In the Arena

Republican Fantasyland

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I was having a drink with a Republican strategist the other day and he said, “Jon Stewart was right. We’re running a Clint Eastwood campaign, running against a version of Barack Obama that doesn’t exist.” Exhibit A is this Fred Barnes piece in the Weekly Standard, which begins with this rather remarkable paragraph:

President Obama is outside the ideological mainstream, viewed as very liberal by an electorate that’s moderate or somewhat conservative. His domestic policies are unpopular, notably his health care law, economic stimulus, and spending plans. His foreign policy initiatives — curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons program, improving America’s position in the Middle East, fostering better relations with Russia — have failed. The public wants Obama to jettison his ineffective economic policies and implement new ones. But he refuses.

Notice the absence of facts, polling data. Notice the absolute wrongitude of Barnes’ foreign policy postures: the truth is, the American people — and most foreign policy experts who are not neoconservatives — believe that Obama has been a very successful foreign policy President. The public has mixed feelings about Obama’s domestic policies, which have not been a roaring success, but not nearly the utter failure that Republicans seem to have imagined in their Fox-Rush echo chamber. The stimulus prevented a Great Depression. Most of the health care plan hasn’t been implemented yet, and the parts that have been are wildly popular, especially the “pre-existing condition” rules and the extension of coverage to children up to the age of 26. As for spending, Obama’s proposed balance of new revenue and entitlement reform, though relatively modest, is deemed far more realistic than the Republican tax-cuts-forever-and-ever mantra.

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These are not “very liberal” policies. They used to be Republican policies, especially the health care provision and the intelligent use of force overseas against our al-Qaeda enemies. The notion that Obama is anything beyond a moderate liberal is laughable, especially given the wildly right-wing Romney positions on social issues, foreign policy and the aggrandizement of the plutocracy.

There are more than a few things Obama has done wrong; both the health care and financial-reform laws could be greatly improved with creative impact from an opposition party that wanted to work in the country’s best interests rather than paint the President as a fantasy radical. But it seems clear that Romney, and his adoption of the most extreme Republican positions on a range of issues, is having a tough time selling himself to the American people. It would be good for all of us if the Republicans finally rejected the hateful, radical Fox-Rush siren song and returned to their true traditions of foreign policy realism and domestic conservatism. But I think the party needs to exorcise its demons before it rejoins the American mainstream.