25 January 2010

Bringing Out His Inner Reagan

Many in the blogosphere are comparing President Obama's first term to that of another president who inherited similar problems. During the first two years of his first term, President Reagan inherited a relatively nasty mess: A recession was in full swing and unemployment climbed up near 10%, resulting in a decline in Mr. Reagan's approval ratings. But there was something about Reagan that kept the American spirit from fully deflating, and that was his uplifting and patriotic attitude.

Many (like me) thought it was all part of an act. But looking back, you have to admit - act or not - it worked. As 1982 gave way to 1983, Americans were in dire straits and the economy looked as if it was going to flat line. Yet Reagan's uplifting attitude was his saving grace. Yes, his job approval ratings suffered a bit, and his party lost 27 seats in House mid-term elections. But he never lost hope and he held the country together at the emotional level.

Today, I think President Obama needs to find that Reagan-esque "everything will be ok/we are America" attitude. I know he can do it, as he showed it off in spades during the 2008 campaign. But in his effort to govern, as he works to extract us from the horrendous disaster that were the Bush years, he has silenced it.

Jon Meachem:
[President Obama has failed] so far in doing what presidents must do, which is to lead the nation emotionally as well as rationally. It would be great if politics were fact-based, but it is not, and it is surely not nuance-based.
As Reagan said in his 1982 State of the Union address:
Let it be said of us that we, too did not fail; that we, too, worked together to bring America through difficult times. Let us so conduct ourselves that two centuries from now, another Congress and another President, meeting in this chamber will speak of us with pride, saying that we met the test and preserved for them in their day the sacred flame of liberty this last, best hope of man on Earth.
That's the stuff Americans want to hear.

Mr. Obama is no Reagan when it comes to this sort of thing. Reagan was a Hollywood actor, Mr. Obama is a constitutional lawyer. But when the current president gives a speech it can wrench the heart. As he and Jon Favreau (his speechwriter) put the finishing touches on the 2010 State of the Union address, they would do well to tap into the emotions of his fellow Americans. For if President Obama can "lead the nation emotionally," he may find himself in a better position come the mid-terms.