally functioned to block popular disruptions of this kind. What historical forces are behind Brexit’s spectacular exception to this rule?

One answer begins in the second half of the twentieth century. Several commentators have read the vote as the result of a 1970s turn toward neoliberalism that left the working class behind in a program of coal pit closures and denationalization. Historian Harold James has underscored that the European Monetary System (EMS) grew out of proposals for an international money market that promised escape from national cycles of monetary expansion and inflation. From 1977 onward, the EMS made cheap credit, backed by European nations, available to private banks. In James’s account, this stability-focused monetary policy created a twenty-first century economy that was unaccountable to the working class, diminishing national and local control.

The identity of the European Union is wrapped up in hopes for peace after decades of war. But the neoliberalization narrative also sees in the EU a symbol of the rise of rule by financial experts and the discounting of class-based, representational politics. The financial management once beholden to local and national politics was placed in the hands of an international body, and national governments lost control—or simply divested themselves—of the levers they once had claimed for raising wages. Among the casualties of this transformation were the nationalized industries disassembled under Margaret Thatcher, which had leveraged the power of the state in bargaining between workers and employers. In short order, CEO pay ratcheted up and wages stagnated, and a landscape of ruins was left behind. In place of factories and state housing there were fewer jobs but a growing number of prisons and detention centers for illegal immigrants.

This account of Brexit, drawing on the framework of class-consciousness, turns on the rise of a reactionary electorate outside of London. The idea, in short, is that the United Kingdom has witnessed the lumpenproletariat exact uncertain revenge upon the nation’s ruling elite. This narrative more or less parallels Marx’s account of the December 1851 coup in France in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. Marx blamed the rise of the dictatorship on the greed and disappointment of the petite bourgeoisie, who revolted against the Second Republic and the interest of the workers. This betrayal, Marx argued, precipitated an era of rule by political moron, encapsulated in the premiership of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (figured as a template for Boris Johnson by some and for Jeremy Corbyn by others), whom Marx memorably dubbed a “grotesque mediocrity.” Leaders such as these, several commentators have implied, are a parody of the great leadership demanded by the moment. READ MORE

Fondren library closed Saturday, September 17th

Fondren Library will be closed this Saturday, September 17th for Game Day. Regular hours will resume Sunday September 18th at Noon. READ MORE 

Questions of health and trustworthiness, removing moderators from debates, and the ‘deplorables’

SMU News

Originally Posted: September 13, 2016

Below is an excerpt from an SMU press release. READ MORE

Jeffrey A. Engel

TRUMP’S QUESTIONING OF CLINTON’S HEALTH HAS SHADES OF 1988

JEFFREY ENGEL
jaengel@mail.smu.edu

On the history of candidate health as an issue in presidential politics…

  • “It’s really interesting to me as a historian that it doesn’t take much, as we’ve seen from Trump’s campaign, to make an insinuation into a story. We saw that in particular in 1988 when the George H.W. Bush campaign basically floated the idea that Michael Dukakis was mentally unstable, with no evidence – Reagan even said ‘I’m not going to pick on an invalid.’ And all the issues occurred with John McCain in the 2000 primary against George W. Bush, when a whisper campaign asked, ‘Do you really want a man who’s been tortured five years in charge of nukes?’ Health is the perfect embodiment of an issue that can be raised without any evidence and, as long as it’s in people’s minds, you have to defend against it, and there’s no defense against an issue that’s not real.”

On the impact that questions about a candidate’s health can have on an election…

  • “I think it had a tremendous impact in 1988. The (George H.W.) Bush campaign did a remarkable job painting Dukakis as weak, out of touch politically with the mainstream and, over time, as out of touch with reality. Those were things Dukakis was unable to contend with. What’s important to note from 1988 is that was also a race that got way down into the mud, like this one, and it produced remarkably low voter turnout. One lesson you can draw is that you can drive voters away from the polls, but that doesn’t mean you’re driving up enthusiasm for your own presidency.”

Engel is director of the SMU Center for Presidential History. He can discuss:

  • comparisons to past presidential races
  • foreign policy
  • presidential rhetoric

 

———————————————————————————–

Matthew Wilson

HEALTH A VALID CONCERN, BUT TRUSTWORTHINESS A GREATHER ISSUE FOR CLINTON

MATTHEW WILSON:
jmwilson@smu.edu

On the impact questions of a candidate’s health can have on an election…

  • “The presidency is a high-stress, demanding job. For that reason, voters put fair scrutiny on whether the candidates are up to the physical and mental stamina requirements. Questions of the health of a candidate also put more focus on the running mate, and whether that person is seen as a capable and palatable person to assume the office if necessary. Both Clinton and Trump are fortunate that they picked solid people for their running mates.”
  • “One thing to keep in mind: Hillary and Trump are two of the oldest candidates to ever seek the presidency. For that reason, there will be more focus on their health.”

