The Next Reagan?

[ Posted Thursday, February 21st, 2008 – 17:29 UTC ]

Much rending of garments and beating of chests hath been heard from the Republicans lately, those who are wont to periodically bewail (both plaintively and pleadingly) for The Second Coming of He Who Is Known as Saint Ronald of Reagan. But maybe they're just looking in the wrong places.

Because maybe the spirit of Reagan has already returned.

I personally graduated high school and went to college during Ronald Reagan's regime. And while I can think of no policy or position of his which I supported or agreed with, even I would occasionally get sucked in when he was speaking on television. Because he sounded so sincere -- while looking just like everyone's kindly grandfather. Not for nothing was he called "The Great Communicator."

Good liberals railed against his ideas. Mostly to no avail. Because in Washington (as in Hollywood), sincerity is everything -- once you've learned to fake it successfully, you're golden.

We on the left also wept and moaned over the fact that Reagan was so obviously an empty suit -- he had mastered giving a great speech, but little else. He was, after all, an actor -- possibly the only politician to become president who didn't have to have a TelePrompTer explained to him when he entered politics. He knew how to hit his mark, gaze deeply into the camera lens, and rattle off his lines convincingly. He knew how to make the media eat from his hand by cracking jokes with them off the record. And, most importantly, he was also called the "Teflon" president, because nothing anybody every threw at him (until Iran/Contra) stuck. He would counter the attack with a little self-depreciating humor, and nobody would ever bring the question up again.

George W. Bush was, of course, supposed to be Reagan's heir. But he could never pull it off (in my opinion), because he never could manage to say two sentences without that smirk creeping back onto his face. That smirk destroyed any possibility of being Reagan's heir, because he just could not convince enough people that he really was sincere about what he was saying.

Bill Clinton had many Reaganesque traits about him, but nobody could ever accuse him of being Reagan -- because he so obviously knew what he was talking about. On any subject.

Like I said, I don't think I ever agreed with Ronald Reagan. Well... OK... now that I think about it... his idea for a commercial ballistic airplane was pretty cool. San Francisco to Tokyo in something like three hours? That was a cool idea, even though it never happened. But other than that one throwback to the science fiction of his childhood, I pretty much disagreed with everything he did and said.

But I remember watching his State of the Union addresses at one of the most liberal colleges in the country (we were proudly to the left of Berkeley), and noticing that even such a hostile crowd would occasionally get lured into the Reagan magic. You didn't have to agree with the man to admit that he gave a good speech.

Liberals have been searching for that magic ever since. Ever since the Kennedys, if truth be told. Charisma. That magnetic draw that makes everyone -- friend or foe -- stop and listen.

And now, just maybe, we've found it. Barack Obama may be the true heir to Ronald Reagan. Not Reagan's policies nor ideas, but in terms of impressive Reaganistic speechifying.

Those on the right (and some of those in the center) complain that Barack Obama is all speech and no specifics. If he gets elected, he will likely face the same accusations Reagan did -- that he is merely a puppet for a much more intelligent staff, who pulls his strings from the shadows.

But don't forget that Reagan got some stuff done -- even with a House and Senate dominated by Democrats. Because he inspired The People, and the Congressfolk are always terrified of being caught on the wrong side of (and swamped by) a political wave from the voters themselves (the technical term for this is: "please-re-elect-me-itus"). So Reagan was able to convince a Democratic Congress to give him largely what he wanted, because of everyone's perception that he had The People behind him.

Whether Obama actually is no more than just a great speechifier or not, if he wins the White House, I predict he'll be as successful as Reagan doing what Ronnie called "going over the heads of Washington directly to The People." Barack will be able to drive his own issues on the sheer power of his speeches, rather than on manipulating the nuts and bolts of the swamp called Washington.

There's only one Reagan trait that Obama needs to perfect to make him unstoppable: the ability to brush off criticism and scandal alike with a clever quip. While Barack's been parrying charges from the Clinton camp with success so far, he's really got to get more practiced on this Reaganly trait, before the buzz saw of the general election truly gets underway. But if he perfects his skills at charming the media in the same way Reagan did (time and time again), then not only will his candidacy be more impressive for it, but his actual presidency will be more effective as well.

Because in January of 2009 the Republicans will (hopefully) be licking their wounds and, yet again, be trying to figure out how to resurrect Saint Ronald of Reagan... while, unbeknownst to them, the true heir to Ronnie's brilliant skills as a politician will be measuring the Oval Office for drapes. Because the Second Coming of Reagan that conservatives dream about may actually be happening -- but much to their surprise, he's a Democrat, and his name is Barack Obama.


-- Chris Weigant


7 Comments on “The Next Reagan?”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    We're agreeing more and more often, it's scary! :D

    And THAT, in my not so humble opinion, is Obama's greatest attribute.. He is a great speaker, of that there is no doubt.

