Saturday, September 13, 2008

OK DEMOCRATS, LET’S WIN ONE FOR THE GIPPER

The Democratic Party’s biggest problem is that it never learned to appreciate Ronald Reagan. That’s right, you heard me. That anti-intellectual, anti-environment, voodoo-economist, whose attitude to the needy could be summarized as “let ‘em eat cake,” was nevertheless precisely the kind of leader that a vibrant democracy should produce. He was honest. Visionary. Unafraid of change. Respectful of the people. And, above all, willing to express himself clearly and viscerally about the range of issues that most concerns us as a nation.

Of course I almost never agreed with a word he said. Yet that’s hardly the point. In a healthy democracy, we will have citizens with a range of values and political ideas, and we will have leaders, at different times, that represent a fair swath of that range. Ronald Reagan was elected with the help of a tail wind, when his Democratic predecessor proved incapable of governing. In this great democratic experiment, it is appropriate that we have leaders from the right … from time to time. And at other times, we deserve leaders from the left -- leaders who will clearly let us know that their progressive vision cuts across both their domestic and foreign policy agendas. Leaders whose hearts bleed for the poor, who care deeply about ensuring that the government protects us against “market failures” (and especially those involving the environment), and who are men and women of peace, rather than war.

By all rights, now should be one of the times that America tilts left and elects a true progressive, and not just another Blue Dog, centrist Democrat or “Compassionate Conservative” (i.e, phony) Republican. And now WOULD be one of those times, if the Democratic leadership had learned more to appreciate Ronald Reagan.

What am I talking about? Just think of the kind of campaign that a disciple of the Gipper would be running right now if he were in Barack Obama’s shoes. And to do that, think of the campaign that is now being run against Barack by John McCain.

First, he skewers Barack for his inexperience and then he finds a running mate, Sarah Palin, with an even thinner resume. His speechwriters task Palin with denigrating Barack’s work twenty years back as a “community organizer,” which according to McCain’s minions is a job that lacks “actual responsibilities.” Then, the McCain campaign holds up Palin as a great anti-earmark crusader who said “Thanks, but no thanks” to the Bridge to Nowhere – when the truth is that she has always been pro pork, had no qualms in seeking money for the Bridge to Nowhere, and felt no need to return the money for building the bridge once it arrived in Alaska.

The Bridge to Nowhere lie was outrageous, but it turned out that McCain and Company were just getting warmed up. He ran ads saying that Barack advocated sex-ed for kindergarteners, when in fact Barack merely supported sensible legislation calling for “age and developmentally appropriate education.” And the irony is that McCain ran this dishonest ad soon after Barack went out of his way to threaten to fire any staffer who tried to make political hay out of Bristol Palin’s teen pregnancy.

If that wasn’t enough, the McCain campaign accused Barack of making a sexist smear against Palin by using the phrase “putting lipstick on a pig,” when in fact he merely used a metaphor that McCain himself had used earlier in the campaign, and that quite clearly was not referring to Palin.

Finally, at the same time that McCain was employing these slimeball tactics, his campaign manager proudly proclaimed that this election is not about the issues. Well, there at least you have some honesty. The McCain campaign is saying virtually nothing about any issues that matter, and giving the American public virtually no clue as to how either McCain or Sarah Palin would govern if elected. It seems that, to McCain, the American public does not deserve a substantive debate about how best to change this nation’s off-course Government, but should instead be forced to gorge itself on character attacks and out-and-out lies.

So … the question to ask yourself is, WWRD – what would Reagan do if he were campaigning against John McCain?

I don’t think there’s any question that Reagan would hit back hard. He’d speak to the hearts of Americans about precisely how slimy a campaign John McCain is running. He’d use rhetoric, every bit as much as reasoned analysis. And he’d let us know that given all that is at stake in this election, and especially given the number of times that diversionary tactics have been successfully employed in past elections, the fundamental issue today is whether Americans are finally ready to stop encouraging dishonest and sleazy politicians from seeking the most powerful job in the world.

