I'm very grateful to the Los Angeles Times for publishing my op-ed this morning on Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan -- but with that gratitude comes a warning: Don't be fooled by the headline! "Obama, be like Reagan," yes -- but only in studying his mastery at communicating with the American people to then undo the toxic legacy of Reaganism, a warped version of "optimism" that includes denial of science as well as basic accounting principles, while America was transformed into a deep debtor nation with a gulf between rich and poor that echoes the Gilded Age.
The article is based on my book that will be published in less than two weeks: "Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Policys and Haunts Our Future" (Facebook group here).
As I note in the op-ed:
Indeed, at least in domestic policy, Obama clearly intends to be the anti-Reagan. The president has vowed to reverse 1980s-era tax policies that placed a greater burden on the middle class even as rates for the wealthiest were slashed. Reagan was so eager to undo Jimmy Carter's forward-looking policies that he not only deeply cut funding for alternative energy research, he removed the solar panels from the White House roof. Obama, in contrast, has pledged that "science matters again" in a war on climate change and diminishing fossil-fuel supplies.
And yet, in some ways, today's American political landscape of rising unemployment and peril in the Middle East appears surprisingly similar to the way things must have looked to Reagan as he peered out from the west front of the Capitol on Jan. 20, 1981. Our national psyche fears a greatly diminished standing for the United States in the world -- just as we did after Vietnam and stagflation. The debt-increasing, anti-regulatory actions of the Reagan years may have helped to bring on the current mess, but in the route that the Great Communicator took to sell his ideas, Obama could find a surprising road map to a very different kind of transformative presidency.
Here's one of my examples:
Start with a very narrow focus. Reagan made his name in the 1950s and 1960s as a fiery Cold Warrior, yet U.S.-Soviet relations simmered mostly on the back burner during his first year in office. His team lived the phrase, "It's the economy, stupid," before Bill Clinton's aides actually uttered it. Warned that with interest rates over 21% the nation was facing "an economic Dunkirk," Reagan stayed singularly on that message until his sweeping tax changes became law in August 1981. For Obama, a similar single-minded focus on his economic stimulus plan could reap the same kind of political benefits -- but this time for a policy that actually helps the middle class.
Read the whole thing -- the main thrust is how Obama might channel the "Great Communicator" aspects of the Reagan presidency. But I also note that Reagan gets deserved praise for his willingness to talk face-to-face with his adversaries in the Kremlin, and Obama should consider doing the same, in contrast to what the modern neocon marketers of a mythologized Gipper would argue.
It will be interesting to see what kind of reaction the piece gets -- the print headline seems guaranteed to attract mainly conservative readers, who will be surprised (I think) by the ultimate message.