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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Reagan Myth to Cast ’08 Shadow

Tom Bevan has a post, “Reagan’s Shadow” at The Real Clear Politics Blog, predicting that the current crop of GOP presidential candidates will “work to invoke his name and associate themselves with his legacy” in the months ahead, beginning with the first GOP presidential debates at the — you guessed it — Reagan Presidential Library on May 3rd. The idea being that the public needs to be reminded that Republicans once ruled without serial blundering, scandals and foreign policy disasters of epic proportions on an almost daily basis. Reagan nostalgia is likely to become even more of a cottage industry with conservatives and lapdog media as we approach November ’08. Some polling outfits have apparently bought into the meme, as Bevan notes:

The polling firm Strategic Vision recently began asking Republicans in six states whether they believe George W. Bush is “a conservative in the mode of Ronald Reagan.” The results were surprisingly consistent and overwhelmingly negative: 62% of Republicans in Florida answered “no.” The numbers were even worse in the five other states: 68% in Wisconsin, 69% in Pennsylvania, 71% in Michigan, 77% in Iowa and 78% in Georgia.

Even asking such a question suggests that Reagan mythology is still thriving. Reagan, not Lincoln, is clearly the GOP’s internal standard for measuring their candidates, and no doubt, the GOP’s ’08 field will strive to appear more “Reaganesque” as the campaign wears on, just as some Democrats tried to emulate JFK’s persona over the years with less than impressive results. With a few exceptions, the MSM gave the Reagan “legacy” a free pass in the wake of his death, thereby allowing the Reagan myth to grow in stature. By the time summer ’08 rolls around, it will be “Bush who?,” and Reagan’s name and image will be invoked ad nauseum at the GOP convention and during the fall campaign as the GOP’s preeminent symbol. The Democratic attitude should be “Bring it on.”
Democrats, including party leaders and the progressive blogosphere should be ready to demolish the Reagan mythology. Fortunately, this will not be hard, and there are plenty of resources. Probably no source has been more vigilant than The Nation. Start with The Nation’s editorial “The Reagan Legacy,” a succinct wrap-up of the damage done by the Gipper. Proceed to Alexander Cockburn’s blistering essay “Reagan in Truth and Fiction.”
An interesting handful of articles about the most treasured myth of Reagan-worshippers, that he single-handedly won the cold war, can be accessed at this link. For a good overview of the damage done by “Reaganomics,” check out Steve Kangas’ “The Reagan Years:A Statistical Overview of the 1980s.” Walter Field’s “No Tears for Reagan” at BlackAmericaToday.com explains how Reagan obstructed Civil Rights gains.
The GOP will almost certainly wield the Reagan Myth with increasing frequency during the campaign ahead, if only because they have nothing else to project in a positive light. Democrats are not running against Reagan, but some well-crafted sound bites about Reagan’s real record whenever his name is exalted will help show voters which candidates — and which party — tell it straight.