Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Whistling Past the Graveyard: Obama is the Democrats’ Reagan.

A Comment to this Website by Alderman Joe Moore [49th].

Tom, when you predict a near-inevitable Barack Obama loss in the general election, I hear the sound of a Republican whistling past the graveyard. True, Senator Obama is probably the most progressive (you say, "liberal") of the three major Democratic candidates for president and enjoys the support of most of the so-called McGovern wing of the party. But you ignore the power of his upbeat and inclusive message that has resonance far beyond the Democratic party's progressive base.

Both Obama himself, and the symbolism of his candidacy, make people feel good about themselves and our country. Throughout our nation's history, Americans have gravitated to leaders who exude an aura of optimism and idealism and who call out to the better angels of our nature. Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and, yes, Ronald Reagan come to mind.

In fact, a lot of parallels can be drawn between Ronald Reagan's candidacy in 1980 and Barack Obama's candidacy today. Although today he is exalted by the Republican party establishment, most of the party's establishment in 1980 opposed Reagan's candidacy, preferring instead the likes of George H.W. Bush and Howard Baker. And with the possible exception of long shot Cong. Phil Crane, Reagan was the most ideologically conservative candidate in the Republican field, and hence deemed the most unelectable in a general election.

Most of my Democratic friends and I bought into that conventional wisdom. We knew Jimmy Carter had an uphill battle for re-election, but we were relieved when Reagan secured the Republican party nomination, believing he would be the easiest to beat.

Boy, were we wrong. In an era of Carter-induced malaise, Reagan exuded a sunny optimism and a can-do attitude about America, and the voters responded. They overlooked some of Reagan's more extreme ideological positions, and embraced him as a man of character and conviction. As you know, I'm no fan of Ronald Reagan's policies, but there is no doubting his political skills and leadership qualities.

In our belief that Reagan's political ideology would doom his campaign in a general election, we Democrats ignored a basic fact about the American electorate. A majority of voters, especially the so-called swing voters, do not vote for a presidential candidate on the basis of ideology. Most often, their vote is determined on the basis of their perception of the candidates' character and leadership skills, and which candidate is "on their side." In 1980, most of those voters believed Ronald Reagan was on their side. He exuded a sense of self-confidence that folks look for in a president.

In that respect, Barack Obama is our Ronald Reagan. Like Reagan, he's witty and urbane and radiates joy and hope. Like Reagan, Obama has energized his base of ideological supporters. Like Reagan, he reaches out beyond that base to independent and swing voters. And like Reagan, he represents a break from the tired old politics of the past.

Tom, I agree with you that Hillary Clinton is "the last lingering vestige of the "old pols," which is why I strongly disagree with you that they have some lock on political wisdom. If they had their way, Hillary Clinton would be our nominee. And she would lose unless she was "endowed with great good luck and a terrible calamity in the Republican party."

As you know, I traveled to Iowa last week with my son and some other energetic high school seniors to volunteer for Obama. The Obama camp assigned us to two small towns in rural Butler Count-- Parkersburg and Clarksville. Although I had read about Hillary's high negative poll ratings, I was shocked at the visceral hatred toward her volunteered by otherwise very nice and mild-mannered Iowans, Democrats and Independents and Republicans alike. While I think this intense hatred of Hillary is unfair and unjustified, it's also undeniable. She would have an extraordinarily difficult time reaching out beyond her Democratic base in a general election.

Obama, on the other hand, generated no such negative reaction in the two towns I canvassed, which were 99% white. The only concern I heard expressed revolved around his relative lack of experience in foreign affairs, a concern which Ronald Reagan easily overcame 28 years ago.

Just as Ronald Reagan's election signaled a tectonic shift in American politics, ushering thirty years of conservative rule, Barack Obama's election has the potential to create a similar shift to the progressive side. As a Democrat, I've waited long time the time for a candidate who shares my progressive ideology, but who also exhibits the political instincts and communication skills to win an election. With Barack Obama, I think our time has come.

Joe Moore is a regular, valued guest on my WLS-AM radio show and while we disagree is a friend. He is a member of the Democratic National Committee from Illinois.


  1. The similarities are just stunning:

    'Hello, This is Barry Obama for Twenty Mule Team Boax Soap - for deep-down dirty clean! Tonight, on 'Death Valley Days,' I'll be playing Daniel Webster of New Hampshire voicing my strong opposition to James Madison's conduct of the War of 1812 and the evil Secretary of War James Monroe's attempt to add conscription!

    You'll see me again at commercial breaks for Boax and also those great new Van Huesan Executive Shirts - the Little Lady won't need to iron these beauties!

    Tuck in to some Liver Sausage and enjoy the show!'

    Yep- Moore nails it again.

  2. elizabeth alexanderJanuary 9, 2008 at 5:11 AM

    I can't quote it exactly, but bill Clinton didn't finish the quote from Obama, who added, "but from my point of view, they didn't make their case." That is a loose quote, but Obama has refuted what Clinton said by finishing the quote.

  3. Nobody knows exactly what Barack Obama stands for or what his specific agenda is. He can stress "Hope" and "Change" repeatedly, but that does not indicate what he is all about. There was another candidate from Arkansas who successfully used the same two words repeatedly in 1992 and prevailed in a three man race. Once in office, he managed to preside over the most unethical administration since LBJ and he did Nixon one better by subjecting the country to an impeachment by the House and trial before the Senate while the terrorists ran wild. I cannot understand voters who are prepared to give Obama a blank check endorsement.

  4. I completely agree. Check out -- it's amazing how similar some of Obama's traits are to Reagan.