Return Of The Son Of The Great Communicator

[ Posted Wednesday, February 25th, 2009 – 15:44 UTC ]

The "Great Communicator," for our younger readers who were not exposed to him, was what the media eventually decided to call President Ronald Reagan. The title of this article, for our unhipper readers (excuse me, for "the suave-ically-challenged"), is an homage to Frank Zappa's boxed set of albums entitled Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar. You see, while Frank Zappa was a consummate musician as a guitarist and bandleader, his eclectic (to say the least) lyrical style, not to mention his singing ability, turned a lot of people off. So he released a three-album all-instrumental boxed set just for such semi-fans, with disks titled: "Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar," "Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar Some More," and "Return of the Son Of Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar." If Zappa couldn't have fun with the lyrics, he certainly wasn't going to forego having some fun with the album and song names (best track name: "Variations on the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression").

But I digress.

President Barack Obama may be distantly related to Dick Cheney, but I am not aware that he is related at all to Ronald Reagan. Nor is he returning zombie-like from the dead, for that matter. But he is indeed the embodiment of The Great Communicator, and the more time goes by, the more people are going to notice and comment on this. The label "Great Communicator II" has already been tossed around (by The Wall Street Journal no less), and will continue to pop up in political debates with more and more frequency, if my guess is correct.

I noticed this phenomenon a while back -- the potential that Obama had for pulling off the same political tour de force that Ronald Reagan was so capable of. Obama himself even mentioned it during the campaign, whereupon it was immediately misunderstood by just about everybody. Hillary Clinton and the media (and, sadly, a lot of Democrats) jumped on Obama for "praising" or "admiring" Ronald Reagan -- trying to smear Obama with some sort of ridiculous "Reagan-lover" brush. This was laughably ludicrous, but nobody seemed to notice that in the heat of the campaign. Obama was expressing admiration for a political tactic of Reagan's, one that Ronnie used with a high degree of success. He was emphatically not admiring Reagan's ideas, ideology, or political stances in any way, shape or form -- the point lost to many.

Almost exactly a year ago, I devoted an entire column to this idea. Here are some excerpts from that column:

I remember watching [Reagan's] 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.

. . .

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.

I finished this article off with the following prediction:

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.

This is my central point today. I apologize for taking longer than normal to come to my main thesis here. Blame early exposure to Frank Zappa, if you must.


Because after only a little more than a month in office, President Barack Obama seems to be proving me right. The key to Ronald Reagan's power and popularity was his ability to speak to America without filters. Ronnie -- in age when cable television was admittedly still either non-existent or in its infancy -- was able to ignore the media, ignore his own party in Congress, ignore the congressional Democrats who (at that point) absolutely owned the majority... Ronnie was able to ignore all of that, and speak directly to the American people. And The People responded, exactly how he wanted them to. Which, in turn, terrified Congresscritters of both parties into doing exactly what he wanted them to do (because they knew that if they didn't, their phones would ring off the hook from irate constituents the very next day, all demanding to know why they weren't supporting the president). Because leading The People is different from leading Washington. It's harder, but in the end, it's more powerful.

Bill Clinton, to give him credit, attempted to do this himself, but by that point it was too late. Clinton, much like Jimmy Carter before him, faced a Congress run by his own party, but a party that was fairly hostile to him. Congressional Democrats were convinced at that point that they were going to be in the majority forever -- and they acted accordingly. They felt they were more important than the president. As a direct result, we got Newt Gingrich and a decade and a half of Republican rule in Congress.

Obama does not have that problem with this Congress. Democrats have seen the wilderness that minority status leads to. They do not want to go back. They are supportive of Obama in a way that Carter or Clinton never enjoyed.

And the polls are starting to come in now. The story they tell is that with all the media hype about Obama "spending political capital" getting his stimulus package passed, the media has once again (in a massive and embarrassing way) gotten the story completely wrong. Republicans filled the cable news airwaves with their congratulatory pats on the back for so successfully banding together -- against a hugely popular president and a desperately-needed stimulus package.

But you know what? The public didn't buy it this time. The polls overwhelmingly show that Obama was seen as reaching out to the Republicans. The Republicans were seen, once again -- overwhelmingly, as being obstructionists first and foremost, while congressional Democrats' approval ratings climbed.

The Republican spinmeisters won the battle of the airwaves, in other words. They got their faces on the screen in a two-to-one ratio to Democrats during the debate. They fulminated about socialism and other "scary" liberal concepts. They berated Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, House Democrats, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans who voted with the Democrats, Obama's plan, and Obama himself (although, it must be said, they were -- and still are -- a bit wary about taking Obama on directly).

And you know what? After all of that, the American public trusts Obama to fix the economy around two-to-one over congressional Republicans. The Republicans trotted out their "Democrats are evil and wrong!" talking points, and Obama countered by talking to some average people in America, most of whom hadn't even voted for him. Republicans in Congress ranted and raved, and Obama gave a presidential press conference -- the first one in a long time -- where our country's leader talked to us as if we were adults.

And then, last night, President Obama gave a speech. It was firmly reality-based. It, once again, spoke to The People rather than the politicians or the mainstream media. If CBS' snap polls mean anything, he succeeded wildly -- beyond any expectations.

The Republican response was pretty pathetic, I have to say. Actually, I did say so last night, so I won't mention it again here.

It will truly be interesting to see, in the coming weeks and months, whether congressional Republicans will respond to Obama's ability to reach out to The People, or whether they will continue to hunker down in their "Just Say No To Everything Obama" partisanship. Will Obama's next legislative attempt garner a few GOP votes in the House? Will a few more Republican senators cross the aisle in support? Will Republican politicians realize that Obama's extraordinary popularity means that their own jobs are in jeopardy, or will they continue with their "play to the base" philosophy? Only time will tell the answers to these questions. The future of the Republican Party may hang in the balance.

My main point is thus: if Barack Obama can continue to show this Reagan-esque ability to reach over the heads of the entrenched partisan politicians and the entrenched "we will tell you what to think, and how to think about it" corporate media types -- while still maintaining consistently-high approval ratings; then Obama will not only get an enormous amount of things accomplished, he will also continue to astonish both of these groups of people (call them the "inside the Beltway crowd") with the ease with which he achieves these victories.

The People, however, will not be astonished. They will be behind him. Much to the bewilderment of a lot of Republicans. And "journalists."


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


One Comment on “Return Of The Son Of The Great Communicator”

  1. [1] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    If Bobby Jindal is supposed to be the "new face" of the GOP, then he needs to find some new talking points instead of letting the RNCC write speeches for him. There couldn't have been a better contrast last night between the Audacity of Hope and the Insanity of Hype.

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