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A Non-transformational President

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Obama was not the Left’s Reagan

Back when they were fighting each other for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama sparred about Ronald Reagan. In January of that year, Obama said, “I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.” The Hillary Clinton campaign criticized the comment, and Obama felt it necessary to clarify that he hated Reagan’s ideas.

The remark signaled Obama’s ambition. He wanted to be the liberal Reagan, or rather the liberal anti-Reagan: the person who pulled American politics back to the left a generation after Reagan pulled it to the right. Bill Clinton had not done that. Instead he had governed in Reagan’s shadow. Obama thought that the time was ripe to emerge from that shadow. Many of his supporters wanted the same thing. For them, “Yes we can” — one of his 2008 campaign slogans — meant “Yes, we can overcome Reaganite conservatism and Clintonite triangulation.”

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