Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"It's Morning Again in America"

Ezra Klein loves Hillary Clinton. They are both policy dorks in general and health care policy dorks in particular.

In a recent post Ezra attempted to explained why Hillary is not dead yet but conceded that Obama may actually run better against McCain in the fall. He then shared this, my off-the-record conversations with professional conservatives, they seem unanimously afraid of Obama. It's not so much that they're sure he can win (and none deny the possibility that he could lose), but they're definitely not sure how they can beat him, and they fear he has the potential to win big. With Clinton, by contrast, they feel they know how to attack her, and don't worry about anything game-changing.
In recent days I've been thinking about the presidential campaign that took place the year Ezra was born, 1984.

Last night I listened to McCain, Clinton and Obama speak and again I thought of 1984.

No doubt at least some of the conservative pros with whom Ezra has spoken remember that campaign very well and that's why they are concerned.

People much younger than I have no recollection of Ronald Reagan's re-election campaign that year. It was the first presidential campaign I was ever invested in and it was a major ass kicking with Reagan getting 59% of the vote and carrying 49 states.

Anyway, to my point. In 1984 the US was coming out of a very long funk. The evacuation of Saigon, Watergate, years of inflation that led to 'stagflation', Pres Carter on national TV chewing our collective asses for a 'malaise' that (quite understandably) hung over the nation, mortgage interest rates that hit 15%, the first oil shocks, and the final humiliation of the Iran hostage crisis (and failed rescue attempt) in which the US was completely impotent in the face of a handful of students in Tehran. It was during this bleak time that I came of age but by 1984 things had begun to turn around for the first time in more than 10 years (and in my memory).

Walter Mondale had the job of taking on Reagan and Mondale ran a campaign about telling the American people the truth about tax cuts and increased spending doubling the national debt in 3 short years (aka Reaganomics), etc. Mondale wanted us all to know we were being sold a bill of goods and that we were going to have to swallow a bitter pill to pay for it, etc. No one wanted to hear that message with the first signs of light coming in 10 long years.

I thought of Mondale last night as I listened to John McCain talk. McCain loves to talk bitter pills we need to swallow (100 years of war in Iraq, etc). Hillary Clinton like to talk about bitter pills sometimes too but even more she likes to talk about policy details that make Ezra's heart swoon.

Our current situation does not compare to America in the early 1980's but there is nevertheless a real yearning in this country to get past Sept 11, fear politics, bitterness in Washington, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, etc. People want to be given the hope of better times, and that is where Obama comes in.

In 1984 Ronald Reagan went on the air with the most famous political TV ad in history, "It's Morning in America Again". Mondale had no way to run against it, and this is exactly what the conservatives fear about Obama's message of a fresh start and a new beginning -- Something no Republican can deliver and something a Mondale-esque McCain has no intention of even trying to deliver.

Here was Reagan's response to Mondale's bitter pills,

Every time I hear the soaring rhetoric of Barack Obama I think, it's morning in America again.

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