My friend TR took issue with my assertion that Pres. Obama is the lefty-est president we’ve ever had. She was right to do so. It’s kind of hard to say who is the lefty-est president ever, since what constitutes “lefty” and “righty” have changed so much over the past 200 years we’ve been having presidents. I don’t think we’ve even been using the terms “left” and “right” to describe political persuasions for that long, although I could be wrong about that. (I know that both professional and amateur historians read my blog, so I don’t feel the need to do the research on this, since I know someone out there is just dying to set me straight and I wouldn’t dream of depriving them of that pleasure.) So yes, it’s wrong to assert it as an absolute fact, but it’s not wrong that Pres. Obama is perceived by conservatives as the lefty-est president ever, or at least in their lifetimes, whatever that means (and that it’s his ideology that burns them up so much, not his race, which was the larger point I was trying to make, but that’s not the point of this post).
TR thinks that if this were the 1970s, Pres. Obama’s positions would make him a conservative Republican. I know that a lot of my liberal friends are disappointed in the president’s performance. I, on the other hand, am not at all disappointed by the president’s performance. I think this has more to do with expectations than how well the president impersonates a Republican. I mean, he doesn’t seem to be fooling any actual Republicans, so when these same liberal friends say he’s acting like a Republican, that strikes me as kind of silly. Like saying Vanilla Ice is acting black. Maybe he’s trying, but…word to your mother. Anyway. I’m getting off topic. Where was I going, originally? Oh, yeah. I understand why liberals are disappointed with the president. But I also understand why moderates and independents are disappointed with the president, and it isn’t for the same reasons. A lot of people who ordinarily vote Republican voted for Barack Obama, for reasons I still, honestly, do not understand. They were under the impression that he’d be a moderate sort of guy, and he turned out to be a lot more liberal than they expected. I’m trying very hard not to sound like a jerk when I say I just don’t get what campaign these people were watching. I ordinarily vote Republican (because I am one), and I expected Barack Obama to be a lot more liberal than he’s turned out to be. He’s still too liberal for my taste, but I can’t say I haven’t been pleasantly surprised by some of his choices.
I’m still off topic, but that’s because I’m veering onto a tangent. Sorry for not warning you, but it just stole upon me. I want to take a stroll down memory lane. I remember during the 1992 election that I thought I was settling for Bill Clinton because he was the most liberal candidate electable–much the same way conservatives will probably “settle” for Mitt Romney next year because he is the most conservative candidate electable. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. At the time (i.e. 1992), my conservative friends were flipping out because Bill Clinton was just so unbelievably liberal–like a socialist or something!–and I was thinking, “Are you crazy? Do you even know what a liberal is?” Now, of course Bill Clinton was liberal, compared to a Republican, but compared to some other Democrats? Please. In 1992 I would have loved to vote for a Barack Obama–I probably would have been peeing myself in delight the same way Obama voters were in November 2008–and I probably would have been just as disappointed when he failed to live up to my expectations. By contrast, I was never disappointed in Bill Clinton (until he committed a felony, but that’s not the point of this post); I knew what he was when I voted for him: a pragmatic, center-left Democrat.
I don’t believe Bill Clinton was more liberal than Barack Obama, but perhaps I’m wrong about that. I guess it’s hard for me to say, now that I’m no longer invested in the liberal cause.
Anyway, back to what I was starting to say with TR’s comment about 1970s Obama. (That’s Hypothetical 1970s Adult Obama, not Actual 1970s 12-year-old Obama.) TR is absolutely right that Republicans are more right-wing now than they were 30-40 years ago. Or perhaps ever. (But as I said before, it’s hard to make judgments about “ever.”) Richard Nixon was considered conservative for his time, but today’s conservatives would consider him kind of a RINO. (I myself dislike the term “RINO.” I would never call anyone that.) He gave us the EPA and Affirmative Action. And price controls! (Semi-relevant aside: Dick Cheney describes in his memoir how he and another Nixon staffer personally set all those prices. They pulled an all-nighter. Riveting stuff.) TR thinks that Nixon was more liberal than Pres. Obama. I’m not convinced. I’d rather have neither of them than either of them, but gun to my head, I’d still choose Nixon over Pres. Obama. I don’t like saying that, but it’s true. Does that mean I’m more liberal than I think I am, or that I don’t understand Pres. Obama?
It seems like most liberals these days consider Barry Goldwater the gold standard for conservatives, even though the liberals of Barry Goldwater’s day thought he was, like, Satan incarnate. I guess you just don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. Liberals are even starting to miss Ronald Reagan (who was also considered the devil before he retired from public life and was no longer able to influence policy). The best conservatives are always the dead ones (and sometimes the incapacitated ones). There were very few libertarian-style conservatives in the 1970s, Barry Goldwater notwithstanding. Well, there are very few libertarian-style conservatives now, although there are certainly more fiscally libertarian-leaning conservatives now than there were then. But there are fewer socially libertarian-leaning conservatives than there were then. (Barry Goldwater would NOT approve.) You aren’t allowed to be lukewarm on social issues anymore, on either side of the aisle. Left and right will spew you out of their mouths. Is this a real problem? I don’t know. It is what it is. I think everyone could stand to lighten up a bit on social issues, but it doesn’t seem like anyone’s going to, so…shrug.
What was my point? Oh–that there’s not much point in comparing 1970s conservatives to today’s conservatives, no matter how much less scary the 1970s must have been. The Republican party is no longer a pale imitation of the Democratic party (unless you’re a registered Libertarian). That’s partly Barry Goldwater’s fault–and it’s partly Barack Obama’s fault. Or, rather, it’s the fault of Barack Obama’s PR machine, which has failed to convince the other half of the country that he’s really a Republican and his failure is as good as our success. (I hate to blame the president for anything these days; he seems so put upon.)
I’m tired of writing, so I’ll just end with a political science exercise. Rank the following people left-to-right:
1. Barack Obama
2. Bill Clinton
3. George H.W. Bush
4. Jimmy Carter
5. Richard Nixon
6. Barry Goldwater
If you want, you can rank yourself, too. But you don’t have to.
Did I say that was the end? I was just kidding. I’m actually going to end with a joke, courtesy of commenter “kc” at By Common Consent:
Q: Who would Mitt Romney have as his running mate if he won the nomination?
A: Sarah Palin AND Michele Bachmann AND Ann Coulter AND…
Considering it’s the only Mitt Romney joke I could solicit over there, I think it’s pretty good.