Call him Reagan 2.0. By the end of the week, a thankful nation will settle down to anticipate the hope and change that will accrue from the presidency of a Ronald Reagan for a new generation: Mitt Romney.
In online technology, "2.0" is the term used to describe digital advances that have empowered individual users, brought economic growth and opportunity, and engendered a cultural and social revolution. Web 1.0 ushered in the online revolution; Web 2.0 brought it to a new and more individually empowering level. Similarly, Reagan 1.0 ushered in a revolution in governance, with his foreign policy and economic successes arguably dwarfing anything accomplished in the modern presidency. And shortly begins the watershed in governance of Reagan 2.0, Mitt Romney. Romney will spend the next eight years advancing the cause of individual empowerment, economic opportunity, and national decency, building a 21st-century framework for the uniquely American values so carefully put in place by the founding fathers a quarter-century ago.
Blasphemy, you say. Every conservative worth his or her copy of the Federalist Papers knows there can be no other Ronald Reagan. He is the political gold standard, generally acknowledged, according to Gallup, to be the best president...evah. Rush Limbaugh often refers to him as Ronaldus Magnus, emphasizing the iconic and transformative nature of his leadership. And his stature has grown so over the years that Barack Obama, ever the great pretender, has been moved to claim "parallels" between his presidency and that of Reagan, while media elites have spent a significant portion of his presidency trying to tell us that Obama is, in fact, a new Reagan (TIME magazine: "Why Obama Loves Reagan").
And Mitt Romney? The conservative elite line goes this way: it is only in the last few weeks that he has become inspiring, only in the last few days that he has become consistently conservative, only as the race grinds to an end that he has shown flashes of leadership. No Reagan, of course -- not even a pale imitation, as the New York Times's house conservative, David Brooks, has pointed out. Reagan was compassionate, Brooks explained, while "Thurston Howell Romney" has no "sense of the social compact" and "knows nothing" about the "ambition and motivation" that drive ordinary people. Recall that Brooks was last seen running his eyes lovingly up and down the leg of Barack Obama. (Who can forget the now-classic inanity of his Obama bromance -- "I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant and I'm thinking, a) he's going to be president and b) he'll be a very good president"?).
Meanwhile, the liberal yin to the conservative Beltway yang has grown angrier and nastier as Election Day approaches. The Washington Post warns that if voters put "Romney and his ilk" in office, the country will see a return to the policies of Andrew Johnson, who followed Lincoln in the presidency and tried -- as our Vice President Biden so smoothly put it -- to "put y'all back in chains."
To be fair, a number of conservatives have seen greatness in Romney, who has long been one of the most consistent proponents of exceptionally American and conservative positions. Ann Coulter has been unwavering in her support, praising him as he "cheerfully campaigns on, the biggest outsider and most conservative candidate we've run for president since Reagan." Reagan and Romney, she says...in the same breath!
And the grandees sneer. How utterly, tiresomely déclassé (defined as "inferior, lower in class" -- grandee-speak for, say, Sandy victims on Staten Island). And yet, that is exactly what is happening around the country, away from Washington and Los Angeles and San Francisco. In southwestern Virginia, for example, where the jes' folks lives, my wife and others watched an unflappable Mitt smile his way through a third debate that the experts claim he lost "on points" and were buoyed by his sunny nature, his rock-solid conservatism and genuine compassion. "He reminds me a little of Ronald Reagan," my wife said, watching.
Romney surpasses Reagan 1.0 in four ways. First, he provokes more hatred because, unlike Reagan, a mere actor, Mitt should know better. Romney, who has wealth and pedigree, could be enjoying afternoon tea at the Palm Court at the Plaza with Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, and other members of the media establishment. Instead, jeers Dowd, his favorite food is "meat loaf cakes," the kind of fare commonly found in Queens and Staten Island -- before FEMA got involved in disaster relief. Reagan scholar Paul Kengor recalls the unanimous establishment view of Reagan as "a dawdling old fool who wanted to blow up the world and who disliked the homeless, the poor, minorities." Reagan 2.0 is not old. Again, he just should know better.
Robert McFarlane, a national security adviser for President Reagan, identifies three qualities that set Reagan apart: a "rock-solid commitment to American values," "integrity and political courage," and "the ability to inspire confidence." Reagan 2.0 surpasses 1.0 in all of these areas: Romney displays a commitment in both personal and public life to Judeo-Christian values -- Reagan's personal life was, at times, problematic; his campaign and lifestyle are living testament to a relentless commitment to Christian service and an ordinarily exceptional America that has gone out of vogue since the Reagan presidency; and he displays the sunny confidence of what the Las Vegas Review-Journal call a "moral, capable and responsible man." He combines Reagan's leadership skills with shrewd management capabilities and Reagan's disposition with the savvy of someone who has devoted his life to making dysfunctional organizations work -- for everyone, not just for those who think that hell is meatloaf and ketchup.
And so January begins the national transformation of Mitt Romney, Reagan 2.0. And, to paraphrase the angry mentor of the outgoing resident of the White House, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright: the founders' chickens will be coming home to roost.
Stuart Schwartz, formerly a media and consumer merchandising executive, is on the faculty of the School of Communication at Liberty University in Virginia.