Jacob Heilbrunn: Should A Second Term Obama Imitate Reagan?





Jacob Heilbrunn is the author of the newly released, They Knew They Were Right: the Rise of the Neocons, and a senior editor at the National Interest.

What would Barack Obama do in a second term? This is the question that Ryan Lizza poses in a lengthy and informative essay about modern presidencies in the New Yorker. Lizza suggests that he might look at Ronald Reagan's playbook, which is to say that he should focus on a few big priorities—"The Reagan Administration quickly grasped that whatever power it had gained through reelection had to be spent judiciously."
 
It's a conundrum that tends to preoccupy presidents as they search for a legacy. In two cases—Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush—it has meant heaving overboard much of the ideological baggage that encumbered them during their first term. Take Reagan. Fellow TNI blogger Paul Pillar suggests in a recent (and droll) post about conservatism and Republicans that it was "misleading" of me to suggest that Reagan was a mixture of neocon and rollback conservative. Not so, says Pillar. Reagan was a realist.
 
Here I must part company with Pillar. This observation is true for the second-term Reagan. It does not, however, apply to the Reagan of the first term, who in his initial press conference created a sensation by declaring that Soviet leaders reserve the right to "lie, cheat, and steal to get whatever they want." There was, in other words, plenty of chiliastic rhetoric emanating from the old boy who almost singlehandedly created the nuclear-freeze movement with his dire pronouncements. Reagan, in other words, didn't shrink from demonizing America's adversaries...


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