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Political Animal

The President I’d Like to Have

Barack Obama nowadays quotes Ronald Reagan the way Ronald Reagan used to quote Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which makes one wonder, why does a Democrat have to sound like a Republican lately?

A friend of mine recently opined that next year for the first time, he’ll be voting for a Republican for president. He plans to vote for Barack Obama.

The joke here is that President Obama is in reality governing somewhere in the Richard Nixon (minus the malevolence) to Rockefeller Republican range. Nearly every one of his “big ideas” is a program that has been sanctioned, if not originally conceived, by Republicans of the past. Cap and trade? A GOP idea. Individual health care mandate? A sop to tax cuts in every bill? There’s a little something of the Grand Old Party in everything he does.

The Republican part of all of the president’s programs unfortunately happens to reflect more of the Republican Party of 1971, not 2011. Republicans were once all over the idea of a payroll tax cut, like the one proposed by the president in his jobs speech last week. Sadly, the Republican Party of today is reflected better by individuals such as Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who calls Social Security a “Ponzi scheme,” and is more vocal than others in his party who have quietly and not-so-quietly for years wanted to dissolve Social Security via privatization schemes.

It’s very clear that the president we got in 2008 has been shaped by the forces of his opposition. His opponents of today are united in one thing more than anything else: seeing him fail. If it means the country sputters to a halt, they’re fine with it (since they never believed in the efficacy of government anyway). If it means total legislative gridlock, that’s great too (the one thing Ronald Reagan said that they still adhere to above all is that the biggest lie anyone ever told is, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”)

Obama nowadays quotes Reagan the way Reagan used to quote Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which makes one wonder, why does a Democrat have to sound like a Republican lately?

Part of the problem is that the president has adopted the language of his adversaries wholesale, and language is where all ideas begin. Back in 1990, when he was just a backbencher congressman from Georgia, a former college professor named Newt Gingrich published a booklet called, “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” In it were the seeds of what then became the first “Republican Revolution,” along with the “Contract for America” that made Gingrich Speaker of the House four short years later.

At its base, the Republican idea is that government cannot do any good for you, that all it does is take your money and give nothing back. In trying to work with the obstructionist Republicans of today in the House, Obama often winds up conceding this key ground when he should be pushing back. Every time the GOP leaders push us toward a government shutdown standoff (we’re at two and counting, let’s not forget), the American people have a chance to be reminded of those little things government does that have made this a great country, including safe foods, roads, airline flights, drugs, and toys for your children. All these things come about due to government regulation of private industry, which has more of an interest in the bottom line and dividends for shareholders than it does for the common good.

President Obama can take more of a stand for these things and the ideas that built them, which often came from that president that Reagan liked to quote so much. Instead, he is well on his way to a reputation as “The Great Conciliator,” because of how often he accedes to Republican demands, even moving a speech because it conflicted with a Republican primary candidate debate.

A few elections back, Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont opened every speech with the line, “I’m from the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.” It often seems like, just as there are no moderate Republicans anymore, there are few if any elected Democrats from the Democratic wing of the party either. Bill Clinton was that guy near the end of his second term, but then again, he didn’t have to run again.

I’d like to have a president who strongly, forcefully, came out for the idea that government can be good for you. I’d like to have a president who trumpets Democratic ideas and ideals. Liberal ideas. John F. Kennedy said:

If by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people—their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties—someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal,” then I’m proud to say I’m a “Liberal.”

I’d like to have that guy as my president right now. Sadly, the times seem such that the president we have may just be a Republican.

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