Editor’s note: A longer version of this article first appeared at American Spectator.
With Barack Obama’s second inauguration, liberals are touting an altogether new epoch: the end of the Reagan era.
Unfortunately, I believe they are largely correct. We are witnessing a period of left-wing ascendance, marked by gay marriage, forced taxpayer funding of abortion, an exploding government class, and big government. As to the latter, Ronald Reagan had declared in his first inaugural: “government is not the solution … government is the problem.” The first Democrat to follow Reagan, Bill Clinton, similarly stated “the era of big government is over.” Clinton’s affirmation was also an affirmation of the Reagan era.
Then came Barack Obama. Just days after his 2009 inauguration, Obama proclaimed: “the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life.” He said “only government” could alter our “vicious cycle.”
Obama had repudiated Reagan, and the electorate would again reward him four years later. What Obama called for in 2009 seems to be the new American spirit in 2013.
But is it? Well, the answer is complicated.
For one, Barack Obama is undoing the Reagan era courtesy of an American public that exhibits utterly schizophrenic voting behavior. Let history record a confounding reality that will baffle future historians: The Obama era supplanted the Reagan era thanks to a voting public that adores Reagan, judges him our greatest of presidents, and overwhelmingly calls itself conservative rather than liberal. All unbelievable, yes, but true. Consider the facts:
For a long time now, starting with the Reagan presidency, Americans have described themselves as “conservative” rather than “liberal” by margins of roughly two-to-one. Generally, self-identified liberals have hovered around the 20 percent level, while conservatives have ranged in the upper-30 percent, sometimes above 40 percent.
Surely this must have changed in 2008, with Obama’s election? No; despite Obama winning the presidency by 54 to 46 percent, 21 percent of Americans who voted said they were liberal vs. 38 percent who said they were conservative.
If that seems contradictory for a nation that voted for a man from the far left as president … well, it is. But it gets worse.
A major Gallup poll conducted from January to May 2009, at the height of “Obama mania,” found more self-described conservatives than liberals not only by 40 percent to 21 percent but in literally all 50 states. That’s correct, all 50 states, from California to Massachusetts. And that electorate chose Obama.
It also chose Reagan. During that same period, a remarkable survey was done by Clarus Research Group, which asked Americans which president should be the model for Barack Obama in shaping his presidency. Their top choice was America’s most conservative president: Ronald Reagan.
How could that be? Answer: it cannot. It is impossible.
And yet, it isn’t a shock that Americans would look to Reagan as their model. Two years after the Clarus survey, a Gallup poll released for Presidents Day 2011 ranked Reagan the “greatest president” of all time, garnering 19 percent of the vote among 44 presidents (beating Lincoln fairly soundly, who finished second at 14 percent). Gallup began asking the “greatest president” question in 1999. Of the 13 times Gallup has done the survey, the public placed Reagan first four times—2001, 2005, 2011, and 2012.
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