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 — 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?

17 thoughts on “Questions

  1. I think the Reaganesque quality that Huckabee played into beautifully (in Iowa, anyway) was the the care and nurturing of the conservative victim complex. For 27 years, I have never heard a bigger bunch of whiners.
    While the supposed wise men of conservatism stroke their chins and talk about tax rates and Laffer curves and the Middle East, what really sold Reagan was that he understood and heard the whining of white people who felt they were sorely abused because nonwhite people had been making political and economic gains for 15 whole years.
    In Iowa anyway, Huckabee captured and rode the (justified) victimology of the evangelical wing of the GOP. Whether he can expand that to catch the whining wave of the national party remains to be seen.
    Which is basically what you’re saying, but I think the words “victimology” and “whining” need to be introduced to all discussion of the Republican Party.

  2. OK, I know I’m gonna get a beating for saying this, but…..
    Is Obama the scripted legendary “magical Negro”?
    He seems like a good man, but I can’t believe how well he did against such real statesmen as Richardson, Biden and Dodd.
    Boy, did Chicago dyke get that right. As I’ve said before, a NASCAR dad voting Republican is like a chicken voting for Col.Sanders.

  3. I think the words “victimology” and “whining” need to be introduced to all discussion of the Republican Party.

    Indeed! Let’s see, there’s reverse discrimination… Title IX… the “PC police”… Sarah Brady trying to take their guns away… the “war on Christmas”… the war on smoking… the war on war… and that well-flogged horse, “big gummint.”

    And my reply: Yeah, crybabies, I know it’s rough being white and comfortable in America.

  4. erinyes, no beating from me. I’m trying to unlock the secret of Obama’s charisma myself.

    I haven’t ever seen more than a few seconds of one of his speeches, which apparently can give one chills. I would agree with those who notice that the fervor he inspires is like that of RFK in 1968 (another thought that, taken to its conclusion, gives chills of a different kind). Bobby was slightly bucktoothed and goofy-looking, did poorly in college, had a dark side to his past (not least, his work for Joe McCarthy’s foul HUAC), and kind of sounded like Simon the Chipmunk when he spoke. But when he ran for president in ’68, people went mad for him.

    I’d certainly rather see people succumb to Obama fever than Giuliani, Huckabee, or even Clinton fever. I guess that’s me being an optimist.

  5. What drug is Gerson on?…Making comparisons between Lincoln and Bush.. Gerson seems to think Bush found his U.S. Grant in Petraeus. I can’t grasp the far out into the abstract as I can take it, I can only guess his implication is some parallel relating to victory..
    Petraeus is not a real General, he’s an illusionist. He’s paying(actually we’re paying) 70,000 Sunnis a monthly bribe to keep the violence down so to create an appearance of success. Like a Bangkok bar girl they are only going to love us while the money holds out. If Gerson want to measure success or victory he should measure it by the financial costs of conducting the war. Because ultimately that will be our Achilles heel Are we now spending 1 Billion dollars a month in Iraq?.. I didn’t think so!

    My advice to Gerson with his glittering fantasies of Bush’s victory is the immortal words of Yogi Bera.. ” it ain’t over till it’s over.”

  6. A major item that helped Reagan’s economy was the collapse of oil prices in the early 80s. Today, we’re paying dearly for Republican shortsightedness.

  7. the care and nurturing of the conservative victim complex.

    Having destroyed many social institutions for the average person, Rethugs had to make sure that blame was directed at convenient minority scapegoats, and not at the corporate and government powers who screwed them over.
    Keep the sheep angry about Mexicans and gays while their livelihood is flushed down the toilet so executives and stockholders can bag an extra penny a share.

  8. Maybe Reagan was an actor, but I remember his performance at the memorial service for the soldiers of the 101st Airborne who were killed in the plane crash at Gander Newfoundland, back when. I admired his courage and decency to console the families individually and to look into their eyes to touch their pain— not an easy task. Contrasted against the cowardly George Bush who at best can only utter a feigned emotion of empty words that he somehow weeps and mourns, or even cares… makes Reagan a true leader and an honest man.

