Newsweek's Fineman: Barack Obama Is A Lot Like Ronald Reagan

November 23rd, 2009 10:07 AM

Newsweek's Howard Fineman thinks Barack Obama is a lot like Ronald Reagan.

This humorously comes coincident with MSNBC's Chris Matthews declaring the current White House resident "Carteresque."

Obviously they can't both be right, right?

Of course not, for in the case of "Channeling the Gipper: For inspiration, Obama looks to Reagan," Fineman couldn't be more wrong (h/t Jennifer Rubin):

Like Reagan, Obama shares a celebrity's sense of comfort on the (public) stage, a belief in sticking to the script, and a faith in the power of the written word spoken from an imposing rostrum. He also shares Reagan's reverence for the power of a narrative in politics—Reagan, because he was an actor; Obama, because he is a writer.

Yet, as Commentary's Jennifer Rubin noted Monday, "[E]xcept one wrote about the world and the other about himself."

But that's just the beginning of Fineman's numerous contradictions:

As much as anything, the Reagan-Obama harmonic explains the president's decision to launch his tenure with a mammoth health-care-reform bill in the midst of economic chaos and heavy military commitments. Health care is his statist remix of Reagan's first-term launch party: the antigovernment supply-side income-tax cuts of 1981. And although a massive "stimulus" bill wasn't part of Obama's campaign plan, the measure was folded into his Reagan-in-reverse strategy.

So, as the Obama White House finds "the story of the Gipper is uplifting," it does the opposite of Reaganomics:

The Old Man's sunny optimism had a dark underside: a penchant for insisting that 2 plus 2 equals 5, and a willingness to ignore inconvenient facts...Reagan proclaimed that he could simultaneously cut taxes, double defense spending, and balance the budget. This was impossible, of course, as even his budget director eventually confessed. When he left office, Reagan had not shrunk the size of government, but he did spawn a new era of scary deficits. A generation later, Obama insists that his $850 billion health-care-reform bill will "bend the cost curve" in the long run. Almost no one in Washington believes this. I am waiting for his budget director to confess as much.

Actually, it is Fineman showing "a willingness to ignore inconvenient facts" like most of his ilk.

Certainly, Reagan expanded defense spending, but to get that agenda passed along with lower marginal tax rates, he had to accede to the social spending wishes of the Democratically-controlled House and Speaker Tip O'Neill.

Why liberals all seem to forget this has always been astounding.

As such, let's actually look at the facts.

Although defense spending under Reagan rose from $158 billion in 1981 to $304 billion by 1989, the Human Resources budget (education, training, social services, Social Security, Medicare, etc.) grew from $362 billion to $569 billion.

Reagan's final budget produced a $153 billion deficit. Was it caused by the $146 billion increase in defense spending during the Gipper's tenure, or the $207 billion rise in social programs?

Obviously, the answer is both. However, as defense spending had a huge multiplier effect in terms of job creation and an associated increase in tax receipts -- just think of all the jobs created by every company directly or indirectly touched by such contracts -- at least such appropriations had a positive economic impact.

With this in mind, is there any question that Reagan's $146 billion increase in defense spending produced far greater federal revenues than the $207 billion rise in social spending during his tenure?

As for the budget impact of those awful Reagan tax cuts, the federal government brought in $599 billion in 1981. This rose to $1.1 trillion in 1989.

As such, and by no means surprisingly, it is Fineman who possesses "a penchant for insisting that 2 plus 2 equals 5."

As Rubin marvelously noted:

Obama really has nothing much at all in common with Reagan, doesn’t believe in the same things, doesn’t behave like him, has a completely different personality and a personal history not at all like Reagan’s. So why would Obama look to Reagan for inspiration? I frankly doubt he would. Obama = Reagan was campaign spin meant to sooth nervous Republicans; it seems to have been put through the spin cycle again at the new Newsweek, where nothing much is new.