The Old Reagan Magic


Bruce Bartlett says that what Obama could learn from Reagan is about the need to break more decisively with his predecessors. Kevin Drum says “There’s a lot to this, though I’d add that Reagan also passed his signature domestic initiatives — big tax cuts and defense spending increases — and rallied his base by firing the air traffic controllers. Obama hasn’t done any of that.”

His view of what Obama’s doing wrong:

I’m a fan of Obama’s, but this has always been his big blind spot. He came to office convinced — sincerely, it seems — that he could change the tone of Washington DC. That was always a fantasy. The way to get things done is to make a case for them, build public support for them, blast your enemies for opposing them, and just generally fight like hell for them. It can be done with a smile, but it has to be done. Obama seems to have a hard time getting that.

But was any of this really the secret to Reagan’s success at driving his agenda? I doubt it. The Reagan Revolution of 1981 was built on the twin pillars of deficit financing and majority rule in the Senate. Reagan stuffed the politically difficult part of his agenda into the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981. Being nice like Obama doesn’t get your agenda enacted, but neither does fighting like hell for it. What gets your agenda enacted is having the votes to enact your agenda. Having an agenda that advances the interests of politically powerful interests helps. And needing 50 votes rather than 60 also helps. At the margin I’m sure that political gambits make some kind of difference, but it ultimately all comes down to the cold hard facts of vote counts and concrete, specific, objective political pressure.