Category Archives: Mentions

Reagan-Buckley debates of 1978, and the state of civil discourse || Washington Times

Reagan-Buckley debates of 1978, and the state of civil discourse

Craig Shirley’s new book captures a moment in time that’s worth emulating

– – Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Last month, I read Craig Shirley’s new work “Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980” (see Jennifer Harper’s review here in The Washington Times review).

There are endless numbers of anecdotes or quotes that I highlighted for future use. But if you asked me for one specific story from the book that struck me, it would be Mr. Shirley’s account of the 1978 “Firing Line” debates over the Panama Canal Treaty — between Ronald Reagan/Pat Buchanan (against the treaty) and William Buckley/George Will (for the treaty).

Reading about this event prompted me to go online to find the video, and I was delighted to find it at C-SPAN.

Here is the excerpt from Mr. Shirley’s book:

Buckley also wryly noted the predicament of debating his favorite politician. Reagan spoke and made it clear he did not trust the Panamanian government and that the negotiations of the treaties had begun in 1964, after riots in the streets of Panama. He argued that American should never have been cowed into the negotiations in the first place. Reagan smiled at Buckley and wondered why his old friend was not on his side; Buckley replied, “The force of my illumination would blind you.” The audience again laughed.

Reagan would make a thrust; Buckley would parry. Buckley would make a point; Reagan would make an effective counterpoint. It was a serious discussion without vitriol. It was a disagreement without being disagreeable. It was impressive because all the men involved were overachievers and successful in many endeavors, and thus it showcased the best of the conservative movement. These were high-minded men of serious purpose and scholarly thought, and it showed the movement in its best light to millions of viewers.

Take a look at the video and ask: What keeps us from having this level of discourse today?


Trump’s TV Obsession Is a First || The Atlantic

Trump’s TV Obsession Is a First

No president has consumed as much television as the current one, or reacted as quickly or directly to what they were seeing.


President Trump loves Fox & Friends. At 6:24 a.m. on Monday, Trump gushed on Twitter about the “amazing reporting” on the morning talk show. A week earlier he instructed the nation to “watch @foxandfriends now” for their exemplary Russia coverage. He tweeted about the program, hosted by Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade, seven times in March alone, and recently brought it up in an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, telling him cheerfully, “I like that group of three people.”

Even after becoming president, Trump reportedly manages to fill his days with “plenty of television,” and from his tweets, it’s often possible to discern when—and what—he’s watching. In January, Axios broke down the president’s media diet:

Most mornings, Trump flicks on the TV and watches “Morning Joe,” often for long periods of time, sometimes interrupted with texts to the hosts or panelists. After the 6 a.m. hour of “Joe,” he’s often on to “Fox & Friends” by 7 a.m., with a little CNN before or after. He also catches the Sunday shows, especially “Meet the Press.” “The shows,” as he calls them, often provoke his tweets. The day of our interview with him, all of his tweet topics were discussed during the first two hours of “Morning Joe.”

Based on their breakdown and this visual guide made by The Washington Post, Trump watches an average of five hours of television every day. That’s almost the same amount the average American aged 50-64 watches daily, according to Nielsen. Trump’s habits don’t quite match up with those of his cohort—Americans in Trump’s age bracket (65+) watch roughly seven hours of TV a day. But many of them are retired, and Trump is the president of the United States. No former president seems to have spent this much time glued to his television set.

For most of America’s recent commanders-in-chief, watching a little TV was a brief break from politics and criticism, a welcome respite from the pressures of the job, or a chance to feel normal. But none consumed as much television as Trump, or reacted as quickly or directly to what they were seeing. Things haven’t gone smoothly for Trump during his first 70 days in office, so perhaps it’s an escape for him, too—a way for him to return to the role he used to play in American politics: that of watcher and critic.

