01/29/2012 10:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Both Sides Now : Reagan and Matalin Debate Obama's 'Patriotic Populism' and Newt-Nancy

By Mark Green

While President Obama and Mitt Romney gained from their State of the Union and debate performances, respectively, Newt Gingrich seemed to be flailing and failing, a cut above the Costa Concordia captain. Ron Reagan and Mary Matalin discuss the state of Obama after his red-white-blue address and Romney's "manly" pushback on investments and immigration (click below to hear whole show).

*On Obama's Exceptionally American SOTU. From singing at his Apollo fund-raiser to his Navy Seal-bin Laden SOTU finale, did Obama find his voice after years of conservative attacks on his American credentials? Recall such slanders as Gingrich's Saul Alinsky/Kenyan socialist, Romney's apologize-for-America vs. believe-in-America, Palin's pals-around-with-terrorists.

The Host asks about the President's theme and accomplishments, namely: a) his declaration that we can't go back to the economic policies that resulted in eight million jobs lost; b) the proposed Buffett Rule; c) his legislative and foreign policy accomplishments (as lauded by last week's Time and Newsweek covers).

Mary agrees that it's wrong to call 44 "un-American" but adds that socialist is no big deal since it merely describes an economic system or school of thought, like capitalism. She adds that polls show that his SOTU didn't make new converts since "his strength is his curse -- more rhetoric than performance." As for his success at killing terrorists and pirates, Mary only credits "our troops." As for the Buffett rule, she dismisses it as a "ruse" to distract from "the President's preposterous argument that wealth creates poverty."

Ron thinks that Obama's "patriotic populism" is politically and economically smart. The public hates the unfairness that Romney earns $57,000 a day, as much as they average a year, yet pays such a low tax rate; and in the same vein, he dismisses Mary's argument about cap gains being double-taxed since so much else is taxed more than once (corporate salaries, property and sales taxes...).

And though he often grouses that Obama hasn't done enough, Ron agrees that "he's done a lot" on health care, Wall Street Reform, economic recovery, bin Laden, and more. He also bluntly concludes that the avalanche of attacks on the President's American credentials owe to "his funny name and different color... Republicans didn't like Bill Clinton but no one said he was un-American."

*On Romney's Comeback in Florida. There's a consensus that the former governor is up and Gingrich is down in Florida, though reasons vary. Mary credits Romney's strong debate appearances this week, especially his robust defense of his business success in our free enterprise system. She acknowledges that the "vast right-wing conspiracy" (e.g., Drudge, Dole, Will, Coulter, Abrams...) did drop a Newtron bomb on the ex-Speaker but also that he spent too much time arguing over the past rather than the future.

Ron believes that Gingrich lived and died by the sword of his glib charges but also that "while Romney isn't anti-immigrant, he plays one on TV with his stuff about self-deporting. But it's hard to know what he actually believes." (After NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported that Romney's grand-parents escaped to Mexico to practice polygamy in the late 1800s and then illegally returned to America around the turn of the prior century, the Host wonders whether Romney will self-deport and get in line to become fully legal... then lets the panelists off-the-hook by claiming to be kidding.)

Question pre-Florida primary: Isn't the level of persistently personal vitriol between the two candidates waay beyond what's usual (Reagan-Ford, Obama-Clinton) and, with their unfavorables both rising, won't it hurt whoever ends up in a general election? Ron thinks that the President benefits from the brutal exchanges. While Mary agrees that their exchanges have been more acrimonious than earlier contests, she thinks that these salvos will largely strengthen Romney over time, not diminish him. Ron doubts that the frequent association of Romney with words like "Swiss banks" and "Cayman Islands" will be a plus this Fall.

Finally, the Host asks Ron Reagan about Newt Gingrich's repeated invocation of his father and, more recently, his mother. Here's the exchange:

Mark Green: "Gingrich's closing argument is that he's President Reagan and Romney is President Obama...But in 1986 he attacked your father Reagan as weak on the Soviet Union and compared the upcoming Reagan-Gorbachev Summit to 'Chamberlain-Hitler.' Ron, your view?"

Ron Reagan: "Well it's no surprise that Republican candidates invoke my father and Newt Gingrich does it more than others. You'd think he was riding around on my father's right shoulder. I don't think my father would have recognized Newt Gingrich if he had stood up in his soup.

There is that one mention on page 123 of his Diaries from 1983 when Gingrich and other young Republican congressmen came in for a meeting and talked about a budget freeze. My father said that was a tempting idea but would ruin our defense buildup and so he wouldn't do it. That was the sole mention of Gingrich in his Diaries.

...He now claims that my mother has annointed him as the one to whom the torch has been passed. I happen to know for a fact that that is not my mother's view about Newt Gingrich."

Green: "So you know Nancy Reagan, Nancy Reagan is a mother of yours and Newt Gingrich is ...ok."

Reagan: "You got it."

*Quick Take: Catholic Charities. Ron and Mary clash on the Administration's decision to require Catholic charities to provide contraceptive service. She thinks Catholics will be angry over a "freedom of conscience issue" while Ron believes that most Catholics use birth control devices and that a hospital serving all is different than a Church with a membership.

*Then: The panelists talk about the Oscars and SAG, the cost of wheelchairs, kidney transplants, and the Superbowl.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now, which is powered by the American Federation of Teachers.

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