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Romney, Reagan, and Republican Fairy Tales Redux

Both Kevin Drum and Daniel Larison take exception to my defense of Mitt Romney in yesterday’s post “Ronald Reagan and the Iran Hostage Crisis.”

Essentially, I argue that, while there’s little evidence that Ronald Reagan actually had much to do with getting our hostages released from Iran, Romney’s claiming otherwise isn’t, as PoliFact asserts, a lie but rather a “Republican fairy tale.” That is, it’s something widely believed to be true, especially by fans of Reagan, because of the timing–the hostages were literally put in the air as Reagan was taking the oath of office–and because of contemporaneous reporting that suggested Reagan’s cowboy swagger was somehow responsible.

Drum and Larison argue that, since Romney included that line in a speech to AIPAC (and, it turns out, recycled it into a WaPo op-ed) he had a duty to do some fact checking. But most people, even careful ones running for president, aren’t going to bother to research something of this sort. Romney lived through the event and quite probably takes it for granted that it happened the way he remembered.

There are all manner of myths that are held by supporters of both parties. Hell, there are probably half a dozen or more surrounding Reagan himself, including that he won the Cold War, never supported tax increases, never supported amnesty for illegal aliens, and would never have supported cutting and running from a military engagement. Republicans still believe that Ross Perot cost us the 1992 election and Democrats still believe that Republican dirty tricks cost them, well, pretty much every presidential election they ever lost.

It’s just not the role of presidential aspirants to investigate and debunk these myths.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Brummagem Joe says:

    But most people, even careful ones running for president, aren’t going to bother to research something of this sort.

    Are you serious JJ? Romney and any serious candidate for president has an army of speechwriters and fact checkers at his disposal and these guys essentially write the candidate’s speeches to which he puts the odd little tweak. Blame this lie (because that’s what it was) on Romney’s speechwriters if you like but don’t pretend this just slipped in there by chance. Whatever Reagan thought is irrelevant, after all he believed he was present at the liberation of a concentration camp.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  2. c.red says:

    Can I say ‘He’s wrong, but it is alright because he is stupid’ and ‘Everyone does it’ is not much of a defense for someone trying to become leader of our nation?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  3. EMRVentures says:

    It may not be the job of presidential aspirants to go about debunking myths, but why does that excuse the repitition of myths as fact? I get that Mitt Romney may be honestly wrong here, and so not “lying” in the sense of intent, but if Mitt Romney lived through the hostage crisis and remembered it inaccurately, why is that okay? What other things has Romney lived through and remembered inaccurately? What other lessons has he learned from history that are similarly wrong that he might like to repeat?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  4. ernieyeball says:

    And losing candidates of all stripes will blame the Lamestream, Mainstream, Leftist Dominated, Rightwing Controlled, evil, spineless MEDIA for their own failure!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  5. Hey Norm says:

    “…It’s just not the role of presidential aspirants to investigate and debunk these myths…”

    BS.
    First and foremost…no matter the occasion…it is incumbent on anyone, whether writing or speaking, to be factually correct. The Jon Kyl defense is no defense.
    Second….while in some instances debunking may not be all that critical…it certainly is when you are speaking to a group of religious radicals whipped into blood-lust and intent on starting another war of choice…a war of choice fraught with dire consequences for more than just Israel.
    Third…Romney was accusing the Commander in Chief of being feckless…and implying, through the Reagan myth…that Iran would simply be so terrified of him that they would simply cease and desist. Maybe you should analyze what Romney would actually do about Iran and Israel were he to somehow actually become Commander-in-Chief.
    And finally…Maybe instead of coming to the defense of Romney and his nonsense…you should try unpacking what Romney actually said. By claiming the analogous role of Reagan in the hostage release…he was actually saying that he would do absolutely nothing, and just be happy to stand by and take credit for his predecessors hard work…because that is what Reagan actually did.
    Context is important. The stakes in the AIPAC vs. the Real World discourse are grave. Words matter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  6. Moosebreath says:

    “Democrats still believe that Republican dirty tricks cost them, well, pretty much every presidential election they ever lost.”

    Umm, no. 2000, yes, and with good reason. 2004, a small number of marginalized Democrats. However, I know of no Democrats who believe any election they lost between 1876 and 2000 was the result of Republican dirty tricks. I’ll also give you 1824 as an election Democrats believed they lost to dirty tricks, though not Republican ones.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It’s just not the role of presidential aspirants to investigate and debunk these myths.

    You are absolutely correct James. I know if it were me, I would delegate that responsibility to my speech writers. And if I found myself making speech after speech telling lie after demonstrable lie, I would fire said speech writers.

    I guess that is why I am not a politician. I do wonder tho, why you, who are in the fact checking business, let these guys off so easily7?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  8. swbarnes2 says:

    So apparently, Republicans bristle at the notion that their leaders should know anything about history, or science, or medicine, or international politics…

    What exactly does that leave? Fundraising and the Bible as the only areas of knowledge in which Republican leaders are expected to to have a high school level or better command of the facts?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  9. Jenos Idanian says:

    Since we’re talking about political fairy tales, how about “Bush stole the 2000 election,” “Bill Clinton was impeached over sex,” and “The New Deal ended the Great Depression?”