Reagan would surely praise McCain for his past service. But he would relentlessly mock McCain for thinking that such honorable service in the past somehow gives him the right to resort to dishonesty and diversion in the present – and, presumably, the future. The Gipper would especially mock McCain for those disgusting, self-righteous passages in McCain’s stump speeches where he touts himself as someone who learned at the Hanoi Hilton that he must give of himself 100 percent to the service of his country. Are you kidding me? How exactly does it serve one’s country for politicians to divert attention AWAY from the issues? Or to tell outright lies on the campaign trail? Or to insult the wonderful men and women who selflessly go into our nation’s poorest urban communities and attempt to develop the welfare and the pride of the residents there?

To listen to McCain boast about himself, you’d think he was another Samuel, whose mother Hannah was so appreciative of the ability to conceive a child that she gave away her infant child to Eli, the priest, so that he could spend his entire life in the service of God. Now I haven’t memorized the Bible, but I don’t recall reading that Samuel’s judgeship was focused around tactics of dishonesty and diversion. To me, when you center your candidacy on precisely those tactics, while at the same time proclaiming yourself the Platonic Form of the Patriot … you render yourself a suitable subject of relentless mockery. Or at least that’s what would happen if you were running against the a politician as skilled as the Gipper.

In some respects, Barack Obama is qualified to assume the mantle of the Democratic Reagan. Barack is a great communicator, at least when he gives a stump speech. He has a positive vision, one that is based on hope and not fear – just like the Gipper did. And there is an innocence and self-confidence in the way he expresses is political vision that deeply inspires people, in much the same way that Reagan inspired his own troops. To be sure, Barack’s views are in many ways the polar opposite of Reagan’s – I can hardly imagine Reagan saying that he wants to make working in the Civil Service “cool” – but Barack is Reaganesque in his willingness to let us all know that in the direction in which he would like to take us, he is no centrist. Call Barack a progressive, call him a liberal … use whatever word that you want. For all his realization that you can’t change this nation unless you first unify it, and you can’t unify it unless you treat all people with dignity and open your mind to a range of ideas, Barack clearly wants to move this nation leftward, and he’s not ashamed to let everyone know it. Reagan, who was equally clear about his rightward leanings, would have respected that about Barack.

Yes, folks, it was no accident that Barack had to put up with crap from his fellow Democrats for singing the Gipper’s praises during the primary campaign. I loved that about Barack. He understood much of what made Reagan great.

Much, but not all. And that is deeply unfortunate.

I have not been worried about what kind of president Barack would be. It might take him a little while, but I think he would turn into a superb leader who would transform American’s reputation throughout the world … and usher in many vital reforms domestically. But I have at different times been worried about Barack as a campaigner, and those worries have only been exacerbated in the past fortnight. Reagan would never have put up with the kind of sleazy campaign that McCain has run, but Barack appears to have an unlimited tolerance for being the target of sleazy attacks. It’s as if he never got the memo that negative, even blatantly dishonest, campaigning actually WORKS, at least if the response is not equally potent to Americans with average or below-average intelligence.

Ronald Reagan never had the benefit of watching Dukakis, Gore and Kerry go down to defeat at the hands of diversionary and/or dishonest tactics. Reagan didn’t need to watch it. He instinctively understood that if the American public is presented with two candidates, one of whom appears to be a fighter, and the other of whom appears to be a lover, they’ll elect the fighter every time.

Make no mistake -- in many ways, Barack Obama is ready to fight to take this country in a progressive direction, albeit one that involves making the necessary compromises to significantly unify our racial, geographical and classist divisions. We’ve seen Barack’s spirit on display over and over again in the past twenty months. But – and here’s the rub – can he fight DIRTY? Can he fight with mockery? With ad hominems? With the goal of ruthlessly destroying the reputation of his opponent – in this case, a man who once led a truly heroic life, but has turned into yet another example of a cancer upon our political system?

