Marita Noon - Ronald Reagan: The Sagebrush Rebel

Commentary by Marita Noon - “An economy in distress, vast natural resources locked up with no plans to put them to use, and a regulatory regime that inhibits the development of resources and the creation of jobs.” Sound familiar? These words were written by William Perry Pendley, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy and Minerals at the Department of the Interior under Ronald Reagan. They describe the America that Reagan encountered when he became president in 1981. But, they could just as well be about 2013.
     In his new book, Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan’s battle with environmental extremists and why it matters today, Pendley points to the similarities of the economic climate that both Reagan and Obama had to take on at the start of their presidencies—but their approach to addressing the problems have been very different, as have been the results.
     The campaigning Senator Obama had it right. In a January 15, 2008, interview, Obama said: “I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America ... He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. …government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think he tapped into what people were already feeling. Which is we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”
     In the same interview Obama said he shared personal similarities to Reagan. While he does like to compare himself to Reagan (just search: “Obama compares himself to Ronald Reagan”), the contrast on energy policy couldn't be more stark. Pendley explains that Reagan adhered to the “human exceptionalism paradigm”—which asserted that “human technological ingenuity can continually improve the human situation.” Coming before Reagan, Carter embraced an “environmental paradigm”—that placed environmental limits on growth. Carter’s America is the one about which Obama stated: “…we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.” Yet, Obama has followed Carter’s direction, not Reagan’s and the results are Carter’s, not Reagan’s.Read full column