On George Eliot’s birthday, Glenn Reynolds linked a Maureen Dowd column which showed that while the New York Times columnist does have a jaundiced view of the GOP, she does at least understand part of Sarah Palin’s appeal, what she calls the “visceral,” her ability to connect with people, a capacity that Barack Obama had on the campaign trail, but appears to be losing in the White House:
He’s a highly intelligent man with a highly functioning West Wing, and he’s likable, but he’s not connecting on the gut level that could help him succeed.
The animating spirit that electrified his political movement has sputtered out. . . .
Like Reagan, Obama is a detached loner with a strong, savvy wife. But unlike Reagan, he doesn’t have the acting skills to project concern about what’s happening to people.
Obama showed a flair for the theatrical during his campaign, and a talent for narrative in his memoir, but he has yet to translate those skills to governing.
Dowd, however, is only half right about the Gipper. He was able to project concern because he really did care what was happening to the people. And the animating spirit which electrified his political movement wasn’t just his image but his ideas.
Perhaps, if, like Ronald Reagan, Obama had a knack not just for personal narrative, but also for an ideological/philosophical one, he would not be losing favor with the American people as rapidly as he has while leading his Administration which seems adrfit. A “dean in the Beltway foreign-policy establishment” (and lifelong Democrat) called Obama’s latest foreign policy initiative “Amateur Hour at the White House.” On domestic issues, he seems to have found a rudder not in his own convictions, but with the left-wing congressional leadership.
One liberal pundit claims that the President is now looking to one of his most sucessful forebears for inspiration. Howard Fineman is right that the incumbent has much in common with the Gipper; both men have a warm public presence and a flair for public speaking. This comparison, however, only works up to a point. Even Fineman, with his strong bias against the Gipper’s policies acknowledges, “following Reagan’s script is harder than it looks. It requires an obstinate clarity of message that the current president has not always achieved“.
Reagan, as Jennifer Rubin puts it, “had a firm vision of where he wanted to take the country, and it defied conventional, Beltway wisdom.” It’s that firm vision which differentiates the gipper from the incumbent. Just compare the speeches which catapulted each to national poltical prominence. Obama’s 2004 address to the Democratic National Convention was “cotton candy,” a paean to the idea of e plurbus unum. The Gipper’s speech in 1964 on behalf of then-Republican Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater was a paean to the idea of liberty and a criticism of liberal policies which threatened that liberty.
If Obama wishes to emulate the Gipper, then he need focus on better articulating his vision for America–and better show how his policies fit into that vision.