By Jim Kempton
If you are like many Orange County residents who were disappointed in the recent election results, here’s something that might give some cheer. We often think we know what we should expect from our politicians (many would say not much). But as history shows, we can often be surprised. Sometimes, frequently even, men of power are attracted to exactly the opposite decisions we assume they might make.
Take Richard Nixon: he was solidly pro-business yet he started the Environmental Protection Agency. A small government conservative, he never-the-less admired the free spirit of surfers and deeded us the San Onofre State Park (including Trestles). Staunchly anti-communist, he opened relations with Mao Zedong’s China, one of our most virulent enemies.
Only a bleeding heart liberal like Bill Clinton could have passed welfare reform. A Democrat with decidedly populist leanings, he none-the-less pushed through the NAFTA free trade policies Republicans had wanted for years. And as a politician known as a ‘feel your pain’ kind of guy, he is the only President in the 20th Century to actually shrink government.
George W. Bush ran on a platform that America was not in the business of “nation building” and then took on the two largest nation building projects in US history. As a fluent Spanish speaker he proposed liberal immigration policies that are far to the left of his party’s stand today. Whether or not you agreed with Bush, those decisions sure weren’t what the country expected from him.
Ronald Reagan said government is the problem—and then doubled its size. He called Russia “the Evil Empire” and then got downright cozy with their leader Gorbachev.
Southerner Lyndon Johnson passed the 1965 Civil Rights Act. Even though he knew that it would be extremely unpopular within his party, LBJ arm twisted, harangued and browbeat the congress to pass the most important legislation in a decade.
Many perceived Obama to be so far left he has been called a pacifist socialist. Yet his use of drones to kill terrorists has been unsparing. And of course he nailed Bin Laden—where others were unsuccessful.
Dwight Eisenhower, a conservative often accused of playing too much golf, was actually a busy activist, using taxes to fund some of the biggest public infrastructure projects. He built the Interstate Highway System, forever changing America’s ability to move goods across the continent. Eisenhower was also a military man, one of our finest. But in his farewell address to the nation, he railed against the “Military industrial complex” as being the most dangerous threat facing America’s future.
It just goes to show that even in politics, opposites attract and expectations should not be counted on—either to please or disappoint.