Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Ghost of Ronald Reagan

Elections, we are told, are about the future. But so far, the 2008 Presidential election has been very much about the past -- and the legacy of Ronald Reagan.

John McCain, fighting to get control of the fractious Republican party, will later this week dust off old black-and-white photos with the then-Governor Reagan taken shortly after he was released from captivity in Hanoi:

Mitt Romney has spent much of the past month attempting to lay claim to the mantle of "the Reagan legacy" himself, albeit without much success. (It should be noted that neither McCain nor Romney has observed Reagan's 11th Commandment.)

On the Democratic side, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama famously engaged in a squabble during the South Carolina primary about whether Obama supported Reagan's politics, and whether Reagan was "transformative" political figure.

But the real parallel may be with Reagan's 1976 campaign for the nomination. Like Obama, Reagan was running against a virtual incumbent (Gerald Ford), at least in the eyes of the party, but one who had never been elected. Like 1976, the field was a two-person race (Reagan was actually almost knocked out of the running in the early primaries, rallying in North Carolina.) And like 1976, it appears that Obama will chase Hillary all the way to the convention, where Reagan gave one of the most famous concession speeches in modern political history.

And a speech that pointed the way to the Reagan sweep in 1980.

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