On what’s the bigger issue, Clinton’s health, or her breach of trust in being honest about it…

  • “This episode serves to reinforce the notion that Clinton’s natural instincts are not to be open and transparent. Her natural instinct is to conceal, obfuscate, deceive and to only come clean when her hand is forced. If, in fact, it’s true that she has pneumonia, it’s just mind boggling she didn’t come forward and say that. Particularly with this question about her health. Not revealing she has pneumonia until she has to because she collapsed at an event reinforces the idea she’s not forthcoming.”

Wilson is an SMU associate professor of Political Science. He can discuss:

  • religion and politics
  • political psychology
  • voting behavior of religious voters
  • public opinion and politics

 

SMU climbs to 56 in U.S. News & World Report rankings

SMU News

Originally Posted: September 13, 2016

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU rose to its highest ranking among the nation’s universities in the 2017 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges, released online today.

Among 220 institutions classified as national universities, SMU ranks 56, up from 61 a year ago.

The new ranking again places SMU in the first tier of institutions in the guide’s “best national universities” category. In Texas, only Rice University ranks higher. SMU and the University of Texas-Austin were tied.  Among private national universities, SMU ranks 39.

SMU’s increase was one of the five largest among the top 100 universities. Since 2008, SMU’s 11-point increase is one of the four largest among schools in the top 60.

For the rankings, U.S. News considers measures of academic quality, such as peer assessment scores and ratings by high school counselors, faculty resources, student selectivity, graduation rate performance, financial resources and alumni giving. SMU ranks 24 among all national universities in alumni giving at 25 percent.

In other ranking categories, SMU ranks 32 as one of the best national universities for veterans.

“It is gratifying for SMU to be recognized for its positive movement among the best national universities,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “The ranking is an example of the momentum of the Second Century Campaign and the University’s Centennial Celebration.

“We appreciate external recognition of our progress and believe it’s valid, but we also know that rankings do not portray the whole picture of an institution and its strengths. We encourage parents and students to visit the institutions they are considering for a firsthand look at the academic offerings, the campus environment and the surrounding community to best gauge a university.”

The rankings of 1,374 institutions, including national universities, liberal arts colleges, regional colleges and regional universities, are available now online and on newsstands Sept. 23. Find the “Best Colleges 2017” guidebook in stores Oct. 4. READ MORE

 

Making sense of Donald Trump’s visit to Mexico

Fox 4

Originally Posted: September 6, 2016

Jeffrey Engel, associate professor and director of SMU’s Center for Presidential History, talks about Donald Trump’s recent trip to Mexico for a visit with President Enrique Peña Nieto and its effect on Trump’s efforts to become the next president of the U.S. Watch

Chill Out. Political History has Never Been Better.

Lawyers, Guns and Money 

Originally Posted: September 1, 2016

This is a guest post by Gabriel Rosenberg and Ariel Ron. Gabriel N. Rosenberg is assistant professor of gender, sexuality, and feminist Studies at Duke University and the author of The 4-H Harvest: Sexuality and the State in Rural America. Ariel Ron is assistant professor of history at Southern Methodist University and working on a book tentatively titled, Grassroots Leviathan: Northern Agrarian Nationalism in the Slaveholding Republic.

If you hang around history professors, you’ll inevitably hear some carping: They sure don’t write history like they used to! Plumbers and insurance agents probably do something similar when they get together. But it’s weird for a profession premised on historical context to indulge such a naively nostalgic narrative of its own development. The latest entry is a New York Times Op-Ed by Frederik Logevall and Kenneth Osgood titled, “Why Did We Stop Teaching Political History?”

Trick question! We never stopped. Political history is fine. In fact, it’s never been better. (It’s American politics that stinks.)

The Logevall and Osgood editorial pushes a narrative of decline for political history. Once upon a time, American historians foregrounded “the doings of governing elites” and, thus, fostered general civic literacy and understanding of the political process. Some political historians, they contend, even wielded influence over policy makers. But historians in the 1970s turned their attention to charting the influence of social movements—laborers, women, non-whites, and gays—and to “recovering the lost experiences of these groups.” As a result, “the study of America’s political past is being marginalized.” Universities neglected history concerned with the hows and whys of governance, and now they fail to educate students adequately on “the importance that compromise has played in America’s past, of the vital role of mutual give-and-take in the democratic process.”

Indeed, Logevall and Osgood claim political history as a “field of study has cratered.” The anchor for this claim? The purported paucity of job ads dedicated to “political history.”

It’s true that US historians were once (overly) focused on political elites. But what about the rest of the story? READ MORE

Listen: A Nation Engaged – America’s Role In The World

THINK KERA

Originally Posted- August 29, 2016

If you think this year’s presidential campaigns seem more divisive and acrimonious than ever before, you’re not alone. And the political rhetoric is making waves – not just here at home but abroad as well. This hour, as part of a NPR’s “A Nation Engaged” conversation project, we’ll talk about how the election and the next president will affect America’s role in the world. Our guests are writer Ben Fountain, who’s been reporting on the election forThe Guardian and Jeffrey Engel, who directs the Center for Presidential History at SMU. LISTEN

Oh, the places Dedman College students will go… (after graduation)!

Dedman College graduate employer list