Monday, June 8, 2009

Nancy Reagan and the Great Communicators

Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music.
--Ronald Reagan

What a moving sight it was last week when 87-year-old Nancy Reagan returned to the White House, her former home, on the arm of the current president—a man whom, according to her son, Mrs. Reagan very much admires. There to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birthday of her beloved “Ronnie,” Mrs. Reagan clearly enjoyed the company of another “great communicator.”

Ronald Reagan was a likable guy. His public persona, which he honed as an actor and adapted to his role as a politician, was one of sincerity, conviction, and optimism. However, he was very much a product of his time, seeing the world as it was during World War II, divided into two great camps: good and evil, right and wrong, “us” and “them.”

For the most part, Reagan aimed his considerable rhetorical arsenal exclusively at the American people, talking about but rarely to the leaders (and never to the people) of other nations. Reagan got a lot of credit for the eventual d├ętente and arms reduction treaties between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. However, it was Mikhail Gorbachev—winner of the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize—who first extended the hand of friendship.

President Obama communicates with the world. Within hours after his meeting with Mrs. Reagan, he was abroad again—this time in Cairo, Egypt—speaking to an audience largely composed of young followers of Islam. His words of respect and understanding resounded throughout Muslim countries, greatly diminishing the distrust and animosity that have enabled terrorists to recruit new followers. Then, as always, this great communicator did not speak down to his audience but shared with them human hopes, dreams, and aspirations for a new world order of peace and prosperity.

Today we are in the midst not of a revolution but rather a cultural evolution. As with the evolution of species, change and adaptation of society does not occur at a measured, geologic pace. Things happen that cause a society—like a species—to leap forward. The change that has come to America in the past several months is such an event. For those willing to let go of the old paradigms, it is now possible to envision a world in which people of good faith can work together in harmony toward common goals.

Despite all the work that remains to be done, it is now possible to relinquish old habits of hatred, fear, and despair and genuinely embrace the notion that life everywhere—everywhere on Planet Earth—really is “one grand, sweet song.”


Idna said...

Much of what Obama said in Cairo last week was the same as 8-years of President Bush's foreign policy statements with a little "me too, me too, I have Muslim roots" added in.

The Wall Street Journal had an article titled 'Barack Hussein Bush' which talked about Obama basically restating what Bush used to say. Here's a short excerpt:

"One benefit of the Obama Presidency is that it is validating much of George W. Bush's security agenda and foreign policy merely by dint of autobiographical rebranding. That was clear enough yesterday in Cairo, where President Obama advertised "a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world." But what he mostly offered were artfully repackaged versions of themes President Bush sounded with his freedom agenda.

So there was Mr. Obama, noting that rights such as "freedom to live as you choose" and "the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed" were "not just American ideas, they are human rights." There he was insisting that "freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together," and citing Malaysia and Dubai as economic models for other Muslim countries while promising to host a summit on entrepreneurship.

There he was too, in Laura Bush-mode, talking about the need to expand opportunities for Muslim women, particularly in education. "I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles," he said. "But it should be their choice."

Mr. Obama also offered a robust defense of the war in Afghanistan, calling it "a war of necessity" and promising that "America's commitment will not weaken." That's an important note to sound when Mr. Obama's left flank and some Congressional Democrats are urging an exit strategy from that supposed quagmire. On Iraq, he acknowledged that "the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein" and pledged the U.S. to the "dual responsibility" of leaving Iraq while helping the country "forge a better future." The timeline he reiterated for U.S. withdrawal is the one Mr. Bush negotiated last year."


Some of the things that Bush did NOT do was constantly apologise for the US on foreign soil, make an enemy of Israel and believe that merely "nice talk" will make our enemies LIKE us and give up trying to destroy us.

Anonymous said...

So, if I'm reading this right, 1) not everything Bush did in terms of foreign policy was wrong, and 2)there is some overlap between the policies of the 43rd and 44th presidents. Agreed.

But to the rest of the world, that "artful repackaging" seems to make all the difference.

Sue said...

Indeed, many of the things the current president is saying are similar to those the previous president said. There are a few significant differences. The most important one is the attitude that we are all in this world together and we all need to work together for the common good. The Americans under Obama are not out to impose their system on the world, and there is a recognition that the American way may not be the only, much less the best way of doing things.

As to Israel, 60+ years of supporting the Israeli position in the Middle East has not resolved the problems there. It is time to try a different approach, one that recognizes the rights of all people in the region. If that "makes an enemy of Israel," so be it. The Palestinians have rights, too.

It was an early president whose motto was "walk softly and carry a big stick." We still have the stick. Maybe it's time to try "walking softly" again.