Among the obstacles facing Barack Obama in his quest for re-election, writes Jonah Goldberg, is his dismal record on the economy. It's an economic record that has Obama trying to pretend he's Ronald Reagan.
And last year, Time magazine featured a cover story, “Why Obama [Hearts] Reagan,” which in Time’s words gave the true story behind “Obama’s Reagan Bromance.”
There were two key elements to Obama’s man-crush. The first was the simple hope that history — or at least the business cycle — would repeat itself.
The White House’s plan was to run for reelection in 2012 with a soaring economy at its back. After an absolutely bruising recession (that was in some ways worse than the one Obama inherited), Reagan got to ride a surging economy to reelection.
Soaring economy? So much for the first key element of Obama's infatuation with the Gipper. How about number two?
The other reason the White House admired the Reagan White House? According to Time: “Both relied heavily on the power of oratory.” Then– press secretary Robert Gibbs added, “Our hope is the story ends the same way.”
And there’s the problem for Obama. He’s sticking to his rhetorical guns on the assumption that he’s the great orator his fans have always claimed.
Actually there are two problems. Number one: Obama is not really a great orator, though he reads a teleprompter pretty well. Get him off script and he says the dumbest things. Just ask the Cambridge Police.
But there is a bigger problem for Obama. According to Goldberg, presidential oratory rarely sways the public anyway.
Asking whether Obama is as good a communicator as Reagan is like comparing boxers from different generations; there’s plenty of evidence to form opinions but no way to settle the matter.
But what must be very troubling for Obama is the mounting evidence that presidential persuasion is vastly overrated. Political scientist Brendan Nyhan has noted that Reagan’s rhetoric had little effect on the polls or his media coverage. Liberal Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein, surveying the academic literature in a recent issue of the New Yorker, found that there’s little evidence that any president has really moved the country with his rhetoric.
That would seem to argue that a president's apparent powers of persuasion really indicate how closely his ideas match up with public opinion rather than how effectively he reads his teleprompter.
Ronald Reagan was instinctively in tune with the American people. He was your middle American guy living the dream. And because of who he was, he understood what made sense to people and what didn't. The media, caught completely by surprise, was no match for Reagan as he was able to present his case with a logic that made sense to average Americans, regardless of the media slant.
Thirty-two years later media contrived issues, of the type that Ronald Reagan cut through like a hot knife through butter, are the mainstay of Obama's campaign. By way of example we have the Catholic Church rejection of Obama's mandate to provide free birth control pills as an insurance benefit. Obama and his media allies see, not an assault on religious freedom, but a "war on women." Naturally it's a Republican war on women, since Republicans take constitutional guarantees, like freedom of worship, more seriously than Democrats.
Middle Americans get it, and no amount of teleprompter oratory is going to convince them they don't. And especially not now, after three-plus years of Obama. Americans understand that the American dream is about opportunity. Barack Obama's American dream is all about the satisfaction of ancient grievances. This is going to be a big problem for Obama.