In last weeks issue of Newsweek magazine there is an exchange that I find very interesting. The occasion of the conversation is the publication of Sean Wilentz’s new book "The Age of Reagan." The book is a more favorable look at Ronald Reagan that one might expect from a more liberal author.
There is a much more extensive conversation between Sean Wilentz (as I said above, a self-professed liberal) and George Will (a self-professed conservative and long-time Reagan admirer).
SEAN WILENTZ: I think there is a mold which was thought [of] in the 1950s as the all-pervasive, consensus, liberal tradition in the American life. And the mold was a great leader who mobilizes a coalition, which manages to take on the interests, one way or another—whether it’s the slave[-owning] power or the malefactors of great wealth. These are the characters we think of and who are usually liberals in one way or another. What Reagan did was something different—it was to lead with the same spirit and optimism and forward-looking hope that liberals had projected, but in the name of policies that were frankly conservative. And he managed to do that in a way that no previous president, and certainly no conservative president, had managed to do before.
GEORGE WILL: I think that’s right. What makes Ronald Reagan hard to fit quite into the American or even conservative tradition is that he understood that you cannot govern this country if you’re a pessimist. Pessimism has always been a strand of conservatism—pessimism about human nature, pessimism about government. Reagan simply understood when people said that Eisenhower’s smile was his philosophy. In a way, that was Reagan’s philosophy. He said that when the American people are happy, good things happen: they invest, they save, they have children. So he thought that getting America back to cheerfulness was an intensely practical program.
Now this is a preaching blog, not a political blog (and I am determined to keep it that way). And I, as much as the next fellow, could enumerate many of Reagan’s flaws. But I think that there is a legitimate point here about pastoral leadership. There is no benefit in covering over problems and difficulties. But one of the keys to effective leadership seems to be the attitude one brings to the problem. I am fairly melancholic and that works against me (or I let it work against me). The importance of the smile, the positive outlook, remembering the power of God is at work, even in sinful people, must be kept at the forefront.
What do you think? Am I glossing over it too blithely?