History as caricature – Republicans selling malaise like it’s 1979

“[O]n issue after issue, Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan want to go backwards.”
-President Obama, Boulder, Colorado, September 2, 2012

The Republicans want you to be morose, sad and resigned.

One of the themes that emerged from the Republican National Convention, in Tampa, last week, was how sad are the times, how disappointing is the economy, how grey the outlook for hope. You could see it in the drooping, puppy dog eyelids of vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), when he spoke of the Janesville, Wisconsin, shuttered GM plant. “It is locked up and empty to this day,” he lamented, the corners of his wide, disappearing lips, drawing downward, feeling your pain, out there in the unemployed, closed factory towns around the country, “And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.”

Hopeless. So hopeless. If you are resigned to the hopelessness of the “fading Obama posters” on your bedroom ceiling, for attacks on success and for government assistance to help you get your slice of the American pie, they said, then vote for Obama. “If you’re looking for free stuff, that you don’t have to pay for,”  like health care and food and the ability to afford a college education, the Republican nominee told a heckler during the heat of the campaign, “then vote for the other guy. That’s what he’s all about.”

Gov. Romney continued the RNC’s theme of Obama destroying American drive, the night after Ryan’s appeal to despair, in (not surprisingly) a less nuanced, more direct approach:

“Every family in America wanted this to be a time when they could get ahead a little more… Every small business wanted these to be their best years ever, when they could hire more… Every new college graduate thought they’d have a good job by now, a place of their own…

“This was the hope and change America voted for…

“I wish President Obama had succeeded… [b]ut his promises gave way to disappointment and division.”

Oh, it’s so sad, too sad, that this president has turned your lives into a brother-can-you-spare-a-dime, ponderous time of high gas prices and low self esteem, he insists.

Despite Romney’s claim that “every president since the Great Depression who came before the American people asking for a second term could look back at the last four years and say with satisfaction: ‘you are better off today than you were four years ago,'” it is only Reagan who thought that question relevant, and because he won on it, every Republican challenger to an incumbent has felt it necessary to ask the same.

And since Romney-Ryan want to be the Ronald Reagan of the early 21st century, Romney had to ask the country, Thursday, what other one-term, Democratic presidents have failed to lift the spirit of the American people? Oh, yes. Jimmy Carter, and now, “this president.”

The problem with Mr. Romney’s argument is, the politics of the seventies were bogged down by more than just inflation and high gas prices. Entire government institutions, ones that had been celebrated only a generation before, had broken the trust of the people. There was no trusting the president because of Watergate, no trusting the Congress or the military because of the quagmire of Vietnam, and finally, the Iran hostage crisis that went on for over a year, shook our gullible, Madison Avenue, post-World War II belief in the nation’s ability to lead in the world, and didn’t end until the day President Carter left office.

Times are hard, to be sure, but these are not those times, and Romney is not the mythical Reagan. Reagan wasn’t even the mythical Reagan. He was a tax raising union-buster who made the first baby boomers to work on Wall Street a lot of money, believed that the poor were happy living on the dole, and prosecuted a secret war on Nicaragua with money from Iran. But he was the Gipper, and he did all that with a wink, a laugh and a nod, and a patronly smile that made most of America feel really good about their country.

Now, the Republicans want America’s thinking voters to park their analytical brains, and equate the political difficulties of Jimmy Carter and the seventies with President Obama fighting a Congress that has made it a point to frustrate his policy and mute possible successes for fear any compromise or acquiescence would mitigate their desire and promise to make him “a one term president.” What does that mean for the Republicans? An excuse to call the president ineffectual.

What does that mean for the president? It means a reason to show that he is willing to cross the aisle to work with even the most extreme Republicans, that he is above all this partisan posturing, even if they aren’t.

This week, in Charlotte, President Obama should play up his successes with Congress, as minimal as they were, to show undecided and independent voters that he is not only willing, but capable of running our country, even under the pall of extreme push-back from the opposition party. That’s what we will be looking for, as we continue our election coverage from inside the Democratic National Convention.


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