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 17

  10. Rob in CT says:

    1. True, he did not.
    2. No, there was a ridiculous witchhunt over his extramarital sex, during which he lied, which gave his enemies what they wanted.
    3. It helped a great deal. WWII, which resulted in massive government spending, finished it off.

    Weak sauce, Jenos.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  11. anjin-san says:

    Weak sauce, Jenos.

    Jenos is basically the Chef Boyardee of OTB. Canned arguments and weak sauce.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  12. Hey Norm says:

    1. He did not steal it. It was given to him by the Supreme Court. Which then immediately said that no one should ever refer to that ruling in the future.
    2. Clinton was impeached for anything the Republican’s could find. It turned out to be a lie he told. Republicans didn’t care what it was…just that they found something to justify impeaching a President they were deranged about.
    3. It would have if irrational fears about debt hadn’t de-railed it. Austerity during an economic recovery. The only thing dumber is Republicans who want to repeat the same mistake today.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Hey Norm:

    Norm, I’d of just said, “read a little history, jenos” and left it at that. You were better.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. Ron Beasley says:

    I’m inclined to think Romney’s comments on the Iran hostages was a bald faced lie written for the audience.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  15. Brummagem Joe says:

    JJ thinks Romney writes his own speeches on the kitchen table at night….Honestly JJ for an obviously intelligent, brave, good and thoughtful fellow you do say the darndest things at times.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  16. MBunge says:

    @Rob in CT: “there was a ridiculous witchhunt over his extramarital sex”

    In any organization of any kind, if there’s a credible allegation that the head of that organization is banging an intern, that’s going to be an issue. Even if the head of the organization isn’t married and they are both relatively close in age, it would still be something of an issue. Can we please dispense with the delusion that there was something bizarre or unusual about the married President of the United States screwing an intern young enough to be his daughter becoming a major scandal? Blame the GOP and conservatives as much as you want for everything that happened along the way, but let’s stop pretending the proper reaction to Clinton’s behavior was a shoulder shrug and averting our eyes.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  17. R. Dave says:

    Joyner wrote: Drum and Larison argue that, since Romney included that line in a speech to AIPAC (and, it turns out, recycled it into a WaPo op-ed) he had a duty to do some fact checking.

    I disagree with your point, Prof. Joyner, but I also disagree with the framing of Drum and Larison’s critique. The issue isn’t that Romney should have done some fact-checking; it’s that such fact-checking shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place. I’m sorry, but anyone who genuinely believes that the Iranians released the hostages when they did because they were just that intimidated by Reagan’s saber-rattling is so mind-numblingly simplistic that they have no business running for President. Reasonably intelligent people shouldn’t have to fact-check a myth like that because it shouldn’t even pass the smell test.

    Joyner wrote: There are all manner of myths that are held by supporters of both parties. Hell, there are probably half a dozen or more surrounding Reagan himself, including that he won the Cold War, never supported tax increases, never supported amnesty for illegal aliens, and would never have supported cutting and running from a military engagement.

    These aren’t just harmless little myths that happen to give people the warm fuzzies though. When we’re talking about a presidential candidate, believing these things has actual policy implications. If Romney really thinks Reagan, the supposed paradigm for a successful modern Republican President, faced down every military threat, swaggered his way to victory in the Cold War, firmly held the line on taxes, immigration, etc., then that’s the model he’s going to try to emulate. And that’s a problem, because it ain’t reality.

    Fairy tales are fine for kids; not so much for the Commander in Chief.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  18. An Interested Party says:

    …but let’s stop pretending the proper reaction to Clinton’s behavior was a shoulder shrug and averting our eyes.

    The question is: Was the proper reaction to impeach him and then to remove him from office?

    As for Romney and his fairy tales, his campaign team doesn’t mind lying and even being called on it as long as the lies “work”, so this latest news is not shocking at all…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  19. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Kevin Drum and Daniel Larison? Huh??

    In any event, I’m not sure it’s correct to say that both sides cling to various myths. Certainly Republicans have created numerous myths about a multitude of subjects, Reagan being a prime example. Reagan did in fact raise taxes and he did in fact sign a massive amnesty bill for illegal immigrants. He did cut and run from Beirut. Iran-Contra was not Kosher.

    The left, on the other hand, as far as I see it, doesn’t really have myths to which they cling. They have projection and transference. Leftists tend to be consumed by harsh, negative emotions, whereas Republicans tend to be Pollyanna with misplaced optimism and faux revelry.

    Leftists for example hated Nixon. Nixon according to leftists prevailed because of “dirty tricks.” How dirty tricks could be responsible for someone winning 49 states and 60% of the vote is lost upon them. Does not compute. Could it have been that overt leftism (“peace at any cost”) doesn’t sell too well? No, can’t be. Had to be Tricky Dick and his dirty tricks. Ergo it’s not so much a “myth.” It’s a mental disorder. Same thing for Bush 43. The left doesn’t so much cling to myths about Bush, they project their own mental illnesses upon the man. Bush lied, people died. Uh, huh. Here’s another Prozac for you, Sparky.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 8

  20. An Interested Party says:

    They have projection and transference.