But “it’s a real problem to have a president that has that kind of obsession,” said Russell Riley, a presidential scholar at University of Virginia Miller Center. “The most valuable commodity in Washington is the president’s time, bar nothing. A president who elects to invest a lot of his time in tracking his own media coverage is, to some extent, debasing his own currency.”

During their presidencies, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama were “besieged by media criticism,” Riley said. Instead of watching the talking heads, they preferred to use television as an escape. “The media tends to be mainly incumbent unfriendly, and that’s the role of media in a democratic society, to be oppositionist,” Riley said. “They understood that part of being presidential was having thick skin and ignoring what was going on.”

Not so for Trump. The president has brought his campaign-trail feud with the media to the White House, continuing to watch the political pundits on television, responding with praise for some and insults for others. Aides have reportedly attempted to minimize Trump’s TV-watching, but, so far, it hasn’t worked. “He was elected because he was a reality TV star,” Riley told me. “It is a bit less surprising, then, that he would have a hard time tearing himself away.” MSNBC and Fox News are cashing in on Trump’s viewing habits, reportedly hiking up ad rates in February “as companies and outside groups try to influence Trump and his top lieutenants” through ads on his favorite networks.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, multiple stories were published comparing Trump and former President Ronald Reagan: Both worked in the entertainment business, and both were initially seen as political outsiders with a long shot at the presidency. As president, Reagan, too, would show up to work in the Oval Office around 9 a.m., relatively late for White House standards, and on a normal day, he’d clock out promptly at 5 p.m. But after returning to the residence, the Gipper filled his free time in very different ways.

News was different then: There were only a handful of networks, and news programs only lasted about 30 minutes, but Reagan would fit in about an hour of television on a normal day. Reagan biographer Craig Shirley told me the president would occasionally have guests over for movie-watching parties, too. (Shirley said Reagan once held a small viewing party to watch An Officer and a Gentleman and was traumatized by the amount of “gratuitous sex.”)

Mainly, Reagan was a reader. “He literally invented Tom Clancy,” Shirley told me, adding that The Hunt for Red October, Clancy’s breakout novel, became successful “really just because Reagan happened to be reading it.” The president also kept a daily diary and sent handwritten letters to colleagues and constituents nearly every day. “I think Reagan was far more intellectually curious than Trump. He was far more of an intellectual conservative,” Shirley said. “[He] not only read things, he retained them. He could recite poems from memory.”

The 41st president wasn’t a big TV-watcher either. George H. W. Bush would rise at around 6 a.m. and start reading the papers. Unlike Reagan, he’d hold his daily meetings pretty early, around 7:30 a.m.

“He was a diligent worker with no fixed ‘r and r’, no fixed exercise schedule, even though he was active,” said Ed Rogers, a former deputy assistant to Bush. It was the early days of CNN, and Bush liked the evening broadcast. Americans were transfixed by television coverage of the Gulf War, and it was always on in White House offices. Bush liked to watch, but he didn’t have patience to watch for long periods of time. There were “very few of those discretionary, sit at home and take your shoes off kind of evenings,” Rogers said. “Bush was energetic and didn’t long for more idle time.”

Since the development of cable news, the television sets positioned in hallways and offices throughout the White House have all been tuned to a 24-hour news channel, like Fox or CNN. “There’s a sort of background hum of television all the time,” Riley said. But America’s next three presidents mostly tuned in for one thing: sports.

Clinton’s TV-watching was “idiosyncratic and episodic,” Riley told me. He loved college basketball and football. In an interview with the Miller Center, Bernard Nussbaum, who served as Clinton’s White House Counsel, recounted the night the president was supposed to ask D.C. Circuit Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court:

He said, ‘Yes, yes, okay, we’ll appoint her.’ I said ‘Good. Why don’t you give her a call?’ He said, ‘I can’t do that.’ This was in the afternoon, I think, if I have it right. ‘I’ve got some friends coming over, I’ve got to watch the [basketball] game on television.’ I said, ‘What time does [it] start?’ He said, ‘No, I’ve got these friends. I’ll do it later.’ I said, ‘You should really call her up.’ He said, ‘I’ll call her, I’ll call her, but I can’t do it now. I’ll do it later.’ I say, ‘What time is the game over?’ I’m in my office on a Sunday, he’s in the residence with his friends and everything. He said, ‘We’re going to have dinner, the game will be over around 11 o’clock at night or midnight.’ I said, ‘Oh God.’

