Leading The Village By Their Collective Snouts
Like Digby, I am puzzled - and appalled - by Obama invoking Reagan as some kind of icon of positve change. It's like an aspiring surgeon saying he wants to follow in the bloody footsteps of Jack the Ripper, even if surely he disagrees with some of Saucy Jack's procedures.
But Obama isn't stupid, so he clearly is no Reaganite. Therefore, I am entertaining the possibility that perhaps this is an extremely clever rhetorical strategy on Obama's part, complete with a dog whistle to people like you and me. Surely Obama knows modern rhetoric better than any other American politician and most cultural observers. So I think this may be a plausible explanation of what he's up to:
Obama believes the country isn't in love with conservative ideas per se. But both the voters - but especially the press - loved the way Reagan packaged them.
That is what I think Obama is saying - Republicans win merely on packaging, not on widespread support of their ideas. And he thinks he can win very wide support simply by associating liberal/moderate ideas with an updated version of Reagan's manufactured persona. Going even further with this, Obama is addressing not "the American people" directly, but the people who serve as the mediator between politicians and the people, ie, The Village. This makes sense. After all, The Village are the ones who first have to accept and then spread a politician's manufactured persona. As for Reagan's conservatism, Obama understands that The Village neither knows or cares very much about that, beyond a few short slogans - "death tax, partial-birth abortion," yadda yadda. In other words,
Obama is trying to appropriate the Reagan-Love that The Village feels - and by extension, felt by the voters they influence - for himself.
It doesn't matter that it's all illusion. By co-opting not the legacy of Reagan but simply his image within The Village, Obama makes it difficult for Republicans to paint themselves without a fight as the only heirs of the cheerful, confident, can-do America that Reagan's myth says he was.
Now, we know Reagan was nothing like his image, And Obama knows we know. That's the dog whistle. His Reagan-loving is just bait for a corrupt press corps fixated on images and perceptions. He is playing their own game against them, and he is much smarter than they.
A caveat: Obama truly is a genius at talking in a manner which makes you think he's saying what you hope he's saying. So I could be wrong and a President Obama could be Reagan-lite, God help us. But whatever Obama is up to here, I hope he knows what he's doing. Despite his image, Reagan was a catastrophically bad president, the worst in my lifetime until Bush (and then his son).
Reagan is no one to hold up as an example to Democrats without a damn good reason. That is why I supect Obama has one.