An Obama Revolution—or Not?

A popular president faces big problems but with supreme self-confidence rolls out an audacious series of solutions.

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A popular president faces big problems but with supreme self-confidence rolls out an audacious series of solutions. "Rarely have such far-reaching changes been proposed for the U.S. economy...launching the nation on a dramatic and unexplored course that reverses decades-old policies." That's how U.S. News summed up the first phase of a monumental presidency—28 years ago. "The Reagan Revolution" was our cover headline March 2, 1981, and we dissected Ronald Reagan's bold plan to not only kick-start a moribund economy but reverse a trend of gov-ernment expansion that had begun in the 1930s.

It was tough medicine in the short run—massive cuts in spending programs coupled with high interest rates designed to snuff out inflation. "If misery loves company, then everybody'd better love everybody else, because we didn't overlook anyone," Reagan said. But the longer-term changes were equally profound: tax cuts and deregulation that shifted money and power to the private sector to stimulate the juices of capitalism. The outcome was mixed, and it is still debated. But the transformation could fairly be called revolutionary, at least by the civilized standards of American politics. No blood was shed, but fundamental changes were set in motion to the point that the words Reagan and revolution are now joined in perpetuity.

Now comes Barack Obama, who wants to get some of those juices back in the bottle. Obama's opening bid has framed an agenda as bold as Reagan's, although one of its key goals is to undo some of the basic principles that were adopted by Reagan and followed by his three successors. Government is no longer "the problem" but the solution. Like Reagan, Obama has seized on the current economic crisis as an opportunity. Starting with the nearly trillion-dollar stimulus bill, he is overhauling government regulation, education, energy and the environment, and healthcare. Yet to come: taxes. Also like Reagan, he has revised the way we deal with the rest of the world, although this time it's with a much softer tone.

Reversal. Some, including Obama's own advisers, argue that the actions are pragmatic approaches to solve problems. Others see a calculated shift leftward. Still others say it's not far enough. And of course, the ultimate question is whether it will work. ("Despite the White House optimism," we wrote in 1981, "the nation is clearly nervous about what lies ahead.") Whatever the outcome, we think something big is afoot. It sounds like a revolution to us.

But what do you think? Are we overplaying a handy media catchphrase? Is Obama likely to be more business-as-usual in Washington? Or is he really about to fundamentally change American society? Drop me a line at, and let me know your thoughts.