I thought Barack Obama's objective assessment of Ronald Reagan's political success would blaze around the liberal blogs and burn out, but I just got off a conference call with Hillary Clinton surrogates scorching Obama about it. Rep. Barney Frank accussed Obama of buying into right-wing frames about small government and the GOP being the party of ideas. "They have one idea," he said: Don't regulate capital at all, ever. "How can you believe that when we have the subprime problem, where the absence of regulation was the problem?"
Tom Edsall of the Huffington Post flipped the question and asked Frank to name the key Democratic new ideas of the last 20 years. "How you combine public sector and private sector activities," Frank said. I thought Oskar Lange had died a while ago, but no, I guess he's still kicking and penning columns for the American Prospect. Frank also argued that liberal Democrats had been right about trade while Republicans were babbling about free markets. "We have now evolved under the leadership of Democrats in particular, a very sophisticated approach: Allowing free trade while at the same time compensating for people who are hurt by it." Also, "if you listen now to best economists on the liberal side, they are much more aware than they were ten years ago, and much more willing to acknowledge, that simple free trade without any enforcements can be very damaging to our people."
Florida Rep. Corrine Brown didn't tussle quite as much with the counterargument, preferring to argue that Obama had endorsed Republican ideas ("like privatizing Social Security?") and Ronald Reagan. "Every time I see a homeless person," she said, "I think about Ronald Reagan. Because it was his programs that first started defunding mental institutions and did not put the support in the community. It is very important that one know the history." She boasted that she didn't vote to rename D.C.'s national airport for Reagan and added, cryptically, that people needed to understand history. "We didn't get there because of smart we are and how good we look but because of the suffering we had to go through to get there."
*Headline explained here.
UPDATE: One point of argument in the blogs seems to be that Obama might really be a secret conservative because his rhetoric is so sing-song and get-along: He won't say mean things about Republicans, the way Reagan said mean things about Democrats. This is moronic. From Reagan's 1980 convention speech:
The time is now to redeem promises once made to the American people by another candidate, in another time and another place. He said, "For three long years I have been going up and down this country preaching that government–federal, state, and local–costs too much. I shall not stop that preaching. As an immediate program of action, we must abolish useless offices. We must eliminate unnecessary functions of government…we must consolidate subdivisions of government and, like the private citizen, give up luxuries which we can no longer afford."
"I propose to you, my friends, and through you that government of all kinds, big and little be made solvent and that the example be set by the president of the United State and his Cabinet."
So said Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention in July 1932.
This is just smart politics: Win over swing voters and members of the other party with soft rhetoric, then get in office and dismantle their works. It's what makes people like me worry about Obama while we don't worry about the transparently craven Clintons.