I never understood why the Obama campaign and even his administration refused to call out Reagan and conservatism, ever. Is David Axelrod that daffy? I hated his campaign approach during the summer because he allowed conservatives to define Obama without putting up much of a fight until the end of September, and he also allowed them to define the health-care debate and kept Obama on the sidelines for the most part. What is wrong with him? I'd like to say that they are novices, but he's been in politics a very long time.
Digby and I were screaming the last two years that the word "conservatism" should have been called out for being the manifest cause of the destruction wreaked on the American people and the world during eight years of Bush-Cheney-GOP congressional rule. But did you hear a peep out of President Obama? He actually brought up Reagan's name in the election in a positive fashion.
I've been toying with an idea to bring back Bush because his administration laid waste to our land except for the very wealthy. There's a reason why he has disappeared for almost an entire year. His visage still causes a lot of distress in America, even when deployed for a worthy cause such as the Haiti earthquake disaster -- even Bush himself looked like annoyed that he had been roped into helping. Well, we do need someone to look after those Shysters.
Paul Krugman's column addressed this point quite succinctly.
Finally, about that narrative: It’s instructive to compare Mr. Obama’s rhetorical stance on the economy with that of Ronald Reagan. It’s often forgotten now, but unemployment actually soared after Reagan’s 1981 tax cut. Reagan, however, had a ready answer for critics: everything going wrong was the result of the failed policies of the past. In effect, Reagan spent his first few years in office continuing to run against Jimmy Carter.
Mr. Obama could have done the same — with, I’d argue, considerably more justice. He could have pointed out, repeatedly, that the continuing troubles of America’s economy are the result of a financial crisis that developed under the Bush administration, and was at least in part the result of the Bush administration’s refusal to regulate the banks.
But he didn’t. Maybe he still dreams of bridging the partisan divide; maybe he fears the ire of pundits who consider blaming your predecessor for current problems uncouth — if you’re a Democrat. (It’s O.K. if you’re a Republican.) Whatever the reason, Mr. Obama has allowed the public to forget, with remarkable speed, that the economy’s troubles didn’t start on his watch.
I remember there was a poll done in the beginning of his term which said that Americans were willing to give the new president at least eighteen months to get it together because we recognized the failure of Bush and Cheney as a nation, but as economic conditions get worse, patience is the first to go. And then Axelrod allowed the populist anger to get away from them, when it was legitimate for his administration to have gone after the Wall Street fat cats right from the beginning of his presidency. And it should have been critical to included conservative principles in their critiques, rather than let the Tea Parties resurrect them as somehow a solution to the very problems they caused in the first place.
It was clear during the campaign that Obama was reluctant to confront the Reagan legacy on its basic terms, preferring to dryly characterize his governing philosophy as technocratic and competent. I think that was a mistake, since people really have no other framework within which to understand their problems, when things go badly, they have no other way of understanding it except for blaming "big government" for either causing it or failing to fix it.
Today, they may be angry at the banks, but they see the problem being that the government gave these institutions preferential treatment over them rather than that they caused this worldwide economic crisis with their irresponsible, swashbuckling, gambling culture --- which now must be regulated by the government. I think most people see the recession, the banking crisis, unemployment and the rest as only a failure of government --- and they are assuming that the way to fix it is by making government smaller. After all, both Democrats and Republicans keep telling them that it's so.
I'm very glad to see that Obama is finally taking some action against the banks. It is the Democrats' best hope of reframing the debate, although I think it's awfully late in the game. Today, he seemed to sideline Geithner and Summers publicly, but the question is whether or not he's finally figured out that they are part of the problem, not the solution.
I don't think Obama's words alone have enough credibility anymore to fix this. He's going to have to take some concrete action.
And Democrats are going to have to accept that need to attack the Reagan legacy more directly and make an affirmative case for government. I would have thought that was obvious, but the Democratic party and Obama himself seem to have believed otherwise. If they persist with merely tweaking the Reagan legacy, they will find themselves in this same situation over and over again. As long as people see government as the problem, progressivism, liberalism, whatever you want to call it, will fail.
As usual it will remain the job of us bloggers to remind America how bad conservatism has been for the country. Maybe someday there will be a few more politicians who will state the obvious and not be afraid of the Broders in the Village, who only hold Democrats to their standard of "bipartisanship."
Obama clearly bought into the Village idea that "bipartisanship" was an ideal end unto itself. He's been disabused by the reality that the Village version of it permits conservatives to lie with impunity while punishing liberals for having the temerity to point that ugly fact out, and forces liberals to compromise on each and every one of their principles in order to prove their "seriousness" (a quality always defined by how far to the right it is). We'll see if the lesson sinks in.