It is amazing the hold Ronald Reagan has over some Americans. John Blake, writing at CNN, claims that “This may be President Obama’s time, but it’s still Ronald Reagan’s era.”
Yes, Ronald Reagan, the guy Republicans most like to lie about, when they’re not lying about Obama. Who could ever forget, as Scott Walker has reminded us, how Reagan ended the Cold War by busting not the Bolsheviks, but unions? Or Sarah Palin sodomizing his legacy on his 100th birthday?
Blake ignores uncongenial facts and instead argues that,
Obama has helped negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran, normalized relations with Cuba, and watched his approval ratings recently hit a two-year high after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Obamacare. But has he become a “transformational” president like Ronald Reagan?
Then, to illustrate his complete lack of bias, Blake cites Tom Nichols, a political blogger and author of a column “Fantasyland: Obama Is No Ronald Reagan“: “He’s simply plowing the ground Reagan cleared 30 years ago.”
In a sense, you have to admit Nichols has a point: We are still trying to dig ourselves out of the mess Reagan made of the country. As far as being no Ronald Reagan, we can be thankful for that. This is a man about whom actor James Garner said,
I was a vice president of the Screen Actors Guild when he was its president. My duties consisted of attending meetings and voting. The only thing I remember is that Ronnie never had an original thought and that we had to tell him what to say. That’s no way to run a union, let along a state or a country.”
As for Barack Obama, Garner said, Adlai Stevenson was “the most intelligent presidential candidate we’ve ever had. I think Obama runs a close second.”
So perhaps the question should be less one of “Can Obama hold Reagan’s jock-strap” to one of “Can a political meatpuppet be a transformational president”?
That depends on how you define “transformational.” Blake is using it as a positive, but isn’t destruction also transformational? In that sense, George W. Bush, another political meatpuppet, is transformational. He destroyed Iraq, and very nearly his own country at the same time, bringing the world’s economy crashing down for good measure.
Blake claims that four things define transformational presidents (technically, riding a velociraptor while slaughtering America’s enemies is not one of them):
“Reagan helped tilt the nation away from FDR’s New Deal in a way that no president had done before, historians say. When Reagan declared in his inaugural speech that government wasn’t the solution but the problem — and backed it up with small-government, anti-tax policies — he took on FDR.”
How is this possible when Reagan raised taxes 11 times from 1981 to 1989 and actually grew the size of government? Fact: Obama in 2011 had 273,000 fewer federal employees than Reagan. Far from cutting the size of government, he added a new department – Veterans’ Affairs – and increased defense spending. Reagan, compared to Obama, was a “tax and spend liberal” out of Republican nightmares.
Yet Blake cites Charles Gallagher, a sociologist at La Salle University in Pennsylvania: “He single-handedly defined government as something that was bad.” Yes, it was so bad that we needed more of it.
Transformational presidents deliver great lines: Because President Obama hasn’t said something as catchy as “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Never mind that somebody as intellectually vapid as the Reagan Garner depicts could never have come up with that himself. Reagan, Blake says, was dubbed “‘The Great Communicator.’ But what about Obama? Any memorable words?” Blake can’t think of any. But then, Obama has original “big syllable” thoughts of his own and isn’t an actor playing a part (take that, Jeb).
Transformational presidents poach followers from the enemy camp: “Reagan was a master at persuading people who didn’t normally vote Republican to vote for him in such great numbers that a new term was invented: Reagan Democrats.”
Blake cites Jennifer Walsh, a political science professor at Azusa Pacific University in California as saying “There is no such thing as an Obama Republican.” Well, a very good reason for this is that Obama is black, and the Republican Party is driven by high levels of racism and guided by Fox News, factors that would preclude Republicans becoming supporters of the “anti-colonialist Kenyan Muslims terrorist sympathizer” that is Obama. This is not a fair comparison at all.
Remember, when Obama outperformed Reagan on the economy? Fox News immediately cried, “Benghazi!” They didn’t mention the economy.
Transformational presidents become beloved figures: Reagan, Blake says, “became one of the nation’s most beloved presidents because people simply liked him. Even his enemies responded to Reagan’s geniality.” Well, meatpuppet. Yet even Reagan blogger Nichols admits that Obama could cure cancer and people wouldn’t like him.
Blake argues that “Reagan made conservative cool. He strengthened the Republican Party.” I don’t know about that. Bill Maher compared JFK to James Bond, while Reagan is Matlock. We might be defining “cool” differently, or perhaps Republicans just don’t know what “cool” is.
Obama “however, doesn’t fire up the Democratic base like Reagan did his party, some historians say.” Right. He didn’t fire it up enough to win two elections. Blake says Sanders and Warren are better at firing up the Democratic base. Only problem here is that neither of them have become president yet, so they’re not really part of the conversation, however much you may like them. And, after all, Trump fires up the Republican base. So let’s leave non-presidents out of it.
What is interesting is that as Blake makes this claim about how well loved Reagan was compared to Obama, Obama has become more popular than Bush and equal to Reagan, and he has a far-better sense of humor. Sorta takes the wind out of your sails, doesn’t it, Mr. Blake? And let’s not forget that Reagan’s memory is so blessed in California that they set his statue on fire. It’s all the rage today in expressing love.
Blake lists his four transformational qualities, but I wonder if giving America a persecution complex and victim mentality is also a transformational quality? Or how about Reagan welcoming religious conservatives into government by telling them he was one of them, pushing creationism not only as governor of California but as president? That’s pretty transformational too.
I wrote yesterday of the Republican war on science. It was Reagan who made this “cool” too: “They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. I say there are simple answers to our problems and they are found within the covers of the Bible.”
Simple answers for a simple man.
That is the Reagan legacy. If Reagan is going to be called transformational, we are going to have to take the bad with the good, and there is a lot of bad, even by Republican standards, if they would only admit to the historical Reagan, and forget the Reagan of their dreams.