This is from the Reno Gazette editorial board on Monday.
The video clip above is Barack Obama explaining his admiration of Ronald Reagan. I've transcribed it here.
I don't want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what's different are the times. I do think that for example the 1980 was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.
There are many reason progressives should admire Ronald Reagan, politically speaking. He realigned the country around his vision, he brought into power a new movement that created conservative change, and he was an extremely skilled politician. But that is not why Obama admires Reagan. Obama admires Reagan because he agrees with Reagan's basic frame that the 1960s and 1970s were full of 'excesses' and that government had grown large and unaccountable.
Those excesses, of course, were feminism, the consumer rights movement, the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, and the antiwar movement. The libertarian anti-government ideology of an unaccountable large liberal government was designed by ideological conservatives to take advantage of the backlash against these 'excesses'.
It is extremely disturbing to hear, not that Obama admires Reagan, but why he does so. Reagan was not a sunny optimist pushing dynamic entrepreneurship, but a savvy politician using a civil rights backlash to catapult conservatives to power. Lots of people don't agree with this, of course, since it doesn't fit a coherent narrative of GOP ascendancy. Masking Reagan's true political underpinning principles is a central goal of the conservative movement, with someone as powerful as Grover Norquist seeking to put Reagan's name on as many monuments as possible and the Republican candidates themselves using Reagan's name instead of George Bush's in GOP debates as a mark of greatness. Why would the conservative movement create such idolatry around Reagan? Is is because they just want to honor a great man? Perhaps that is some of it. Or are they trying to escape the legacy of the conservative movement so that it can be rebuilt in a few years, as they did after Nixon, Reagan, and Bush I?
I don't know. But if you think, as Obama does, that Reagan's rise to power was premised on a sunny optimism in contrast to an out of control government and a society rife with liberal excess, then you don't understand the conservative movement. Reagan tapped into greed and fear and tribalism, and those are powerful forces. Ignoring that isn't going to make them go away.