Wednesday, October 24, 2012

He's No Reagan

Rich Lowry points out the major problem for the cult of Obama -- not everyone is as inspired by him as the people who fervently want to believe, evidence to the contrary, that he's something special...
When his supporters arrive at an event, they expect to be entertained and dazzled. For them, he is the most interesting president in the world. He exists in a bubble of adoration almost as impenetrable as the security bubble created by the Secret Service.

This is why he can show up for the most important event of his reelection campaign, the first debate, and expect his usual talking points to be considered devastatingly dispositive. The absence of cries of “We love you!” must have been disorienting. They say that a sitting president usually loses the first debate, since he isn’t used to getting challenged. For Obama, this isn’t just a function just of the presidency, but of his existence.

All of his life he has been around people prepared to be impressed by him. President Obama once told a journalist that he believes his own bull***t. It has been his privilege to be surrounded by people who want to believe it, too.

Outside this cocoon, he has shown no great ability to persuade skeptical audiences. His make-or-break speeches on policy issues during his first term usually fizzled. He has failed to convince recalcitrant congressmen to come around on difficult legislation, or to forge relationships with them so that they’ll do him favors when the chips are down. He’s a glittering object to be admired from afar.
This is the problem with making Gods out of men -- they're mortal, so they're bound not to live up to expectations. Which means that their supporters can take the approach of acolytes and doubledown with dumb descriptions like he is "the light" and "the future", or face reality. Reality is a bitch, especially in the face of crushing unemployment, spiraling debt, a lackluster recovery, and a lack of a concrete second-term agenda, so it's not surprising that liberals are choosing Door #1.

One related point comes to mind.  Plenty of pundits have referred to Obama in the context of being a the liberal version of Ronald Reagan, even prior to his election, but they miss a few important points that serve to completely invalidate the comparisons.

Reagan brought to office a wealth of experience as a chief executive, as well as a substantially longer track record on the public stage.  That experience meant Reagan was prepared for the job of President, rather than being anointed as magically ready by an adoring media.

Reagan sold his policies, even if they polled as initially unpopular, and he figured out how to get the other side to agree to the passage of his legislative priorities.  This is again a function of experience, but it also probably stems from Reagan's early-life experience as a member of the opposite party.  Reagan understood the arguments of the other side and how to rebut them; he also understood how to compromise on policy without losing the principle.  By contrast, Obama doesn't know how to compromise and can't cut a deal to save his own Presidency, mostly because he's lived in a cloistered cocoon of individuals who worship him and can't understand why other people don't do so. 

This is a related point of difference between Reagan and Obama.  Reagan understood that his opposition was largely made up of principled people with a different point of view; Obama speaks as if he understands this ("Governor Romney has a different point of view"), but he doesn't understand the motivations, and he can't credibly engage them in the process of give and take as a result.  When you spend most of your time around people who agree with you, it's hard to conceive why someone who's reasonable would try to disagree with you.  Obama spent most of his life in environments (Hawaii, Columbia, Chicago, Harvard Law) that are to the left politically of the American mainstream.  In those environments, the Republicans one encounters would be considered Democrats in many other parts of the country, while conservatives are a distinct minority.  By contrast, Reagan emerged from a state that was moderate at best, and honed his arguments against liberals all the time. 

It's probably even harder for Obama today to encounter conservative points of view if he doesn't try, as popular culture is awash in liberal ideology. So Obama, for all his rhetorical skills, wasn't ready to be challenged at that first debate, because he is too used to debating a strawman version of conservative ideology. 

There is one final difference between Obama and Reagan.  Reagan was elected to a second term in a landslide.  Obama may yet win re-election, but it will certainly be by a much smaller margin thatn his 2008 victory... and it may not happen at all.

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