The Obama Watch

The Reagan-Obama Presidential Olympics

A test of conservative and progressive presidencies: who is Michael Phelps?

By 1.25.13

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Think of it as a presidential Olympics.

Barack Obama takes on Ronald Reagan.

One on one, mano a mano. To mix metaphors, two presidential matadors competing for the gold.

The contest, begun on election night of 2008, is now in the final four years. As is true with the athletic Olympics, the world is watching. Who will win history’s gold medal as a great president? Which man will prove to be the better president? 

It is January 20, 2017.

President Somebody Else has just finished taking the oath of office. As tradition dictates, President Else walks former President Obama down the steps of the East Front of the Capitol. Where Marine One awaits. Mr. Obama bids goodbye to the President and Mrs. or Mr. Else, the former President standing on the top step of the helicopter for one last wave to the crowd. He steps inside, and within seconds the chopper lifts up, swoops over Washington, and minutes later lands at Andrews Air Force Base where the Obama Cabinet waits to say farewell. A few minutes after that, the Obama family securely on board, the plane that was once Air Force One roars down the runway and begins Obama’s first trip in eight years as a private citizen, flying him to the destination of his choice. Hawaii, maybe. Or Chicago. He steps off the plane, the plane leaves.

With that, the Obama presidency recedes into the American rearview mirror.

The judgment of history awaits. The medal counting begins.

But there’s a catch. And a big one.

Barack Obama, according to multiple press accounts, has staked his entire presidency on both bookending and surpassing the conservative presidency of Ronald Reagan. Betting that progressive policies will leave the Reagan-era in the historical dust.

In that rarity of worlds inhabited only by the 43 men who have held the presidential office, Barack Obama, by his own quite deliberate choice and the demands of his supporters, has set himself up — and even more importantly set up the Progressive World View — for a direct, results-oriented side-by-side comparison to Reagan and the Conservative World View.

The New York Times swoons with a banner headline:

Obama Offers Liberal Vision: ‘We Must Act’ 

One might offer the eternal caution of being careful what you wish for — but too late for that.

So.

The Reagan-Obama Presidential Olympics are on.

The prizes? Just as with the athletic Olympics, the goal is to win as many gold medals as possible. To become the presidential version of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, posing for history’s photo book with multiples of gold medals draped around his neck. The events? They are appropriately presidential-sized.

Just for starters, one has to win two presidential elections — which is to say not just be elected but re-elected, a presidential gold medal basic. Once achieved, the medals — Gold, Silver and Bronze — are won for tangible and presidentially universal accomplishments. No accomplishment — no medal. Lesser accomplishment — lesser medal. 

As with the athletic Olympics, which divide into a general area of expertise — swimming, gymnastics, track and field etc. in the Summer Olympics, and skiing, snowboarding, or skating etc. in the Winter Olympics — so too do the Presidential Olympics divide into two areas of general expertise: domestic and foreign policy.

Within those two areas, there are specific “events.” Just as a Michael Phelps had to master the butterfly, the breaststroke, the freestyle and the backstroke to win his medals, so too must a president master the specifics of domestic and foreign policy to win history’s presidential Gold. Not to be forgotten is another Olympics regular — style. In the case of presidents, did they leave the country feeling better about itself — or leave behind a country howling with angry division? In recent times both Democrat Lyndon Johnson and Republican Richard Nixon, as successful as they were in other areas, failed completely in this category.

These specifics include, in the domestic arena, such things as job creation, the poverty rate, the unemployment rate, the number of new businesses created (specifically including but not limited to Hispanic, black and Asian-owned businesses), reduction of the federal deficit as a percent of GNP (Gross National Product), federal spending, the growth of the GNP and, yes, the growth of revenues.

In foreign policy, the gold medal is simply understood. If, upon taking office, the President finds a nation at war — did he win that war? Or lose it? Did he bring about a sustainable peace -- or not?

Now.

This Reagan-Obama contest, declared by President Obama and lustily cheered on by his liberal allies in the media and special interest groups, is already on. In full swing. It isn’t close to over — and it will not be over until Obama is escorted down those Capitol steps for that last helicopter ride on Marine One.

