The Democrats’ Reagan, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Sep 26 2012 @ 12:42pm

A reader dissents in a way:

This is a story more properly written after Obama wins a second term – writing it now is putting the cart way before the horse, in terms of substance. So running it now is obviously nothing more than partisan hagiography – an attempt to boost Obama’s standing in advance of the election. All I can say is: Thanks!

You’re so welcome! I’m going to tackle this and other dissents in a live-chat today at 1.30 pm right here on the Dish. But meanwhile, let ’em rip. Another:

I don’t disagree in broad strokes, and I know you were imagining outcomes rather than predicting them.  But let me quickly raise four things that I think your article does not address: 1. In terms of “legacy” items, Obama is not ever going to get a major immigration deal done. 

That issue is too “emotional” (to be charitable) for the GOP, and they are not going to let Obama, the first African American President, strike such a major legislative deal because they know it would, in your own words, make Obama a “Latino idol overnight.”   Nixon could go to China, but Obama can not go to Mexico.  The GOP will wait for a Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio to milk whatever political benefits are there.  But not before then.  (Wanna bet $10 thousand dollars?)

2. Republicans will not experience a “reevaluation” after this election (and certainly not after a Romney loss) that will lead to a sensible, Bowles-Simpson “grand bargain.”  Something big will happen because how the stars are aligned in terms of the automatic expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the sequestration cuts, the next impending debt ceiling vote, the ever-present threat to shut down the federal government, etc.  But this will be chaotic, tumultuous and dangerous, and (I predict) the real measure of the entire Obama two-term presidency. 

Why?  Because the national debt is not a “problem” that Republicans are struggling to address (see, e.g., further tax cuts and increased defense spending).  As you know full well, the debt was purposefully and candidly created by Republicans as a rhetorical tool and (yes) a fiscal dilemma to exploit as a vehicle to achieve ideological goals – elimination of EPA, reduction of SEC and IRS, opposition to SS and Medicare, etc.   The national debt is something to exploit, not to resolve.  Republicans are not going to suddenly get “responsible” on the debt when they have spent so long creating that debt to achieve their goals. (And I am not being partisan about this.  They have been open about this “starve the beast” strategy for 30 years.  Why are people pretending otherwise?)

3. The other unspoken word is “austerity.”  Consistent with the above, your essay and other postings have focused on resolving the “debt problem.”  However, going into the “fiscal cliff” talks, Obama will have to be focused on a larger fight – one addressed by Paul Krugman.  It is a fight about “austerity” and Keynesian economics.  In the short term, Obama needs spending, stimulus, infrastructure, and state aid for hiring teachers, cops, nurses, and firemen (stuff we always did in the past).  Republicans know this.  In addition to other threats (e.g., a national debt default), Republicans are going to use every such “austerity” pressure point to extract concessions on tax rates and revenues. 

Again, Obama has a massive fight in front of him and it will be a defining event for him.  I know I will have neither, but for me: I want the Democrats’ FDR, not the Democrats’ Reagan.  You already have the Democrats’ Reagan with Clinton.  If nothing else, let’s allow ourselves to imagine larger than Clinton or Reagan, no?

4. Last point:  if Obama wins a legislative majority (or in the midterms), he needs to push through some government reform.  Get rid of the hostage-taking debt ceiling.  Reform the Senate filibuster (e.g., make these old coots actually show up with a sleeping cot and commit to their position).  Get rid of faux “Senate sessions” that don’t allow recess appointments.

You know, I realize as I write this that I am not looking for the next Reagan.  I am looking for a fighter against the “Reagan legacy.”  That’s the core difference between us.  It’s an honest disagreement, but give me the next Truman, the next FDR, or even the next Clinton.  But for God’s sake … don’t give me Obama as the next Reagan.  Let’s not aim that low.


A quick thought after reading your piece: There is an elephant in the room and for some reason it seems to exist in a world apart from our current politics. It was never mentioned in your article, and I have heard so little about it during this election season that I’m becoming increasingly afraid for my future, as well as the future of any human who plans to live longer than, say, another decade or so.

Climate change has irreparably changed our planet. Even if we completely stop producing greenhouse gasses today, there is so much CO2 built up in the atmosphere that temperatures will continue to rise for at least half a century. Our oceans are rising, sources of fresh water are melting away, droughts are causing food price spikes, and outbreaks of invasive species are endangering humans and destroying our native ecosystems. And as you noted yesterday, we just finished the 36th August in a row to be hotter than the 20th century average. I sure as hell hope Obama gets a bipartisan debt deal, because the price tag of beating back this unfolding catastrophe is going to be monumental.