After the game ended—sometime between 11 and midnight—Clinton appointed Ginsburg, who would later be confirmed as the Supreme Court’s second female justice.

Former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama also preferred using their free time to watch sports. In January 2002, Bush famously lost consciousness after choking on a pretzel in the White House residence while watching the Baltimore Ravens playing the Miami Dolphins on TV. Obama said he always watched ESPN’s SportsCenter while working out, and once told Disney chairman Bob Iger that he hoped to someday host SportsCenter’s “Top 10 List.”

The president with television-watching habits most similar to Trump’s is probably Lyndon B. Johnson, who famously installed three television sets in the Oval Office so he could see what the three major networks were saying about him on the evening news. “LBJ had a Texas-sized ego in a way that Trump has a New York-Manhattan-sized ego,” Riley said. “There’s a certain parallel in their sensing the universe tends to revolve around them.”

The difference is, Johnson would only need to turn on the television for 15 to 30 minutes every evening to consume the day’s news and see all the coverage of his administration. The ritual wasn’t “terribly intrusive,” Riley said, and didn’t distract from the president’s day-to-day work. Today’s 24-hour news cycle, in which the day’s developments are rehashed on cable shows and Twitter all night long, requires much more time to follow.

America’s recent commanders-in-chief didn’t attempt to keep up. They knew “there were more important things for a president to do than watching television,” Riley said. “What I’m hearing is this is not a lesson that President Trump has yet come by.”


How to Chart Ronald Reagan’s Ascent – and Its Parallels to Trump || American Thinker

How to Chart Ronald Reagan’s Ascent – and Its Parallels to Trump

Reagan Rising by Craig Shirley fascinatingly charts Ronald Reagan’s rise from the defeat of the 1976 presidential campaign to his victory in 1980.  This book allows people to gain new insights into how Ronald Reagan grew as a candidate and leader as he championed the individual and appealed across party lines.  But readers can also see many similarities between the rise of Ronald Reagan and the election of Donald Trump.

As with Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan was not taken seriously by his Republican counterparts or the national media.  His rival, Gerald Ford, later remarked that he considered Reagan a lightweight and on the campaign trail made fun of him: “Governor Reagan does not dye his hair; he is just turning prematurely orange.”

It seems that orange is the color for those who attempt to clean the swamp.  Shirley commented to American Thinker, “Everyone wrote Reagan off as a dumb bunny, and a right-wing kook.”

The Republican establishment, once realizing Reagan was a force to be reckoned with, started a “stop Reagan movement,” similar to the Never Trump movement of 2016.  Shirley pointed to the speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, where Reagan “prided himself on not being a part of the Washington Establishment, mocked Capitol Hill’s ‘buddy system’ with the bureaucracy, the lobbyists, big business, and big labor, and their attempt at collusion.  He spoke of ‘the man and woman in the factories … the farmer … the cop on the beat. Our party.'”

Because of Jimmy Carter’s policies, Americans gravitated toward Ronald Reagan just as they gravitated toward Donald Trump after having President Obama for eight years.  The book reflects on Carter’s weakness in confronting America’s enemies, “issu[ing] a blank check to the Russians to run amok.”  Sound familiar?  President Obama has done the same, empowering ISIS.  His rhetoric and this administration’s ineptitude have made the world less safe.  His utter failure to confront radical Islamic terrorism has allowed successful attacks to occur in Europe and America.

