by Gene Marrano
Ed Lynch, chair of the political science department at Hollins University and former chairman of the Roanoke County Republican party, has now written four books, with the release of “Starting Over: A Political Biography of George Allen,” about a year ago, and the recent debut of “The Cold War’s Last Battlefield: Reagan, the Soviets and Central America.” The latter is a serious academic work that Lynch envisions seeing on reference bookshelves for the most part.
He knows something about President Ronald Reagan first hand: at the age of 25, Lynch was a member of The Gipper’s Central American policy team, working with the National Security Council at a time of great unrest (remember the Sandinistas?) in that part of the world. Lynch recently went on sabbatical from Hollins in order to do some traveling (he will lecture on cruises to Australia, New Zealand and Europe) and to finish yet another book on the legacy of American governors.
The Allen book is timely, given the former U.S. Senator and Governor’s latest political comeback. Allen will be the presumptive nominee against Democrat Tim Kaine, another ex-governor, in 2012. Allen’s career has “featured multiple returns from oblivion,” said Lynch, who gives him much credit: “he reinvented conservative political action in the post-Reagan, post-Cold War era. The issues on which he had his greatest successes became the issues that fueled the Republican comeback in the 1990’s.”
Allen lost his Senate reelection battle to Jim Webb in 2006, in part because of a perceived racial slur he used at a campaign stop. Webb is now retiring after one term, meaning an open seat for the Kaine-Allen slugfest next year. The recent endorsement from Governor Bob McDonnell “was a huge help to George Allen,” said Lynch, who feels Allen would thrive in the current Senate climate. Lynch was also a Senate staffer at one point in his career. He interviewed Allen 3-4 times at his law office in preparing for the book.
Scrappy on the campaign trail and highly partisan at times, being the son of former Redskins coaching legend George Allen may have had something to do with that. “Fighting back and starting over were a way of life. George learned it from his dad.” Defeated in his first run for the state legislature and then redistricted out of a Congressional seat, he was written off at that time.
Of course, Allen then went on to be a governor and United States senator. His victorious race for governor in 1993 helped set the stage nationally for the Republicans in 1994, according to Lynch. The GOP then took back the House of Representatives from the Democrats and captured a slew of governorships. Allen won his Senate seat on the night George W. Bush became president in 2000. “His career parallels modern Republicanism [and] conservatism,” said Lynch. Allen’s views on taxes, economic development and tough sentencing laws were issues used by Republican candidates elsewhere in ’94.
His career mirrors the ups and downs of the GOP. “He keeps coming back,” said Lynch, who feels the “macaca” comment directed at someone taping him on the campaign trail was handled badly. For one thing said Lynch, the Allen camp kept changing the story on whether or not the candidate knew the word was seen as a slur to those of the nationality of the man videotaping him. “You give the same answer and people stop asking questions,” said Lynch, who feels that the lack of a future-oriented agenda was the real reason Allen lost in 2006. “It wasn’t clear what he was going to do if reelected.”
Tim Kaine is “doubling down” and gambling that his connection to Barack Obama will be a plus in 2012, according to Lynch, but expect Allen to use that against him. How Obama fares in Virginia next year may dictate how Kaine does against Allen, who was mentioned as a presidential contender in 2008, before his ’06 Senate campaign crumbled. Indeed, Allen’s possible run for president was a major inspiration for Lynch when he decided to write this book.
As for the Reagan volume, Lynch drew in part from his Central American policy experience, when he was “the only White House staffer,” at that time studying the issue. “It was a major area of controversy … and concern at the time,” recalls Lynch. Reagan had a real plan “for doing away with the Soviet Union,” according to Lynch, which included everything from strategic weapons to psychological warfare.
Determined to promote a domestic agenda, just days into his first term, however, Reagan had to turn his attention to Communist-influenced regimes in South America. The “shadow of Vietnam” hung over Central America, according to Lynch. A strong believer in a powerful military, there are parallels today to the Reagan era: “it is more necessary than ever, given the nature of the enemy we confront in the war on terror, that our defenses be top-notch and well prepared.”
Lynch, who has appeared often on national radio and TV programs, even has this piece of advice for President Obama – something that could help him avoid the Jimmy Carter syndrome: (Reagan, of course, defeated Carter in 1980 and made the former Georgia governor a one-termer) “you have to capture Reagan’s optimism about the future. That’s really what wedded him to the American people.”