Obama and the Reagan Wing of the Democratic Party

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The Nation

Obama and the Reagan Wing of the Democratic Party

by
John Nichols

"The genius of American democracy has somehow done it again. George Bush is the right president at the right time."

So declared the consistently-conservative Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper on the eve of the 2004 election.

The Review-Journal warmly endorsed Bush in 2000, as well.

If there is a Nevada newspaper that offers an unadulterated conservative line, it is the Review-Journal.

And who does this newspaper urge Nevada Democrats to support when they caucus Saturday?

Barack Obama.

In truth, the paper's editorial on the Democratic contest is more an attack on Hillary Clinton than an enthusiastic embrace of Obama. In dismissing Clinton, the paper's editors detail a bizarre list of particulars that begins with, "For starters, imagine Sen. Clinton and 'co-president' Bill Clinton invited onto a 'This is Your Life' talk show where they're joined by Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky."

It's merely predictable right-wing Hillary-hate that underpins the rejection of Clinton.

John Edwards, on the other hand, is slammed for representing the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.

"Meanwhile," the editorial grumbles, "John Edwards' anti-capitalist populism is not in this country's long-term best interests."

Obama, on the other hand, is championed as "a good politician" who "knows how to speak to individual Americans and give them the feeling he cares about their concerns."

The old maxim that says "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" holds true here. Conservatives hate Hillary Clinton for who she is. They hate John Edwards for what he says. And they can live with Barack Obama, who could finish off the Clintons, who eschews edgy populism for "hope" and who this week said of a certain conservative: "I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing."

The soundest response to Obama's insights regarding Reagan comes from the man whose populism so unsettled the Review-Journal.

"When you think about what Ronald Reagan did to the American people, to the middle class to the working people," said John Edwards. "He was openly -- openly-- intolerant of unions and the right to organize. He openly fought against the union and the organized labor movement in this country... He openly did extraordinary damage to the middle class and working people, created a tax structure that favored the very wealthiest Americans and caused the middle class and working people to struggle every single day. The destruction of the environment, you know, eliminating regulation of companies that were polluting and doing extraordinary damage to the environment."

"I can promise you this," the former senator from North Carolina concluded, "this president will never use Ronald Reagan as an example for change."

Clinton got trashed.

Obama got the endorsement.

But this round goes to Edwards.

John Nichols is a co-founder of Free Press and the co-author with Robert W. McChesney of TRAGEDY & FARCE: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy — The New Press.

© 2008 The Nation

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