Readers will find it astonishing how similar were the eras before the election of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.  In both cases, Shirley noted, “Americans did not want more of the same.  The working man and woman were forgotten, and many homes needed two paychecks to just get by.  Public schools were not teaching their children, and the failing teachers were associated with the Democratic Party.  Both then and now, the Democrats were growing out of step with blue-collar American values.  It was the first time that Americans felt that the future would be worse off for their children than it had been for them.  Today that feeling has increased exponentially.”

Although there are many similarities between Trump’s and Reagan’s elections, Shirley points out some differences as well.  “I think he is more intellectual then Trump and less emotional.  Reagan approached the draining of the swamp dynamically.  He wanted to grow the net private economy six times faster than the federal government.  Basically, the federal government’s influence decreased as the size of the private economy grew.  Another contrast was back then thirty-seven of the nation’s governors were Democratic, the GOP controlled the legislatures in only four states, and both houses of Congress were firmly in the hands of the Democrats.  Obviously, it was a much more hostile environment for conservatives and Republicans.”

The author wants Americans to understand that “Ronald Reagan is a fascinating figure of history, a renaissance man.  He was the right man with the right message at the right time.

“I think there is a need for books by conservatives about conservatives.  Books need to be out there that are beyond the liberal interpretation of history.  This is how to bypass the ultra-left and get the ideas out there.  My next book, Citizen Newt, is written for just that purpose.  Most of the books written about Newt [Gingrich] are by leftists that desecrate, criticize, and mock him as they have with Reagan.”

Reagan Rising is a great account of Reagan’s journey from 1976 until the 1980 election.  Shirley offers insight into the development of Reagan’s optimistic and unifying philosophy.  Readers will find the comparison with Donald Trump fascinating as they hear him speak of many Reagan-era principles of less government, more individual freedom, projecting American power, and defending American constitutional values.  As Shirley stated, “Ronald Reagan would have been very comfortable saying, ‘I’m not the president of the world.  I’m simply the president of the United States.'”

The author writes for American Thinker.   She has done book reviews and author interviews and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.


Craig Shirley: Like Trump, Reagan Would Use Twitter to Get Around Media Today || Breitbart

Craig Shirley: Like Trump, Reagan Would Use Twitter to Get Around Media Today

Bestselling author and Reagan historian, Craig Shirley, talked with Breitbart News DailySiriusXM host Alex Marlow on Wednesday regarding his latest book of his Reagan anthology,  “Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980.”

The book examines Ronald Reagan’s rise after losing his 1976 presidential bid to achieve an overwhelming victory just four years later in 1980.

More on “Reagan Rising” via

In 1976, when Ronald Reagan lost his second bid for the GOP presidential nomination (the first was in 1968), most observers believed his political career was over. Yet one year later, at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Reagan sounded like a new man. He introduced conservatives to a “New Republican Party”—one that looked beyond the traditional country club and corporate boardroom base to embrace “the man and woman in the factories . . . the farmer . . . the cop on the beat. Our party,” Reagan said, “must be the party of the individual. It must not sell out the individual to cater to the group.”

Reagan’s movement quickly spread, championed by emerging conservative leaders and influential think tanks. Meanwhile, for the first time in modern history, Reagan also began drawing young people to American conservatism.

Today, Shirley also spoke of messaging and how Reagan mastered the various technologies of his time, from radio to movies, to television, to get his message across to the people. Said Shirley regarding messaging today, “If Reagan was alive today I believe he’d be doing exactly what Donald Trump is doing, which is talking over the heads of the Washington establishment going directly to the American people via Facebook and via Twitter and other forms of communication.”

Breitbart News Daily airs on SiriusXM Patriot 125 weekdays from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

Click for audio


Behind the right’s loathing of the NEA: Two ‘despicable’ exhibits almost 30 years ago || Washington Post

Behind the right’s loathing of the NEA: Two ‘despicable’ exhibits almost 30 years ago

By Travis M. Andrews

President Trump’s proposed budget calls for the complete elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, much to the delight of many conservatives, particularly those old enough to remember when the battle against the NEA became a crusade, who will tell you, with anger unabated after nearly 30 years, about the “Mapplethorpe” exhibit and a photo called “Piss Christ.”

