I haven't been paying too much attention to Presidential Campaign 2008--partially because I think it's far too early for the likes of debates and the already established tiering of the candidates, mostly because I have only so much time--but Frank Rich's recent pieces about Falwell and the Republican debate say a lot about the little that the Republican contenders have to offer. As Rich said, the Republicans seemed to be putting on their best Reagan impersonations the other night. Now that he is dead, Reagan's legacy goes beyond even the gratuitous naming of buildings, streets, and monuments in his honor: it extends to his deification by the right. For them, he is riding horses in the heavens in an open white shirt and frowining down upon Bush's deviation from his formula for Morning in America, which on closer glance does not look that different from what Bush has done this last 8 years.
Indeed, what no fan of Reagan seems ready to acknowledge is that Bush is extreme Reagan, Reagn taken to his logical end. Reagan made government bigger, he built up the defense budget, he cut taxes for the wealthier and ended up passing those on to the less wealthy in the form of Social Security tax hikes, he actively ignored the AIDS epidemic, and on and on. Bush has either done this or would do this if he could (can anyone imagine him acknowledging AIDS if he were president 25 years ago?). His policies have kowtowed even more to the social conservative part of his base than did Reagan's.
Yet, Reagan remains that elusive Republican ideal. As Rich said, the Republican candidates mentioned Reagan's name in the debates 19 times, while they only mentioned Bush's once. "Meanwhile," Rich concludes,
most of the pressing matters the public cares passionately about--Iraq, health care, the environment and energy independence--belong for now to the Democrats [...] You don't see Democrats changing the subject to JFK and FDR.
The cover of a recent news weekly asked who the country's new Truman would be. Maybe we need to stop looking for saviors from the past and start acknowledging that the problems faced because of all of the corruption and waste wrought by this current administration are pretty unique to our time and were wrought by forces that could have been prevented but were not, over and over again. If we had a Truman around, the prominent political commentators would have probably derided him for lacking experience or being too unrefined or too deferent or too overcompensating. When there have been people as good or better than Truman around (Al Gore, for instance), they've been derided. We're far past getting or deserving a Truman at this point, and what we really will need when this administration is done is someone with the energy of an FDR and the vision to realize the last thing we can affored to dwell in right now is nostalgic escapism.