Now that the presidential campaign’s most Reaganesque candidate, Fred Thompson, has exited stage right, you’ll never guess who’s embraced the Gipper’s mantle: Barack Obama.
Perhaps “embraced” is a bit too strong. But it’s notable that Obama, the field’s most liberal candidate, has begun invoking the memory of America’s most revered conservative icon. Obama, who understands the power of words, has used the following in his praise of Reagan: “very successful,” “changed the trajectory of America,” “clarity,” “optimism,” “dynamism” and “entrepreneurship.” Obama also says Reagan “put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.”
It’s little wonder that Obama invokes Reagan. According to Gallup, Reagan’s approval rating is, at 73 percent, one of the highest of any past U.S. president, about equal to those of Presidents Kennedy and Lincoln. And last July, Rasmussen Reports polling firm conducted a survey of political labels and found that the term “like Reagan” was the most popular label for presidential hopefuls to have, while terms like “conservative,” “moderate,” “progressive” and “liberal” were viewed with less approval.
On the surface there are similarities between the two men from Illinois. Like Reagan, Obama exudes charisma and optimism, and both attracted interest by presenting themselves as “uniters” who can bring politicians from both sides of the aisle back together following eras of intense partisanship.
But, to paraphrase the hackneyed phrase, Mr. Obama, I knew Ronald Reagan, and you’re no Ronald Reagan. I worked for Ronald Reagan, first as undersecretary of education, then as his chief domestic policy advisor, and followed his career for 25 years. The contrast between the two is striking.
First, there is a huge experience gap. Ronald Reagan was, at 69, the oldest president ever elected, and he already had eight years of executive experience under his belt as governor of California, America’s most populous state with an economy bigger than all but 9 countries. Obama, on the other hand, would, at 47 years, be the countries fifth youngest president, as well as its least experienced, having served just seven years in the Illinois state Senate and four in the U.S. Senate.
Then there are the issues. Obama’s redistributive economic policies amount to class warfare. Obama thinks working families pay too much in taxes, so he has proposed policies that would offer $80 billion in tax cuts for senior citizens and lower-middle class households. But those would be met with corresponding increases in taxes for upper-middle class households, investors and the businesses that employ millions of Americans, the very Americans Obama says he wants to help.
Reagan, on the other hand, understood that low marginal tax rates spur the investment necessary to increase economic growth, and lower interest rates, inflation and unemployment rates.
Barack Obama is also the most radically pro-abortion serious presidential candidate in history. He has a 100 percent rating with Planned Parenthood, and he has pledged to appoint pro-Roe judges to the Supreme Court. Obama supports partial-birth abortion, but it’s even worse than that. As Terry Jeffrey has written, as an Illinois senator, Obama opposed a bill to define as a “person” a fully born baby who survived an abortion.
He continued to oppose the bill even after an amendment was offered that mirrored language included in a virtually identical federal bill that won a 98-0 vote in the U.S. senate.
Reagan’s views on abortion and the protection of innocent human life do not need to be recounted to HUMAN EVENTS’ readers. Suffice it to say, Reagan is considered by many to have been the most pro-life president ever.
President Reagan’s signature achievement was his crucial role in hastening the end to the Soviet Union. Reagan spent years rebuilding a weak and under-funded military because he understood that a strong national defense is essential to protecting American interests. Reagan was an expert diplomat who knew when to play hardball with America’s enemies and when to sit down and negotiate.
Obama, on the other hand, has increasingly revealed his foreign policy naiveté. His calls for America to “cut and run” from Iraq have not changed even in the face of vastly improved conditions on the ground, and he has pledged to meet with leaders of rogue nations, such as Cuba, North Korea and Iran, without preconditions.
You get the picture. Reagan and Obama are polar opposites. Yet, Obama insists he can “appeal to independents and Republicans in order to build a working majority to move an agenda forward.”
My questions for Obama are: What, besides abstract notions of hope and unity, do you have to offer Republicans? Which of your positions is even remotely conservative or even moderate? How, precisely, do you, a candidate who takes extreme positions on divisive issues, plan to rise above partisanship and unite all Americans?
Ronald Reagan won elections, and is revered today, because he understood that America is conservative in a fundamental way. His ability to win over millions of southern Democratic voters — “Reagan Democrats” — was based not only on his personal charm and optimism but also on the fact that a majority of Americans agreed with him on the big issues of the day — the importance of defeating Communism, downsizing government and respecting human life and family values. Things have changed over the last generation, but the critical challenges that face America — an evil menace abroad and a culture war at home — continue. It is on these issues that Obama is most out of step with America.
It’s curious that in recent weeks, as Obama has been singing the praises of Reagan, a number of conservatives have insisted that the GOP must shed the mantle of Reagan in order to win in 2008 and beyond. Why? The GOP has seldom lost when it has followed Reagan’s example, and its recent loses were clearly the result of deviations from conservative principles, not adherence to them. If Obama understands this, why can’t some Republicans?