Obama as Reagan 2.0

Caught a bit of Michael Krasny’s Forum yesterday on KQED, and heard that George Lakoff will be on the second hour today: 10-11am, Pacific time.  Michael is among the most intellectual and probing of interviewers, and I look forward to hearing how he does with George. If you miss that, get the podcast.

What you’ll hear from George about politics, and especially about the appeal of Barack Obama, is unlike anything you’ll hear anywhere else. And perhaps more important as well, because George’s work has had a deep influence on the Obama campaign, and especially the candidate’s speechwriting.

This first post-primary TV ad by the Obama campaign. Listen to Lakoff and you’ll see exactly how it appeals to deep unconscious meanings of shared values across political divides. Reagan did it in 1980, and by the time the next decade was over the Republicans were the party of traditional American values while the Democrats were the party of tax’n’spend Liberals, fading unions and collections of minority interest groups. Blame talk radio and Fox News for that, if you like (or the Democrats themselves, who certainly deserve it); but it was Reagan’s work. And it was genius. George Lakoff has studied that genius. So has Barack Obama.

In the primaries Obama beat the Clinton machine with a much more modern and functional one, geared to a wider, deeper appeal: one targeted across political divides.

Ignore policy statements for a minute. Ignore “issues”. Ignore race, voting records and the bullshit that gasses up TV news. Look at how Obama appeals. Ask What are the deeper sensibilities he is appealing to? Then look back at what Reagan did in 1980, and through the presidency that followed. Then look at how well Obama is raising money and weakening the oppositional resolve of conservatives like George Will.

The best competitors learn from both their own mistakes and their opponents successes. The Obama Campaign has been doing that for the Democratic party from the start.

In November, the best Reagan will win.


  1. Ed Brenegar’s avatar

    I think the jury is still out. He could be a Reagan and succeed as you say or a Carter and fail because he outsmarted himself by thinking the answer lies in Washington. Both were smart Presidents. One succeed while the other one didn’t. One succeed by understanding what the American people wanted, and the other didn’t because he didn’t understand what the country needed from its President.

    The question for me is how Obama’s policies will change the Federal government. If he becomes the most expensive President in US history, then he fails to understand that inherent in his campaign’s approach is power and opportunity distributed to people in local communities throughout the nation. There is already a revenue battle waged between federal, state and local governments. If he grows the Federal government, then he fails to understand the fundamental shift that is taking place in our society.

    As a former Democrat, the question remains whether he’ll live up to Reagan’s conception of Democrat Party, or change it to be something more contemporary. For the me the question is to open.

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Good observations, Ed.

    He’s going to have a hard time, no matter what.

    What do you mean by “Reagan’s conception of Democrat Party”?

  3. Doug Skoglund’s avatar

    No Doc, your thoughts make a lot of sense — except for one thing — the media will decide who wins and it has nothing to do with Reagan and/or Lakoff.

    The media will flood Obama with FUD — right out of the race because they can’t trust him to serve their needs.

    And, of course, the dumb Democrats will help (IE, the current FISA “Compromise” controversy). Need I say more??

  4. Francine hardaway’s avatar

    Brilliant, Doc, although I also agree with your commeners. I worry every day on Gillmor’s program NewsGang about whether Obama will be beaten first by the racists or by the people forcing him to go to the center to win. Reagan had more skill with the media from his acting career than Obama has with his intelligence and wonkiness.

  5. Gregory Y’s avatar

    It’s interesting to see how this is always about “the sizzle” and never about “the steak”. I still cannot get any meaningful content out of this “debate” of slogans and “me too” strategies. Neither candidate offers sound energy policy, each one knows he wants to be a president, he just doesn’t know what he is going to do when he gets it. What a choice!

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