It's not surprising when you hear GOP candidates like John McCain, Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney invoking the spectre of former President Ronald Reagan on the campaign trail. After all, Reagan has long held celebrity status among Republicans, who seem to think he was just shy of the second coming. But when Senator Barack Obama decides Reagan is worthy of admiration, it's time to start thinking about whittling down the Democratic '08 field by one more candidate.
In an interview with the editorial board of the Reno Gazette, Obama said the Gipper "changed the trajectory of America," and "put us on a fundamentally different path." But most shocking was the Illinois Senator's belief that Reagan helped curb "the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s."
Well yes, I suppose he did. But was it for the better? Was it really something to admire Reagan for? And should LGBT voters who support Obama be concerned about the Senator's salute to a president who so irrevocably harmed our community?
Consider, after all, what Reagan considered the "excesses" that needed to be brought under control: the advance of women's rights, the coming age of sexual liberation, the influence of unions and the idea that government could help those who needed it most: the poor, disadvantaged and disenfranchised. In return, Reagan gave us the excess of a bloated budget, rising deficits and the military-industrial complex. And let's not forget his refusal to address the AIDS epidemic or his sheer terror at uttering the word "gay."
Surely Senator Obama can find a better leader to admire.
The "trajectory" that Reagan set our country on resulted in the most materialistic, wealth-obsessed and greedy decade in American history. It was under Reagan's administration that religion most forcefully entered the political realm and that rights for women, gay Americans and the poor were virtually washed away. Reagan, as Matt Stoler correctly points out, "tapped into greed and fear and tribalism" to push his conservative agenda forward.
Even if you argue (as a co-worker of mine did earlier today), that Obama was simply referring to Reagan's ability to lay out a clear agenda and get the American people behind it, you have to wonder about the Senator's judgement when he chose to credit Ronnie with doing that best . . . as compared, to, say, President Kennedy or Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Or, as the nation pauses on Monday to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., perhaps he could have saluted Dr. King's ability to inspire - and make the world immeasurably better for - generations of Americans.
So it's no wonder that the other Democratic candidates are criticizing Obama's remarks. John Edwards may have summarized it best when he said, "Ronald Reagan, the man who busted unions, the man who did everything in his power to destroy the organized labor movement, the man who created a tax structure that favored the richest Americans against middle class and working families, ... we know that Ronald Reagan is not an example of change for a presidential candidate running in the Democratic Party."
If this election really is about change, it needs to be a change from the Reagan/Bush politics of government of the powerful, for the powerful and by the powerful.
It's disappointing that Senator Obama chose to memorialize Reagan without giving pause to consider how much damage his presidency did to a great majority of Americans . . . the very same Americans who now want a change from that very political ideology.
That would be a change we could all believe in.