The official, White House-approved media talking point for President Obama’s second State of the Union speech is that it was “Reaganesque.” Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, made the rounds of network morning shows before the speech, letting the press know that comparisons to Reagan were desired. The media duly complied, with talking heads scrambling for Reagan metaphors while Obama was still shaking hands and posing for photos after the speech.
What essential quality would make a leader “Reaganesque?” Some media liberals thought it was humor, and praised President Obama for slipping a few little jokes into his State of the Union address. Reagan did have a marvelous wit, but it wasn’t his defining quality. Plenty of appalling ideas come from funny people.
Others claimed to hear optimism in Obama’s speech that echoed Regan’s talk of “morning in America.” Optimism cannot be the most important Reagan characteristic, or else we would have to describe the mullahs of Iran as “Reaganesque,” because they sound quite optimistic these days.
No, there is a light which illuminated Reagan’s words, as a bonfire drives back the wolf-haunted night. This radiance is almost wholly absent from the words and deeds of Barack Obama, who becomes frightened and confused when he does sense it flickering within the musty halls of his ideology. It is the light of faith in America and her people.
This faith encompasses more than a belief in the American nation. It’s a belief in her people as well… every single one of them. It’s why the language of patriotism and liberty came so naturally to Reagan. He was fortified with love and respect for the great people who made him their President. He was joyously humble before them, awed by their compassion, wisdom, and ingenuity.
When Reagan famously declared that “government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem,” it wasn’t because he loathed the institution of government. He worked hard to become its top executive, after all. He said that because he understood that American industry and brilliance would be suffocated by layers of regulation and redistribution, when the government sought to impose its solutions upon them. He defined freedom as “the recognition that no single person, no single authority or government, has a monopoly on the truth, but that every individual life is infinitely precious, that every one of us put in this world has been put there for a reason and has something to offer.” The measure of Ronald Reagan was not contempt for the government, but rather esteem for the individual citizen.
Faith in government cannot logically co-exist with faith in the individual. To believe in the transformative power of the State, you must break faith with the people. You must believe they are heartless and greedy, or the helpless victims of predatory interests. You must believe that individuals cannot find solutions to their problems through willing cooperation and commerce. You can trust in the government, or the people, but not both. Faith given to one is taken from the other. When the government believes in its people, they are free to collaborate and invest with dollars. When the people place their faith in government, they end up pillaging each other with votes.
President Obama’s faith so clearly lies with the massive State he has nurtured that he doesn’t even know how to express belief in the people without condescension. Speaking with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News before the Super Bowl, Obama said: “my practical focus, my common-sense focus right now is how do we out-innovate, out-educate, out-build, out-compete the rest of the world? How do we create jobs here in the United States of America? How do we make sure that businesses are thriving, but how do we make sure that ordinary Americans can live out the American dream? Because right now they don’t feel like they are.”
Can you imagine Ronald Reagan saying something like that? Of course not. He would have chuckled and explained to this vain and foolish “intellectual” that the American people would do all the innovating, educating, building, and competing, in ways inconceivable to the expensive failures who populate Obama’s cabinet. We can find the American dream without central planners leaning over our shoulders, or fumbling with our wallets.
The Reagan centennial arrived over the weekend, and I observed one network commentator remarking on President Reagan’s approval ratings when he left office. That’s trivia. The important thing to understand is how much Reagan approved of us. No one can make the faintest claim to be “Reaganesque” without matching his regard for the people he served.