A reader writes:
I agree that Obama has a chance to reorient American politics the way Reagan did, but I think he first needs to explain to the American public a comprehensive political philosophy.
Like Reagan, Obama ran against a political philosophy that was weakened by current events (2008 meltdown was to laissez-faire economics/deregulation as Stagflation was to Big Government liberalism). Reagan explained that government wasn't always the answer, and was often part of the problem. His subsequent tax and regulatory policies were consistent with his stated philosophy.
Obama's philosophy could be called "pragmatism," but the problem is that while pragmatism might reorient how things get done in Washington, it won't reorient the country's political philosophy because it won't connect with the public.
Voters knew where Reagan would come out on an issue, even if they disagreed with him. If voters ask themselves what Obama will do to address a problem, and the answer is "Whatever government programs/regulations he can get thru Congress," they will both disagree with him (he'll "betray" liberals and anger conservatives) and have no sense of what compromises he will make on subsequent issues.
In an age where government actions is needed, Obama needs to have a simple hook with voters to explain his philosophy, something along the lines of "Not big or small government, but effective governance." Following a period where regulators didn't regulate, because "the market" was never wrong, the public clearly believes that the markets aren't always right, but that government isn't much better.
If Obama can explain his philosophy as a shift from "markets vs. government" to "how to best utilize markets to create opportunity for the general public" has a chance to truly reorient the political landscape.