Which Presidents Should Obama Copy?

By

Barack Obama may have been a one-of-a-kind candidate, but the issues he confronts and the agenda he seeks to implement all have precedents in our fascinating presidential history. And so, as Obama transitions from pseudo-president to actual president, a number of his predecessors have become useful models to study, emulate, or, in some cases, avoid. Given the bleak economic situation, FDR seems like an obvious choice to copy. But what about Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, or even George W. Bush? (Sorry, Millard Fillmore, nobody cares about the lessons of your presidency.)

• Paul Krugman says "Obama should learn from F.D.R.’s failures as well as from his achievements." The New Deal was successful in the long run with programs like Social Security, but in the short term it was an "inadequate response to the Great Depression itself." The reason, as odd as it sounds, is that FDR didn't spend enough. Obama should learn from this and be bold, and "err on the side of too much stimulus" rather "than on the side of too little." [NYT]

• Matthew Yglesias agrees that "dramatic action" is needed, but worries that some congressmen in vulnerable districts will "look at plans for an expansive agenda and start getting queasy." However, now is a rare instance when "good policy and good politics" align. [Think Progress]

• Amity Shlaes writes that "three economic reforms under discussion now were also central in the New Deal package," but weren't quite successful or "failed outright." These included a stimulus package and infrastructure projects, and, additionally, FDR's "leadership style," which he used "to give himself a license to do true experimenting" that ended up scaring the markets. [NYP]

• E.J. Dionne Jr. says that as "Reagan had the voters' permission to move away from strategies associated with liberalism, Obama has sanction to move away from conservative policies." And just like Reagan, Obama "should not fear" taking bold first steps. He should also look to FDR as a model to link together "the objectives of economic recovery and greater social justice." [WP]

• Scott Rasmussen contends that the themes of Obama's campaign "followed the approach that worked for Ronald Reagan." Most critically, "Obama's tax-cutting promise became his clearest policy position." The trick will be governing like Reagan, whose legacy is still popular overall but unpopular among Democrats, and avoiding mistakes like that of George H.W. Bush, who was punished for reneging on his promise not to raise taxes. [WSJ]

• Karen Tumulty writes that the Obama campaign certainly isn't following Bill Clinton in one respect: the transition. Clinton "did not make a single major appointment in the first six weeks after he was elected," and then "put far more emphasis in bringing together a diverse and glamorous cabinet [than] he did in building a functional White House staff." Obama is instead looking to the "more successful models of Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, putting his initial priority on the White House operation." [Swampland/Time]

• Jonathan Cohn wonders whether our current, hugely unpopular president could actually be a useful model for Obama. Bush's accomplishments may not have made us better off, but they "represent a realization of goals that he, his fellow travelers in the conservative movement, or both had sought for years or even decades." Bush "understood political opportunity when it presented itself and he seized it," utilizing a "stubborn focus on goals and willingness to push political boundaries aggressively." Similarly, Obama has "made it clear he's not about to back away from goals just because they'll encounter initial resistance." [Plank/New Republic]

• Of course, as Jeff Zeleny reports, Obama won't be following most of Bush's policies. He is "poised to move swiftly to reverse actions that President Bush took using executive authority, and his transition team is reviewing limits on stem cell research and the expansion of oil and gas drilling, among other issues." [NYT]