Liberals for 30 years have had a bad case of Ronald Reagan envy. I’m not sure why they find their own pantheon insufficient, but they long for the “liberal Reagan” and indeed think they have him in President Obama.
Aside from the dramatic ideological differences, the divergence in results (Reagan recovery vs. Obama non-recovery, ending the Cold War vs. watching Iran get a nuclear weapon) and divergence in personality (sunny vs. prickly, self-deprecating vs. haughty), the left mistakes why Reagan was Reagan. It wasn’t because he pulverized the Democratic House or got a Republican House majority; he did neither. It was because of his largeness of personality, flexibility and vision allowed him to do really big things, with the opposing party in tow. You don’t get into the top rung of presidents with “Drove down the House’s poll numbers!” (Or for that matter “Passed a health-care law the public hated” or “Grew the debt by trillions.”)
Greatness comes not in lacerating your opponents but by enlisting them, something the president has been entirely incapable of doing. He has achieved virtually nothing on a bipartisan basis. David Brooks recaps the now-familiar pattern: “[T]he president identifies a problem. Then he declines to come up with a proposal to address the problem. Then he comes up with a vague-but-politically-convenient concept that doesn’t address the problem (let’s raise taxes on the rich). Then he goes around the country blasting the opposition for not having as politically popular a concept. Then he returns to Washington and congratulates himself for being the only serious and substantive person in town.” That Brooks also lashes into the GOP House should be of little consequence to the Reagan-envious left.
In the context of the sequester, Kim Strassel notes: “What has to make the White House a tad nervous are the questions it is beginning to get from the savvier members of the press. Didn’t you folks in the White House also agree to $1.2 trillion in sequester cuts? Why are you now changing the goal posts, asking for taxes? Are you really saying you can’t find $85 billion in sensible cuts from a $3.8 trillion budget? Why not just ask the GOP for the flexibility to impose the cuts more wisely?”
But what should make them nauseous is the historical record they are leaving. What defines Obama — rigid ideology, cut-throat partisanship, the absence of personal loyalty and bonds — is what separates him in large part from Reagan. And those qualities will deny him success, let alone greatness. The economy is decrepit (and wait until his Democratic allies decide to shut down the government and insist on raising taxes), the Middle East is a tinderbox, poverty is up, income inequality is worse and the public hates government more than ever.
Obama won no wars and managed to wreck the Middle East “peace process” in his first term. He is starving the military, leaving it to his successor to rebuild and refund defense. He seems determined to wreck immigration reform. And he at best will get some puny gun-check legislation. This is a recipe for landing in the bottom, not the top, of the presidential ratings.
Maybe that is why Republicans are sanguine. They realize the worst of Obama’s agenda is likely in the rearview mirror. And what’s more, there is only one Reagan — and he is theirs.