Jonah Goldberg

The worst thing about the 2008 primaries -- other than, you know, the result -- was the huge amount of time wasted on what amounted to a Republican "Spartacus" re-enactment. Instead of each nominee yelling, "I'm Spartacus," and, "No, I'm Spartacus," we got, "I'm Ronald Reagan!" "No, I'm the real Ronald Reagan here."

The obsession with finding another Reagan was really a veiled slap at the Republican who actually occupied the White House at the time. Nobody was running to be another George W. Bush, nobody promised to give "four more years" of what they got for the last eight.

Everyone understood that running as Bush 2.0 was a bad idea from the outset, but the proof came in the general election, when then-Senator Obama managed to paint John McCain as the reincarnation of Bush.

Things look very different today. President Obama still tries to blame what he can -- and what he can't -- on Bush, but that's growing ever more lame. Increasingly, however, he's also trying to claim the Reagan mantle for himself.

At first it seemed like he just wanted to steal Reagan's re-election playbook. That was the upshot of a lot of wishful thinking masquerading as analysis a few months ago, including a Time magazine cover: "Why Obama (Hearts) Reagan." After all, Reagan blamed a lot of the country's problems on his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, and won re-election in a landslide.

The analogy came apart like toilet paper in a rainstorm when the Obama economy started to grind to a halt like an EPA-approved car with a dead battery and no extension cord.

Reagan's landslide was fueled by huge economic growth, rapidly falling unemployment and growing national optimism. Obama's zero for three on that front.

The intriguing thing is that Obama hasn't let go of Reagan. He and his supporters now invoke the Gipper as a policy role model, not just a strategic one.

In his prime-time debt-ceiling address, he quoted Reagan's support for a debt-reduction deal in 1982 that included increased tax increases. Afterwards, Obama chided, "Those words were spoken by Ronald Reagan. But today, many Republicans in the House refuse to consider this kind of balanced approach."

Translation: See, I'm a mainstream guy who agrees with Reagan. Meanwhile, these knuckle-dragging Tea Partiers are to the right of the most conservative president in our lifetimes. Come back, independents! Love me, moderates!

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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