This time about 12 years from now, President Tagg Romney will, with a mixture of exasperation and amusement, begin signing into law an unending series of symbolic measures: the legislation renaming post offices, airports, federal buildings, parks, warships, overseas bases, drone flotillas, and more after the sainted former President Barack Obama.
Obama’s partisans would have made a case for his greatness even if he had only been a one-term president: the symbolism of his race, the era-ending slaying of bin Laden, the sweep of health care legislation, the success in avoiding the abyss of the financial crisis. But there would have been a good case, too, for treating him as an interesting footnote of a president: He cleaned up George W. Bush’s messes, but went too far. The Affordable Care Act was a bit of an overreach, swiftly repealed; the recovery credited to President Romney.
Now we are in Reagan territory, and in the hall of statues in the American imagination, that includes, this century, probably only FDR and maybe JFK and Teddy besides. Obama’s best interpreter, Andrew Sullivan, made that case last fall: “If Obama wins, to put it bluntly, he will become the Democrats’ Reagan. The narrative writes itself. He will emerge as an iconic figure who struggled through a recession and a terrorized world, reshaping the economy within it, passing universal health care, strafing the ranks of al -Qaeda, presiding over a civil-rights revolution, and then enjoying the fruits of the recovery.”
Sullivan predicts, “Reagan status (maybe minus the airport-naming).” Actually, Midway, named for the Pacific battle, is pretty much waiting for a presidential name to be attached.
The soaring rhetoric of inauguration provokes, in many political writers and analysts, the understandable temptation to puncture the rhetorical balloon at its most inflated. For some conservatives, that means noting Obama’s relative unpopularity; for others, it means simply declaring his victories hollow.
But you can also feel the way the country’s imagination is turning, and see Republican pragmatists begin to reposition themselves around it. Matthew Continetti, a talented conservative reporter-turned-polemicist, didn’t hide his distaste about echoing Sullivan in the Free Beacon last week.
“We ought to face the unpleasant fact that Obama will be remembered as a president of achievement and consequence,” he wrote. “It does not matter if, like I do, you think those achievements are horrible and that their consequences will be worse. Obama’s reversal of the Reagan revolution is here.”
Continetti urged Republicans to reconcile themselves to this reality:
“The generation of conservatives and Republicans who return one day to power will be forced to reckon with the consequences of the Obama revolution, just as a generation of defeated liberals were forced to confront and in some cases accept the revolution of Ronald Reagan.”
Presidential greatness in the terms of American politics isn’t synonymous with universal acceptance. It has to do with a pragmatic decision by party leaders and publicists — to the great frustration of their historians and ideologues — to soften and embrace the legacy of a hated enemy. So Franklin Roosevelt becomes, to Republicans who saw him as a tyrant, a strong leader in war who struggled against disability and, perhaps, saved capitalism to fight another day. Reagan, to the Democrats who loathed him (I remember images of him with red eyes and horns plastered all over New York’s Upper West Side when I was growing up), becomes a corrective to the party’s weakness and its overreach, a kind of teachable moment and a sweet, grandfatherly figure.
These new interpretations of once divisive figures produce understandable hysteria among people in both parties who are concerned with consistency and memory. And there remain pockets of resistance: The anti-government politics of the Koch brothers has its roots in the opposition to the warmongering tyrant Roosevelt. The taste of the racially charged 1980s battles over welfare lingers in the mouths of many a Democratic activist; many others grew up hating him for his support for the Contras.
But at some point it stops making political sense to fight those old fights, and begins making political sense to coopt and soften an old enemy. In the 2008 campaign, Obama scandalized Democrats with warm words for Reagan, particularly surprising from a man who wasn’t from his party’s New Democratic wing but had come up on a left shaped by hatred of the Republican icon.
“I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not,” Obama said. “He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. They felt like with all the excesses of the ’60s and the ’70s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think he tapped into what people were already feeling. Which is we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”
This drew a furious rejoinder from New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who accused Obama, accurately but perhaps missing the point, of rewriting history.
That kind of rewriting is exactly how parties reckon with defeat. Liberal Democrats had once sought to preserve Roosevelt as a hero of big government. Now Republicans try, equally in vain (and with equal legitimacy) to preserve Reagan solely as a hero of conservatism. By the 2012 primaries, Democrats made an effective mockery of that, leaping on suggestions that the party had drifted far to Reagan’s right and in a way claiming Reagan as an icon of the center.
The early attempts to name things, like a Maryland school, after Barack Obama came across as a bit cultish and awkwardly premature, the way his Nobel Prize had been. As long as the president can avoid a Nixonian exit, Obama’s friends and enemies had better brace themselves for a new round.
“No memorial in your county?” asks Grover Norquist’s Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, which is well on its way to a goal of more than 3,000 Reagan airports, highways, and other increasingly uncontroversial memorials. That’s where this president is headed. Soon enough, liberal Democrats who saw him as the president of drones and compromises will have to bite their tongues or be forced to the grumbling margins; and soon enough, Republicans will be accusing Democratic politicians of straying from Obama’s fondly remembered centrism.
Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee introduced Obama with a cleverly layered decision to quote from Roots author and Malcolm X autobiography co-author Alex Haley. And with Haley’s motto, he offered fellow Republicans a road map for a process of memory and forgetting that will probably wait another four years to begin.
“Find the good,” Alexander advised, “and praise it.”
Please validate your account to contribute content.
