Today at the Ronald Reagan Library, there is a ceremony celebrating the 101st anniversary of President Reagan’s birth. Haley Barbour, my friend and partner at BGR Group, is a featured speaker.  Former governor Barbour was the White House Political Director under President Reagan from 1985 to 1986, and I was his deputy. Barbour witnessed Reagan’s political instincts up close and in person.

Barbour’s remarks today make a major point of how pragmatic Reagan really was.  At times during the 2012 Republican nomination contest, the candidates have gotten lost in their rhetoric and tried to claim that they were the most stubborn conservative ideologue and the most Reaganesque at the same time.  Well today, Barbour’s comments include this perspective: “President Reagan set the highest goals, but accepted progress toward those goals, one or a few steps at a time. Ronald Reagan had an ideology, a strong philosophy with matching principles; but he was not an ideologue. He didn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

To see Barbour’s full speech, go here.

Another point in Barbour’s comments address Carter’s recent post about the economy as an election issue in 2012. The election will be about the economy and, assuming it does get better, Romney or any other Republican nominee should not allow their campaign to be reduced to carping that the improvement doesn’t exist, or they make themselves vulnerable to the charge that they are talking down the economy. Republicans must make a big offer regarding the economy and not just stand on a vague promise to be better than Obama. I’m for setting a firm goal of a five percent growth rate, explaining how we get there, and what America would look like if we did: then, let Obama explain why it’s just not possible. 

Anyway, Carter’s quote about “nascent signs of economic recovery . . . [and a] strong jobs report” come with an asterisk that Barbour clearly explains. Barbour says, “What kind of recovery is it when 1.2 million Americans became so discouraged that they quit looking for work last month alone?  In January, five times more people quit looking for work than got a job!” Obama can’t claim economic improvement yet, because it’s not true. 

The contrasting views of our economic future could very well determine the outcome of the election in November. But so far, it appears if Obama is held to an honest standard, he will not achieve or even be a able to credibly claim that he has produced a recovery anything like what President Reagan did by 1984.