The year was 1989. The right’s effort to defund the NEA, founded as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, was well underway, but mostly as a spending issue, something to be cut, disliked by the administration of Ronald Reagan but not necessarily loathed.

“In the 1980s, the NEA was seen as little more than an irritant and not an agent for political or social change,” Reagan biographer Craig Shirley told The Washington Post.

After all, Shirley said, Reagan was a “patron of the arts” and a former actor and president of the Screen Actors Guild. Eventually, he merely proposed cuts to the agency’s budget.

“The transition team really did want to defund it,” W. Barnabas McHenry, vice chairman of the Presidential Task Force on the Arts & Humanities under Reagan, told the New York Times in 1988. “So we put a lot of people on the task force like Charlton Heston and Adolph Coors who were close to the President, and we all thought the task force did finally persuade him that it would be a terrible thing to stop the Federal support.”

“In the 1980s, the economy is in bad shape, the military is in bad shape, the Soviet Union is looming,” Shirley said. “So when people wake up in the morning, they’re not thinking of the NEA and art they think is obscene. They’re thinking about getting a job. They’re thinking about the potential of World War III.”

The end of the ’80s, however, was a “time of relative peace,” which Shirley said is when “people turn their eyes to something like the NEA.”

There had long been “a perception that a lot of liberal causes and a lot of liberal art was being promoted by the NEA,” he said.

But the passion to do away with the organization had yet to reach a fever.

Then came “Piss Christ” by Catholic artist Andres Serrano, a snapshot of Jesus on the crucifix, soaking in the artist’s urine. It debuted quietly in New York in 1987 but caused an uproar two years later when it was shown in Virginia on a tour partially funded by an NEA grant.

“The Virginia Museum should not be in the business of promoting and subsidizing hatred and intolerance. Would they pay the KKK to do a work defaming blacks?” one museum-goer wrote in a letter to the Richmond Free-Press.

The Rev. Donald Wildmon, founder of what is now called the American Family Foundation, sent a letter to every member of Congress, according to “Censorship of the American Theatre in the Twentieth Century.”

“I would never, ever have dreamed that I would live to see such demeaning disrespect and desecration of Christ in our country that is present today,” Wildmon wrote. “Maybe, before the physical persecution of Christians begins, we will gain the courage to stand against such bigotry.”

Conservative Sens. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Alphonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.) took to the Senate floor in May 1989 “to question the NEA’s funding procedures.” Helms called Serrano “not an artist, he is a jerk,” and D’Amato theatrically tore a reproduction of the work to shreds, calling it a “deplorable, despicable display of vulgarity.”

Meanwhile, more than 50 senators and 150 representatives contacted the NEA to complain about the exhibits.

Serrano still remembers being “shocked” by the angry reaction and, he told The Post on Sunday, how suddenly the work became a “political football.”

“I was born and raised a Catholic and have been a Christian all my life,” he said. “My work is not meant to be blasphemous nor offensive. … It was very surreal to see myself become the object of a controversy and national debate I did not intend.”

Regardless of Serrano’s intentions, the religious right’s crusade against the NEA had begun.

But the exhibit that pushed Helms over the edge was a retrospective of work by late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who Andrew Hartman, author of “A War for the Soul Of America: A History of the Culture Wars,” wrote “became the Christian Right’s bête noire.”

After being displayed with little fanfare in Chicago and Philadelphia, “The Perfect Moment” was set to arrive at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington on July 1, 1989, four months after Mapplethorpe died at 42 of complications from HIV/AIDS.

Like the exhibit containing “Piss Christ,” it was partially, indirectly funded by the NEA.