  9. Reaganism is a myth,
    He should have been impeached for Iran-Contra.

    Huck is the Rovian “Frankenstein” monster of the right. He is their creation. “It’s alive!”
    It’s funny, yet scary, to watch the right devolve. Mitt is their economic wing. McCain and Rudy, their neo-con war-loving wing.
    And, yet, here comes Huck. A good-old boy Southerner, who appeals to the racist and Jesus crowd. Huck, who was supposed to provide the foot-soldier’s, is the one “making hay!” And they don’t know what to do with him.

    The money and war crowd on the right will pull out ALL stops to denigrate the Huckster.
    I actually like Huck, the man – he’s funny. It’s his policies that I detest.

    Maybe I’ve lived in the South too long…

    Still, it’ll be interesting to watch!

  10. At Obama’s website, his atated position on Iraq is a gradual reduction in troops, BUT WILL KEEP FORCES PRESENT TO PROTECT OUR EMBASSY AND DIPLOMATS, AND TO COMBAT AL-QAIDA.

    I won’t vote for him, same old-same old.The sprawling embassy complex in Iraq IS a bleeping military installation.This word manipulation is of the same type Israel uses when they call land grabs in Palestine “outposts” instead of “settlements”.( The Israelis will not stop their expansion until the last palestinean is on display at the Smithsonian as an endangered species)

    Obama’s advisory staff include Richard Clarke, Dennis Ross, and the brainiac that helped create the mess that threatens the entire M.E. and Central Asia, Zbig Brzezinski. Brzezinski, as I recall aided and funded the Afghan Mujahedeen in their fight against the Soviet Union. The Mujahadeen were aided By Pakistan’s ISI, the CIA, Osama Bin Laden, and The Saudi Royals. This Monster morphed into AlQaida which was employed by the Clinton administration in the Balkan war. It appears the AlQaida leadership was screwed over big time after some deals were not honored, hence the events of 9/11.”They” don’t hate our freedom, they hate us becaues they were used and then discarded. This will eventually come to light( along with some disturbing surprises about other involvements).
    Our universe is electrical/mechanical, NOT magical.
    Cause and effect dominate reality, and the reality is that we cannot continue electing people who will follow the same path while duping the electorate with false hope for change with this good cop/ bad cop charade.
    U.S. foreign policy revolves around 2 things: dominance of the world’s energy supply (so long as the countries involved are weak militarily) and the security of Israel.The U.S acts like a police force, and if another country dares challenge the cop in the least, they will get the crap kicked out of them, first economically, then physically.
    There is NO talk from the opposition party regarding criminal prosecution of Bush/Cheney for their crimes against the citizens of our country,the massive deaths of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Lebanon, and the virtual looting of Iraq’s oil resources..
    A continuation of the same path in Iraq and Afghanistan will spread the conflicts into Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, and throughout the former Soviet Central Asian Republics, which are mostly Muslim and have vast oil, gas,pipeline transit routs, and mineral (gold) deposits.
    Bottom line to this rant is we don’t want a continuation of this imperialistic empire crap under a different name. It will crush us just like it crushed the Soviet Union.
    The definition of insanity is doing the same crap over and over while expecting different results.
    I welcome a debate on these points, PLEASE prove I’m wrong.

  11. erinyes — what’s wrong with Richard Clarke? He’s been a critic of the Bushies from Day One. He was one of the first to stand up and call out Condi et al for not heeding the warnings before 9/11.

    As for funding the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, IMO at the time that wasn’t necessarily a bad move. It did do a lot to help bring down the Soviets. The failure was that Washington utterly lost interest in Afghanistan after the Soviets cleared out. We messed up the “endgame,” as someone said.

  12. erineys and maha,
    America has been an evil country for a long time (yes, I know, how un-American of me)!
    We have funded both sides against the middle for generations. And it usually comes to bite us in the ass.
    They don’t “hate us for our freedom,” they hate us because we interfere.
    We’re slow to learn.

