Yesterday, to the question of whether Sarah Palin is Ronald Reagan, Glenn Reynolds answered in the negative:
Though Reagan was portrayed as an amiable dunce, he in fact spent many years working out his ideas before running for President. Palin hasn’t done that yet. She has considerable natural talent as a politician, but she’s no Ronald Reagan. Then again, neither was Ronald Reagan, at 44.
While I have compared Palin to the Gipper, calling her Reaganesque, I agree with that assessment. She is considerably younger now (nine years younger in fact) that Reagan was when he “launched” his political career with his 1964 speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign.
Called “The Speech” because of its seminal importance in the Gipper’s career, it served as a distillation of the many ideas he had been working out over the previous decade or so. For Palin to become like Reagan, many of whose natural political talents she shares, she is going to have to embark on a process similar to his.
By and the large, the Gipper educated himself about political philosophy and economic freedom, reading widely. She should follow his path and explore the classics of free-market conservatism. She could enhance her own education by reaching out to leading experts in various field, perhaps inviting them to the Naval Observatory (should she win) or to Alaska (should she lose) for seminars similar to those former California Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon, Jr. organized for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at the outset of his presidential campaign.
What defined Reagan was a combination of natural political talents, charisma and a commitment to a set of ideas.
While it is the working out of those ideas which distinguishes Palin from the Gipper, it is the commitment to ideas which distinguishes Barack Obama from the Great Communicator. While Reagan embraced conservative ideas in his bids for the White House, the successful ones as well as the unsuccessful ones, Obama has pretty much run from his liberal record in the current campaign.
Contrast the speeches which launched each man onto the national stage.Â While Reagan’s 1964 speech serves as a criticism of “Great Society” liberalism with reference to specific policies (and their problems) with praise for Goldwater’s free market approach, Obama’s Speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2004 was, in the words of David Freddoso, “all cotton candy:”*
The speech was full of empathy and passion, but it also may have been the least substantive address of the convention. That Obama could be so widely praised for a speech so full of content is a tribute to his oratorical skills, his good looks, and to the good feeling he creates.
That the Democratic nominee has those gifts is why people compare him to Reagan.
But, that’s really all they have in common. Reagan brought to the political arena — and later to the federal government — a political philosophy he had spent years working out, one rooted in a study of conservative and libertarian ideas, American history and the (then-)current economic situation. In his public statements — and even in his private conversations on matters political and economic — he almost never lost sight of those principles.
Both have good communication skills. Reagan at least had something beyond lofty visions to communicate.
What distinguishes Reagan from Obama is his commitment to a particular political philosophy and his readiness to acknowledge it. What distinguishes him from Sarah Palin is that he had spent years working it out.
Having shown a similar commitment to those ideas, Palin could, if she follows a course similar to the Gipper, come to more closely resemble the man she has cited as a hero. She just needs to flesh out her basic conservative principles. Obama still needs to figure out what he stands for, whether it be his rhetorical support for change or his legislative support for traditional liberal remedies to all problems economic as well as social.
In short, while neither candidate, Barack Obama or Sarah Palin, is the new Reagan of his (or her) respective political party, Sarah Palin has the greater chance of becoming his equivalent.
* I challenge anyone to find substantive policy points in that address.