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Susan Estrich
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It's Not About Ideology


"What I have no interest in doing is running GM," President Barack Obama said on Monday, as he assumed ownership of the beacon of free enterprise.

"The era of big government is over," then-President Bill Clinton famously declared, and even if no one believed it, virtually everyone thought it a very politic thing to say, for the first Democratic president since Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan.

When GM emerges from bankruptcy, the U.S. government will own 60 percent of it and Canada will own 12.5 percent. That's a lot of government.

Could Americans have changed that much? How do you get from Reagan to Obama in a generation?

In 1984, Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale proposed increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans, precisely what candidate Obama proposed and what President Obama has incorporated into his budgets. Mondale lost 49 states. Obama is riding high.

In 1988, Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis was ridiculed for being soft on crime and weak on defense. Having been there, I'd be the first to say that Dukakis didn't respond forcefully enough or mount effective counterattacks. But at least one reason for that was that every survey showed and every smart politician advised that if he got near ideology, he would lose. Remember, it was Mario Cuomo — the biggest liberal at the time — who came up with: "It's not about ideology; it's about competence."

That generation lost to Nixon and lost to Reagan and even lost to Bush, and Bush thought Americans wanted less government and lower taxes, and that offering anything else was punishable by political death. The lesson was that it took a Bill Clinton to win, a moderate Democrat who wouldn't scare all those Reagan Democrats away.

If you have any doubt that era has ended, forget about the Democrats and look at the Republicans.

They keep saying the same things they've been saying for the last three decades, casting government as the enemy and the private sector as the savior, and the old lines about keeping the money you earn because you spend it better than government does. Sure, it moves the dial on cable television, where 1 percent of all Americans watching makes a ratings knockout. But in terms of national politics, the Republicans aren't even on the radar screen. They're about as irrelevant as Senate Democrats were in the early Reagan years.

Presidential politics has always been personal. Reagan was a compelling leader. So is Obama. You can admire him even if he's more conservative or liberal than you are; if anything, it makes him seem more genuine. The fact that Obama has succeeded in promoting big government and higher taxes (and more diplomacy and fewer bombs) does not mean that a lesser politician could win with that message.

Presidential politics is also, always, about timing. The Reagan Revolution may not have added up on paper — cut taxes, raise defense spending, and how could you not get a deficit? But double digit inflation and interest rates, gas lines, and then-President Carter telling us that we had malaise counted for more than mere arithmetic problems. So, too, in this election: Once the credit market collapsed, John McCain was simply doomed. As always, it was the economy, stupid.

It still is. It's just that the economy has turned upside down, and until somebody comes up with another idea, it really is Obama's way or the highway. If we believe in it, it may work. This requires, above all, a leader who can make us believe. GM will come out of bankruptcy stronger than ever? Sure, I'll put my pension on that. I think we just did.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



4 Comments | Post Comment
The current downfall of the American car industry is rooted deeply in the economic disaster created by the two wars that the BUSH administration dragged us into and the enormous cost of those wars that ruined our economy.
We are npot going to recover and make our American industry return to the stature of old unless and until we get rid of the enormous cost of these two wars. We have to get out of both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Russians bankrupted themselves in Afghanistan and Russian pensioners were left begging for food in the streets. The interesting thing about that is that they did not have the huge expense of funding a war half a world away. We cannot sustain the dibilitating cost of such a war and pay off the war debt of the past eight years. The Bush administration borrowed us into third world status. We are no longer a sustainable world power and it is time to pull in our horns and concentrate on rebuilding our own industry and our personal savings. Our China debt is now the giant elephant in the room that is beyond dangerous. The recent episodes in Korea show us how limited our options are in the region based on our need to show deference to China because of that huge debt. SCARY
Comment: #1
Posted by: robert lipka
Wed Jun 3, 2009 3:50 AM
Susan once again your assesment is mostly correct, keep up the good work. Presidential politics is very cyclic and it's easy to blame an outgoing president for the mistakes and failed policies of the prior administration. It can take years for the policies of the executive branch once signed into law to manifest as a success or failure. The failed policies of the Carter administration that led to high unemployment and hyper inflation were corrected by the Regan administration. There were deficits under Regan but he understood americans knew how to spend their money better that the federal government. Under Regan the private sector flourished, tax revenues increased and unemployment dropped. These facts are spun by tax and spend liberals but history cannot be rewritten. What cannot be denied is the Obama administration has out spent every sitting president in history combined. He has done it in only 100 days and there are so many days left. I don't need a degree in finance, a seat in congress or a politician to tell me this type of spending is right or wrong. It's a massive mistake. Back to the crux of your column "It's not about Ideology". President Obama is at the beginning of a massive power grab. Susan you are right, conservatives are not on the radar but we are treading water. I can only hope the Obama regime does not drown us all!
Comment: #2
Posted by: Michael Belew
Wed Jun 3, 2009 11:18 PM
Once again, the gritty liberal from Dukakis land bends and twists the truth, as all good liberals have learned to do since Estrich's era, about the Reagan revolution. The reduction in taxes on the PEOPLE's money always results in increased business activity and therefore more tax money into the federal coffers. Reagan needed to raised spending on the military because it was in such a sorry state from Carter and wound up as the "stimulus" that broke the financial back of the Soviet Union. Since liberals like you Susan are always against bombs or anything military, your naivete can be forgiven. But when you balatantly lie and claim that both of the above caused massive deficits, that's where you are decieving your readers. The only thing that caused the Reagan deficits was the out of control spending by the Democrat Congress. Even after they agreed with the Reagan administration to reduce spending, they couldn't help themselves. No liberals can resist spending other peoples' money. In that, nothing has changed as is evidenced by The One spending it faster than anyone in history. Get your facts straight Susan. Deficits are created by out of control Congressionally authorized expenditures acted out by a spiteful Congress eager to undermine the Reagan financial plan to return our money to us, and to make freedom and liberty secure through a strong military. Those should be the two most important focal points of everyone in Washington. As we know, it is not. So next time you blather on about the Reagan administration, at least try to get these essential truths straight.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Louis Milano
Fri Jun 5, 2009 12:20 PM
There IS a better idea, Susan: abolish the Federal Reserve, pull out of the IMF and WTO, get rid of the fake global monetary system, start a real monetary system, renegotiate all international trade deals, allow sovereign nations to control their own destinies instead of letting banking cartels blackmail them, and get a REAL economy going--one where we can actually have some domestic industry, and a sound dollar that actually retains its value over time.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Tracy Twyman
Fri Jun 5, 2009 3:03 PM
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