Look, I think Reagan was a horrible president. He gutted the welfare state, screwed over AIDS patients, and was a generally contemptible figure.
But Obama isn’t saying that Reagan was a good president. Here’s what he did say:
I don’t want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what’s different are the times. I do think that for example the 1980 was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.
He’s praising not Reagan’s policies, but his political skill, his ability to capture the zeitgeist and turn it into a working coalition to accomplish his policy goals. The reference to “excesses” in the ’60s and ’70s is obviously not an indication that Obama himself believes there were such excesses, just that the kind of people who voted for Reagan in 1980 did. I don’t know about Stoller, Digby, and McEwan, but I want a president who is as successful in advancing a liberal policy agenda as Reagan was in advancing a conservative one.