Thoughts on Beinart on Reagan and Obama

Peter Beinart provides numerous interesting reflections on President Reagan and how his administration has been (mis)characterized in the past twenty years. One line stood out to me as having critical current implications.


“If Obama does not want to be Jimmy Carter, if he does not want Americans to equate his restraint with their humiliation, he must be as aggressive as Reagan in finding symbolic ways to soothe Americans' wounded pride.”


This is a great quote because it suggests one of the ways in which the ultimate in soft power (words) can serve some of the same functions as the ultimate in hard power (war): making us feel better. In the America of September 12th, our national belief in the comfort, safety and invulnerability of our society were fractured.


Perhaps as important, the images we held of ourselves were in jeopardy. Arching our collective back and clenching the national fist felt necessary and urgent. Ultimately, our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were much more about vengeance than self-defense.


At this point, though, it’s clear we aren’t ‘winning’ these wars. Acknowledging that reality, while boosting national confidence in who we are, will require President Obama’s greatest rhetorical efforts yet. He’ll be doing something that hurts while saying something that heals.




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