Now that we've all made it through the Ronald Reagan Canonization Week without screaming ourselves hoarse, it's time to move on.
It was actually kinda fun seeing all of those people who call themselves "Reagan Republicans" fail miserably as they attempted to cite his legacy and philosophy. As mentioned here before, Reagan presided over the largest tax increase in American history and, among other things, wanted the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons from the planet. Not exactly Tea Party principles. (And don't even think about the fact that Reagan used the word "amnesty" in connection with immigration reform.)
As the saying goes, a lot of today's Republicans use the Reagan record like it's the Bible: They wave it around a lot in public, but few actually take the time to read it.
Thirty years on, I still haven't warmed to Ronald Reagan. He was a union-buster and a militarist who talked out of one side of his mouth about balancing the budget while running up record deficits at the same time. His attacks on federal regulation led directly to the savings-and-loan crisis, and members of his administration committed several serious federal crimes in the Iran-Contra nonsense.
(Reagan always claimed not to have known anything about Iran-Contra. If that statement was false, he should have been indicted; if it was true, he should have been ashamed. I still bristle over the fact that Reagan's personal charisma helped keep Oliver North out of prison and turned North into a cult hero.)
I will give Reagan credit for his ability to work fairly well with the Democrats. Of course, things were different back then. Unlike now, when the first (and apparently only) definition of "opposition" is "enemy," legislators back then looked at those across the aisle as different and not necessarily evil.
To be sure, working with members of the other party is something that Barack Obama has yet to master (or, perhaps, even seriously attempt). I cringed a little when I saw the composite picture of Reagan and Obama on the cover of Time magazine, but aspiring to become Reaganesque in this limited manner is something that Obama is going to have to work on if he wants to be re-elected.
In politics, as in life, you gotta give something to get something. Obama's going to have to do some significant swapping as he moves forward. And he is moving forward. He had a spectacular December; his response to the Tucson shootings was presidential; and his State of the Union address was OK (although he did wimp out by not touching on gun violence).
He's going to have to give the Republicans something (besides the tax breaks for the rich that they already got). I still think it would be a good idea to put some kind of tort reform on the table in exchange for the GOP backing off its jihad against health-care reform. The Republicans have been slobbering over tort reform for quite some time now, and unless you're John Edwards, who built his fortune on suing doctors, you'd probably admit that there is some merit to the idea.
With an eye toward 2012, Obama has to understand that he's never going to win over the Birthers, the Tea Party knuckleheads and a whole lot of other hard-liners. But he does have the opportunity to win back the fleeting support of many independents who have shown an uncanny ability to flap in the political breeze. And, in the process, maybe he can even rein in some of those on the far left who embarrass us Democrats who realize that government cannot (and should not) be everything to everybody.
The president has already attempted to mend fences with the business community, but I hope he doesn't bend over too far. Many American corporations have benefited greatly from this prolonged recession and are sitting on untold billions—if not trillions—of dollars that could have helped get the economy moving again. The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are the same as people, but if that were true, some of these corporations would have been prompted by conscience or heart to do the right thing by America. That hasn't happened.
Likewise, I would like to say that I hope that the president doesn't take his boot off the throat of the big banks, but we all know that scenario never was the case. In retrospect, his idea of getting tough with Goldman Sachs, et al. was to get within about 300 yards of them, then gently waggle his finger back and forth until they looked up, and then stop waggling, lest they get mad.
He's got a lot of big opportunities ahead of him this year before things settle into an election cycle. Here's hoping he maintains his momentum, chooses his battles carefully and makes the tough calls wisely.
I've got the first battle for him. It's a loss he has endured—one that, with a bit of common sense, he could turn into a victory and use as a springboard for an even bigger win. I'll share it next week.