The Reagan Fallout

In the same way that Hillary’s waterworks dominated the last news cycle before the New Hampshire primary, it looks like Obama’s comments about Ronald Reagan are dominating the pre-Nevada airwaves.

Both Hillary and Bill went all out today criticizing Obama for his suggestion that Reagan “changed thetrajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a waythat Bill Clinton did not” during an interview with the Reno Journal-Gazette Monday. Obama also recently called the Republican party the “party of ideas” for the past fifteen years.

“I don’t think it’s a better idea to privatize Social Security,” Hillary told an audience in Las Vegas. “I don’tthink it’s a better idea to try to eliminate the minimum wage. I don’tthink it’s a better idea to undercut health benefits and to give drugcompanies the right to make billions of dollars by providingprescription drugs to Medicare recipients. I don’t think it’s a betteridea to shut down the government, to drive us into debt.”

For Bill Clinton, of course, the attack was more personal. Not only did Obama call him out by name – he basically said Bill was a lesser leader than Reagan. The former president’s reply was blunt: “I can’t imagine any Democrat seeking the presidency would say theywere the party of new ideas for the last 15 years. But it sounded goodin Reno I guess.”

Obama’s defenders say he wasn’t praising Reagan’s policies, but rather Reagan’s crossover appeal. “What Reagan did is he created Reagan Democrats,” said Rep. Robert Wexler during a campaign conference call today. “What Obama is creating is Obama Republicans and Obama independents.”

Whatever Obama’s intentions, he should have seen this coming. For Dems, praising Ronald Reagan is as anathema as insulting Him is for Republicans. You just don’t do it. Unless, of course, you’re campaigning on a message of bipartisan cooperation and long-view political landscape shifting. In that case, you just might take the risk of praising Reagan. Sure, it could hurt you in the short term, but down the road it might help Democrats appropriate Reagan’s legacy in the same way both parties have tried to appropriate Lincoln’s. In the end, that could be a much more devastating blow to Republicans than shying away from Reagan. Maybe that’s what he was thinking. Or maybe he just wanted to make Bill mad.