#84 Obama Channels Reagan

On January 31, 2014

Hello Everyone,

 It has been quite awhile since I’ve been in touch.  Didn’t have a clear view on things.  Now, it is starting to get clearer.

 After President Obama’s State of the Union address, I’m feeling pretty good. 

Contrary to my past entreaties to read important speeches instead of just listening to them, I urge you to listen to this one, if you haven’t already.  

In reacting to it, my favorite intellectual pundit and fellow UChicago trustee David Brooks, likened President Obama’s approach to that of President Clinton.   

But, I was more reminded of President Reagan last night.  Optimistic, positive, and grip-breaking. 

I voted for candidate Reagan in 1980 because I thought the country needed a strong dose of optimism to lift it out of nearly two decades of turmoil (see Obamagram #21.)

As a layman, I associate President Reagan with two major accomplishments, 1) helping the country regain its self-confidence, buoyed by his deep sense of optimism, and 2) breaking the grip of hyper-inflation, setting off the longest economic expansion and bull market in decades.  Many also give him credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it couldn’t have been that simple.  And, breaking inflation was mostly Fed Chairman Paul Volcker’s doing.  So, when I think of President Reagan, I primarily think of the upbeat tone he set. 

I am now starting to think that President Obama is channeling President Reagan.  “Likeability” and “positivity” are powerful attributes for any president.  They have long been some of President Obama’s greatest strengths. “Yes we can.”  With all of his travails in 2013, his likability has slipped.  My guess is that he’s consciously trying to get it back. 

It is also his nature.  He isn’t mean-spirited, small-minded, vindictive, or confrontational. 

However, like President Reagan’s need to break the grip of high inflation, President Obama had to break the grip of a “just say no” oppositional party beholden to both an individual and a renegade faction.  In so doing, his approval ratings suffered (other factors also contributed, of course.) Contrary to his nature, he confronted Grover Norquist and broke his insidious no-new-taxes grip on the Republicans (#78).  And, then in a wonderfully ironic twist, the President “just said no” and let the Tea Party shut the government down. In the process, he has helped sensible Republicans, including the Speaker, begin to take their party back.  

Now, the President can return to being himself.  Make-no-sudden-moves, non-confrontational, looking-for-compromise Obama. 

I like that.  And, the country will, too. 

In our obsession with polls, I will also remind all of us that President Reagan, long the Republican’s icon, at times had lower approval ratings than President Obama has ever had.  President Reagan’s lowest rating was 35% in January 1983.  President Obama’s rating has never dipped that low and is currently seven points higher than that. 

And, finally, I will go out on a long limb with a prediction.  A decade from now, I believe that President Obama will also be primarily remembered for two accomplishments, 1) an entrenched and staunchly-defended “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (don’t forget the enormous power of those first two words, think “pre-existing conditions”), and 2) major immigration reform.  His Reaganesque optimism and equanimity will also be remembered as helping us to recover from a major financial crisis – with a big assist from his own Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke.   

Please, as always, pass it on.  And, remember that previous Obamagrams are stored on www.obamagrams.com   




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