But some of the results are already in.

Getting elected and re-elected: Reagan has already won the Gold, Obama getting no medal at all here. Why?

Here are the stats:

–1980 (Reagan) versus 2008 (Obama), the first election contest:

Reagan carries: 44 states:
Obama carries: 28 states plus the District of Columbia and 2 electoral votes from Nebraska.

Reagan electoral votes won: 489.
Obama electoral votes won: 365 (that would be 124 votes less than Reagan).

Reagan percentage of popular votes: Reagan was in a three-way race, still winning 50.9%.
Obama percentage of popular votes: Obama was in a two-way race, winning 52.9%

In a two-way race between Reagan and Carter doubtless Reagan would have received — at a minimum — another 2.9%. But the presence of Congressman John Anderson as a credible third candidate — a situation Obama did not face — has Reagan technically behind in this one category.

But in the standard two-way race? In 1984 the situation for Reagan changes dramatically.

–1984 (Reagan re-election) and 2012 (Obama re-election):

Reagan carries: 49 states -- a gain of five states from 1980.
Obama carries: 26 states plus the District of Columbia -- a loss of two states from 2008.

Reagan percentage of popular votes: Reagan wins 58.8% of the vote.
Obama percentage of popular votes: Obama wins 51% of the vote.

Which is to say, between the two men, the myth of Obama’s popularity is just that -- a myth. Distinctly unlike Reagan, Obama barely got over half of the 50 states and when it came to popular votes, he could never manage to get beyond 52%.

Reagan wins the Gold.

Domestic Policy

So each man won a second term, although Reagan’s re-election far outdistanced Obama’s. How did each man start off that second term after a full four years in office?

–Unemployment:

Reagan: Unemployment rate on January 20, 1985 — 7.3%.
Obama: Unemployment rate on January 20, 2013 — 7.8%.

And black unemployment? When Reagan left office the black unemployment rate had dropped from 20.4% to 11.4% -- a nine point drop from the day he took office in 1981. In Obama’s first four years? Just last month black unemployment shot up yet again -- from 12.9% to 14%. The clock ticks — and results in the black community other than pride (admittedly no small thing) are on the line as to which president did the better job by African-Americans. 

Having lost the unemployment rate medal to Reagan after one term, what must Obama and progressive policies achieve by January 20, 2012 to prove the success?

Reagan: Unemployment rate on January 20, 1989 — 5.3%.
Obama: Unemployment rate on January 20, 2017 -- ?

That’s the marker. We will see. If Obama and his Progressive allies in Congress fail to equal or better Reagan on reducing unemployment by January of 2017 — and as this is written Obama is losing — no medal for Obama here either.

–Job Creation. 

Since the Obama administration has shown a tendency… ahhhhh… to make things up in this area, let’s go to AEI’s James Pethokoukis and quote directly:

From the end of the recession in June 2009 through July 2012 — the first 37 months of the Obama recovery — the U.S. economy has generated 2.7 million net new jobs. From the jobs low point in February 2010, the U.S. economy has generated 4 million net new jobs.

From the end of the 1981-82 recession through the end of 1985 — the first 37 months of the Reagan recovery — the U.S. created 9.8 million net new jobs. And if you adjust for the larger U.S. population today, the comparable figure is more than 12 million jobs.

In other words, the Obama-Progressive policies aren’t even eligible for a bronze in the job creation competition, much less a Gold. Reagan wins again.

Now we’re on to the last four years of the Obama era. Here’s what Obama has to achieve to get a Gold in Job Creation:

Reagan: Jobs created in eight years — 21 million
Obama: Jobs created in eight years -- ?

Even if Obama’s 4 million first time poor showing is duplicated — he’s lost. Over the next four years the President and his Progressives must create 17 million jobs just to pull even with Reagan. Unlikely.

Gold medal: To Reagan.

This doesn’t even touch what Obama considers to be his domestic crown jewel: Obamacare. Will it lower health costs as promised? Not so far. Will it produce a better health care system? We will find out. Will Obamacare and Obama’s fanatic devotion to spending the country into trillions of debt help push America into bankruptcy? We will find out. Will Americans, in domestic policy terms, see themselves better off after two Obama terms as they did with Reagan’s two terms? We will see. 

