Business Times - 10 Apr 2009
Republicans praying that Obama fails to fix economy
By LEON HADAR
NOW is not a great time to be a Republican in Washington. Despite the continuing economic meltdown and the never-ending attacks by the Republicans against President Barack Obama, the new White House occupant and the Democratic Party enjoy the support of the majority of Americans. According to the recent New York Times/CBS News poll, two-thirds said they approved of his overall job performance, including the handling of the economy and foreign policy.
In fact, according to the same poll only 31 per cent of Americans had a favourable view of the Republican Party, the lowest in 25 years. By more than three to one, voters said they trusted Mr Obama more than they trusted Republicans in Congress to make the right decisions about the economy. Even when it comes to national security, traditionally a policy issue over which the Republicans maintained some strength, Americans by more than two to one said they trusted Mr Obama to keep the nation safe.
Moreover, the Republicans who have been trying to identify the new president with the economic downturn, spinning it as 'Obama's recession', have been failing to make any headway. The New York Times/CBS News poll indicated that Americans blame Mr Obama's Republican predecessor, Wall Street and Congress for the economic mess and are willing to give the new president more time to fix it. Indeed, most Americans seem to have embraced the message disseminated by Mr Obama and the Democrats that the Republican economic agenda of relying on the free markets to take the lead in determining America's economic future has run its course, and that the government should play a more activist role in US economic policy, including through more spending on domestic problems, regulating the private sector and redistributing wealth.
That dramatic change in the public's ideological sentiment - Ronald Reagan's laissez-faire approach is 'out'; Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal is 'in' - explains why Mr Obama's huge economic stimulus package and the priorities he set in his proposed budget plan enjoy wide public support. The alternative budget plan proposed by Congressional Republicans a few days ago - it called for cuts in government spending and in taxes - has failed to ignite any public enthusiasm.
It was as though the Democrats would have proposed to cut defence spending and abolish the CIA after 9/11, was the way one pundit commented on the Republican budget proposal.
The political problems facing the Republicans go beyond their economic agenda. Their failure to effectively challenge Mr Obama reflects the lack of national leadership and their narrowing demographic base. As the recent presidential and Congressional elections have made it clear, much of the electoral support for the Grand Old Party (GOP) is drawn from older white voters, mostly in rural areas in the South and the Midwest, who tend of be conservative on social cultural issues. The majority of young voters and members and educated middle class professionals who reside in the large urban centres of the country and who tend to embrace liberal positions on issues like abortion and gay rights, as well as most African-Americans and Hispanics tend to support the Democrats.
Indeed, anyone watching last year's Republican National Convention had to conclude that the GOP has been transformed into the Great Southern/ White/Christian Party representing a narrow and declining demographic slice of the American electorate. It's not surprising therefore the Republican Congressional leadership consists almost entirely of white Southerners while on a national level, the most visible Republican voices is the noisy radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and other conservative media figures who accuse the Democrats of being 'socialists' and 'defeatists'.
Hence, after a Chinese bank official proposed a new accounting unit to replace the US dollar as a global reserve currency, several Republican lawmakers and radio personalities were warning Americans that Mr Obama was planning to get rid of the greenback and substitute it with a global currency. That reflects the kind of nutty paranoia that many conservative Republicans are trying to market to the public these days, warning Americans that Mr Obama intends to confiscate their guns and send them to re-education camps.
The new chairman of the Republican National Committee, an African-American politician from Maryland by the name of Michael Steele, has proposed to expand the reach of his party to young voters and minorities and make it more inclusive and 'cool'. But every time he called on the Republicans to embrace more tolerant positions on, say, abortion and gay rights, he was pilloried by the party's conservatives and forced to shut up!
The only good news for the Republicans is that their supporters show no inclination to join the Democratic ranks and continue to express strong opposition to Mr Obama and his policies. The Republicans hope to continue preserving their electoral base and are praying that Mr Obama will fail to fix the economy. And if the economic recession turns into a long and painful depression, it is not inconceivable that the Republicans will win then by default.
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