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Obama and Reagan, sitting in a tree, etc.

I saw this picture staring at me from the newsstand the other day:

TimeObamaReagan.jpg

Here’s the accompanying article, by Michael Scherer and Michael Duffy, which echoes some of the points I made a few months ago, following the midterm election:

Why didn’t Obama do a better job of leveling with the American people? In his first months in office, why didn’t he anticipate the example of the incoming British government and warn people of economic blood, sweat, and tears? Why did his economic team release overly-optimistic graphs such as shown here? Wouldn’t it have been better to have set low expectations and then exceed them, rather than the reverse?

I don’t know, but here’s my theory. When Obama came into office, I imagine one of his major goals was to avoid repeating the experiences of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter in their first two years.

Clinton, you may recall, was elected with less then 50% of the vote, was never given the respect of a “mandate” by congressional Republicans, wasted political capital on peripheral issues such as gays in the military, spent much of his first two years on centrist, “responsible” politics (budgetary reform and NAFTA) which didn’t thrill his base, and then got rewarded with a smackdown on heath care and a Republican takeover of Congress. Clinton may have personally weathered the storm but he never had a chance to implement the liberal program.

Carter, of course, was the original Gloomy Gus, and his term saw the resurgence of the conservative movement in this country, with big tax revolts in 1978 and the Reagan landslide two years after that. It wasn’t all economics, of course: there were also the Russians, Iran, and Jerry Falwell pitching in.

Following Plan Reagan

From a political (but not a policy) perspective, my impression was that Obama’s model was not Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter but Ronald Reagan. Like Obama in 2008, Reagan came into office in 1980 in a bad economy and inheriting a discredited foreign policy. The economy got steadily worse in the next two years, the opposition party gained seats in the midterm election, but Reagan weathered the storm and came out better than ever.

If the goal was to imitate Reagan, what might Obama have done?

– Stick with the optimism and leave the gloom-and-doom to the other party. Check.
– Stand fast in the face of a recession. Take the hit in the midterms with the goal of bouncing back in year 4. Check.
– Keep ideological purity. Maintain a contrast with the opposition party and pass whatever you can in Congress. Check.

The Democrats got hit harder in 2010 than the Republicans in 1982, but the Democrats had further to fall. Obama and his party in Congress can still hope to bounce back in two years.

Also recall that Reagan, like Roosevelt, was a statistician.

2 Comments

  1. kjetil b halvorsen says:

    I like this idea: "As with Reagan, not an appeal to selfishness but rather an appeal to inference. "

    But as always with inference, you cannot get it right all the time! The germans, for a (very) few years after 1933, they got it better … and so they went with Hitler.

  2. statc says:

    I've been following Bill Clinton and Obama for a very long time.

    I think Obama is similar to Clinton, their charisma have gotten them lots of votes(not saying other presidents don't have charisma).

    Both of them supported campaigned for "Change". Supporting "don't ask don't tell", had low turnouts in midterm election, just to name a few.