Friday, February 29, 2008

Underestimating Obama

From E.J. Dionne for

WASHINGTON—Barack Obama’s critics bear a remarkable resemblance to the liberals who labored mightily to dismiss Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Reagan’s foes wrote him off as a right-wing former actor who amiably spouted conservative bromides and must have been engaged in some sort of Hollywood flimflam.

Like Reagan’s enemies, Obama’s opponents concede that this Democrat gives a great speech. Indeed, both Obama and Reagan came to wide attention because of a single oration that offered hope in the midst of a losing campaign—Obama’s 2004 keynote to the Democratic National Convention and Reagan’s 1964 “A Time for Choosing” address delivered on behalf of Barry Goldwater. But surely speeches aren’t enough, are they?

Yes, Obama gets his crowds swooning. So did Reagan. It’s laughable to hear conservatives talk darkly about a “cult of personality” around Obama. The Reaganites, after all, have lobbied to name every airport, school, library, road, bridge, government building and lamppost after the Gipper. When it comes to personality cults, the right wing knows what it’s talking about.

But don’t worry, say Obama’s adversaries, he’ll collapse because voters won’t trust him to handle foreign policy. He’s too inexperienced and has these perilously idealistic ideas. Yes, and President Jimmy Carter’s campaign in 1980 was absolutely convinced it could persuade the country that Reagan was a dangerous warmonger who could not be trusted to keep America safe.

In any event, claim the anti-Obama legions, voters will eventually be persuaded that he is nothing but a big, bad liberal. He may make sweet bipartisan sounds, but the old attacks on left-wing ideology will work this time, as they always have.

The liberals who were so dismissive of Reagan similarly insisted that he represented the same “right-wing extremism” that voters had rejected in 1964 when they sent Goldwater to his landslide defeat.

Yet Reagan didn’t play to type. He reached out warmly to Democrats, notably in his 1980 convention speech that was his single most effective political sally.

“Everywhere we have met thousands of Democrats, independents, and Republicans from all economic conditions and walks of life bound together in that community of shared values of family, work, neighborhood, peace and freedom,” Reagan declared. “They are concerned, yes, but they are not frightened. They are disturbed, but not dismayed. They are the kind of men and women Tom Paine had in mind when he wrote—during the darkest days of the American Revolution—‘We have it in our power to begin the world over again.’”

You can almost hear the Republican crowd shouting, “Yes We Can!” Reagan offered, well, change we could believe in.

Still, Democrats kept telling themselves, right to November, that voters wouldn’t fall for any of this. Charisma, eloquence, idealism and hope were no match for experience, realism, prudence and predictability.

The Reagan metaphor explains why Hillary Clinton was in trouble from the moment she failed to knock Obama out of the race in Iowa. During the last two months, Democrats in large numbers have reached the same conclusion that so many Republicans did in 1980: Now is the time to go for broke, to challenge not only the ruling party but also the governing ideas of the previous political era and the political coalition that allowed them to dominate public life.

“This is our time,” Obama says in a short sentence full of meaning. The conservative age is as dead now as the liberal age was in 1980. Jimmy Carter, in many ways not a liberal at all, became the whipping boy for the end of liberalism. George W. Bush, no pure conservative, has come to symbolize the collapse of conservatism. “It is time to turn the page and write a new chapter in American history,” Obama says—exactly the sentiment of the Ronald Reagan who invoked Tom Paine.

The frustration of the Clinton campaign is understandable. Like George H.W. Bush, whom Reagan defeated for the presidential nomination in 1980, Hillary Clinton has worked very hard, knows government from the inside out, and would clearly provide the country with a safe set of hands. The Clintonites argue, fairly, that there is no way to know if Obama can live up to The Promise of Obama.

But the same was true of Ronald Reagan. In that 1980 speech, Reagan quoted a certain Democratic president who “told the generation of the Great Depression that it had a ‘rendezvous with destiny.’ I believe that this generation of Americans today has a rendezvous with destiny.”

Obama is being propelled by the same sense of historical opportunity, and that is why it will be hard to derail him.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


Blogger Baldwin Park Democrat said...

Barack Obama is ready. He has the judgment needed to be President. That judgment will pick great advisers. He will be ready on day one.

2:00 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Angie said...

I think we the people were also underestimated.

6:22 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Roadhouse said...

Maybe you can help me. I have been trying to find specifics from Mr. Obamma regarding his policy for, well...anything.
After reading transcripts of speeches and visiting his website, I haven't found much more than variations on the words "hope" and "change".
The few clues I have been able to find have been proven throughout history to be bad policies.
I also have a problem voting for someone who doesn't even understand why we are in Iraq, let alone why we need to stay.
If you can help me make sense of this guy, go to "roadhouse blog" and leave a comment.

12:51 AM, March 02, 2008  
Blogger Robert Rouse said...

Roadhouse, perhaps you can explain why we're in Iraq. Georgie boy said it was for the WMD's (which didn't exist), then he claimed it was because Saddam was supporting terrorism (which he wasn't), then he said it was to establish a democracy (he sort of did that, but it's a weak one at best). Since NONE of George's excuses, er, I mean, reasons hold enough water to put out a smoldering match, perhaps you can explain it. Tell us how we've made the world safer by causing the creation of more terrorists than there were before we invaded. How the world is a better place after we squandered all the good will we earned after 9/11, and how come we're still in Iraq nearly five years after Georgie told us the military mission was over? Please explain it to all of us who are suffering from a mental illness called liberalism.

Perhaps we went in to further Bush's goal of humans peacefully coexisting with fish.

1:09 AM, March 02, 2008  
Blogger frstan said...

see "Learn" on the main page at

yes indeed. Bush created "AlQada in Iraq" which didnt exist before his invasion. He took his eye off the ball in Afganistan where Alqada did and still does remain.
Made in harder for Pakistan to help us there. Made enemies for us all over the Muslim world, and on and on and on. Not to mention destroying about every good and useful thing Reagan and (later) the Contract with America accomplished. The Republican Party is no longer the conservative party. Its the greed and take-away-civil-liberty party. And I voted Republican since Nixon in 1968.
Bush has driven me out and Barack has drawn me in. and Im happy about it. WOOT it feels good!

4:22 AM, March 04, 2008  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home