Frank Rich in the NYT today, on what, good and bad, Obama should learn from Reagan.
“The present-day radicals donning Reagan drag, led by Sarah Palin, seem not to know, as (biographer Lou) Cannon writes, that their hero lurched “from excessive tax cuts to corrective tax increases disguised as tax reform” and “submitted eight unbalanced budgets to Congress in succession.” Reagan made no promise whatsoever of a balanced budget in the document that codified Reaganomics, his White House’s 281-page message to Congress in February 1981. The historian Gil Troy has calculated that spending on entitlement programs more than doubled on Reagan’s watch. America slid into debtor-nation status, and Americans “went from owing 16 cents for every dollar in national income in 1981” to owing 44 cents per dollar in 1988.
“It’s also likely that Reagan would have drifted off — like most Americans — during the pretentious recitation of the Constitution in the House. He prided himself on serving as a true citizen-politician and, as Cannon writes, saw no problem in being “completely ignorant of even civics-book information about how bills were passed.”
“What Reagan did know was how to deliver a message, even if that message belied his policies or actions or the facts. While perhaps no politician can ever duplicate Reagan’s brand of sunny and homespun (if Hollywood-honed) geniality, Obama has his own radiance when he wants to turn it on — a quality Reagan opponents like Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale lacked and that is beyond the imagination of frothing-at-the-mouth Tea Partiers. But Obama is less adept at keeping his messages simple, consistent and crystal-clear.
“That pitch-perfect showmanship, timing and salesmanship (his father was a salesman) were in Reagan’s résumé and bones. Obama doesn’t have that training, but he was a great communicator when it came to selling his own story in the campaign, heaven knows. He has rarely rekindled that touch in the White House — even during his December run of good fortune. His recent Congressional victories should not obscure the reality that, the tax-cut deal notwithstanding, he still disappeared at key moments when he should have led the charge.”