During the 2008 election, then-candidate Barack Obama shocked the liberal establishment (and infuriated Bill Clinton as a pleasant byproduct) by calling Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election and presidency monumental. In other words he was a “game changing” leader, if you will.
Obama knew what he was doing, even as many suspect he is at best only a mediocre student of American presidential history.
To wit, he almost never quotes previous chief executives or cites American historical precedents to support his Jacobinistic policies.
Perhaps it is because no previous chief executive ever attempted to make Americans wholly depended upon Big Government.
Clearly, President Obama and his supporters want historians -- and indeed all Americans -- to see his presidency by the same light as Reagan’s; that his time of office will also be recorded as a political upheaval. This remains to be seen, but it is instructive to recall that Clinton was also obsessed with his place in history --calling in historians late in his second term-bewailing the fact that he never had any big crisis to confront, like some of his predecessors and thus, his eight years would not get the due he felt it deserved.
Reagan, more self-confident, never lamented to historians, instead accepting the judgment of the American people and not self-puffing elitist members of the academy.
Obama’s supporters are now bending over backwards to make the case that Reagan’s poll numbers sagged, just as Obama’s have, in the face of difficult economic times. In fact, the “Carter Recession” which the fortieth chief executive inherited was far, far worse that the “Bush Recession” that the forty-fourth president became heir to. When both took office, unemployment was around 7.5 percent. But Carter left the Gipper with inflation and interest rates raging out of control, both in high double digits. Productivity was dead, the economy in negative growth.
And yet, despite the sophist revisionism of the Obamanites, Reagan’s approval ratings stayed well above 50 percent all through his first year according to the CBS/NY Times polls of the era and by a wide margin, the citizenry saw Reagan’s efforts to wring inflation out of the economy as both necessary and needed for future growth. They didn’t always like Reagan’s polices: but they supported them.
My old friend Vic Gold, writer and historian, hit the nail on the head the other day. Obama, he said, has never sat in the Oval Office and looked into a camera and said, “My fellow Americans…” just as every president before him has, in the era of radio, film and television.
All of Obama’s pronouncements have been before a live audience or a press gaggle. Why? Because he needs the instant gratification of his elite audiences. Because he lacks the self-confidence of men such as Truman, JFK and RWR, all of whom said “this government” or “your government.” Obama says, “my administration” and “my cabinet.” He is a product of the Facebook generation, superb at self-promotion: less talented in other areas.
The differences between the 40th president and the 44th president become ever more pronounced when it becomes clear that Obama speaks mainly to the elites of Washington, New York and academia. Obama, the uber elitist, prefers the company of wealthy bankers and Washington's kommentariat.
It makes perfect sense. To him, they are his people.
Reagan, on the other hand, spoke “over the heads of Washington” to go to the American people. He preferred the company of farmer to financiers. He prefer the wise common sense of the citizenry to the wisenheimers of Washington.
The American people were his people.
Craig Shirley is the president of Shirley and Banister Public Affairs and is the author of two critically praised books on Reagan including "Reagan's Revolution" and the newly released "Rendezvous with Destiny," about the 1980 campaign.
Craig Shirley is a presidential historian and the author of four bestsellers on Ronald Reagan, and most recently the author of the authorized biography of Newt Gingrich, "Citizen Newt."