There are parallels between the presidency of Ronald Reagan and Barak Obama. The similarities between the leaders make for an uncomplicated comparison; however, the differences provide greater explanatory power. Barak Obama has been credited with some of the stellar qualities of Ronald Reagan. There oratory skills are comparable and they were both popular at the beginning of their terms. Reagan became a republican icon. While the final statement on Obama is some distance away, he is becoming increasingly unpopular as a president. How do we account for this? In this essay we will compare and contrast the presidents and their policies. Ultimately, it will become apparent that the similarities are merely superficial, the ideological and policy differences of the Obama and Reagan presidencies account for the variant receptions they received from the American public during their presidencies. Obama is becoming unpopular not because of bad policy but bad communication.
In times of economic difficulty the American society will embrace the novel and different (Weatherford 918). Similar economic conditions carried both men to the seat of power. Ronald Reagan won the presidential election in 1980 because the country was dissatisfied with the economy. Similarly, in 2008, Barack Obama managed to win the presidential election through a promise of "hope and change." These two men share the same ability to convince the American people they could solve common problems and restore a sense of security to the country.
Additionally both men were crucial centripetal forces uniting divergent flanks of their parties. The Democratic and Republican Parties were uniquely divided during the times these men came into office. Republicans became unified on Reagan's unique character and the issues and causes he stood for. There were two parts to Reagan's Party: the social-conservative side which supported anti-abortion beliefs and strong family principles, and the fiscal- conservatives who supported Reagan's tax-cuts and intercalation policies. Similarly for Obama, the Democratic Party was fragmented into individual sections (Freeman 329). One faction of the party includes a foreign policy opposed to war, a greater flexibility regarding same-sex marriage, and abortion rights. A larger, less conservative wing leaned toward repairing the economy and increasing jobs. The personal appeal of Reagan and Obama served as an adhesive to fuse the disparate elements of the party together.
Political parties aside, Reagan and Obama established a stimulating dynamic within the American psyche: in times of trouble, the American society fears the "old and familiar" more than the "new and unknown." Frustration coupled with a desire for something better can send a wave of transformation through the population that alters history, as we see with these men. Reagan and Obama shared "firsts" upon entering the White House. Reagan was the oldest man elected President, and Obama was the first African-American elected to the White House. These issues did not matter to a country that was simply searching for something better. Both men also communicated with the public on a level that elevated them to "super-hero" status. Reagan was known as the "Great Communicator," and his speaking abilities no doubt strengthened Republican causes.
Both men faced a recession early after assuming duties as president. The chief difference between both of these situations is that the economy was in better shape for Reagan than for Obama. With better finances, the government in Regan's era could spend more readily to stimulate the economy. Reagan faced a national debt of nearly 40% of the gross domestic product. Obama, on the other hand, faces a gross domestic product of nearly 90%. With this mind-numbing figure being so close to exceeding the GDP, Obama faces a greater difficulty in rekindling prosperity through spending. Both men were confident at a time when the country needed to believe in something positive. These men illustrate how personality and charisma transcend most facets of one's lives, and can emerge victorious with the right combination of discontent and hope (Boyd et al197). On the surface, these two men share the same alluring qualities, but the similarities end there, as both men held different views regarding the economy and the role of government.
Reagan adopted a different perspective on economic matters. He embraced a policy of tax reduction to provide the impetus to the wealth to create jobs by their entrepreneurial activity. He attempted to improve the economy and, as a result, "Reaganomics" was born. The notion behind this economic structure was that if the wealthy could experience tax cuts and other economic benefits, these savings would trickle down to other, less comfortable aspects of society (De Muth 36). This vision became entrenched within the Republican movement during that time. During Regan's administration, he cut taxes, decreased federal spending in numerous areas, and increased spending on defense which led to the first ever trillion-dollar budget. Reagan spoke to Americans in a way that not only made them feel confident, but proud. It was his intention to "make Americans believe in themselves again" (Gibbs). He was able to communicate this successfully, even amid such scandals as the Iran-contra ordeal. His ability to avoid any collateral damage from scandals earned him the nickname "Teflon president," because, in the eyes of the American people, due to his popularity, he could do no wrong.
The policies Obama has instituted for economic growth have not found favor with the electorate, even though they were necessary. The difference between his policies and Reagan's is so stark that he has been inaccurately dubbed a socialist. He believes that taxing the wealthy will not harm the economy and advocates demand side economics. Any tax increase is met with rabid hostility and vicious rhetoric. The plan, which may benefit the middle class, is made to look as though it will destroy the country as a whole. While, Obama is making a valiant effort in the White House and is still harvesting positive attention, the economy is an ever-growing landslide. His bailout plans have not yet materialized and increasing levels of unemployment foreshadow the upcoming midterm elections. This has unleashed a steady stream of criticism from all flanks (Sharpe 126). This criticism remains largely unanswered so it continues to drive the narrative surrounding his presidency. Obama's story is incomplete, but already, we know success will depend on his ability to restore confidence in America and communicate that to the people.
The role of America on the world stage is another area of clear dissonance between both individuals. The foreign policy position of Ronald Reagan reinforced and demonstrated American dominance on the world stage. During Reagan's presidency, America was considered as an imperial power, as many countries felt that American culture and military were being used to subjugate the rest of the world (Luard 567). However, Reagan expressed this in a way that appealed to Americans. The presidency of Obama has turned the hearts of many persons in the world toward America. He has not been able to sell this successfully to elements of the American population. His posture is vilified as being weak and anti- American.
Ronald Reagan believed that government was a large part of the problem in society. It was a mantra of his administration that government should be reduced in size and reach into the personal lives of the average American. Barak Obama sees government as playing a critical role in terms of preventing business excesses and providing a regulatory mechanism that protects the public. This position is in harmony with the recent facts surrounding the financial crisis, and the oil spill in the gulf. The push back by individuals desiring smaller government has been substantial as many Americans are angry at government intervention in their personal lives. Slumping poll numbers is the result of the push back, as a result the unpopularity of the Obama presidency increases.