    Obama is saying what he has to say. Like any politician.
    And actions speak louder than words.
    I’ll give Obama a chance. Or Edward’s. Or even Hillary.
    Because, as McCain said, he’d keep the troop’s there for a hundred years. And Mitt, Fred and Rudy are all spoiling for a fight. Any fight!!!
    I don’t think our folk’s will do that…
    And if they do, I’ll hold their feet to the fire – oh wait, that’s torture!!!
    I’ll hold them accountable. What a novel idea THAT is!

  13. Maha, you’re right about Richard Clarke, he was thrown in with the others because he was on the list I read.My apoligies to Mr. Clarke and all who read what I wrote.

    As for funding the Afghanistan Mujahadeen, it destroyed the Soviet Union, which IMO would have imploded on its own because it was conducting its own war of Empire in Angola, supporting Castro’s Cuba,stretched thin policing the Soviet Asian Republics, and repressing its own citizens.Pretty much the path Bush’s America is on. The funding of the mujahadeen caused the deaths of millions of innocents , created a failed state, and ultimately created AlQaida. Cause and effect.
    I have numerous failures in my past that “seemed like a good idea at the time”. Good leadership requires critical thinking with the big picture in focus, not knee-jerk reactions.

    I don’t think Washington lost interest in Afghanistan, they lost interest in doing business with the Taliban. “Business” is the key word, the Taliban wanted more than Washington and the oil consortium was willing to part with.(google Taliban University of Nebraska)
    It’s all about Money, power, energy resources, and the security of Israel. Same crap, different day.

    I just visited John Edward’s website,
    His Iraq policy is the same as Obama’s.
    This is frustrating.

  14. erinyes…The thing about Obama wanting to keep a limited amount of troops in Iraq is because he is compelled by current political pressures to provide that answer. It’s the minimum that can be said without being the one willing to accept blame for Bush’s mistake by pulling the plug on a trillion dollar plus blunder.

  15. erinyes,
    I love what you write. I think very highly of you. But I wouldn’t be so hard on these folks.
    Maybe I’m wrong…

    I am of Russian heritage. And yes, you are right, their economy would have imploded without our help – just not as quickly…

    But we can’t overlook that our country has a hidous track-record over the last 60+ years. Read Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine.” We’ve supported some really evil regime’s – and continue to do so.

    Here’s what I’ve learned: You can’t expect politician’s to say what you want to hear. They need to say that which will allow them win.
    And that’s where we’re at. Right here. Right now…
    Global Corporatism is metalizing. Dominionism is one Huck’ing election away…
    Edward’s, (whom I love) is crying out against it. Obama is reaching out to stem the tide. Hillary, too.

    Give them time.
    Give them room.
    Give them a break.
    Give the next President a Congress that’s a Democratic majority, and then let’s see what they do.

    Who would anyone rather have as President? Either one of our three, or some Republican twit?

    FDR didn’t run as a “change-agent.” Neither should any of ours… They just need to become change-agent’s… And I think they know that.

    Of course, my biggest fear is that if they run too much against big-business, their “change-agent” may be a bullet.
    It happened to Bobby!

    The next “Change-Agent” President will have to sound main-stream when running for office.
    Maybe I’m wrong. But the MSM will fight any new idea unless it’s supported by a huge majority. And, except for the internet, it’s only with the MSM’s help, that any idea’s get known and spread.

    We’ll see. In the meantime, I support whoever is selected on the Democratic side. No matter what they say now. 13 month’s from now? That may be a different story!

  16. Well, I don’t think the country is evil, but I think the leadership has been pretty damned corrupt and the majority of the population distracted and misinformed.
    America is my home and I’m tired of a bunch of asses that worship money and power above all and could care less about humanity trashing the place.

  17. Well, I guess there is no other choice.
    We all know that clean-up after Bush will be a royal bitch.
    I appreciate the debate and content at this blog.

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