E.J. Dionne, Jr.: Obama 2008 = Reagan 1980





Barack Obama's critics bear a remarkable resemblance to the liberals who labored mightily to dismiss Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Reagan's foes wrote him off as a right-wing former actor who amiably spouted conservative bromides and must have been engaged in some sort of Hollywood flimflam.

Like Reagan's enemies, Obama's opponents concede that this Democrat gives a great speech. Indeed, both Obama and Reagan came to wide attention because of a single oration that offered hope in the midst of a losing campaign--Obama's 2004 keynote to the Democratic National Convention and Reagan's 1964 "A Time for Choosing" address delivered on behalf of Barry Goldwater. But surely speeches aren't enough, are they?

Yes, Obama gets his crowds swooning. So did Reagan. It's laughable to hear conservatives talk darkly about a "cult of personality" around Obama. The Reaganites, after all, have lobbied to name every airport, school, library, road, bridge, government building and lamppost after the Gipper. When it comes to personality cults, the right wing knows what it's talking about.

But don't worry, say Obama's adversaries, he'll collapse because voters won't trust him to handle foreign policy. He's too inexperienced and has these perilously idealistic ideas. Yes, and President Jimmy Carter's campaign in 1980 was absolutely convinced it could persuade the country that Reagan was a dangerous warmonger who could not be trusted to keep America safe.

In any event, claim the anti-Obama legions, voters will eventually be persuaded that he is nothing but a big, bad liberal. He may make sweet bipartisan sounds, but the old attacks on left-wing ideology will work this time, as they always have.

The liberals who were so dismissive of Reagan similarly insisted that he represented the same "right-wing extremism" that voters had rejected in 1964 when they sent Goldwater to his landslide defeat.

Yet Reagan didn't play to type. He reached out warmly to Democrats, notably in his 1980 convention speech that was his single most effective political sally....

The frustration of the Clinton campaign is understandable. Like George H.W. Bush, whom Reagan defeated for the presidential nomination in 1980, Hillary Clinton has worked very hard, knows government from the inside out, and would clearly provide the country with a safe set of hands. The Clintonites argue, fairly, that there is no way to know if Obama can live up to The Promise of Obama.

But the same was true of Ronald Reagan....



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Arnold Shcherban - 3/5/2008

Don't worry Mr. Keuter,
Obama will not be the next US President.
If Democrats nominate him, McCain will be President elect... the worst possible future scenario for this country and the world at large.
Read my lips on this one.


Jason Blake Keuter - 3/4/2008

Stylistically, sort of, but Reagan gave speeches that were actually about something; Reagan took on major powers within his own party (see Obama pandering in Ohio with anti-NAFTA rhetoric); Reagan really represented an ideological sea change. Obama is fluff. He is an articulate George Bush, promising things that please the base of his own party and vowing to mend fences and get things done and stand up to entrenched interests.

He will also most likely be elected President, and how well he does will depend mostly on whether he believes his own hype or whether he recognizes his own inadequacies.

There really is very little comparison between Reagan and Obama. Obama is cautious, vague and stylistic. Reagan was bold, specific (sometimes ridiculously so) and stylistic in a mannner that suited his ideology.


R.R. Hamilton - 3/2/2008

I've been predicting that, should Obama get the nomination, he will either win by a landslide or lose by one -- depending mostly on the media (see the SNL skit).


Tim R. Furnish - 3/2/2008

I apologize: I should have said "THREE" problems.....


Tim R. Furnish - 3/2/2008

There are two major problems with Dionne's "analysis:"
1) Reagan had been the governor of the most populous state in the Union when he ran for President, FAR more experience than BHO has amassed so far
2) Republicans only started trying to name schools, warships, etc. after Reagan AFTER his two terms as President--hardly comparable to what the Obamaniacs' swoons before their guy has done anything of note.
3) Reagan supporters (and I campaigned for him in college in 1980) did not act anything like BHO's minions do: I cannot recall anyone ever getting the vapors, passing out or ascribing messianic powers to RR.
Nice try, E.J., but stupid as usual.

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