There is so much good commentary floating around, and so many thoughts in my head, I hardly know where to start. So I’ll just jump in with a list of still-unanswered questions.
Is Barack Obama for real? He makes a good speech, but his record as a junior senator from Illinois is not all that inspiring. Even so, Charles Peters writes in today’s Washington Post that he accomplished remarkable things in the Illinois legislature.
Is George Bush relevant? Dan Froomkin writes,
In his 30-minute Reuters interview, Bush also explained his strategy to remain relevant in the coming year, as attention shifts to the question of who will succeed him. The strategy involves making sure Republicans in Congress don’t break ranks. (See my Dec. 13 column, Congress Goes Belly Up.)
Said Bush: “[M]y challenge is to remind the American people that while they’re paying attention to these primaries there is a President actively engaged solving problems. …”
Yeah, he figured out how to change the light bulb in his desk lamp.
Has Ann Coulter flown home to Planet Ogle-TR-56b? Her web page today as of 2 pm features a rerun of her infamous Kwanzaa column. Nothing about current political news.
Who’s in denial? Michael Gerson says Democrats are in denial because they want to undo all of George Bush’s popular and successful policies. Um, who’s in denial, Mr. Gerson?
Will the real next Ronald Reagan please stand up (and then sit down)? All of the GOP candidates claim to be the next Ronald Reagan. One says he will cut taxes just like Ronald Reagan did (before he raised them). Another says he will stand up to foreign enemies, real and imaginary, just like Ronald Reagan did. But John F. Harris and Jonathan Martin write at The Politico:
Huckabee’s message will be the most unorthodox, at least as the Bush-era GOP goes.
He’ll use class-based rhetoric to reach out to disaffected members of his party and those “Reagan Democrats” who are socially conservative but economically more populist. But his lynchpin is social issues â€” Huckabee’s success will validate the role of Christian conservatives in the GOP tent.
Certainly a lot of Reagan’s initial appeal was that he played the role of Wyatt Earp, riding into town and cleaning up the Iranian Hostage Crisis. The part Reagan actually played in that sorry episode is another matter entirely. But the Reagan mythos and the Reagan reality never did live in the same neighborhood. The myth is that his tax cuts brought about the best economy the nation ever saw and that he single-handedly brought down the Soviet Union. The truth is that he raised taxes as much as he cut them, his economy was based mostly on a housing bubble, and the Soviet Union brought itself down, more or less, after Reagan had left office.
Reading what Harris and Martin wrote, it struck me that Reagan’s appeal really never was about what he accomplished in office — his record overall was not bad, but not outstanding either — but about his persona. He was very good at playing the role of POTUS. His genius was in reading the public mood and giving the people the performance they wanted at the moment. And white working-class Americans embraced him as their friend and champion, even though (based on his record) he really wasn’t. He communicated to them that he understood — and thereby validated — their fears and their anger and their biases. He reached out to the disaffected.
That’s not a role Mitt Romney can ever play, no matter how many taxes he promises to cut.
Huckabee has stumbled badly in the foreign policy area, true, but other than bringing their sons and daughters home from Iraq I don’t know if most working-class Americans give a bleep about foreign policy at the moment. And, yes, the Republican establishment hates him because of the populism angle. Even suggesting that government might be put to use to make life more fair and secure for average Americans is the blackest of heresies among the GOP elite.
But Molly Ivors writes at Whiskey Fire that evangelicalism has become the refuge of the disaffected.
Religion, specifically the evangelical religion which replaces all sorts of community and cultural structures, has a pretty clear appeal for a lot of people who see in it an answer. Our own brilliant chicago dyke, who posts at corrente, once explained how this works:
… Republicans have spent the last 25 years doing away with all the things that once made America a great place for the working class: decent public education, secure manufacturing and farm jobs, responsible government that meets the basic needs of the people, a critical media that calls out politicians who don’t, and balanced public political and social discourse that addresses the concerns of the little guy. These things are effectively dead in rural America today, and if you’re in Kansas or upstate Wisconsin or delta Mississippi, times are tough, and have been for a long time. I grew up in the country, and I cringe every time I go back, to see just how poorly a lot of folks are doing these days. The problem is that for many, they don’t even really know that once, life in rural working class America was much, much better.
The evangelical movement, in providing an identity and community for the hard-pressed, has essentially replaced American civic life for a lot of people. And Huckabee is the result.
Evangelicalism and civic life have been wound up together for generations in most Bible Belt communities, but I agree something seems different now. And I also think that what Bill Kristol and Rush Limbaugh and Rich Lowry never understood is that working-class Americans never really took their corporatist/imperialist brand of conservatism to heart. All along, they were just looking for a leader who could understand and validate their fears and anger and biases.
Thus, I think it can be argued that Huckabee is filling that part of the Ronald Reagan role better than anyone else at the moment, and that’s why he won in Iowa.
The question is, how much of the electorate is still looking for the next Ronald Reagan?