A married couple of 40 years are driving together on a long trip. The husband is behind the wheel while the wife is up against the passenger side window watching the scenery. The husband brakes the car at a stop light. Through the window, he can see a young couple in the car in front of him. The young couple is sitting close together and they have their arms around one another.
“Will you look at that?” said the husband.
The wife looks at the couple in the other car and comments, “That’s nice. Why aren’t we like that anymore?”
The husband replies, “Who moved?”
I heard this joke at church on Sunday and while the priest was not talking about politics, my mind drifted that way nonetheless. It’s my curse. This is the kind of joke Obama could tell to illustrate what has happened to the Republican Party over the past 4+ years. In his version, it would be the GOP that has moved and it’s not funny. It’s sad.
The Republicans used to support cap and trade legislation as recently as 2008, until Obama supported it. Then they moved. The Republicans used to support an individual mandate as recently as 2009, until Obama supported it. Then they moved. The Republicans used to support the DREAM Act, until Obama supported it. Then they moved. Being against Obama seems to be the only criterion for evaluating a policy position these days for the GOP.
The same play is being run when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform. It is a fairly simple formula:
Step 1: Demonize the President for not leading and demand to see his plan.
Step 2: Once the President presents a plan, demonize him for being partisan and encroaching on Congress’ ability to get things done.
Step 3: See Step 1.
The GOP has called out Obama for not leading on immigration reform (even though he called on Congress to address the issue in every State of the Union of his Presidency). This week, his reform plan leaked to the media, a plan pretty much exactly like the one John McCain championed in 2007. The GOP was for it before they were against it.
This release of the immigration outline in response to GOP Step 1 triggered GOP Step 2. Sen. Mario Rubio called the President’s plan dead on arrival and that his “interference” in Congressional matters made a final agreement less likely.
For Obama, it’s the Kobayashi Maru, the no-win scenario (look it up).
Recent polls show that Republicans favor the President’s plan, but only when it is described without partisan attribution. Add one variable - Obama’s name - and popularity of the plan for GOP voters drops almost 20 points.
I think the Republicans are the ones that have moved. They have even moved when it comes to their Number One objective of the past 4 years. Today, the GOP has vowed to limit Obama to a “two term Presidency”. The difference is subtle, but it is a difference for their earlier plans.
I don’t think that our political parties should act like newly in love teenagers, all cuddled up holding hands. Both parties do enough of that with their real lovers, the major campaign donors. I do think we can clearly identify who done the moving away though.
BONUS Material (as it relates to the subject of moving away):
I recommend a recent op-ed in the New York Times by conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru. He argues that the GOP needs to move away from Ronald Reagan, especially as it relates to dealing with policy issues 25 years after he left office. Ponnuru reminds us that Reagan cut taxes at a time when the top rate was 70%; now it’s half of that.
“In his first Inaugural Address, Reagan famously said that ‘government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.’ The less famous yet crucial beginning of that sentence was ‘in our present crisis.’ The question is whether conservatism revives by attending to today’s conditions, or becomes something withered and dead.”
Republicans, you can worship him if you like (he could give a very good speech, a skill you used to value, but then you moved), but stop worshipping the specific 1980s solutions for 21st century problems.