I haven't heard a reasonable response from Obama explaining his invocation of Reagan. I understand, as his people said in response to Edwards, that Obama was "acknowledging Reagan’s ability to change the political landscape." But that's not good enough; in fact, that completely misses the point. According to Obama, Reagan "tapped into what people were already feeling, which was, ‘We want clarity, we want optimism, we want, you know, a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing,’" Rick Perlstein has eloquently explained how wrong and dangerous that view is.
I was 28 in 1980. The nation may have been in a bad place then, but not in any of the ways advertised by the Reagan campaign. The big event of 1980, according to Reagan and the MSM, was not a 1980 event at all--it was the dragging on and on of the hostage situation in the American Embassy in Iran begun in 1979. Seems pretty trivial in these post-9/11 days, but back then everyone knew how many days it had been since the takeover. It was all a product of our long-term, oil-driven meddling in the Mid-East which, of course, was not about to improve with Reagan.
The other big event was inflation caused by OPEC raising oil prices and restricting supply. People suffered from inflation, sure, but Reagan et al. made it much, much worse by telling people they shouldn't have to put up with less heat in the winter, AC in the summer or gas in the car. And, of course, Reagan and his cronies had absolutely no intention of addressing our dependence on oil.
Elsewhere in the US, needy families got more help from food stamps and AFDC than they've ever gotten since: that was advertised as a crisis of waste, fraud and abuse and bloated government.
The US was devoting serious attention and energy to human rights around the world: that was advertised as Jimmy Carter making a fool of himself in the eyes of the world.
Meanwhile, Reagan's supporters and beneficiaries were cashing in on high energy prices, busting unions, closing plants, slashing jobs and blaming government both for supposedly being forced to do these things and for being prevented from doing them more ruthlessly--they were desperate to get their man in office so they could get their hands on all those excessive (that is, living) wages being paid to workers, and all that pension and social security money.
Maybe I'm wrong about some of the details--I wasn't particularly political in 1980--and if you weren't there maybe it is hard to imagine how Reaganism sucked the hope out of all progressive movement in the US, demonstrating that no appeal to generosity or human decency had a chance against public encouragement of ignorance, selfishness and greed. But to hear Obama speak of Reagan's change of direction as anything but an embarrassing, demoralizing, loathesome dive into the toilet is appalling. Just appalling.