Let’s move over to area number two:

Foreign Policy

Famously, in Margaret Thatcher’s words, Reagan won the Cold War “without firing a shot.” Which raises the question of what exactly qualifies as a successful foreign policy president. The answers are obvious.

If one is in a war, whether it begins on your watch or a predecessor’s — win it. Part of the reason presidents like Lincoln, Wilson and FDR/Truman get such high ratings from their fellow Americans and historians is that they won, respectively, the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Truman’s blot on his copybook is Korea — a war begun on his watch that he couldn’t win. Ditto with LBJ and Vietnam.

The Cold War had been dominating the world since 1946. There had been violently hot wars as part of that Cold War — one each in Korea and Vietnam. There had been a nuclear showdown over Cuba, plus a constant tension in Berlin, resulting in a massive US airlift in 1949 and the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. The Soviet Union had one objective — world domination. One American president after another had tried and failed to rein in the Soviets. In the end, as one president in this period gave way to another and another, the Soviets were still there, still causing trouble somewhere around the globe.

Reagan, to a chorus of criticism, had a different approach than all of his predecessors: “we win, they lose.”

To the shock of liberals — who now are busy saying they could see a Soviet collapse coming all along when in the day they insisted Reagan was not only wrong in pursuing a Soviet defeat but a madman — Reagan was right. He is rated as a great American president today in part because ending the Cold War and pushing the Soviets onto the ash heap of history ranks as one of the major accomplishments of all of presidential history.

For Obama? Immediately it can be said: he got Osama Bin Laden. A decidedly good thing. Gold medal material. But the larger War on Terror? In Obama’s world it doesn’t even exist. Administration personnel are forbidden to even speak its name. Which is why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton found herself parked in front of not one but two congressional committees the other day, incredibly asking of four dead Americans in Benghazi and how and why they died: “What difference does it make?”

And Iran? What of the drive by Iran to get a nuclear weapon? What of the threat of a nuclear war in the Middle East? This is Obama’s Cold War. His Civil War or World War II. If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, Obama is a failure. If there’s a nuclear war in the Middle East he will be cast to infamy along with the likes of the appeasing Neville Chamberlain.

The difference between Reagan and Obama is that when America’s enemies perceive weakness — as the Obama administration continually signals — incidents like Benghazi will happen. Not to mention that America has prematurely left Iraq — and has told the enemy in Afghanistan that we’re outta there regardless by next year. We win, they lose? A Reaganesque Peace through Strength? Not in the Obama Administration — and importantly, not in the Progressive World View.

Obama is busily executing the Progressive foreign policies of left-wing exit strategies.

Beyond Benghazi, while conservatives suspect this will all end badly for Obama and America — the fact is we don’t yet know.

By January 20, 2017 — not to mention for the afterwards of history — we will know with certainty. Only then will Obama be eligible for a gold, silver, bronze — or nothing.

To sum it all up: President Obama and his allies believe with reason that this is their Progressive Moment.

They despise Ronald Reagan. It matters not that the American people completely disagree with them, ranking the Gipper as America's greatest president (as here in a Gallup poll). Liberals are determined — obsessed is a better word — to show Reagan up historically.

But history keeps moving forward — even when one has a president who insists on dragging the nation in a direction many see as backwards… backwards… backwards to the land of socialist failure.

President Obama and his Progressives now have the stage — and have had it for four years.

But thus far in this drama of the Reagan-Obama Presidential Olympics, at this moment Reagan is Michael Phelps. Obama is… Obama is…

Losing.

As these next four years unfold, with Obama and his allies having now made the challenge to Reagan a centerpiece of his presidency, there are a lot of us who worked for Ronald Reagan who will be keeping score. (Like my Reagan colleague and friend Mark Levin — right here.)

We will be around to watch President Obama and his left-wing call to action — and make a point to note the results. Now that the President has made clear to all what he is about — in this corner we will be delighted to keep score.

Barack Obama is no Ronald Reagan.

Count on it.

Photo: UPI

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.