Obama on Reagan

I’m with Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein; the Stoller/Digby/McEwan flip-out (which John Edwards is now joining) over Obama’s comments about Reagan is much ado about nothing.

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.

4 thoughts on “Obama on Reagan

  1. I’m going to have to presume you didn’t read my post very carefully, since it ends with: “Yes, Mr. Obama—he changed the trajectory of America. You are correct. And yes—he buried his transformative agenda beneath a veneer of optimism. You are correct. And I don’t care. I know you aren’t praising his policies. I know you aren’t putting him on a pedestal. I know what you were saying, and it still stinks.”
    I understand what Obama was shooting for with his statement, and I still think it was a stupid thing to say. He can angle for his “Obama Republicans” without actually invoking Reagan. It’s a perception issue.
    One of the most frustrating things about his statement to me is that it suggests a worrying failure to understand exactly the extent of the soundbite culture in which we’re living — and that is decidedly not a quality I want in the Democratic candidate in the general election.
    You can’t successfully advance a liberal policy agenda, or any agenda for that matter, if you can’t nagivate the media effectively.

  2. I read your post plenty carefully, Melissa, which is how I saw you quoting approvingly Stoller’s misinterpretation of Obama’s “excesses” comment; your final paragraph was the most sensible of your criticisms, yes, but there were inaccurate ones in your post as well.
    And maybe you’re right. Maybe this is a comment better suited for a general election, where the vast majority of the populace loves Reagan, than for a primary. I disagree, because I think Democratic primary voters are smart enough to see what he was saying, but maybe that’s the case. What I do know is that you, and Stoller, and Digby, didn’t write that. You wrote posts passionately attacking Obama, not ones advising him to be more careful in his media strategy. If the latter is all you really meant, that’s the post you ought to have written. As it stands, a reader could be forgiven for reading your post and assuming that Obama loves him some Reagan, which you know very well isn’t what Obama said at all.

  3. The entire first paragraph makes perfectly clear that I do not think Obama “loves him some Reagan.”
    See: “[I]n the end, ‘I don’t like anything Reagan did, but I like the way he did it’ probably isn’t a statement with enough value to haunt progressives with Ronnie’s specter.” That is quite plainly the opposite of accusing Obama of “loving” Reagan.
    I also did not personally attack Obama, but explained why I thought his statement was foolish and “bound to be misunderstood,” after which I launched into a series of posts where it was misunderstood. I didn’t “quot[e] approvingly Stoller’s misinterpretation of Obama’s ‘excesses’ comment,” but used it as an example of how it played out throughout the blogosphere.
    My post is perfectly clear on all these points.

  4. I also did not personally attack Obama, but explained why I thought his statement was foolish and “bound to be misunderstood,” after which I launched into a series of posts where it wasmisunderstood. I didn’t “quot[e] approvingly Stoller’s misinterpretation of Obama’s ‘excesses’ comment,” but used it as an example of how it played out throughout the blogosphere.
    This isn’t clear at all in your post. First in your list of reasons why you don’t like Obama’s comments is that they’re “stupid”, “infuriating”, and “bound to be misunderstood”. Two through nine are quotes from other bloggers with no comment from you. Nothing establishes your intent to use them as illustrative of the misunderstanding you think was bound to flow from Obama’s comments. Indeed, your inclusion of them, without any context, as reasons why you don’t like the statement indicates that you support them.
    Moreover, responding to a repeated misunderstanding by getting mad at the person being misunderstood, rather than those doing the actual misunderstanding, is very odd indeed.

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