Posted on February 7, 2011Ronald Reagan casts a long historic shadow.
He changed the course of American history and now is proudly featured in General Electric advertisements that focus on his 100th birthday.
It is unusual that so much attention would be paid to a birthday of a President who has been dead for seven years.
It is even more unusual to have the leading political figures of both the left and right consciously try to pattern themselves after that same president.
Time Magazine featured a cover that had Reagan and Obama together, as if they were best buddies or something.
It is no secret that Obama has patterned his Presidency after the Reagan model.
And in a general sense, Obama may be successful.
After all, like Reagan’s first two years, Obama’s first two years were successful on the legislative front. Both Reagan and Obama passed huge chunks of their agenda before a compliant Congress, in the face of mounting unpopularity.
And both Reagan and Obama’s political parties paid a huge price for it at the ballot box. Reagan’s Republicans got smacked hard and sunk further into the minority, while Obama’s Democrats got pummeled at the polls and lost control of the House.
But as much as Barack Obama may hope so, he is no Ronald Reagan.
Everybody knew where Reagan stood on the issues. Everybody knew that Reagan saw government as the problem and not the solution. Everybody knew that Reagan’s number one enemy was Soviet Communism. Reagan, even when he was cutting deals, never let people forget where his heart was.
Obama remains a mystery to his enemies and friends alike. Where is his philosophical core? Where does he really stand on the fight against Islamic terrorism? Does he believe in the concept of American exceptionalism? Does he truly believe in a free market system? Where does he want to lead our nation in the next fifty years?
Reagan believed in the collective goodness of the American people and he was an optimist about freedom, but his optimism included a healthy dose of realism. Reagan’s first chief of staff was the uber-realist James Baker, and his first CIA director was Bill Casey. For Reagan, trust but verify was not just a catch-phrase. It was a way of life.
Obama’s approach is much more academic, much less realistic. He seems to only go grudgingly towards the real world. When he announced to the world that we were sending more troops to Afghanistan, you could sense that he didn’t want to make that speech and didn’t want to make that commitment. That ambivalence has been a hallmark of the Obama Presidency.
Obama is a Reagan wannabe, but he is no Reagan.
Neither is Sarah Palin.
Palin gave the opening address to the Young Americans Foundation celebration of Reagan’s 100th birthday.
She reminded me of one of those American Idol contestants that don’t make the initial cut. She knew all the words, but didn’t know the tune.
She came off as pitchy, off-key, and oddly disconnected from reality.
Where Reagan was the ultimate realist, Palin lives in a dream world. And that dream world is one that makes someone like her a viable candidate for President.
When Reagan was Palin’s age, he was still a Democrat. He came to his political philosophy the hard way, by living life and experiencing for himself the real world.
Through his experiences, Reagan developed wisdom. And through that wisdom, he developed his political philosophy.
Palin lacks wisdom. She lacks insight. She lacks gravitas.
It was Ronald Reagan who constructed the famous 11th Commandment: “thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.”
Palin shreds that amendment at every opportunity. She has made her political career by attacking the Republican establishment.
Ronald Reagan, of course, is better in mythology than he actually was as a President.
Under the mythology, Reagan cut spending, never raised taxes, single-handedly brought America back and brought the Soviet Union down.
In reality, Reagan signed spending increases and tax increases. The Soviet Union decline was only a matter of time, as was America’s resurgence.
But sometimes, it is far better to print the legend than to focus on the reality. That is the case with Ronald Reagan. That is not the case, though, with the Reagan wannabes.