Saturday, October 31, 2009

Obama as the Democratic Reagan - An Update

There was talk during last year's campaign about certain similarities between then Senator Obama and Ronald Reagan. The comparison gained even more traction when Obama himself characterized the former Republican president as "transformative." That was seen as a way of appealing to moderate voters who had crossed over to Reagan as well as a swipe at Bill Clinton who, though certainly competent, did not qualify as transformative.

There hasn't been much Obama as Reagan chatter since Barack took office but there are some interesting parallels which could be very encouraging to supporters of the current president.

Look, for example, at Reagan's trajectory:

He wins big in 1981 against incumbent Jimmy Carter, but a weak economy and controversial policies drive down his poll numbers. His popularity, however, recovers along with the economy and by 1984 he sweeps Democrat Walter Mondale in every state except Minnesota (and D.C.).

Also, putting policies aside for the moment, the current and former presidents both show similar leadership attributes:

  • Unflappable and Flexible - Stick to your guns and know when to compromise
  • Disciplined and Personable - Stay on script (teleprompter) but be yourself (likable and authentic)
  • Opportunistic and Optimistic - Use crisis to your advantage and stay true to your principles
Some Reagan-haters attribute the former president's "larger-than-life" status to a clever and manipulative campaign engineered by right wing "thought leaders." This so-called "Reagan Legacy Project" has been persuasively critiqued by Reagan opponents.

But let's not argue that here. Instead, let's hope that historical forces line up for Barack Obama - as they did for Reagan - and that this president can create a lasting record of accomplishment and true transformation.

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