Friday, February 29, 2008

Reagan and Obama, two of a kind

So I was driving home the other day when a woman called Sean Hannity to tell him that she had just voted for Obama since her vote wouldn't be needed for McCain and she was sure that it would be better to have Obama in office over Clinton. But oh no! She had heard after she voted that R's were supposed to vote for Clinton because she'd be easier to beat in the fall than Obama. What did Sean think?

Sean heard her confession and then pronounced only blessings on her head for voting her heart (LOL - I thought that's what it's called when we vote for the candidate we want to WIN, not the candidate we hope will take out someone else).

Now absolved, she stumbled over herself to let Sean know that really, she's a lifelong Republican; her first vote: Reagan. Sean warmly chimed in, "Me too! Though I'm sure you're younger, skinnier and prettier."

She added, "My political ideals weren't formed back then. I voted for Reagan because it just felt right. There was excitement in the air. We knew that we could bring about a big change."

Sean replied, "It was an exciting time, wasn't it? I remember that feeling then too."

Meanwhile, my car veered off the road as I contemplated the unwitting similarities to the sense of exuberance and excitement Obama is generating. Neither Sean nor the caller had understood their enthusiasm for Reagan; they just knew it was an exciting time to vote - that somehow Reagan had reached across the TV screens and had cast a vision young people could embrace and risk their first votes on.

E. J. Dionne writes about the similarities between Obama and Reagan here.
Reagan's foes wrote him off as a right-wing former actor who amiably spouted conservative bromides and must have been engaged in some sort of Hollywood flimflam.

Like Reagan's enemies, Obama's opponents concede that he gives a great speech. Indeed, both Obama and Reagan came to wide attention because of a single oration that offered hope in the midst of a losing campaign -- Obama's 2004 keynote to the Democratic National Convention and Reagan's 1964 "A Time for Choosing" address delivered on behalf of Barry Goldwater. But surely speeches aren't enough, are they?

Yes, Obama gets his crowds swooning. So did Reagan. It's laughable to hear conservatives talk darkly about a "cult of personality" around Obama. The Reaganites, after all, have lobbied to name every airport, school, library, road, bridge, government building and lamppost after the Gipper. When it comes to personality cults, the right wing knows what it's talking about.


The frustration of the Clinton campaign is understandable. Like George H.W. Bush, whom Reagan defeated for the presidential nomination in 1980, Hillary Clinton has worked very hard, knows government from the inside out and would clearly provide the country with a safe set of hands. The Clintonites argue, fairly, that there is no way to know if Obama can live up to The Promise of Obama.

But the same was true of Ronald Reagan. In that 1980 speech, Reagan quoted a certain Democratic president who "told the generation of the Great Depression that it had a 'rendezvous with destiny.' I believe that this generation of Americans today has a rendezvous with destiny."

Obama is being propelled by the same sense of historical opportunity, and that is why it will be hard to derail him.


brian said...

I've got to say the comparison between Obama and Reagan makes me take pause when it comes to supporting Obama. The last video by made me uncomfortable, too. The first one (Yes We Can) gave me goosebumps and actually prompted me to go to Obama's site and join the army. But, the second one borders on Messianic worship. The chant of "Obama" in it disturbs me. I hope this semi-worship of Obama doesn't backfire on him.


julieunplugged said...

I don't know that other video, so I guess I'm glad I don't!

What struck me here had to do with how each side criticizes the other when inspiration follows the opposing camps candidate, yet welcomes it when their candidate creates it.

RedGypsie said...

I'm wondering if you are going to weigh in on the ad Clinton just ran with scare tactics meant to play on the fears of parents? O's response was a pretty good methinks.

Republicans For Obama!! :-)(my sticker should come today and I'm putting it on my car right away!)

brian said...

Yeah, Julie, nothing wrong with enthusiasm and inspiration. But, the comparison to Reagan made me take pause, which is also not a bad thing.

I was on the other side of that Reagan wave. So, I guess I remember it a lot differently than people who were swept up in it.

Kansas Bob said...

Swept up in the Reagan wave.. great comment Brian and a fairly accurate desription of those early years.

I wonder how many corporate boards are affected by such waves when they are looking for a new chief executive?

I am trying to stay out of the waves these days.. don't have a political surf board to ride those waves.. hoping to really discern the best chief executive.. maybe I'll have a clue by November :)

julieunplugged said...

I get that. I started on the other side of it (Carter). But I did get swept into it by the second term.

And it is good to pause. I feel like I am no longer able to whole-heartedly believe anyone or anything any more. I can support with passion what I can support, but it's never without some wariness and also some awareness that that ideal can be undermined by actions, history or discovery.

Dave said...

I read that column when it first came out a few days ago too and had some mixed feelings about it. I can see the similarities between Reagan and Obama as larger-than-normal political personalities (they both serve as broad canvases onto which their respective admirers can project their ideals and aspirations.) And Dionne made effective comparisons on how both were trivialized as lacking substance by their rivals and detractors. But I would hope that Obama goes on to be a much better president than Reagan was! And I hope that the enthusiasm he would generate, especially if he goes on to become a two-term agenda setting "definer of an era" (yes, I'm getting way ahead of myself here!) would be more tolerable to those who don't share it than the "Reagan-worship" that one still sees manifest from time to time. I definitely want to maintain my critical distance in all this, willing to point out mistakes, articulate disagreements and keep my assessment of the man's "greatness" within realistic boundaries. In other words, spare those around me from having to endure the sentimental sap that I've heard from so many Reagan-admirers in my life and in the media.

This is a tough point in the process though for an Obama supporter. Clinton is going pretty far (not quite all-out, but close enough) to discredit him prior to Tuesday's vote, and of course McCain and now even Bush are starting to whack away. It would be nice to see a 55-60% consensus emerge united behind Obama but of course politics is seldom very nice.

It's gonna be a close, hard-fought race right up until Tuesday afternoon! Then we get to see what happens from there. I imagine the excitement and tension must be getting pretty thick down there in Ohio, hey Julie?

julieunplugged said...

Pretty intense in Ohio, that's for sure. :)

As far as the comparison goes... I think Reagan mostly delivered for his believers. Those who didn't like what he dished up, didn't like him then either.

Obama may be similar. It's perfectly possible that he will satisfy the enthusiasts and dismay the Obama-cynics.