Preview Your Response
- ricb53 thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is Fail
Here is all you need to know about a “Great” President:
A great President compromises his ideas and beliefs with the
ideas and beliefs of the “other” factions in the government
for the good of his country and his people and I mean all of the
people of our country.A President who does not compromise,FAILS
at leadership and divides the country,as Obama has done.
- Anne Hiro thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is Win
- IndigosMuse thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is LOL
- Kacy F thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is Fail
- monkeyincognito thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is Fail
- MarHar Obama Becomes A "Great" President
- KevOnDaNet thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is Fail
- chuyb Obama Becomes A "Great" President and thinks it’s Win
- taiyujohnr thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is Trashy
- MarioLicato Obama Becomes A "Great" President
- getpocket.com readers just made Obama Becomes A "Great" President hotter
- fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com readers just made Obama Becomes A "Great" President hotter
- Vanessa F. added Take On Me to the mix about 3 months ago
- Hedgetopia thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is Fail & Ew
- guardian.co.uk readers just made Obama Becomes A "Great" President hotter
- anna winter thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is WTF & Fail
- washingtonpost.com readers just made Obama Becomes A "Great" President hotter
- John P. Obama Becomes A "Great" President and thinks it’s WTF & Fail
- Michael Wekall thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is Fail
You guys we can’t judge a great president based on economic growth anymore. We’ve used all the cheap resources, maxed out credit, outsourced all the good jobs and import everything from everywhere else while gas only goes up. The only ways left to get 80s-era growth are fracking, deepwater drilling, a new useless war, continued banking deregulation for magical finance bubble tricks, rebuilding from superstorms instead of preventing them, transferring invaluable social programs into corporate welfare, more lobbying for megajails, blank-check military waste, or repealing EPA laws for clean air and water. All of which are terrible mostly irreversible and wasteful things that would still only boost growth for a while. Slow to no growth is the new normal for so many reasons, and that should only be bad news to economists. And in my opinion Obama or any future president will only truly become great president once he confronts economists, openly addresses the fundamental flaws in perpetual-growth economics and make a case for GDP vs quality of life.
I would say the best way to improve growth would be to go back to what has driven growth in America in the past and throughout history. That is, to get government out of private industry, stop government from protecting intellectual property to the point where dinosaur corporations sue innovative startups out of existence, and stop taxing the s**t out of everybody. Government should protect the individual from government, corporations, and other individuals, should invest in infrastructure (to help develop new cheap resources), and that is it. If the federal government stopped doing all of the stuff it does that can be done as well or better by private groups or local government (and that is unconstitutional to begin with), then the federal government would have enough money to protect individuals and invest in infrastructure without having to tax the s**t out of everyone.
- laladipsy Obama Becomes A "Great" President
- m.digg.com readers just made Obama Becomes A "Great" President hotter
- Donna Dickens Obama Becomes A "Great" President
- Benjamin Sapiens Obama Becomes A "Great" President and thinks it’s Win
- Kristi Obama Becomes A "Great" President and thinks it’s Win
- Quege Obama Becomes A "Great" President
- katiep5 thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is WTF
- oliverisaacw thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is Geeky
- Leron V Obama Becomes A "Great" President and thinks it’s Win
- Sean Curry Obama Becomes A "Great" President and thinks it’s Win
- littlefriend420 thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is Fail, LOL & Win
- MsSkeet Obama Becomes A "Great" President
- ekhymw thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is Win
- sukiet thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is LOL
- popurls.com readers just made Obama Becomes A "Great" President hotter
- reddit.com readers just made Obama Becomes A "Great" President hotter
- memeorandum.com readers just made Obama Becomes A "Great" President hotter
- sutharkr Obama Becomes A "Great" President
- Jne90 thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is Ew & Fail
- thedailybeast.com readers just made Obama Becomes A "Great" President hotter
- Obama Becomes A "Great" President is starting to get hot on Facebook Share It
- realclearpolitics.com readers just made Obama Becomes A "Great" President hotter
- huffingtonpost.com readers just made Obama Becomes A "Great" President hotter
- dman2kn1 thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is Fail
- Matt Saccaro Obama Becomes A "Great" President
- Kevin6497 Obama Becomes A "Great" President
Yeah, this may or may not be true. By the time of Reagan’s second inaugural, the economy was back in overdrive (7.2% annual growth). This time, it’s not (2.7%). Not arguing that Obama hasn’t done a lot legislatively and that he’ll certainly be remembered as a president ‘of consequence’. But, for Obama’s policies to ‘stick’ in a way that Reagan’s did—for America to truly move left in a way he’d like (especially economically)—I’d argue he has to leave office with a similarly recovered and booming America. That’s what ultimately convinces people that you were right and future politicians should follow suit. Obama simply hasn’t done that yet.
Somehow I don’t remember Democrats in Reagan’s Congress agreeing they would vote against any and everything he proposed with the goal of making sure he failed and would not be re-elected. Certainly there were no corporate funded massive protests within 3 months of his election, like the Koch funded Freedom works stirring up the tea Party on Tax day of 2009.
- digg.com readers just made Obama Becomes A "Great" President hotter
- Obama Becomes A "Great" President is starting to get hot on Twitter Tweet It
- Kevin Tang Obama Becomes A "Great" President
- shaigetzel thinks Obama Becomes A "Great" President is Fail
- Alanna Okun Obama Becomes A "Great" President
- Bryant T. Obama Becomes A "Great" President
- dirkj Obama Becomes A "Great" President
- Jack Shepherd Obama Becomes A "Great" Pre...