Monday, January 21, 2008
Iraq War Republicans
It's worth clarifying, because I don't think Barack Obama has really formulated it this way yet: He might have made mention of Ronald Reagan the other day, but he was actually talking about America. But while he's right when he says that the mood of America allowed Ronald Reagan to capture the famous Reagan Democrat votes, he keeps leaving two things out.
First, Ronald Reagan did not change the political landscape of America by working across party lines. He did it by getting voters who traditionaly identified as Democrats to not only vote Republican, but to identify as Republican, as least temporarily. Specifically, he appealed to blue collar Democrats' social conservatism, to middle class Democrats' fiscal conservatism, and to both groups' susceptibility to a reinvigorated American triumphalism. If Obama really wants to change the political landscape of America in the way that Reagan did, he needs to claim the political space on the other side of the center line. But first he needs to identify exactly who he means to win over and how.
Which brings me to the second point Obama keeps leaving out. The Reagan Democrats were driven to change party allegiances not just by an intangible national mood. They were driven by a Democratic Party in which they had lost faith and by which they felt abandoned. I wrote about this three times back in Novemeber, (here, here, and here), because it seemed at the time like the GOP was headed for a meltdown. And if Mike Huckabee ends up winning the nomination, I think the logic of an "Obama Republicans" groundswell still holds.
But the overwhelming factor in the GOP's self-examination, at least as I saw it at the time, was the Iraq War. It's what led Republicans like Wesley Clark and Jim Webb to run as Democrats in 2004 and 2006, and I think they were early adapters for a much broader movement that might have followed in 2008. But Iraq, for the time being, has quieted down. Which suddenly makes the GOP -- especially one led by John McCain or Mitt Romney -- a less threatening proposition, especially to Republicans most susceptible to an Obama appeal (ie. the sane ones).
So while I understand why Obama is using the Reagan analogy, I'm no longer sure it will be borne out by the electoral dynamics come November.