Filed under Editors, Opinion

Cunniff’s Corner: In search of a 2012 Richard Nixon

Question: Which party platform for an incumbent president brags about ending a seemingly endless war, signing treaties to limit nuclear weapons, cutting defense spending and raising taxes.

Barack Obama and the Democrats in 2012? No, the correct answer is Richard Nixon and the Republicans in 1972.

A million things can happen in the next 34 days, but it looks like President Obama is going to be reelected.

Regardless of who wins this election battle, however, it doesn’t matter — the far-right is winning the war, and it’s not close. Since the days of Nixon, the playing field in which political battles are waged has tilted so far to the right that the Democrats are now to the right of where Republicans used to be.

Don’t believe me? Try this. Far from calling a universal health care law a socialist, unconstitutional government overreach, like 2012 Republicans do, the 1972 Republican platform says the reason universal health care has not been passed is because the Democrats dragged their feet on the issue. And the 40-year-old Republican plan  proposes federal subsidies to build on the current private insurance structure and insure all Americans. Sound familiar? It should — it’s the basic framework of the 2009 Affordable Care Act that got passed into law and cemented Obama’s reputation as a Commie in disguise.

And what about on social issues? Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee has promised to “get rid of that” in regards to funding for Planned Parenthood. Forty years ago, Republicans boasted about increasing funding for family planning services threefold.

I could go on, but the point is this — Republicans in 1972 were broadly at a similar point in the political spectrum as Democrats are today.

Actually, that’s not even accurate. When factoring in the wage and price controls Nixon instituted in his first term, a government intervention into the economy Obama would never dream of, 1972 Republicans may well have been to the left of today’s Democrats. So what happened?

Well, to boil it down, Ronald Reagan happened. The Gipper cobbled together an unlikely coalition of the religious right, social conservatives and the business community to win the White House, and the party has never looked back. Today, nearly every Republican in Congress has signed a pledge that promises that Republicans and tax increases are never, ever, ever getting back together, not even if the tax increases are really nice and tell them how much they love them and that they’re actual going to lower rates and close loopholes to make the tax system more equitable.

And Romney, he of the “get rid of that” attitude toward federally funded family planning, is distrusted by the most ardent social conservatives in his party for not being solid enough on the issue. You really can’t make this stuff up.

As for the Democrats, instead of standing their ground, they’ve become “Republican-lite,” moving right on issues like gun control, taxes and health care. They gave up compelling arguments for the merits of a single-payer health care system, a more progressive tax code and, until Rep. Todd Akin made his “legitimate rape” comment, a woman’s right to control her body. Liberals have found themselves with no party that really represents them, and a president that ignores them whenever convenient.

And it appears as if the media, and others who follow politics, have largely failed to notice this trend — which is why a moderate like Obama or Bill Clinton gets tarred as a socialist, while Actual Socialists like Michael Moore throw up their hands and ask, “what about us?”

If Obama wins reelection, real liberals’ celebrations will be more like sighs of relief — he’ll never really fight for the progressive causes, but he won’t undermine them either, except when he does (like, in the absence of real immigration reform, deporting more undocumented immigrants than any president ever).

Of course, Obama couldn’t have passed most policies preferred by liberals anyway — not with Republican intransigence in Congress at an all-time high (I’m not just saying that either; it’s been widely documented).

But, if he was really a socialist, or even a real liberal, the least he would have done is fought for them. It may have made his reelection prospects a little more difficult, but long-term, it could have helped begin the process of reestablishing the Democrats as the party of liberals, not just the party that’s not Republicans.

If this narrative sounds depressing for liberals, well, maybe we’re at a tipping point. The electorate has (so far) rightly rejected Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which would voucherize Medicare for most and slash tax rates on the rich while cutting federal programs to historic lows, as too radical, and Romney’s “47 percent” comments may have doomed his election chances.

Maybe this election will mark the year that the field began to tilt the other way — when our politics started moving leftward for the first time in nearly half a century and when we reject, once and for all, the social Darwinism that the Republicans espouse.

I never thought I’d say this, but for the good of the country, Republicans need to channel their collective inner-Richard Nixons.

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