When Barack Obama ran for president he committed the cardinal sin for any good liberal by complimenting Ronald Reagan, if left-handedly (pardon the pun). Nothing has angered the left more over the years than the hint that Reagan was even marginally acceptable as a public figure, must less as president.
Little did the left know that Obama would turn into the closest thing to Reagan since Reagan. Well, that’s not exactly true. Obama has not really become Reagan, but he has become the most extreme negative liberal caricature of Reagan.
The liberal narrative paints Reagan as the practitioner of failed trickle-down economics which only helped the wealthy; an irresponsible, aggressive Cold Warrior who pursued a reckless confrontation with the Soviet Union; and a disengaged President who napped while his conservative apparatchiks ran amok.
This liberal portrayal of Reagan is, of course, not true. But it hits the mark for Obama. Consider each of these three criticisms, starting with economics.
Reagan’s supply-side economics was derided as just a giveaway to the wealthy with the hope that prosperity would “trickle down” to the middle class. But there was no “trickle down” to it. The increased supply of capital yielded benefits to the population as a whole.
Obama, on the other hand, has truly perfected trickle down economics. The main instrument for Obama’s economic policy, the Federal Reserve (and make no mistake, the Fed is an adjunct to the president, retaining its independence in name only) has precipitated a massive increase in asset valuations filling the pockets of the wealthiest in America. Inequality has skyrocketed and real wages for the vast majority of Americans have not budged. Unlike under Reagan, investment has lagged as corporations and the wealthy have kept hundreds of billions in cash – essentially rendering the money created by the Fed as dead capital, with very little trickling down.
The statistics tell the tale. Under Reagan median income per capita income rose from $20,959 (2013 dollars) in 1980 to $22,737 in 1985, against a decline under Obama from $29,173 in 2008 to $28,829. (Why median income? Median income represents the middle value for the population as opposed to the mean, which is the average – and is more susceptible to large increases at the very top of incomes)
When it comes to relations with Russia, Reagan and Obama are more similar. It’s just that Obama is practicing Reagan’s policies in reverse. Under Reagan, the United States confronted Russia more vigorously than it had since the days of Stalin and the Korean War. Defense spending was increased. American forces were used to proactively combat and roll back communist intervention in the developing world and, for the first time in the Cold War, America worked to undermine the Soviet colonial governments in eastern Europe.
By the middle of Reagan’s second term, an exhausted Russia was withdrawing from the world, seeking to reduce tensions and was willing to engage in disarmament. The Reagan administration responded favorably to efforts to reduce tensions and strategic arms, but held firm in its support for democracy.
Obama’s policy has been about the same as Reagan, except that the Obama administration reversed the order. Obama started off as conciliatory and even disinterested in Russia and its ambitions. Now in his second term, Obama is faced with an aggressive Russia that has easily turned aside objections to its interference in the Ukraine and other former satellites. Russia has intervened directly to help Syria, again opposing American policy. Whatever nascent democratic institutions and private capitalist ventures are in Russia are being subsumed by a state that looks more and more like the old Soviet Union.
To be fair, there are some significant differences other than the timeline reversal. Namely that Obama has refrained from actively supporting democratic alternatives to authoritarian Russian, limiting his efforts to angry speeches and Twitter hashtags. Additionally, Obama (unlike Reagan) has apparently decided that shooting down a civilian airliner is not that big a deal.
Reagan and Obama mirror each other in managerial style. Neither are detail-oriented, but prefer to delegate. For a job like the president’s, micromanaging is simply not possible. Reagan entrusted his first term to a triumvirate of key staffers, Baker, Meese, and Deaver, to carry out policy according to Reagan’s basic principles. Such a management style can fail with the wrong personnel – witness the unhappy tenure of Donald Regan as Chief of Staff. The late president’s administration had its management ups and downs, but the policy path was clear and coherent.
Obama has taken to the Reagan management style. He seems to be positively hostile to the details of government or legislative negotiation. The White House staff possesses an authority that borders on usurpation with the approval of the President.
However, Obama has actually made some important innovations. For one thing he has made the delegation model more efficient by operating without any discernible principles. He provides a modest economic stimulus by golfing instead of napping. And, the bar for being fired is set quite high. If you botch the only significant policy initiative, you get the axe. But, if you use the IRS as a political weapon or fail to protect American diplomats in a violent nation you keep your job.
Liberal America portrays Ronald Reagan as everything they despise, favoring the rich over the poor, a war-mongering anachronism, and a terrible manager of government. The truth of Reagan is, of course, not that at all. Whether you approve or disapprove of Reagan and his legacy, the facts show that he achieved significant successes in economics and foreign policy. The irony for the left is that the country actually has a president who embodies all their anti-Reagan propaganda. And it turns out he’s one of their own.