And now the war of the TV ads is starting….

Political television ads have not played a particularly important role up to now in the Republican primary election campaign.  That’s different from previous years and an interesting phenomenon.

Instead, the campaign’s focus has been the constant panel debates between the eight, well, now seven, candidates, which have benefited those who can talk, like Newt Gingrich, and those without much money, again, like Newt Gingrich.

But Gingrich has now launched his first TV-ad in Iowa, at a cost of 250,000 dollars, and soon political TV ads will flood the media in the State ahead of the January 3 caucuses. There are many similarities with Gingrich’s ad and Ronald Reagan’s classic “Morning in America” from 1984. Take a look!

Gingrich:

Reagan:

But Gingrich will surely not be allowed to play Reagan. Just take a look at Ron Paul’s scathing attack on the former Republican Speaker called “Serial Hypocrisy.” It takes me back to 1988 and the vice presidential debate between Loyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle.

Bentsen to Quayle: “you are no John Kennedy.” It seems to me that Paul is saying about Gingrich: you are no Ronald Reagan…

The Nixon Library tells it all about the biggest scandal

It has become tradition that every American president opens his own library and museum in his home town as a, most often, glowing tribute to his years in the White House. In Los Angeles, there are two such presidential libraries, in completely different parts of the vast city – Ronald Reagan in Simi Valley in the north, and Richard Nixon in Yorba Linda in the south.

It’s possible to visit both in one day, with a little luck with the traffic, by jumping from freeway to freeway,  straight through Los Angeles’ downtown.

The Reagan library, high on a hill — in the middle of nowhere — with sweeping views of the neighborhood and its treeless, sunburned hills, is such a glowing tribute, only bigger and more glowing than usual – with a statue of Reagan as a cowboy, a piece of Berlin Wall, antique cars, and his old plane, Air Force One, as part of it all.

”One man had the courage”…”he fought for freedom”…“he set out to change the nation”… “he refused to surrender…”

Not a bad word. Reagan’s memory is to be cherished. The Iran-contra scandal, for example, now mentioned in passing was not mentioned at all for a long time.

Richard Nixon’s much more modest library in Yorba Linda, the little town where he was born, was also a flattering tribute to his years in the White House, until March this year, when it opened the Watergate Gallery about the biggest presidential scandal in American history — the only one that forced a sitting president to resign. The permanent exhibition, which opened after a long battle and strong opposition from Nixon loyalists, asks the question:

“Why Watergate Matters? Since the 1970s the public and the media have attached the suffix, –gate, to major American political scandals. Why did Watergate sear itself into the public imagination and our history? And what is its legacy for us today? Did public expectation about the use of presidential power change because of Watergate? What, if anything, can it teach us about our rights as citizens and the workings of our Constitution?”

It describes in direct terms, without excuses, how Nixon set the stage that would lead to the Watergate scandal, with Donald Segretti’s “dirty tricks” and the “plumbers” and G. Gordon Liddy, which were followed by the break-in at the Watergate on June 17, 1972, and, ultimately, Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974.

“Our long, national nightmare is over,” said his successor Gerald Ford.

The Watergate exhibit has triggered a debate about the purpose of presidential libraries and museums, all run by the National Archives. Nixon Library director Timothy J. Naftali to the New York Times:

”The library has a nonpartisan mission, it’s a nonpartisan federal institution, and it has an obligation to provide exhibits that encourage the study of history”.

The Reagan Library has become a place of pilgrimage for America’s conservatives. They have never made a pilgrimage to Yorba Linda, and will probably never do so. But let us hope that all who are interested in American modern history pay a visit to the Nixon Library. It’s well worth the time.

“Shots that still ring out”

Today, it’s 30 years since Ronald Reagan was shot right here in the middle of Washington. He was badly injured but survived, was re-elected, and remained president for eight years.

But another man, who was also shot at the same time. Reagan’s press spokesman Jim Brady, was injured so badly that he that he could never work again. But he and his wife Sarah became leading advocates and spokespeople for gun control in America.

And they were successful. After many years of struggle, Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, in spite of the vehement opposition from the National Rifle Association.

I was reminded of all this in Sarah Brady’s op-ed in the Washington Post today, and about the time in the late 1980s, when I met Jim and Sarah for an interview.  We met in their home just outside Washington. Brady, paralyzed and with speech difficulties, showed off his famous fighting spirit and humor. You have to play with the cards you are dealt and I try to do the best I can, he said.

Today, Brady is still in a wheelchair. In America, Columbine happened, and then Tucson. New  tragedies. But on gun control, nothing has really happened.

”Some might find it hard to believe that anything will ever change when it comes to gun control in America”,  writes Sarah Brady, now chair of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. But she keeps fighting, “for a nation free of gun violence.”

On this issue, President Obama has been quiet, strangely quiet – even after tragedy in Tucson, as well as today.  The only time he has broken his silence was in a little noticed recent op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star. Gun control clearly is not a political priority, maybe because, sadly, it is a battle that Obama cannot win in today’s America.