A Brit historian gets it mostly right:
The way to reconcile the similarities and the differences between Bush and Obama is to see both as guardians of the New Deal tradition – with varying degress of enthusiasm and very different personalities. America still lives with mythic, traumatic and nostalgic memories of the 1930s, when Franklin D Roosevelt saved capitalism from the Great Depression. The old order had seen the presidency as a moral rather than legislative force, but from the 1930s onwards the federal government became a necessary – even benign – part of economy and society. There have been conservative rebellions (Reagan’s election in 1980) but never a true counter-revolution. If Bush was Roosevelt Lite, Obama was Roosevelt Max Strength. His 2008 electoral coalition was pure New Deal: the marginalised, the organised and the educated coming together to outnumber the reactionary and the red of neck. In office, Obama did what Democrats had often promised to do but never succeeded. Real healthcare reform, millions added to the welfare rolls and finally – finally!– someone prepared to take on the Catholic Church. Eleanor Roosevelt would be proud.
The problem was that the moment when the hardcore Roosevelt fans finally got the keys to the candy store was the exact moment when it had run out of candy. The money was gone and the economy exhausted. The New Deal order didn’t cause the recession, but it did limit America’s ability to recover from it. The creation of a warfare/welfare state consensus under both Republicans and Democrats lumbered the federal government with crippling levels of debt. Using the tax code to buy off segments of the population shrivelled income, while liberalism’s language of class war made it hard to build a consensus for reform. Talk of too many food stamps was racist. A conversation about the link between poverty and family structure was, obviously, sexist. Romney was accused of elitism for challenging a tax structure that cleaves America in two.
In 2012, Obama is the candidate of the warfare/welfare establishment that has dominated American politics for eighty years. Today, the real revolutionaries are the Tea Party, who have hijacked the Republican Party and turned it into an imperfect (and often reluctant) vehicle for a return to the fundamentals of Americanism: small, constitutional, limited government. To do this, they had to reject the politics of both Obama and Bush – and Mitt has slowly caught up. There was a significant moment in the second debate when a citizen asked Romney how he would distinguish himself from George W Bush. Romney said, “President Bush and I are different people, and these are different times.” He cited differences over aid to small business, balancing the budget, energy policy and relations with China. Remarkably, Obama then jumped in todefend Bush. “George Bush didn’t propose turning Medicare into a voucher,” the Prez said. “George Bush embraced comprehensive immigration reform…George Bush never suggested that we eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.”
No he didn’t – and that underscores the fact that Romney offers an alternative not only to Obama but also to Bush. He offers an alternative to whole New Deal, big spending, debt hiking, contraception distributing, sexy state circus. And he’s only so radically different because the Tea Party made him that way. Romney went into the primaries branded a moderate and came out branded a conservative. He’s a better, more important candidate for it.
Well, we’ll see, and we can only hope Stanley is correct…and be prepared to stay on Romney’s ass to help ensure that he is. Either way, it’s a far more perceptive and unconventional take than I’ve seen any “mainstream” American “journalist” come up with.
(Via Sarah Hoyt)