Friday, Feb. 04, 2011

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan once said the 11th commandment was "thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican." But if that were to be an amendment to the American political covenant, then the very first commandment would have to be, "thou shalt not speak ill of Ronald Reagan." That the Gipper holds a special place in America's political universe has been made plain with rhetoric from across the aisle. In just one debate in the 2008 Republican primaries, which took place 20 years after Reagan left office, the candidates evoked his name 53 times. The Reagan-love became so pronounced it prompted his daughter, Patti Davis, never a great fan of her father's political platform, to publicly scold the candidates, "You're no Ronald Reagan." And during that same primary season Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama noted that his role model for political leadership was in fact Reagan, because he "changed the trajectory of America in a way... that Bill Clinton did not."

Reagan's status as a political King Midas is all the more impressive when considering that on his trademark issue — shrinking government — he actually came up short. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), federal spending grew 22 percent under Reagan. But Reagan's genius lay in his understanding that stage presence can go a long way in helping to cement an agenda in the permanent national culture. As he promoted his worldview of the individual patriot fighting against the constraints of big government, Reagan presented himself as the horse-riding, cowboy-hat wearing frontiersman. That robust image was certainly reinforced by a host of biographical anecdotes; as a lifeguard, Reagan once saved 77 people from drowning.