    But, his ability to actually get people talking instead of fighting, is what will make him a great president.

    He just has to learn two things..

    1> That he will have to beat the "status quo" out of Washington, least Washington beats the "status quo" INTO him.

    2> That the great oratory that gets people talking instead of fighting won't work with terrorists. Sure, it may help in the POLITICAL process, but when it comes to the actual terrorists themselves, he better be prepared to take actions that he now decrys in Bush.

    If Obama can learn these two simple things, then he will be a worthy successor to Reagan..


  2. [2] 
    akadjian wrote:

    I'll second that notion, Michale. I've been thinking recently about how to articulate what I like about Obama in the face of the "experience" criticism leveled by the Clinton campaign and sure to be by McCain.

    When I saw Barack speak early in the campaign, he answered this charge using the experience vs. judgment argument. Do you want someone with good judgment or someone with more more experience? He was, of course, referring to his early opposition to the Iraq War.

    I think his real strength, though, is inspiring people and reminding us that we can bring about change.

    I love the quote from his website:

    "I'm asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about change in Washington ... I'm asking you to believe in yours."

    It reminds me of the old adage that the only person you can really change is yourself. And that each one of us has a responsibility for our government. Even if our individual contributions are only small.

    So he recognizes that the way to bring about real change is to get outside the politics of Washington. Like Reagan, I think he reaches the people. I've never seen as much letter writing or canvasing or people just coming out of the woodwork to help as I have with Barack's campaign.

    Great comparison, Chris! Hadn't thought of it that way before.

    - Dave

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    As much as I rail against Hillary, I have to give credit where credit is due..

    Granted, being a former police officer myself, I cannot be objective in this matter.

    But this was classy, no matter how you slice it.

    Kudos to you, Mrs. Clinton.....


  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    Here's one more where we agree. Must be the lunar eclipse or something.

    Hillary showed both class and humanity in the way she dealt with this tragedy, I agree. Kudos indeed...


  5. [5] 
    Thatcher wrote:

    Chris -

    On the same wavelength, here (doesn't make for good conversation, though, does it? Agreement).

    I have never agreed with Reagan's administration and he made bad more than one bad decision (Air Traffic Controllers, Selling technology to the Far East, etc) - he, for the most part, made Americans (and the world) feel good about America. His morale-boosting was what we needed in the 80's.

    Same with JFK in the 60's - after being behind in the space race to the Soviets and other negative feelings in America - JFK had great policies - but he also had a persona which made us feel good. Not much stuck to him either.

    Could say the same for FDR. Bringing us out of the depression, putting America back to work after the war rebuilding America's infrastructure, Social Security, etc - but his greatest ability was to keep America's morale strong.

    Clinton - for all the baggage he carried - was very similar as well. He wasn't teflon-coated, he kept moving forward carrying all of charges against him, hanging off him like linebackers trying to stop the juggernaut of a tight-end going for the touchdown. The crowd cheered him on (except for the far-right commentators).

    America needs the inspiration that Obama offers. He has experience (not [cough,cough] 35-years worth [gag]) - but more than that - he has the ability to help Americans (and the world) feel more positive about America. Because of where he grew up (in Hawaii & Indonesia), his "pulling himself up by the bootstraps" background, his grassroots successes in Chicago, and his family roots in Africa - he is on course to be seen more than just the American President - but also as the world's President (similar to how people called Guiliani "America's Mayor").

  6. [6] 
    akadjian wrote:

    I happened to find this interesting video of Barack Obama talking about Congressmen and how there is no incentive for them to "do the right thing" once they become elected.

    When the experience question comes up, I have to ask myself, what is it that people really want? It seems to me that what they want is someone who is going to be effective. And experience is one way of judging whether this will be the case.

    My issue is that it is only one way. But Republicans are working very hard to make it the only issue because it plays to McCain's strength.

    If Obama can reframe this to be about who has the opportunity to be most effective, I think his position is much stronger. Partly because I think he can make a good case to the people and put pressure on Congress.

    But in order to do this, he has to stick to his values. It's very similar to the temptations that artists face once their work becomes popular. Do you continue to innovate and stick to your values or do you sell out? The temptation is high to use the system once you become part of it.

    This is one of the reason's I'd like to see Obama stick by his pledge to use public financing in the campaign.

    I think Obama would be making a mistake to not stand on principles. Of course this would even the funding race for McCain, but it would show that Obama is serious about his principles.

    If he wins the nomination, he'll have some serious thinking to do.

  7. [7] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Incidentally I gotta stick up for Ronnie. There was, to be fair, no evidence ever found that Reagan had engaged in wrongdoing over the Iran-Contra fiasco. It happened on his watch, and he took responsibility for it, but that's a long way from someone like Tricky Dick, who was clearly guilty of wrongdoing.

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