Andrew Sullivan: President Obama ... The Democrats' Ronald ReaganRoundup: Media's Take
Andrew Sullivan, former editor of The New Republic, weekly columnist for the Sunday Times of London, brought his hugely popular blog, The Dish, to the Daily Beast in 2011. He's the author of several books, including Virtually Normal, Love Undetectable, and The Conservative Soul.
As the fall has turned crisper, a second term for Barack Obama has gotten likelier. This may, of course, change: the debates, the Middle East, the unemployment numbers could still blow up the race. At this point in 2004, one recalls, George W. Bush was about to see a near eight-point lead shrivel to a one-state nail-biter by Election Day. But one thing that has so far, in my view, been underestimated is the potential impact of a solid Obama win, and perhaps a Democratic retention of the Senate and some progress in the House. This is now a perfectly plausible outcome. It would also be a transformational moment in modern American politics.
If Obama wins, to put it bluntly, he will become the Democrats’ Reagan. The narrative writes itself. He will emerge as an iconic figure who struggled through a recession and a terrorized world, reshaping the economy within it, passing universal health care, strafing the ranks of al -Qaeda, presiding over a civil-rights revolution, and then enjoying the fruits of the recovery. To be sure, the Obama recovery isn’t likely to have the same oomph as the one associated with Reagan—who benefited from a once-in-a-century cut of top income tax rates (from 70 percent to, at first, 50 percent, and then to 28 percent) as well as a huge jump in defense spending at a time when the national debt was much, much less of a burden. But Obama’s potential for Reagan status (maybe minus the airport-naming) is real. Yes, Bill Clinton won two terms and is a brilliant pol bar none, as he showed in Charlotte in the best speech of both conventions. But the crisis Obama faced on his first day—like the one Reagan faced—was far deeper than anything Clinton confronted, and the future upside therefore is much greater. And unlike Clinton’s constant triangulating improvisation, Obama has been playing a long, strategic game from the very start—a long game that will only truly pay off if he gets eight full years to see it through. That game is not only changing America. It may also bring his opposition, the GOP, back to the center, just as Reagan indelibly moved the Democrats away from the far left.
Looking back, of course, the comparison between Obama and Reagan seems -absurd—even blasphemous. There is, to begin with, the scope of Reagan’s reelection, winning 49 states in 1984—-something Obama, in a much more polarized time, cannot hope to replicate. More fundamental is the mythology of Reagan as an unfaltering ideological conservative who galvanized the right and demoralized the left. But the reality of Reagan, especially in his first term, was very different. He was, in office, a center-right pragmatist who struggled badly in his first term, reversed himself on tax cuts several times, was uneasily reliant on Southern Democrats, -invaded Lebanon, lost 265 U.S. servicemembers, and then fled, and ran for reelection with a misery index of unemployment and inflation at 11.5 percent. (Obama is running for a second term with a misery index of 9.8 percent.) Reagan also got major flak from his right wing, as Obama has from his left. A classic excerpt in early 1983 from The Miami Herald: "Conservatives may not back President Reagan for reelection in 1984 unless he reverses what they consider ‘almost a stampede to the left’ in the White House." Reagan’s Republicans lost 26 seats in 1982, down 13 percent from their previous numbers. That same year, Reagan’s approval ratings sank to 35 -percent—several points lower in his first term than Obama’s ever reached. If you compare Gallup’s polls of presidential approval, you also see something interesting: Obama’s first-term -approval—its peaks and valleys—resembles Reagan’s more than any other recent president; it’s just that Obama’s lows have been higher and his highs lower. Reagan struggled. By his reelection in 1984, he’d been buoyed by a rebirth of economic growth and -lower -inflation—but it was in his second term that he became the icon he remains today...
comments powered by Disqus
- Irish artist is colorizing the past
- Frontline does Trump & Clinton
- This New York Times ‘Hitler’ book review sure reads like a thinly veiled Trump comparison
- Chicago Tribune editorial: The government should release secret grand jury testimony about its 1942 scoop, "Jap Plan to Strike at Sea"
- US owes blacks reparations over slavery: UN experts
- Howard Zinn group backs move to "Abolish Columbus Day"
- Ted Widmer appointed director of John W. Kluge Center
- What Historians Are Saying About the First Trump-Clinton Debate
- Princeton professor documents the movement that ended single-sex education at elite schools
- Annette Gordon-Reed tells historians the controversy over Harvard law school's shield is different from the fight over the Confederate flag