In all fairness to President Obama, he has expended so much energy attempting to rewrite and co-opt Reagan's legacy that he may not recognize the real "Gipper." That's the problem with political spin; you eventually lose sight of the actual truth. It may be debated whether the Obama camp believes its nonsense or is just tossing about a ridiculous premise in hope of hitting upon a political advantage. But there's no question they've missed the point of Reagan's presidency and the reason for his popularity.
Reagan's ease behind the microphone is legendary. His title of "Great Communicator" wasn't bestowed; it was earned. But Reagan's oratorical skills weren't rooted in intellectual superlatives. That's today's political trend, where speakers adopt incomprehensible positions on every conceivable issue until it's impossible to determine what they actually believe about anything. Reagan didn't have that problem, although he was well-versed on intricate domestic and foreign policy issues. Reagan succeeded because he presented a clear message that resonated with his audience.
Ronald Reagan refused to complicate the simple. Rather he stayed committed to three key themes: economic growth, America's image, and opposing communism. He never struggled with his message because he spoke from those core convictions, which recognized his audience's desires above his own.
Reagan wanted America to regain its economic confidence, which produces growth. He accomplished that goal. Yet he was no magician; he didn't rely on sleight of hand and favorable media coverage to create jobs and boost the GDP. Reagan didn't worry about convincing the media or his Washington colleagues that he was right; he convinced the American people that he believed we were right. He developed a rapport with the public that forced even ardent political adversaries to coalesce to some extent. Reagan bet on the entrepreneurial spirit rather than on the political manure. It was a winning hand . . . twice.
Reagan recognized and appreciated America's desire for national pride. The Vietnam War, a deteriorating military preparedness, the Iran Hostage Crisis, and a long economic malaise had taken a toll on America's confidence and prestige. His military initiatives represented an approach to national defense that everyone, friend and foe, could understand. Reagan's "peace through strength" doctrine allowed him to take a stand when necessary and walk away when practical.
Communism is invariably immoral and wholly incompatible with liberty. Nowhere was that more apparent than in the Soviet Union, which Reagan rightly recognized as the evil empire. Simply put, communism is political bullying, and years of backing down to Soviet bullying had weakened America. The Soviet leaders soon learned that Reagan differed from his predecessors. He was determined to prove to the USSR, the world, and America itself that endless supplication was no longer an option.
That's not to say that Reagan was a stubborn mule. But he saw no reason to hamstring America with one-sided arms treaties that banned our revolutionary defense systems while requiring the Russians to abandon only their obsolete technologies. Moscow threatened war over plans to deploy Pershing missiles in Europe. Reagan called their bluff. The Soviets huffed, puffed, and snarled, then folded their hand. Their harsh façade was irreparably compromised.
You'll seldom find me supporting an Obama initiative. But he has, albeit unwittingly, given Mitt Romney a solid campaign strategy. Conservatives should hope the Obama camp is 100-percent correct and Mitt Romney is the most conservative Republican presidential nominee since Barry Goldwater. Mitt can determine his own three core themes. But sincere conservatism carried Reagan to two landside victories. There's no reason it won't work for Romney, too, if he's willing to embrace it.