by Mike Kimel
I think you have to go back to Bob Dole in 1996 to find a Republican nominee for for President whose signature accomplishment wouldn’t be repudiated by most members of his own party in November 2012. The 2000 and 2004 nominee is best known for turning a surplus into a deficit (although most current Republicans approve of the way he did it, cutting tax rates, increasing military spending, and launching two wars) and was kept discretely away from the last Republican National Convention. The 2008 nominee is best known for the McCain-Feingold Act, and the 2012 nominee, of course, will forever be tied to Romneycare. As to Bob Dole in 1996, well, I couldn’t remember him having any signature issues so I googled him. Google took me here but I still didn’t find anything that really said “Bob Dole” to me.
Sure, he agreed or disagreed with all sorts of things, but he wasn’t the champion of any and there wasn’t anything he was really known for. The 1988 and 1992 nominee, George Herbert Walker Bush, these days is best remembered for ending the first war in Iraq without taking out Saddam Hussein or taking Baghdad and for “read my lips, no new taxes.” Breaking that promise got him excoriated by Republicans. Reagan seems to be the most recent Republican nominee for President of the US who has a signature issue that remains popular with Republicans today.
As the co-author of Presimetrics, a book on Presidents, their policies, and the effect of those policies; I’ve talked to a lot of people of all stripes about Presidents, and Republicans today simply don’t seem to approve of most former Republican presidents, or at least their policies. Before Reagan was Ford, best remembered for pardoning Nixon and Whip Inflation Now. Nixon is best remembered for Watergate, going to China and meeting Mao, and price controls. Eisenhower for big government programs. Hoover, for being the hapless fellow who had recently become President when the Great Depression began.
At first I thought that says something about today’s Republican party. And perhaps it does. Perhaps it indicates the party’s values today are very different than they ever have been.
But it also may serve as a warning to Obama. I’ve pointed out before that except for one or two issues (Obamacare and Supreme Court justices he’s nominated), Obama’s first term has looked an awful lot like the third term of GW Bush would have looked. Tax rates remain low, the percentage of personal income going to taxes is down and the bail-out is basically an extension of Paulson’s bazooka. In four years, four long years, Obama hasn’t managed to figure out a single new approach to dealing with the economic mess that wasn’t pioneered by the guy who got us into the hole in the first place! The same is true of most other aspects of the Obama presidency. Policies on civil liberties are essentially the same as they were under GW. The “good war” in Afghanistan is still going on, and the war that was getting increasingly inconvenient (even the folks at the National Review had managed to figure out there was a problem by 2007 leading to the death of the “painted schoolhouse” anecdotes) was ended discretely, with everyone pretending that Iran wasn’t firmly in the driver’s seat. Foreigners, at least the non-Pakistani ones, seem to like Obama, but that’s more because there’s less bluster about “with us or against us” – actual policy remains very similar, complete with a down-to-the-bone inability to distinguish friend from foe.
Obama seems to have been re-elected not with enthusiasm among Democrats, but rather due to a sense that Romney was even worse. Part of that came from a feeling that Romney’s views on business weren’t really about business, they were just about profiting from loading companies up with debt, as if that approach to running the government hasn’t been championed by every President we’ve had since 1980 other than Bill Clinton. And truth to tell, a lot of the foreboding about Romney came not so much from Romney, who at some point stood for everything and anything, and thus stood for nothing at all, but rather from the particularly in-artful downticket comments (think Akin or Mourdock) on “legitimate rape” (???, !!!!!) and abortions. Most Democrats and many independents aren’t happy with Romneycare, er, Obamacare. They see it as a distant second or third best compared to the socialized medical systems of every industrialized country that produces better healthcare outcomes than we do, and at lower cost to boot. The one bit of actual enthusiasm for Obama might have come on the gay rights side, as a growing number of younger voters in much of the country don’t have the bias against openly gay people that remains strong among social conservatives, particularly the older generations. But even there, the camel’s nose entered the tent during the previous administration – most Republicans were smart enough not to piss off Dick Cheney by criticizing his daughter.
All of which is to say, Obama is potentially headed down the Republican presidency path in more ways than one. Despite his re-election, unless Democrats are infinitely more forgiving than Republicans, Obama might eventually become his party’s George Bush- the name nobody wants to mention, the face nobody wants to see at campaign stops, and the legacy nobody wants to remember. The longer he follows the same policies as his predecessor, the greater the likelihood he will be viewed the same way by his own party’s posterity.
A lot of Democrats seem to believe that now we’re going to see the “real Obama.” I hear Democrats say that Obama isn’t constrained by the need for re-election any more, and he has realized that rolling over and playing dead doesn’t make Republicans or Wall Street like him any better. Perhaps that’s true, perhaps the next four years will be different, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Its been my experience that in general, people don’t change that much. If he’s been behaving a certain way for four years, it is very likely we’ve seen the “real Obama.”