In this continuing historical look at past Presidents and what Obama could glean from them, I have decided to add one more to the list: Ronald Reagan. To me, Reagan is an enigma – a mystery wrapped in a riddle. Here is a man who made Americans feel good about themselves and their country after the “malaise” of the late 1960s and 1970s. Here is a man who Obama even called a “transformative” leader. But the facts of the matter state deficits rose dramatically during the Reagan era, a recession never truly ended, the Iran-Contra scandal rocked our confidence, and jobs for new college graduates dwindled (this author included). His trickle down theory of economics (or what his ice-President called “Voodoo Econmics”) never really worked. However, his policies along with Margaret Thatcher’s paved the way for what would become globalization.
Now Reagan’s vision of less government is something I agree with wholeheartedly -“Government is not the solution. Government is the problem”. Now we will most likely see a trillion dollar deficit next year. To me that is just mind boggling. After 2009, I don’t know how the deficit will look in 2010. But if the economy hasn’t started a turn by 2010, Obama could become a one-termer. However, he could learn a thing or two from Reagan about how to survive, and thrive, during a recession.
1. Character Counts
While Reagan was against government handouts and welfare, he would often write people checks out of his own checkbook to help them out. Not many people know this about him. Despite his penchant for less government, it didn’t mean that he was a cold heartless bastard, rather the opposite. Men born before World War II in this country have a different way of looking at what it means to suffer and help somebody. Self-reliance and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps were how you got out of hard times. Hard work and honor were how you took care of your family. My father was never one to give handouts, you worked your way out things. Today, life is quite different and I tend to lean towards Reagan on this one.
2. Lassez Faire Leadership
How much “hands-off” is too much “hands-off”. I remember junk bond scandal after junk bond scandal in the 1980s along with the Keating Scandal. Today the government has handed over billions in the TARP plan. Unfortunately, they cannot account for where it all went. Obama will have to walk a fine line between regulation/oversight/transparency and the government having too much role in the economy. As a strict free market kind-of-guy, sometimes a President and government has to let some of these companies go under. Let new more efficient companies take their place. Now, the dilemma for Obama will be how much regulation there will be.
Tell it to us straight. We can take it. Don’t sugarcoat the problems. We are Americans and what we do best is rise from tragedy. We only ask for the truth. What Reagan did best was communicate. Obama has shown flashes of brilliance in his 4 years on the national stage. Of all of his strengths, his communication skills have the ability to inspire a generation and to rank with our greatest presidents. The question now becomes a matter of practice over ability.
As for where Reagan stands on my list of top Presidents, I do not have him in my top ten but he is close. 20 years since he left office is way too close to judge the effects of his policies but I do not see him getting much higher than say…12?
Other Presidential Lessons for Obama Series
John F. Kennedy
George H.W. Bush