Ronald Reagan was never such a cancer. As politicians go, he was unusually honest with us. Quibble as you might with the scandals of his Administration, but all Administrations have scandals, and this much is undeniable: we knew EXACTLY what we were getting both of the times we elected Ronald Reagan President. But this year, if we were to elect John McCain and Sarah Palin, we’d have no clue what the hell was in store for us. In terms of foreign policy, they’ve given away nothing in terms of how quickly they’d pull the trigger on a military invasion, and even less of a sense of how they would hope to gain international respect (other than through bombing weaker countries). In terms of domestic policy, we know only that they hate pork -- Sarah Palin’s actual record notwithstanding – but haven’t any idea of how they could prevent a Democratic Congress from curtailing its consumption … let alone how they hoped to fix our health care system or address our other deepening domestic crises.


Today, September 13, 2008, this nation is at a crossroads. We have one ticket that is unwilling to level with us and every bit willing to lie its way into the White House. And we have another ticket that will not “lower itself” to fight back in the only way that a fight can be won – by taking off the gloves. So that leads us but one choice – to remember the words of Barack Obama. “We are the change that we have been looking for.” We – not Barack, and certainly not Joe “The Invisible Man” Biden – must seize the moment.

We-the-People must fight McCain and Palin. We must decry their lies, and demand a return to the issues. This message must be heard on radio stations, in comments to blogs, and even around the water cooler. The next time a Republican defends McCain and Palin as simply doing what politicians always do – divert and deceive – point out to that Republican just how full of crap he or she is.

I say this not because I’m a partisan but because I’m a lover of Jeffersonian Democracy. Back in the late 90s, I didn’t feel free to defend Clinton when he was dishonoring the Office of the Presidency. I attacked Clinton, and did so to my fellow Democrats. Republicans mustn’t feel free to defend McCain when he dishonors the concept of democracy. Let’s make sure they hear that we’re mad as hell as we’re not going to take it any more.

Democracy rests on a free, open marketplace of ideas – not a bunch of People Magazine profiles littered with lies and attacks against holy occupations (like “community organizer”). If we’re not willing to fight for that marketplace of ideas, our proud nation will become increasingly irrelevant overseas.

We owe it to Ronald Reagan – not to mention our planet – to do better. And, believe me, we have absolutely no time to lose.

10 comments:

YoungMan said...

Dan

Jefferson was a man of the people, contrast with Adams (ie Jeffersonian rural populist democracy). Actually if you look at this years electoral map, Obama would win the Adams states and McCain would win the Jefferson states.

Barack is not a man of the people; he is not a Jefferson or a Reagan, he is a man of the academy in the mold of Dukakis and Stevenson. That internal contradiction explains why Obama probably cannot follow your prescription.

T

Daniel Spiro said...

Youngman,

I wouldn't quite call myself a Jefferson scholar, but I've probably read a dozen books about the guy and I can most assuredly tell you that he was not a man of the people. He was a "natural aristocrat."

But your response really makes my point. What makes America great -- or at least what used to make America great -- is that we were a vibrant enough democratic republic to elect BOTH ADAMS AND JEFFERSON president.

That's a democracy. Right now, we have a dysfunctional mess, where one party slimes in the gutter and the other has such cowardice that it is unwilling to react to the slime with honest-to-God indignation.

A plague on both their houses. But first, we need to stop re-electing the party of the slime, and send McCain back to Hypocrisy Manor, or whatever he calls his favorite house.

Betty C. said...

Another great post, but your turn to a less optimistic attitude about this campaign only further es me.

For a more visceral vision of it all, read my last post on And So Forth. Every word is true.

Daniel Spiro said...

Betty,

Sorry for losing some optimism, but I'm not really pessimistic either. I think it's a very close race and impossible to predict.

Anyway, I'll go to your blog right away.

YoungMan said...

What Bolshevik Crap

1) Reagan was against higher taxes, and more government intervention by Comissar Spiro from the Beltway Shethl in people's lives. Peop[le still come to America with aspirations greater than a Dodge Dart and a GS-16.
2) Alternating philosophies do not ipso facto guarantee a more vibrant polity. The fact that you and your ilk have been crushed in 7 of the last 10...and are in serious danger of 8 of 11 is that you screwed it up so badly the last time. 42 years later, we still have vivid memories of Mansfield, McCormick and LBJ, and we see far worse in Obama (never made a private sector penny in his life), Kennedy-Reid (same for the former), and Pelosi (married to one of the biggest Real Estate Magnates in San Francisco), and realize that Democrats in control of all branches would be devastating. Let me flip your argument, Danno, everyonne in Euro Socialist land has thought the same way for 63 years. Their polities are hardly more vibrant and quite a bit more ossified.

