Barack Obama had an interview with the Las Vegas Sun in Nevada this week where he compared himself to 40th US President Ronald Wilson Reagan.
This turned more than a few heads as many, many Black American (and a sizable portion of white Liberals) hate Reagan. Some black folks like the Gipper. I’ve never met these people, but much like Black Republicans, I’m sure they do exist. Traditionally, if a Democrat accused another Democrat of being like Ronald Reagan it was akin to a Republican accusing another Republican of being like Franklin Delano Roosevelt or, worse yet, Bill Clinton. Democrats never, ever call themselves Reaganites unless they were among the “Reagan Democrats,” and even they don’t fling the name around in a post-Reagan world.
So it was mondo bizarro for Obama to describe himself as the one he sees himself akin to, the who shall not be named. The one disliked by so many black people, including myself.
Black Americans have their reasons to dislike Reagan. It’s a laundry list, but I’ll try to remember them all thusly in bullet point list form:
- Extolling the story of the “welfare queen” which many blacks interpreted as slam on poor blacks
- Opening his presidential campaign in a Mississippi town where Civil Rights workers were murdered and giving what some saw as a “pro-state’s rights” speech, which has traditionally been seen as code to southerns, black and white, that desegregation was wrong, tapping all the way back into the state’s rights debate over slavery that lead to the Civil War
- AIDS hops on the scene, initially running rampant in two groups Ronnie wasn’t interested in — gay men and black folks — so he was slow to react.
- Crack epidemic: Ronnie and other Republicans focus more on punishment than treatment resulting in inequities between crack cocaine and powder cocaine.
- Ronnie was a free-trader, believing the belief that free market economies, unregulated, are good. This led to numerous factory closings across the Midwest as more and more businesses ran off to Mexico, China and other countries for manufacturing jobs. Many Blacks had just started getting well paying, Union jobs in the 60s and 70s. Naturally, this did not go over well with Black folks and many white folks, but they re-elected Ronnie anyway.
There are some other reasons to not care for Ronnie that irk irregardless of race (his perceived laziness, Iran Contra, amnesty for Mexican migrants and immigrants, the firing of the FAA tower operators, the decline of family farms, the expansion of government when he ran on a smaller government platform, etc.), but despite all these things mentioned Ronnie is still beloved because A) he united the Republican Party and B) he helped end the Cold War with Russia.
Ronnie was charming and affable and, unlike the current president, a gifted speaker. As a former actor, some of Reagan’s gift for gab can be attributed to his years in Hollywood. He was dubbed “The Great Communicator” and when he finally admitted that, you know, “Hey, we did actually sell those arms to Iran illegally,” the vast majority of Americans forgave him.
So Ronnie’s king with a substantial chunk of the American population. The rest are warm to indifferent. And then there’s black folks, feminists and Dennis Kucinich, all among the most left-wing of the Democratic party who remember the 80s as the “me” decade where state and city hospitals were closed, the mentally ill were forced out on the street, jobs were tight and only the wealthiest of the wealthy were having a good time.
So, naturally, when Obama started musing about the Gipper’s significance and how he was the candidate Obama saw himself to resemble the most of, there was some balking. A lot of lefties, myself included, are pro-Obama. We don’t like to hear the object of our political affection say the “R” word, let alone compare himself to the man who sought to break unions and backslide on some of those pesky civil rights.
Typically, it’s been the Republicans arguing over who is the most like Reagan, who is Reagan-esque and who will fund a project to reanimate the Gipper’s corpse using stem cell research. Obama’s critics jumped all over it, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton went at it with the most gusto, seeing Obama’s statements as a huge gaffe.
But I could see where Barack was coming from if this was more of a “strategic” comparison. Both were optimistic idealists and gifted/charismatic speakers with devoted political followings. Barack wants to lead America back to greatness out of a looming recession and a war “malaise,” similar to how Americans elected Reagan to cure them of the slagging economy and stagnation in the Carter Administration on the international front.
Also by sharing some bona fides with Reagan, Obama is also working on winning the votes of centerist whites. Even though Obama hasn’t positioned himself as the “black” candidate of civil rights issues like previous blacks who’ve run for president, there are still some whites who are turned off or intimidated by candidates to behave in this manner. Flattering Ronnie is practically code for, “I’m looking beyond race.” There may be some blow back, but I doubt it will be anything severe. Bill Clinton didn’t lose black folks over Sister Soulja. I doubt Barack will lose blacks and Liberals over some Reagan flirtations.
Reagan and Obama were both candidates of change, and Ronnie won in a change election. Obama’s basically saying, elected me and I’ll give you two terms of awesome topped with a near decade of worth of greatness. He’s Reagan’s America, shinning on top a hill with Jesse Jackson-esque flourishes in his speeches. He’s the candidate of good esteem.
So if he meant that he was going to be a more centrist/leftist-liberal version of Ronnie, I can live with that.
After all, Ronnie got re-elected.
Although, if he’s going to adopt the successful policies and personas of previous two-term presidents, I’d prefer for him to be a little Ronnie in the foreign policy area and a little Bill Clinton on the economy. After former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said that Bill was the greatest “Republican” president he ever worked with. Sounds like the Man from Hope knows his markets.