So opines E. J. Dionne in this Washington Post op ed this morning. He means that in a specific sense:
Obama is defending a tradition that sees government as an essential actor in the nation’s economy, a guarantor of fair rules of competition, a countervailing force against excessive private power, a check on the inequalities that capitalism can produce, and an instrument that can open opportunity for those born without great advantages.Against this he poses the Republicans as extreme radicals: Rick Perry promising to make the national government "inconsequential" is but one example.
All of the Republicans tout this election as the most important in history, warning of the dangers Obama supposedly represents to kind of America they seem to think the people want, and which they advocate. The President counters, agreeing on the importance, as he noted in his speech in Osawatomie, Kansas:
“This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class.”
Please keep reading.
Republicans are increasingly inclined to argue that any redistribution (and Social Security, Medicare, student loans, veterans benefits and food stamps are all redistributive) is but a step down the road to some radically egalitarian dystopia.They are thus repeating rhetoric that did not work for them in opposing Social Security and in opposing the Great Society programs. When they phrase things like this, as Paul Ryan did in a budget that proposed elimination of Medicare, the American people react viscerally, and negatively.
Which leads to Dionne's final paragraph, which summarizes and makes a prediction:
Obama will thus be the conservative in 2012, in the truest sense of that word. He is the candidate defending the modestly redistributive and regulatory government the country has relied on since the New Deal, and that neither Ronald Reagan nor George W. Bush dismantled. The rhetoric of the 2012 Republicans suggests they want to go far beyond where Reagan or Bush ever went. And here’s the irony: By raising the stakes of 2012 so high, Republicans will be playing into Obama’s hands. The GOP might well win a referendum on the state of the economy. But if this is instead a larger-scale referendum on whether government should be “inconsequential,” Republicans will find the consequences to be very disappointing.
that neither Ronald Reagan nor George W. Bush dismantled - true, but the current Republican candidates and much of the base of their party would consider both of those conservative Republican presidents as dangerous liberals.
Dionne is right at least in part. Republicans might be able to run against the government in general: after all, Reagan gained support by saying that the great lie was that I'm from the government and I'm here to help you. But as soon as you get into specifics - Social Security and Medicare being the prime examples - the pushback from the American people is palpable.
The Republicans have been forced to phrase their attacks as trying to 'save' Social Security and Medicare. But somehow in their attempts to pander to the most radical parts of their base, they go way too far. And when they attack benefits for veterans, they galvanize those without whom they have no hope of winning, especially given how few of them or members of their family have any military experience, have ever been put in harm's way.
I know that some will be cynical, and assume the Democrats will still find a way to f&*% it up.
But consider - there are now economists who are saying that predictions of stagnation and lack of job creation may be understating what is actually going on in the economy, and that unemployment could well be heading down by mid-summer.
What if unemployment drops below 8% by September or October? What if the economy is by summer growing at almost 3%? How would that change the political dynamics?
Right now Obama has risen in the approval of the American people precisely because they have seen what the alternative represents, especially in the sheer stupidity of the House Republicans in addressing the approaching expiration of the payroll tax cut and the extended unemployment benefits.
Dionne posits an opposition between the state of the economy and the idea whether government should be "inconsequential." But what if the state of the economy is improving, will the Republican candidate still even have an argument?
I posit another opposition - between Barack Obama, a president in whom many (including me) are disappointed but who is viewed favorably personally by most of the American people despite 3+ years of Republican attempts to demonize him, and ANY of the Republican candidates, each of whom has something which will, upon closer scrutiny, give Americans further reason to distrust them.
Obama - and the American people - can be grateful in how lucky he is in his opponents, in how they are choosing to run this primary campaign. May it continue, with all of its nastiness and vitriol, for at least another 4-5 months.
And yes, in the best sense of the word, of preserving that which works, which matters to the American people, Barack Obama is the true conservative this cycle.