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

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

 

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

SMU Clements Center awards top book prize Sept. 27

SMU News

Originally Posted: August 15, 2016

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU’s Clements Center for Southwest Studies will present its annual book prize on Tuesday, Sept. 27, to historian Andrew J. Torget forSeeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850 (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

The David J. Weber-William P. Clements Prize for the Best Non-Fiction Book on Southwestern America honors both the Center’s founding director and founding benefactor.

Torget, a former Clements Fellow, will be honored Sept. 27 at a 5:30 p.m. reception, followed by a 6 p.m. lecture and book-signing at McCord Auditorium in Dallas Hall, 3225 University, SMU. The event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. To register, call 214-768-3684 or click here.

Andrew TorgetIn Seeds of Empire, Torget, associate professor of history at the University of North Texas, explores the roles that cotton and slavery played in fomenting the Texas Revolution, which was in part a reaction against abolitionists in the Mexican government, and in shaping Texas’ borderlands into the first fully-committed slaveholders’ republic in North America.

In selecting the book from a large field of entries, judges wrote: “Torget’s deep archival work brings a fresh perspective to the conflicts over slavery in Texas on the eve of the Civil War. The book’s most notable accomplishment is the emphasis on cotton and slavery as a world-wide system that bound Texas history to larger economic and political forces in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe. He challenges the traditional interpretation that the westward movement in the early nineteenth century was primarily motivated by ideologies of racial supremacy that characterized Manifest Destiny. Instead, Torget demonstrates that, although westering Americans felt superior to the people whose lands they invaded, they mainly migrated to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in the trans-Atlantic cotton economy that the Mexican government had established by offering them free land.”

Finalists for the Weber-Clements Book Prize are Emily Lutenski for West of Harlem: African American Writers and the Borderlands; and former Clements Fellow John Weber for From South Texas to the Nation: The Exploitation of Mexican Labor in the Twentieth Century.

This is the eighth major book prize Seeds of Empire has won.

The $2,500 Weber-Clements Book Prize, administered by the Western History Association, honors fine writing and original research on the American Southwest. The competition is open to any nonfiction book, including biography, on any aspect of Southwestern life, past or present. The William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies is affiliated with the Department of History within SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. The center was created to promote research, publishing, teaching and public programming in a variety of fields related to the American Southwest.  READ MORE

Dedman College alumnus and photographer Stuart Palley shares his tips on how to create beautiful images once darkness falls.

Time

Originally Posted: August 10, 2016

SMU alumnus and photographer Stuart Palley shares his tips on how to create beautiful images once darkness falls. Palley graduated in 2011 with a double major in History and Finance and minors in Human Rights and Photography. Read more

~In our latest How to Photograph series, TIME asked award-winning photographer Stuart Palley to share his tips and tricks to create beautiful night-time imagery.

Palley has mastered the art and technical skills of photographing at night and is known for his compelling and breathtaking photos of wildfires and his magical images of the the night sky. “Ninety percent of it is preparation and 10% of it is the actual execution,” he says.

Watch this TIME video to see which apps Palley uses to plan his shoots, tips on how to work in darkness, what equipment to invest in and how you can play with different light sources to achieve the best results. READ MORE

What Conventions Tell Us About Trump, Clinton and the Parties

The Arizona Republic

Originally Posted: July 31, 2016

The following is from the July 31, 2016,edition of The Arizona Republic. Jeffrey Engel, director of SMU’s Center for Presidential History, provided expertise for this story.

PHILADELPHIA — It was hard to miss the dramatic contrasts between the Democrats’ and Republican’s national conventions.

The four-day spectacles, which offer an opportunity for the presidential nominees and their parties to present their best face as the general-election battle begins, seemed to be held in different Americas.

One, a foreboding place besieged by terrorism and violence. The other, a nation with struggles but where people of different backgrounds can overcome problems by working together.

Either group, it seemed, might not recognize the picture of the United States that the other portrayed.

The candidates’ nomination speeches distilled these contrasts. Hillary Clinton, the first woman ever nominated by a major U.S. party, spoke of unity and reached out to all Americans, even those who won’t vote for her, with a positive tone. Donald Trump at times painted a grim portrait of the United States as a nation facing immediate threats from illegal immigration, terrorism and attacks on law enforcement.

