I've always been underwhelmed by Reagan and wonder why he's so lauded by the Republicans. I was in India for most of the time he was President (that is, till August 1987) but read enough about international and US affairs to form an opinion about him even way back then.
His admirers say he "defeated" the Soviet Union and "won" the Cold War though they're quite vague about how he did it. Outspent the communists in an arms race? Dragged down the Soviets in Afghanistan by building up the Bin Ladens and the precursors to the Taliban against them? Some of these explanations for Reagan's supposed success sound quite bizarre. I think he was mainly lucky that enlightened leaders like Gorbachev realized the value of market driven systems and Democracy, and their reforms overlapped with Reagan's tenure. True, he didn't do anything stupid like GWB may have done in launching military adventures to re-unite the communist block against the US and halt their reforms. But that's hardly saying much.
On the domestic front, Reagan's policies were even less creditworthy. His tax cuts and build up of deficits created a temporary boom that borrowed against the future and pushed economic woes in the lap of his hapless successor, George H.W. Bush. I couldn't understand the Reagan nostalgia, but didn't have the words to articulate this. Then last year I came across this March 19, 2007 column by Paul Krugman in the New York Times which (to paraphrase Hillary) found my voice. He's since written many columns that drive the point of Reagan's fake legend home.
I'd have expected a literate and well-read person like Obama to have seen all this. So I was quite surprised like many others to see Obama compare Reagan and his Reagan years favorably to the Clinton years. I can understand his taking pot shots against Bill Clinton in order to get at his wife Hillary (I've always been skeptical about Obama's "clean campaign" promises) but this is the worst way to do so. Last night in the CNN Presidential debate in South Carolina Obama tried to qualify what he had said earlier, but it isn't enough. His comments prompted Krugman to write another column yesterday (January 21, 2007) about debunking the Reagan myth.
Last night Obama also took a cheap shot at Hillary mentioning he was doing all those grand things in the community while she was sitting on the corporate board of Wal Mart. Hillary returned the favor by referring to his work for a Chicago slum lord who is a campaign contributor. The exchange was unseemly and I may be prejudiced but Mr. (purported) Clean is the one who started it, and she'd have suffered if she had not retaliated.
So far Obama seems to be having it both ways on the racial front. He's winning the African American support simply because of skin color (even though ironically he doesn't share any of the typical African American history) and skillful references to issues like the Jena 6. Think about it - if all else was exactly the same, would Oprah have endorsed and campaigned for him the way she did if he was white? At the same time his other supporters don't yet seem turned off either by his subtle play of the race card, or by his lack of substance.
The polls show Obama will sweep South Carolina because of the African American vote, and I'd expect the Hillary camp to be braced for this. Hopefully, she'll be able to recover adequately for Super Tuesday on Feb. 5th when over half of the total delegates will be elected.