This morning I saw a BookTV lecture by Noam Scheiber, the New Republic editor who recently wrote The Escape Artists: How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery
. While listening, I flashed on a famous anecdote about Bill Clinton
As recounted by Bob Woodward in The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House, Clinton vented to his advisers: "'Where are all the Democrats?' Clinton bellowed. 'I hope you're all aware we're all Eisenhower Republicans,' he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. 'We're all Eisenhower Republicans here, and we are fighting the Reagan Republicans. We stand for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market. Isn't that great?'"
How can we update that formulation to explain the Obama years?
As Scheiber noted, most of Obama's policies have reflected the Clinton-era Republican viewpoint. For example, Obama's misguided health care initiative reflects not what Clinton tried to do, but the official Republican response
to what Clinton tried to do. That policy was later enacted on the state level by Mitt Romney.
The ideas offered by the Clinton-era "Reagan Republicans" are considered heretical by today's conservatives, despite their canonization of Saint Ronnie. We all know what would happen to any Republican who dared to suggest the kind of massive tax increase that Reagan countenanced. Jon Huntsman has said, I think correctly, that Ronald Reagan likely would not get anywhere near the Republican nomination today.
So: If Clinton was an Eisenhower Republican -- in hindsight, not such a bad thing to be -- then what is Obama?
A lot of my readers would feel comfortable calling our president a Reagan Republican, if only because Obama has (foolishly) praised the way Reagan transformed the political landscape. But Obama could never be that kind of transformative figure. He's a center-rightist. His notion of bipartisanship (at least for the first two and a half years of his administration) has been to negotiate surrender terms before the onset of battle. Obama never gave serious consideration to the kind of tax increases that Reagan reluctantly considered necessary.
Many would feel comfortable calling Obama a George H.W. Bush Republican -- although here again, the terminology fails us, since one could argue that Obama (at least for the first two years) operated somewhere to Poppy's right. Bush the elder also allowed taxes to increase. And give the guy credit: He knew better than to linger in Iraq.
Perhaps we should keep things a little vague. Let's call Obama a "Bush Republican" and then let each listener or reader decide if the reference goes to Poppy or Dubya. Obama is more liberal than Dubya, but not by much. I believe our current president would have preferred to let the tax cuts on the wealthy expire, but he didn't fight very hard to make that happen. Obama has been even worse than his predecessor on privacy issues, and a good deal better when it comes to Supreme Court nominations. "Bush lite" seems appropos.
What label, then, do we affix to his opponents, to the Tea Party freakazoids who routinely call Obama a Marxist/socialist/Islamofascist? My first instinct would be to call those guys "John Birch Republicans," even though that term doesn't really cover it. I've read a fair amount of Bircher literature from the 1960s; it was plenty crazy, but not as crazy as what passes for political rhetoric these
Perhaps we should call them Jack D. Ripper Republicans, in honor of George C. Scott's character in Dr. Strangelove
. Or how about "Ayn Rand Republicans"? A useful term, that, but it doesn't go far enough. I think she would have had contempt for the insane Islamophobes and Jesusmaniacs who now control much of the conservative movement.
Some of my readers might like the label "Glenn Beck Republicans." Even though Becks' star may have fallen -- nobody quotes him nowadays -- a Beck-ish ideology still holds sway over millions. The maniacal, ultra-conspiratorial, yet undeniably popular claptrap promoted by Beck and his comrades-in-crazy explains why the Republicans in Congress feel justified in nonstop obstructionism
Last week, House Speaker John Boehner once again threatened that
Republicans would not vote to increase the debt ceiling unless Democrats
agreed to certain tax and spending policies sought by the GOP.
Republicans have used this tactic repeatedly in the past few years, each
time bringing the nation closer to the brink of default.
These people are so wedded to an extremist ideology that they consider ending the American experiment preferable to compromise.
In the end, we may have to settle for calling these people bonkers
. Just that simple: The modern GOP has been taken over by Bonkers Republicans.
A lot of centrists rooted for Romney to win the nomination on the grounds that the other candidates (Bachmann, Perry, Paul) were of dubious sanity. Romney isn't crazy, but he lacks humanity, conviction, conscience, courage, or any clear goal beyond a personal ambition. He has not stood up to the most odious voices in his party, even on occasions when doing so might have benefited him politically. Since he stands for nothing, he won't stand up to the tea-stained radicals who now control his party. The Glenn Beck-ish wackos will thus control the presidency.
And so that's the story of Election 2012: A Bush Republican versus a Bonkers Republican.
What a dispiriting choice. What a horrifying
choice. If, as Garrison Keillor once sang, we're all Republicans now, then I like Ike