These differences — and the internal tensions that erupted at times into booing and chants throughout both conventions — provide insight into the state of the presidential race, as well as the future of the two parties. READ MORE

Did Trump win GOP nod because of the way he talks?

Christian Science Monitor

Originally Posted: July 20, 2016

Cleveland — Suddenly Donald Trump’s face loomed over the delegates, tanned, jaw set, and a story high.

From the giant video screen on the Republican National Convention stage Mr. Trump thanked everyone for nominating him as the GOP presidential pick. The film – shown Tuesday in Cleveland after the official roll call vote – was short. Parts were clearly ad-libbed. When Trump began to speak, his sentences were looping and repetitive.

“The party seal, I mean, what we did, getting the party’s nomination, I’ll never forget it. It’s something I will never, ever forget,” he said. . .

Here’s a thought sparked by watching this presentation and its rapturous response: It’s not just the border proposal or the possible Muslim ban. Donald Trump’s extraordinary victory in the Republican presidential primaries was due in part to the way he communicates. His words, his gestures, his expressions, his emphasis – all are uniquely suited to the pace and attention span of our social-media saturated age. . .

“Trump is brilliant in manipulating – and I mean ‘manipulating’ as a positive – the new media, the social media of the day,” says Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “There is no discussion on Twitter. The way you win an argument on Twitter is, you say it again, and you say it in capital letters.” READ MORE

History professor John Chavez presented paper in public forum July 11

Originally Posted: July 19, 2016
UnknownStephanie Lewthwaite, winner of a Southwest Center fellowship for 2010, invited SMU History Professor John Chavez to present a paper, ‘Aliens or Natives: Mexicans in the Southwestern United States’ in a public forum sponsored by the University of Nottingham in Great Britain on July 11, 2016.

History professor helped organize St. Petersburg conference on lessons of Russian revolution

SMU NEWS

Originally Posted: July 11, 2016

DALLAS (SMU)One hundred years ago, a world that had long known monarchy, empire, and briefly democracy and a republic, was introduced to a new form of government: Communism, which rose to power with the fall of Tsarist Russia.

On the centennial anniversary of the Russian Revolution, a gathering of the world’s leading historians of Russia met at the European University St. Petersburg, Russia, from June 9-11 for a conference co-organized by Southern Methodist University (SMU) history professor Daniel Orlovsky with colleagues from The EurDaniel-T-Orlovskyopean University and the Institute of History, Russian Academy of Sciences. The international colloquium was titled “The Epoch of War and Revolution, 1914-1922.”

“There’s a new round of confrontation and diplomatic conflict between Russia and the west,” Orlovsky says. “The real question is how official Russia, the government, Putin, the media and the academic establishment in general will treat this centennial, and how this may manifest itself in our sessions among participants or from the audience, which will be large,” Orlovsky adds.

While contemporary interpretations of the centennial may vary, the impact of Russia’s revolution on the past century is undeniable.

“The Russian Revolution was actually two revolutions, the collapse of Tsarism in February and the rise of the Bolsheviks in October,” says Orlovsky, who helped fund the conference with a prestigious grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

“The February revolution is a model of revolutions that collapse authoritarian regimes and attempt to build a liberal or socialist world, but often don’t work and lead to new authoritarian regimes,” Orlovsky adds. “It’s an important question: Why does a regime fall apart, and why do more liberal successors fail?”

The Russian story has been echoed in other idealistic revolutions in the 100 years since – most recently in the color revolutions of Eastern Europe, Central Asia and in the Middle East.

Studying where Russia’s revolution went off the democracy rails is important, says Orlovsky, because in many ways the modern world has similarities to 1916.

“Nationalism is still a big issue, ethnic problems persist, the threat of domestic upheaval and terrorism were there then as they’re here now,” Orlovsky says. “The Russian Revolution itself has endured as a powerful model for people, but outcomes differ. The biggest controversy of the conference will be over the larger questions: What did the revolution means for Russia and the world, what is its significance for today and is it a model for change around the world?”

Spirited debate took place at the conference over the parameters of the Revolution, its periodization, the role of such factors as ethnicity, leadership cults, foreign policy, the role of language and symbols, gender, the nature of power, emotions, etc. The concluding discussion praised the renewal of scholarly interest in Revolution as an enduring script in historical memory. READ MORE