Sunday, January 9, 2011

Is Obama the Next Reagan?

Frank Rich compares Reagan's comeback with the recent upward movement in the polls for Obama. He does a nice job of exposing the myths about Reagan. He achieved sainthood within the GOP by doing precisely what they say we should not do today. He ran huge budget deficits by cutting taxes, which he did not pay for with spending cuts. He also increased spending substantially which exacerbated the impact of the tax cuts on the federal budget. He paid for the tax cuts, and higher spending, by borrowing. Dick Cheney advised Bush Jr. to do the same thing. He told him that Reagan proved that deficits don't matter. He meant that they do not matter to the electorate. Cheney had it right. Deficits don't matter to the public unless the GOP and its propaganda machine puts the focus on deficits when "tax and spend" liberals are in office.

Reagan was surprised by the impact of his tax cuts on the budget because he was told that cutting taxes would increase national income and tax revenues. Bush Sr. called this "voodoo economics" when he was running against Reagan for the GOP nomination. But it did not matter. He lost the nomination and Reagan was anointed with sainthood because running huge deficits improved the economy and decreased unemployment. He was forced to increase taxes in his second term but he was careful about where the taxes were raised. He did not raise taxes for the rich.

In addition to running huge budget deficits during his regime, Reagan also started the trend toward the deregulation of the economy. His message of "getting the government off our backs" resonated with an electorate that confuses prudent regulation with bureaucracy. Clinton and Bush Jr. continued with the deregulation trend, especially in the financial sector, which eventually produced the collapse of the financial system.

Given the reality of the Reagan presidency, how does one explain his success with the public? Rich explains it by stressing Reagan's ability as a leader. His sunny personality, and the conviction that he had about his principles, is what the electorate responded to. They desire a strong leader and that is precisely what they have found lacking in Obama. Rich's advice to Obama is to be more like Reagan as a leader. That may be good advise but it won't help him as long as we have high unemployment, and that is quite likely. Perhaps his best chance of winning reelection is the absence of strong candidates in the GOP. Romney, and even Mr. 9/11 are warming up for the nomination but there is not a Reagan among them.

No comments:

Post a Comment