    Here’s another Prozac for you, Sparky.

    Once again, check out a mirror, друг…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Jenos Idanian says:

    @An Interested Party: The question is: Was the proper reaction to impeach him and then to remove him from office?

    When the President of the United States lies under oath, then yes, he should be impeached and removed from office. Especially when the purpose of that lie is to save his own ass from a civil lawsuit over charges of personal misconduct.

    I understand it’s nowhere near as serious as a debatable statement made in a political stump speech, which is obviously enough to ban someone from ever holding any kind of public office forever, but it’s kind of a big deal to most people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 7

  22. An Interested Party says:

    I understand it’s nowhere near as serious as a debatable statement made in a political stump speech, which is obviously enough to ban someone from ever holding any kind of public office forever, but it’s kind of a big deal to most people.

    Goodness, so much straw, so little time…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  23. Jenos Idanian says:

    @An Interested Party: Goodness, so much straw, so little time…

    You gotta make hay while the sun shines…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  24. matt says:

    It’s funny you should mention Nixon as he was the guy who did a crapton of lefty things like create the EPA when he came into office…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. Tillman says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Leftists tend to be consumed by harsh, negative emotions, whereas Republicans tend to be Pollyanna with misplaced optimism and faux revelry.

    Huh. Republicans are Pollyanna. Now, I don’t know much about Pollyannas, having never met one in my life, but how does this assertion square with the cheering of executions and gaybashing we saw in the Republican debates? Or are those people not Republicans?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. Tillman says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    When the President of the United States lies under oath, then yes, he should be impeached and removed from office.

    I despise absolutes, but in general, yeah, that’s an impeachable thing. I can see that being used in serious crimes such as–

    Especially when the purpose of that lie is to save his own ass from a civil lawsuit over charges of personal misconduct.

    –oh. No, that’s not serious to me. Corruption and treason, maybe, or violating the Constitution, sure. Lying to the country about the case for war, for instance, and then committing American troops to a useless war. Personal misconduct? Makes great filler for a tabloid, but doesn’t really merit the attention of the Congress of the United States of America as an offense punishable by removal from office.

    I expect politicians and presidents (since they’re politicians) to lie. It is the gravity of the lie that matters, and the effect the lie has on the functioning of our institutions. Impeaching Clinton for perjury in a personal misconduct case? That degraded the country, not because Clinton had sex but because Congress thought this should be the business of the nation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  27. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Tillman: Did you miss the “under oath” part? The oath makes all the difference. NO ONE has a legal right to lie under oath. The subject of the lie is utterly irrelevant — the perjury laws don’t hold ‘it was purely personal and private” exception.

    And it’s also worth noting that the questions about Clinton’s sexual conduct were admissible under the sexual-harassment laws Clinton himself signed. Not overly relevant, but entertaining nonetheless.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

  28. Rob in CT says:

    I was and remain disgusted with Clinton’s behavior, on two levels: 1) way to take advantage of a huge power differential, ahole; and 2) how could you be so STUPID?

    The GOP turned it into a three-ring circus, though. Meanwhile, Newt was cheating on his wife too. I expect that many of the other GOPers trying to get Clinton were also.

    So yes, let us not pretend that Clinton did nothing unethical. Let us also not pretend that what he was doing was somehow uncommonly unethical in D.C. Let us further not pretend that the GOP wasn’t looking for *anything* they could use, strictly for political advantage (and Clinton handed it to them).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  29. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Rob in CT: All true. But that doesn’t in the least diminish the indisputable fact that Clinton did, of his own volition, lie while under oath. The motives of the Republicans don’t excuse his perjury. “They would have used anything” doesn’t mean that everything they used was illegitimate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  30. Tillman says:

    Did you miss the “under oath” part? The oath makes all the difference. NO ONE has a legal right to lie under oath. The subject of the lie is utterly irrelevant — the perjury laws don’t hold ‘it was purely personal and private” exception.

    Never said they did, but perjury laws also have punishments that aren’t impeachment. Fines and/or imprisonment, from a cursory glance at the Internet.

    I suppose Clinton paying a fine for perjuring during a personal misconduct case doesn’t have the same zing that impeaching him does, but it is also less ludicrous and degrading to the nation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  31. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Tillman: The problem there is, “removal from office” is the sole punishment for impeachment and conviction. And the Constitution says that impeachment is for “high crimes and misdemeanors” — with perjury definitely falling under that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  32. Rob in CT says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Sure, no argument there. He perjured himself, the fool.

    What has this to do with the topic again? Oh, right, misdirection by you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  33. Mark says:

    Why are you people arguing with him over Clinton’s impeachment? It is irrelevant to the topic at hand. Yet you guys fall for it every time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  34. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Mark: Just proving my point — for all the superiority inherent in the derision of “right-wing fairy tales,” the left has their own cherished myths and bogus history that they revel in, too. And dismissing the Clinton impeachment as “just about sex” is one of the more recent.

    Hey, how many folks here also think the Texas Air National Guard memos that took down Dan Rather were legit, too?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2