October 17, 2004

Do Events Harden or Soften Presidents?

Dr. Barnett's making a pretty good bit of advocacy for Kerry here. I'm on the other side of the fence, finding it impossible to conclude anything other than disaster for a Kerry presidency, both in foreign and domestic affairs. But that is for posts past and future. This post will verticalize a bit of Barnettian sprawl. Horizontal thinkers like Dr. Barnett run through ideas and concepts in such a machine gun fashion that you can examine one of their posts in depth and tease out a dozen in depth threads. This is the process I'm dubbing verticalization, This bit of verticalization is about the following paragraph:

Events tend to harden presidents, not soften them. Bush is about as hard as he can get with his certitude and his baggage, as are the major players in his administration. It's time to reset the political rule set known as party control of the Executive Branch.

Do events tend to harden presidents, or soften them? Let's do a quick review from Carter to Bush 43.

1. Carter got a bit harder toward the end of his first term as events shook him out of his earlier convictions, particularly the invasion of Afghanistan and the hostage crisis in Iran.
2. Reagan, I would say, got softer in his second term than he was in his first. He saw his uncompromising politics yielding results and he made some generous offers on the way to burying the Soviet bloc in order to avoid creating another Versailles type treaty. Reagan also got softer on tax policy, not aggressively defending his earlier supply side ideals
3. Bush 41, started soft and got softer and regretted it. He abandoned his line in the sand tax pledge. He's a wash on foreign policy, leaving things much as he found them in terms of his policy hardness.
4. Clinton was a complicated character. In some ways you can make the case that he hardened over time, especially with Yugoslavia but you can make a countervailing case that he softened after the disaster in Mogadishu that left us with our tail between our legs, running from muslim gangs.

While this is a pretty small sample size, the trend line seems to be that Republicans soften over time and I would expect Bush 43 to maintain that pattern. If the hardened by events pattern holds anywhere, it would be for Democrats. The unyielding nature of Reagan I led to our partners giving in to him once he got his second term. They couldn't afford to wait an american president out for another four years. There is no reason that I can see for that dynamic to apply any less to the current generation of "american cowboy president" than it did to our last one.

Posted by TMLutas at October 17, 2004 09:48 PM