Friday, January 18, 2008

Barack, I knew Ronald Reagan ... and you're no Ronald Reagan

greater than or equal?
Can you spell “distortion”?

Everywhere I turn the past few days I come across this conveniently edited video where Obama acknowledges that Ronald Reagan changed the direction of the country.

"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"

That's the quote that has them all howling. Barack is "betraying the progressive cause" for having said this. "This is an offense to Democrats everywhere!" Predictably the rival campaigns have been all over this one like a bad smell.

Here’s a quote from the same interview moments later.

“I think Kennedy, 20 years earlier, moved the country in a fundamentally different direction. So I think a lot of it has to do with the times. I think we are in one of those fundamentally different times right now were people think that things, the way they are going, just aren’t working.”

It’s amazing what a little editing can do.

A candidate can be discussing how a political campaign can come to be representative of ideas and ideals and offer a profound shift, different candidates …different ideals. He can be discussing how the political culture and climate is calling for a certain kind of response —and the next minute, with a little prudent editing …POOF: “So Obama is a closet Reaganite! Gee whiz! Isn’t that a bad thing to say in the middle of the Democratic primary season?”

This is what they call D-I-S-T-O-R-T-I-O-N

Though I’m not an insider with the campaign, I will tell you what I THINK Obama was trying to get across. The country is at a place of crucial decision right now. We are at the exhausted end of an era (hopefully) and where we go next is a central question. The two examples he gave, and equated, might be something of a clue. Kennedy came along after eight years of Ike and Nixon and Cold War anxiety. Obviously there was more of that anxiety to come, but Kennedy reinvigorated the nation with a sense of purpose and mission.

Reagan came along and found the nation in a similarly exhausted and anxious place. If you’ll recall the incumbent president described our condition as a “malaise”. Like his methods or not (and I most certainly don’t) Reagan sold the country on a renewed sense of itself as “freedom’s great shining light on a hill” or some other such rhetoric. That was the mirror, what happened in the smoke is another story.

The country did undergo a profound change, not necessarily for the better on many counts, but it changed. I think the common theme Obama was trying to describe was that when the country hits these points of exhausted anxiety and "malaise," we like to harken back to core ideals and reach for larger paradigmatic change.

Ronald Reagan sold a bit more than he delivered in my estimation. There was promise Kennedy never got to deliver. With Obama, just maybe there’s hope.

Here's a link to the whole interview. Judge for yourself.


Tom Smith said...

I agree, Tom. I am not yet convinced on a specific candidate, but I am growing more confident in the choice we will have this time, whomever is the ultimate Democratic nominee. But I comment to juxtapose your description of "exhausted anxiety and malaise" (which discourages me from time to time too) with another view I am fortunate to have close by. As a school teacher, I am seeing a growing sense of empowerment among children and young adults. This, more than anything, gives me hope. For example, here and here are examples of our young kids showing us how they are making a difference and taking some control. Infectious enthusiasm! Behind the malaise is a generation beginning to rise up. To them, add the increasing numbers of first-time voters and new citizens rushing to the polls and change is at hand. So far, primary participation is at an all time high. All we need is a compass. That is where Barack, Hilary and/or John come in. The timing is right!

- Tom

David said...

It's too bad there are no drugs, like steroids for athletes, that would enhance the performances of the Democratic candidates. 'Election-speak' bores. What is 'the change' that is promised? It's not health insurance; it's not middle-class economics; it's not about bringing our soldiers home. It should be about a fundamental shift in the behavior of the good old USA.

For me, it's about a shift toward reaching out peacefully to help; a shift toward a book-reading society instead of a game-playing society; a shift toward an every-man society instead of a star-centered society; a shift toward a clean-it-up society instead of make-more-crap society; a shift toward a give-up-your-seat society, a violence-free society... Have you heard that from the candidates? Have you heard mention of the future of the US in terms of its place in the world society, the socialization of our children (not just the education of them).

It is no wonder that there is a religious right. Too bad that there is not a sufficiently strong, zealous, liberal left, way, way left.

Tom Driscoll, Profiled! said...


I agree on one level and disagree on another.

Actually I've heard Obama speak a couple of times and he has spoken very directly to the very problems you describe. Frankly, I think he does represent a certain hope of retooling the American mindset and setting us more on a direction of peacable conduct.

But I think the key isn't in what politicians we elect. I rather like the links Tom Smith sent along in his comment. Check them out.

The best way to effect the conduct of society when we are troubled by it is to start with a realization of our part in it. You won't find change with your hands in your pockets —not the kind we're talking about anyway.