Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Obama's outbreak of "foot-in-mouth" disease.

I'll freely admit that I was taken aback by the recent comments that Barack Obama made about former president Ronald Reagan. I came home from wherever I was, only to have M. tell me that the presidential candidate praised the Republican icon. Naturally I wondered what he had actually said, and what type of spin the media was putting on his comments. The idea that a Democrat seeking the nomination for the nation's highest office would speak positively about Reagan goes against virtually everything I know about modern party politics. Has the reputation of the most egregious labor-hater in American history been rehabilitated?

What did Obama really say about Mr. Reagan?

"Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it."

While I agree that Reagan "changed the trajectory of America", I wouldn't say that the fact works to his credit. It is true that with the help of tax cuts, he put more money back into the hands of the wealthiest Americans than virtually any federal executive in our history. This was part of his "trickle-down theory"- give money to the rich and it will eventually find its way into the hands of the poor. Of course that turned out to be a scam. Reagan presided over two of the very worst recessions in American history. Ironically, it was Dubya's pappy himself who branded this economic theory "Voodoo Economics" during the 1980 presidential campaign. He knew that a generation later we would still be confronting a national debt accelerated by these ideas.

Reagan oversaw some of the largest spending increases ever. Many conservative pundits insist that their hero was responsible for crushing "The Evil Empire". But the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapsing under its own bloated self-importance and corruption when Reagan first entered office. We would have seen Gorbachev and glastnost even if Ralph Nadar had been president. The reality is that "the Gipper" continued a reactionary campaign of trying to out-spend the Russians in the arms race. Despite the fact that the "Reds" has ceased to be any threat to the West, Reagan authorized the expenditure of ridiculous sums of taxpayer dollars in pursuit of building pie-in-the-sky weapons systems such as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or "Star Wars"). The idea behind that program was that we could have a protective umbrella over the nation that would shield us from a barrage of nuclear missiles. It was thought that the capability would enable us to launch a first strike nuclear war.

The association Obama makes between Clinton and Nixon is simple and dirty politics. He's aware that Hillary is for all-intents-and-purposes running on the record of her husband. It is not at all clear that Mrs. Clinton will have the same priorities and agenda almost a decade later, but that seems to be the prevailing assumption. By attacking Bill's record, Hillary's opponents smear her. It's a page taken out of the tired play-book of the GOP, but the Obama camp is not above appropriating such tactics. It should be noted that if Nixon were a major player in today's political scene, he would be branded more liberal than Obama and/or both Clintons.

Obama did go on to say the following, which should illuminate his true intentions regarding his evocation of Reagan:

"We’re bogged down in the same arguments that we’ve been having, and they’re not useful. And, you know, the Republican approach, I think, has played itself out. I think it’s fair to say the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last ten, fifteen years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom."

Yes, it's true... for a long time the GOP was in the minority. Until Reagan came along with his "Morning in America" bullshit, the Democrats had dominated the federal government for decades. Ronnie managed to bring together a broad coalition of fiscal and social conservatives. Make no mistake- George W. Bush was the apotheosis of that movement. The moment of happy partnership between seemingly disparate constituencies is now past. The experiment is commonly recognized as being a failure, regardless of what Rush Limbaugh and other hacks claim. Obama appears to be asking the media and the American public about what comes next. He is attempting to position himself as the new figure of hope- an approximation of what Ronald Reagan once symbolized to a large segment of the citizenry.

It would be a significant error to believe that Obama has any kinship with Reagan when it comes to political philosophy or beliefs. They are almost diametrically opposed. If his commentary on Reagan's import sways a few in the middle, then Obama could muster the support to overtake Hillary. I'm sure his words were welcome in California, a state with a sizable proportion of citizens who consider former Governor sacred. A little decoding is in order for the rest of us, who despise Reagan as the scourge of the late Twentieth Century.

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