Despondency Defined

Foreign Affairs – To Form a Government – Lloyd N. Culter
The media has been flooding the zone with coverage of Reagan and it can get tiresome, even for an admirer of Reagan’s. However, we haven’t had a full blown state funeral for a President since Johnson in 1973 and we aren’t accustomed to it. Nixon opted for a more modest funeral ten years ago and it was probably a wise choice given his controversial place in history. I do think Clinton managed to strike the right note at Nixon’s funeral – at that point any wrongdoing was between him and his maker – and was gracious. Either way, we have three more former Presidents that are getting pretty old and I suspect we’ll be seeing more funerals like this in the coming years. Get ready.

All of the talk about Reagan recently prompted me to look for the article from Foreign Affairs during the Carter presidency, mentioned numerous times this week, that suggested we needed to switch to a new system of government, specifically a parliamentary system of government. I think I found it.

Imagine my surprise to see that it was written by Lloyd Cutler, former White House counsel to both Clinton and Carter (I think Foreign Affairs misspelled his name; it would be a remarkable coincidence if he had the exact same name, including initials, with the ‘t’ and ‘l’ transposed). For those who are sincerely trying to understand all of the fuss over Reagan and how he gave the country hope again, this article should do it.

Foreign Affairs is a pretty respected journal, as far as I know, and to have someone of Cutler’s stature proposing that we abandon our system of government is pretty astonishing. Apparently some in the foreign policy establishment had concluded that the Presidency is too big for one person and that we needed a parliament and a prime minister. It seems laughable now – it probably was then, as well – but to have anybody thinking this out loud, much less in a journal of this type, is amazing.

Obviously Cutler was wrong and we just needed a President that could rally the country. That’s what Reagan did. He had a talent for going directly to the American people that rivaled FDR’s and might have surpassed it.

The 1970s was not the Great Depression, but it looked like we were losing our footing economically and it also looked like we might lose the Cold War. Patrick Moynihan, among many others, was warning of Soviet expansion and we were definitely on the defensive. Reagan helped change that.

Our society was one of the first to write a Constitution. This reflected the confident conviction of the Enlightenment that explicit written arrangements could be devised to structure a government that would be neither tyrannical nor impotent in its time, and to allow for future amendment as experience and change might require.

We are all children of this faith in a rational written arrangement for governing. Our faith should encourage us to consider changes in our Constitution-for which the framers explicitly allowed-that would assist us in adjusting to the changes in the world in which the Constitution must function. Yet we tend to resist suggestions that amendments to our existing constitutional framework are needed to govern our portion of the interdependent world society we have become, and to cope with the resulting problems that all contemporary governments must resolve.

A particular shortcoming in need of a remedy is the structural inability of our government to propose, legislate and administer a balanced program for governing. In parliamentary terms, one might say that under the U.S. Constitution it is not now feasible to “form a Government.” The separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches, whatever its merits in 1793, has become a structure that almost guarantees stalemate today. As we wonder why we are having such a difficult time making decisions we all know must be made, and projecting our power and leadership, we should reflect on whether this is one big reason.

I don’t know how widely held this view was, but it’s striking today. We’ve had four Presidents since and I don’t recall anyone suggesting the job is too big for one person during that time.

See also this article in Foreign Affairs from around the same time, this article by Gov. Schwarzenegger on Reagan and this article in BusinessWeek on Reagan. A clip from the Arnold article:

We all have such vivid memories of him, because he was a man of clarity – in his heart, in his faith, in his convictions and in his actions. His was a strong, unwavering flame that burned brightly. That is why, although we have not seen him in 10 years, he appears to us so clearly today.

Reagan was a hero to me. I became a citizen of the United States when he was president, and he is the first president I voted for as an American citizen. He inspired me and made me even prouder to be a new American.

He used to talk about the letter he received from a man who said, “You can go and live in Turkey, but you can’t become Turkish. You can go and live in Japan, but you can’t become Japanese. You can go to live in Germany or France, but you can’t become German or French.” But the man said that anyone from any corner of the world could come to America and become an American.

When I heard President Reagan tell that story, I said to myself, “Arnold, you Austrian immigrant, he is talking to you. He is saying that you will fit in here. You will be a real American, able to follow your dreams.”

President Reagan symbolized to me what America represented – hope, opportunity, freedom. He made us remember that the United States stood for something great and noble. Once again, it was alright to stand tall and believe in this country, and in ourselves.

He made each of us, no matter our station in life, feel part of something larger and grander. He saw America as an “empire of ideals,” and he advanced those ideals to the world.

Just Monday, I spoke with some of my friends in Austria and Germany. They told me that every single newspaper, every television station, every radio program around the clock is reporting on the life and death of Ronald Reagan. The reports are not just about the passing of an American president, but intimate stories that capture the essence of the person and the persona – as if he were one of their own.

Yep. At our best we are a nation of mongrels, not united by race or religion, but by ideas. That’s what makes us great and Reagan understood that.

Consider the zone flooded.

No comments yet.

Leave a Comment