The exhibit featured 175 photographs. One hundred sixty-eight were inoffensive, such as images of carefully arranged flowers. The seven from his “X-Portfolio,” though, were intensely provocative. One presented a finger inserted into a penis. Another was a self-portrait showing Mapplethorpe graphically inserting a bullwhip into his anus. Two displayed nude children.

The exhibit so enraged Helms, he mailed reproductions of four offending images, including one of a prepubescent girl exposing herself and one of a naked boy, to several senators in what The Post called “Helms’s ‘Indecent Sampler.’” That outrage quickly spread.

“Mao is dead,” as author Todd Gitlin described the moment. “Now Mapplethorpe is the devil king.”

One person who viewed the exhibit wrote in a museum registry, “I’ve been here four times already and this show disgusts me more each time I see it.”

Amid the outcry, the Corcoran canceled the exhibit to avoid being involved in the fight over the NEA’s funding of the work, as the museum’s director, Christina Orr-Cahall, told The Post at the time.

Nearly 1,000 gathered outside the museum to protest the cancellation. They projected 50-foot enlargements of Mapplethorpe’s work on the gallery wall from 17th Street. “We’re giving him his show,” artist Rockne Krebs told The Post.

Meanwhile, as Hartman told The Post, “There were probably hundreds of thousands of phone calls and letters made about these issues to congressmen.”

The House quickly cut $45,000 from the NEA’s proposed budget, “the exact amount of the two grants that funded Mapplethorpe and Serrano,” The Post reported in 1989.

Fueled by outrage, Helms sponsored a bill, which passed, to bar the NEA from using funds to ”promote, disseminate or produce obscene or indecent materials, including but not limited to depictions of sadomasochism, homoeroticism, the exploitation of children, or individuals engaged in sex acts, or material which denigrates the objects or beliefs of the adherents of a particular religion or nonreligion.”

This pair of controversies transformed the NEA into a political symbol and brought it front and center in “The Culture Wars,” which Pat Buchanan called “as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”

”We are not going to give the money to aging hippies anymore to desecrate the crucifix or do other strange things,” stated Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.) in 1997. Rep. Dick Armey (R-Tex.) called the organization “the single most visible and deplorable black mark on the arts in America that I have seen in my lifetime.”

As then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) would say in that same year, calls to defund the organization weren’t just about government spending but about fighting “an elite group who wants the Government to define that art is good.” It was a common theme. Two years earlier, Gingrich saidabout the NEA on C-SPAN, “I’m against self-selected elites using your tax money and my tax money to pay off their friends.”

Even the NEA in its own written history acknowledged that this was the point the anti-NEA sentiment became an issue of values. “To many the names Serrano and Mapplethorpe were now tokens of moral corruption inside the agency,” it stated.

Conservatives found the exhibits so deplorable, they still talk about them nearly 30 years later as among the reasons for abolishing the NEA.

In February, Frontpage magazine published a piece titled, “Lefties freak out of over that Trump may cut funds for ‘Piss Christ’ agency.” In an op-ed Wednesday, conservative columnist George F. Will again invoked the photograph. It also appeared in a commentary arguing against NEA funding, published this morning in the American Spectator. Both artists are mentioned several times in a Heritage Foundation article titled “Ten Good Reasons to Eliminate Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.” In a piece about the NEA’s “top 10 crazy grants,” the Washington Times sarcastically called “Piss Christ” “an oldie but goodie.”

Still, the NEA has avoided defunding, in part because the right has never been ascendant in both Congress and the White House and also because these  controversies “really scared” the NEA, Hartman said. He said that the agency has mostly avoided funding controversial art since.

It may survive this storm, too.

The NEA, Hartman said, “has been so smart about the types of programs that they fund, because they placed them all over the country so just about everyone in Congress has constituents who benefit” from the its largesse.

Dana Gioia, former chairman of the NEA, recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The NEA Shakespeare program, for example, has helped bring professional stage productions to 3,900 towns, mostly small and midsize communities. … It has provided millions of high school students with a chance to experience live theater, most of them for the first time.”