Friday, 16 March 2012

Why are Brits always so wrong about American presidents?

I was astonished when, at an event earlier this week, the only other vaguely right-wing person present remarked that Ronald Reagan had closed down “programmes that helped people”. When I replied that I thought Reagan was the greatest US president of the Twentieth Century, someone else said, “but what did he do?” I seem to remember someone else sneering “he was in bed by eight every night.” Another attendee even muttered some nonsense about Reagan impregnating Hollywood starlets who then had to have abortions! I was half expecting to learn that he was either a notorious paedophile or that he’d master-minded the 9/11 attacks – or both.

I’m not sure this country's general attitude to American history has altered one iota since 1982, when Reagan was still being dismissed there and here as a deranged, ignorant, narcoleptic Nazi cowboy hell-bent on bankrupting his own country and causing a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. By the time he left office, of course, the US economy had roared back to life – despite the best efforts of the tax-and-spend Democrat dirigistes who controlled Congress to derail the recovery (plus ça change) - and the Soviet Union – the Evil Empire, as he had so accurately described it – was about to implode once and for all. We also now know that Reagan was a voracious reader, and that, while no intellectual, he had reached his political beliefs by study, research, hard thinking and experience.

The snotty, condescending, cartoon portrait of Reagan painted by the West’s liberal media could not have been further from the truth. Americans have pretty much grasped this fact. There’s barely a politician of any stripe who hasn’t sought to don the “heir to Reagan” mantle during the seemingly endless run-up to this year’s election. His reputation as a massively effective and successful politician is secure. But here, the intelligent, educated, well-read middle-classes seem blissfully ignorant that there’s been a major re-evaluation of the great man by his one-time enemies.

Of course, the 1980s isn’t the only period of 20th Century US history about which wrong-headed British assumptions appear to be set in concrete. Here, the Oliver Stone view of John F. Kennedy as a warm-hearted, peace-loving lefty who was gunned down by oil barons and the Mafia because he was too compassionate still holds sway – God forbid they should ever be forced to admit that Kennedy was an old-fashioned anti-Communist Cold Warrior who didn’t really care that much about blacks, was tough enough not to blink when Moscow rattled its nuclear weaponry, could barely keep his pecker in his pants for more than an hour at a time, and who ended up being murdered by a communist fanatic.

Yesterday, a blog post by Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan reminded us of that other President whose liberal media reputation still holds sway here – Franklin Roosevelt. For the past thirty years there’s been a growing concensus among academics who care about the truth (a tint minority, admittedly) that the Keynesian New Deal delayed America’s recovery from the Great Depression for five painful years. Yet, here in the UK, you’d imagine Roosevelt somehow saved America from capitalism. There are currently signs that the US economy is starting to recover, which will probably guarantee Obama and Keynesianism a new lease of life, when the truth is that Obama’s ruinous stimulus packages – which future generations will have to pay for - have sod all to do with the nascent economic recovery. Again, the basic strength of capitalism will in all likelihood rescue a left-wing president.

When it comes to the reputations of Kennedy and Roosevelt, Britons with only a mild interest in politics or history have an excuse for getting it so wrong, because many Americans continue to believe the same myths. But when it comes to Reagan, there is absolutely no excuse for believing the lazy, tawdry, biased tripe pumped out by the likes of the BBC and the Guardian.


  1. Why would they need to know about American Politics and presidents?

  2. By the same token, you could ask why British voters need to know anything about anything whatsoever! To be honest, I don't mind ignorance on those subjects - people have a perfect right to be stupid, insular and lazy - just as long as the ignoramuses don't then make stupid comments about things they know nothing about based on what Marcus Brigstocke, Jeremy Hardy and Mark Mardell have told them to think.