The Real Barack Obama vs. The Reagan Myth

                  The enduring Icon of the right

 On Tailoring the Master Narrative

There is a narrative developing, particularly among pundits on the right, that President Obama has accomplished nothing of importance, and that this can be attributed to his incompetence as a politician.  “If only he was more like Ronnie Reagan,” they say.   As the election heats up we hear this more and more. However it is mere cheerleading by political partisans, who never define the standard they are employing to measure the men.

That’s because the objective of partisans is to gain political advantage in the coming elections, not arrive at objective truth based on an impartial weighting of the evidence. Thus it is propaganda they seek, not history, alas.  Historians seek to reconstruct the past based on strict evidentiary rules – strictly policed through a rigorous process of peer review – so that we may better understand how we became who we are, and learn any important lessons contained in our story so that we do not repeat our mistakes.

On the other hand political propagandist attempt to selectively arrange past events to justify present policies, and often truth is the first casualty. Hence while the historian attempts to present objective truth; the propagandist hopes to create a serviceable myth. They share Napoleon Bonaparte’s view: “History is lies commonly agreed upon!”

This is manifestly what has happened with Ronald Reagan and much of the punditariat.  It is driven by the official myth-makers on the right, but it too often goes unchallenged or even echoed by the other side.  Thus the image of Ronald Reagan as a great President is the dominant view among the largely white commentariat.  But there are some outstanding historians who see things differently.

For instance, the Bancroft Prize winning historian Dan T. Carter paints a portrait of Ronald Reagan as a cynical politician who systematically exploited the racial resentments of Southern whites over the dramatic advances of Afro-Americans due to the success of the Civil Rights Movement. (see: Haley Barber is a Lyin Fat Redneck)  And he shows how Reagan became the avatar of a new wave of reactionary right-wing conservatism.

The distinguished Presidential Historian Stephen E. Ambrose, a biographer of Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon,  offers a different view. “Reagan will be remembered as the president who reversed the decades-old flow of power to Washington. By dismantling some federal programs, and reducing others, he forced the states and the cities to assume more responsibility for running their own shows.”

Professor Ambrose goes on to argue that history will also remember Reagan as “the first Cold War president to preside over eight years of unbroken peace, the first to reach an arms reduction accord with the Soviets, and the American president who helped make it possible for Mikhail Gorbachev to begin the process of restructuring Soviet society.”

Dr. Ambrose also credited Reagan with the popularity of conservatism in America.  However on the question of Reagan’s greatness he offers this caveat:

These are important changes, but not of such a magnitude to earn Reagan a title of “great.” The great presidents are the ones who bring permanent changes in society. Teddy Roosevelt and conservation and trust-busting, as one example, or Woodrow Wilson and the Federal Reserve System, Franklin Roosevelt and Social Security, Harry Truman and the integration of the armed forces, Dwight Eisenhower and the interstate highway system, Lyndon Johnson and Medicare and Civil Rights.”

By this standard Barack Obama already qualifies as one of the greats, since he has brought about several profound and lasting changes in American society. The Lilly Ledbetter Act; ending the ban against open homosexuals serving in the military, and the Affordable Healthcare Act, are all game changers of historic proportions that improve the lives millions of Americans.

The Recovery Act,  or “Stimulus” is revolutionizing the American economy; creating the first green manufacturing sector powered by clean energy, and revamping the educational system to bring American students up to snuff in math and science so that they can compete in the brave new world of the 21st century. Hence he has provided the most generous funding of research in American history. This is only a partial accounting of the benefits the Stimulus provides.

The President achieved these historic advances while waging two foreign wars, and rescuing the American economy from a free fall collapse.  Furthermore he did it without the benefit of a statesman like the legendary House Speaker “Tip” O’Neal leading the opposition.  John Boehner, the present weeper of the house, is no Tip O’Neal!

For all these reasons and more – like the fact that President Obama is a brilliant policy wonk and there is a mountain of testimony that Reagan was out to lunch when complex policy matters were discussed – I have no doubt that future historians, far removed from the political passions of this moment,  will place Barack Obama heads and shoulders above Ronald Reagan on the scale of great presidents.

Furthermore,  regarding political skills, I am absolutely convinced that when historians consider the fact that a young black guy with a Muslim name, managed to get himself elected President of the USA – a predominately white, persistently racist country that instructed the Nazis on racism not that long ago – they will conclude with me: Barack Hussein Obama is the most gifted politician in American history!

 The Real Deal!

The President and First Lady

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September 25, 2012

 

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