Oh, Ronald Reagan. You're 100 years old and dead, and yet you continue to inform the political landscape in ways great and small. Have you appointed a spiritual successor, Mr. Reagan? Sarah Palin, maybe? Kinda, sorta? No? What about this Barack Obama guy, then?
Time's Michael Scherer and Michael Duffy make that case in an essay this week. Though Obama is an "Ivy League lawyer from Hawaii who seeks larger federal investments, a bigger social safety net and new regulations for Wall Street and Big Oil"--and thus not the likeliest protege of government-shrinking, middle-America-loving Reagan--Scherer and Duffy argue that Obama takes as much inspiration from the Gipper as from any of the other 41 guys who have held their job.
"There is no mistaking Obama's increasing reliance on his predecessor's career as a helpful template for his own," the authors write. "Both men entered office in wave elections in which the political center made a historic shift. Both faced deep economic downturns with spiking unemployment in their first term. Both relied heavily on the power of oratory." The two men dovetail in terms of temperament, as well: they're "both loners more than backslappers, both heavily reliant on their spouses, both more trusting of their instincts than their advisers."
Yes, Obama's politics are perpendicular to Reagan's, more often than not. And yes, Obama seems to have cast himself as Reagan's opposite in some fundamental ways. "No one was unclear about Reagan's guiding philosophy," Scherer and Duffy write. "'Government is the problem,' he declared on his Inauguration Day, and by then he had been saying it for nearly 20 years. Obama's is more complex. He wants to reset the public's attitude toward government, reverse 30 years of skepticism and mistrust and usher in a new era in which government solutions are again seen as part of the answer to the nation's ills."
Still, the authors point to a welter of evidence in support of what they call "Obama's bromance with Reagan." There was the moving editorial Obama penned in USA Today on the occasion of Reagan's 100th birthday. There was the Lou Cannon biography of the former president that Obama read over Christmas break, according to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. And then there's the passage in The Audacity of Hope where Obama puts a finger on Reagan's greatest speaking strength: "Reagan spoke to America's longing for order, our need to believe that we are not simply subject to blind, impersonal forces but that we can shape our individual and collective destinies."
Fair enough, then. It seems Reagan will be hovering for a while yet over American politics. Like Miley Cyrus.