3) I, and those who cling to their religion and go deer (or moose) hunting, don't care about what they think overseas. If Obama stopped playing to the Aveyron Advocate, and more to the Allentown Advertiser, he might (but doubtful) be ahead.
4) The biggest sleazy liehis campaign is McCain=McSame=Bush III. You and I both know it; the voters outside the Amtrak Corridor know it and that's why you're losing. Unless Obama can come up with something better than that and soon, you're going down again.

Please don't offend my, or your readers sensibilities by trying to say I made your point, when in fact I didn't. The fact is you ignored my point, and tried to twist it it to make a different one.

Michael Moore and Markos Moulitsas couldnt have been any prouder of you.

Thoroughly disgusting. Not the Dan I knew.

Youngman

Daniel Spiro said...

Youngman,

If Barack is able to provoke McFib as much as I have (apparently) provoked you, this election should be over by the end of the first debate.

As for the GOP Ticket (which should have -- but doesn't include Romney), I would be truly frightened for this country if those two are in charge of fixing the economic mess were in.

By the way, you can continue to invoke the Marxist straw man all you want but nobody here is advocating Marxism any more than you are advocating a return to monarchist rule. Your constant references to socialism and communism make about as little logical sense as if I characterized you as a fan of George III.

YoungMan said...

Dan what do you know about the economy?

Commissar Spiro has always believed that no one can make more than a GS-16...any earnings above a GS-16 pay grade should be taxed at 100%...and no one should drive anything besides a used mediocre powder blue Dodge Dart bought from the GSA Motor Pool...or wear anything other than a plaid shirt.

Moreover under Commissar Spiro...Steaks would be illegal, as long as all Vegans were kept 500 feet away from every school property :)

Government would have plenty of money then...if anybody would still want to work to generate tax revenue......

Youngman

Daniel Spiro said...

Youngman,

Actually, I'm not a socialist. But I think I found one for you. Isn't candidate McFib the one whose entire plan for fixing our economy is railing against the salary packages of CEOs?

Maybe he should check with Sarah on her economic ideas -- after all, she lives close to Alaska, and Alaska is close to Siberia, and Siberia is part of Asia, where there are a number of growing economies. Yup, she's definitely the one to consult with on this topic, just like on foreign policy.

YoungMan said...

You and Sarah are two of kind. Both Close to, if not of Russia.
You should be happy.

But Dan, railing about the economy is ridiculous. Things were never as good as they seemed while the world under Clinton (left to him by Bush 41 and Reagan) was prostrate. The stock market Bubble was on Clinton's watch, remember In the last 8-10 years, China and India have emerged, needed a safe place for $ and lent at low interest rates (because America is safe thanks both Bushes and Reagan), and now they compete for commodities. You cant blame Bush or Clinton (or credit either of them) for the economy of the last 16 years. But, oh no, Barry's gonna save us by taxing us more and creating protectionist barriers.

McCain's "fundamentally sound" is a relative symphony to Barry's caacophonous hip hop, and the American people know that. Obama's economic nonesense is neither change we need nor can believe in.

Youngman
T

Daniel Spiro said...

Youngman,

Are you the incarnation of Joseph McCarthy? I wrote in The Creed Room about why I am, in fact, a capitalist. And you sure know independently my views about the need for competition and the inefficiencies of government. Yet you still persist in calling me a socialist or a communist just because I am not, like you, a let-'em-eat-caker.

Very well. Label me. But as for Barack, I'm quite sure I speak for most Americans in saying that I am more comfortable having someone of his intellectual prowess deal with the complex problems on Wall Street than either McFib or Stonewalling Sarah. Solving the Wall Street crisis is one job in which being able to relate to racists, homophobes, and gun nuts isn't a particularly helpful skill.