Most of my admiration for McCain has tapered off, although there were some moments early on in the campaign, where he did make me sit up and take notice. For instance during the Republican presidential debates, issues of national security and torture were very difficult to stomach. Ron Paul generally stood out amongst the others, as someone with a few principles, as opposed to tossing red meat on a crowd of voters who will yell and shriek mindlessly at any mention of killing terrorists or torturing the supposed enemies of the United States.
Mitt Romney, who had to be the least principled person running this year on both sides, really exemplified this angry partisan talking point style of campaigning. I'll never forget his remark that Guantanamo should be doubled. An almost meaningless statement, except in the universe where someone believes that everyone is out to get them, and everyone is jealous because they are the biggest and bestest country in the world. If one inhabits that universe, then don't stop at doubling Guantanamo, you'll need to multiply its size at least a thousand-fold. The implicit promise in Romney's statement is that, we all know that we have plenty of people out there who are looking to "get us." And my promise is that I will kill and torture twice as many as Bush has or anyone else on this stage will.
McCain was able to distance himself from at least the torture aspect of this Republican rabid, foaming at the mouth partisan pandering. Unfortunately, these sorts of "maverick" stances are becoming less and less frequent, and those that exist are quickly eroding or fading away. One such stance is precisely this anti-torture stance. Whereas earlier McCain had positioned himself slightly at odds with the President on the torture issue, this maverick position has all but evaporated.
To speak for a moment about Hilary Clinton before moving on to Obama, her omission from the opening sentence of this post is intentional. Frankly, Hilary Clinton's campaign has been far from impressive or inspiring, and will have much responsibility for any Democratic loss in November, because of the way they have decided to tear apart Barack Obama, in order to save a campaign which has virtually no legitimate chance of winning.
The idea that Hilary Clinton is more "electable" than Obama may have some merit to it. She does have the mystique of her husband on her side, and that more than anything else, in my opinion is what has propelled her forward this far.
But if Democrats are serious about making some changes to the United States over the next few years, then they have to rid themselves of the myth of the Clinton dynasty, in particular the myth of Clinton's popularity. Yes, Bill Clinton was the first Democratic President in two generations to be elected twice, but if we look at the overall power of the Democratic party under his reign, we see a party in shambles, which was losing seats in the House and the Senate left and right. Here we see the dangers of the Clinton Dynasty, namely their overpowering tendencies towards self-interest, self-protection and self-promotion. These tendencies may have been great for the Clintons, but didn't do much for the rest of the party, which were at the mercy of the Republicans for eight years.
(Before continuing, it should be noted that the grassroots network that Obama's campaign has developed, which has made them widely successful in the caucus system, indicates that in terms of pushing the entire party forward, Obama has much more to offer than Clinton.)
This Republican dominance, or elections and political discourse, provides a perfect segue into Obama and reasons to admire him. Early on this year, while campaigning in Nevada, Obama made some remarks about Democrats and Republicans, and which party has been "the party of ideas" and which figures have really shaped politics as we know it today. Now, for a variety of reasons, Obama when discussing this issue singled out Ronald Reagan, as key political figure in the past three decades that has really shifted or changed the trajecty of American politics. Now, alot of people responded by incredulity, at this gaffe, where a leading Democratic Presidential candidate was speaking admirably of a former Republican President, Reagan, who has the joyous distinction of being one of the nicest and banal looking, evil people the United States had ever seen.
So why would Obama make a remark such as this? First, the safe choice for a Democratic candidate, is one Obama, frankly couldn't name, and that's former President Bill Clinton. In his statement Obama makes a distinction from Clinton, saying explicitly that Reagan changed American politics in a way Clinton and even Nixon did not. So, as he is running against the wife of Bill Clinton, is would hardly work in his favor to butter up the record of Bill Clinton, especially since Hilary is running on the idea that his exploits are her own.
Second, Obama is advertising himself as someone who can appeal to independents and even Republicans, and so its possible that this sort of Reagan mention is meant to represent an olive branch to recovering Reagan Democrats, or conservative Republicans who have been left behind as their party has careened rightward.
Third, for all of Obama's progressive principles, he does work to sound "conservative" when he speaks. For instance, although Obama is very committed to helping out college students with sen makkat na student loans, he is very careful to couple these types of assistance with some sort of national service. This idea that the government can never appear to be giving anything away for "free" is one which is very much derived from the Reagan era and its subsequent impacts over the past twenty years. Public programs cannot simply be provided to citizens, but there has to be an element where people, especially poor people, can provide evidence that they deserve them or are responsible enough to receive them.
Also, his idea of family, even in his book The Audacity of Hope, is very heteronormative, and very traditional in the sense of a strong father figure being its foundation. I should note however, that this doesn't mean that Obama is against "strong women," in fact part of Obama's appeal is that his wife is a "strong woman," even going so far as to say that she did not support his run for President, because of the damage it will do to their family. But in his prescriptions for how to "fix" social problems, the formula is an old one, namely fill the roles of family heads with responsible men.
Here are some pragmatic reasons why Obama might have invoked Reagan's name, but one final reason might be simply the fact that its accurate, Ronald Reagan, for better or worse, (and in my opinion worse), drastically altered the landscape of American thought and ideas. Before continuing let me make clear my thoughts on Ronald Reagan, I do not admire him at all as a person or a president. So many of the problems we find in America today, Reagan and his "revolution" had a huge role in bringing about, and making seem natural or justified. I mean this in terms of American foreign policy, the economy, the prison population, issues of race, the weakening of American labor, and just the ways Americans see themselves.