Will Obama pull a Reagan out of the hat?
As President Barack Obama stands to deliver his State of the Union address, he will be the most unpopular one-year president since, well, since, Ronald Reagan.
That’s right. Perhaps the greatest president of our lifetime was very unpopular after one year.
In the midterm elections, the Reagan Revolution was spurned, the Republicans lost their congressional majority and the party was over as the country ticked back more to the middle. The Republicans never again had both houses under Reagan.
Many of the goals that had helped drive his election victories were never realized. Prayer in school didn’t happen. Not even a moment of silence. The abortion issue stayed where it was. The Department of Education not only survived, its budget fattened grossly.
Like Obama, Reagan had defeated a very troubled presidency. Jimmy Carter had allowed inflation to reach 14 percent. A fundamentalist Islamic preacher had seized the American Embassy in Tehran and taken Americans and virtually the whole country, hostage.
When Carter sent in American helicopters to rescue them, the machines broke down in the desert, a metaphor for the atrophy of the military under the Democrat administration. The election of Ronald Reagan was not just about him. It was an anti-Carter vote too.
Barak Obama followed what some call a “Republican Carter,” George W. Bush, who was perceived as going to war for his father’s honor and ballooning the national debt beyond recognition. Even now, every time the Democrats spend they point back and say, “It’s not our fault, he started it.”
Bush left with only evangelical Christians supporting him and then promptly appeared on "ABC Nightline" to announce that he didn’t really believe the Bible was true.
And so, Barack Obama and his people have to face the fact that their election was more about voting for the opposite party of George W. Bush than it was about putting a liberal in office.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the sort of change both presidents proposed in their initial legislation was a bit too much for the country and the first electoral tests sent that signal.
The tactical question is this: Will Obama, like Reagan, be able to make adjustments quick enough, and do so without sounding like a traitor to his own base?
There are some big differences between Obama and Reagan and their status after one year. The country polled conservative in the 1980s, and it still does.
Obama is trying to force liberalism on a nation that doesn’t want it.
Reagan only had to adjust down a little bit.
Obama will have to make a radical U-turn.
Reagan surprised the press by being more reasonable than they thought. Obama surprised the press by being the most liberal president in American history. He continues to make Clinton and Kennedy look like Republicans. Journalists who arrogantly prowled the left for years are now expressing alarm.
Reagan immediately began to expand his political base. Obama treated the federal government like a Viking raider, throwing out any loot he could find to his radical, shrill constituents, shutting out any offers of friendship from the other side, and ignoring the housing crisis that had got him elected.
Reagan stood tall for America overseas. And while we were unpopular in every country in the world except South Korea and, embarrassingly, the apartheid government of South Africa, we did eventually see the end of the Cold War and the salvation of the planet from the specter of nuclear annihilation.
Today, Reagan commands respect everywhere, even in the former Soviet Union.
Obama offers no explanations for our policies. He winks and nods knowingly at the nations that have hated us.
Of course there is something that Obama has that Reagan didn’t. Obama is the first African-American president and because of that the vast majority of Americans, including the bulk of the press, want him to be successful.
Last week a commentator on the BBC referred to the election of Barack Obama as ending 200 years of American racism. (One wonders when the British will ever end racism in their country.)
So there you have it. There is deep rage over the fact that we gave him the keys to the cupboard, expecting him to feed the hungry orphans, and he emptied it all for his own friends instead. And now suddenly he wants more to take care of those orphans. And yet, like Reagan, he is likeable.
He is calm and he talks nice. And most Americans cannot bear the thought of being called a racist by voting against him on anything.
Watch closely the State of the Union address. Will he dramatically signal that he is willing to turn this ship around and head in a more moderate direction?
Or will he re-engage the enemy, stubbornly holding onto healthcare and calling for another round of trillion dollar spending? Will he call the military home from Afghanistan?
Don’t count on any of it.
If a politician ever needed doubletalk, it is Obama and this State of the Union. He will offer a little bit for everybody. The White House needs time to see a way out.
Obama must finally focus on the purpose of his presidency, bring in all the players, like he should have done in the first place, like he promised he would.
And 2010? Be warned. Don’t count him out. Reagan came back. Historically, an administration that takes a beating in their first midterm election often wins re-election to the White House.
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