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