Barack Obama has an excellent forty-nine minute interview available on line at the Reno Gazette-Journal’s web site. It would be much better to watch the entire interview as opposed to the clip above from Talking Points Memo which is obtaining the most interest in the liberal blogosphere.
Obama is receiving some criticism for praising Ronald Reagan. To the degree that Obama is praising Reagan, it is for his leadership skills, not political positions. Obama said:
I don’t want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what is different is the times. I do think that, for example, the 1980 election was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. They felt like with all the excesses of the 60s and the 70s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think he tapped into what people were already feeling. Which is we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.
Opponents of Obama are taking this out of context, confusing Obama’s praise for Reagan’s role as a transformative president with agreement with his policies. They ignore the fact that Obama also praised yet another transformative president, John Kennedy:
I think Kennedy, 20 years earlier, moved the country in a fundamentally different direction. So I think a lot of it has to do with the times. I think we are in one of those fundamentally different times right now were people think that things, the way they are going, just aren’t working.
Obama discussed many additional topics, beginning with how he would have handled Katrina differently than Bush did. The discussion gives a better feeling for how Obama would be a leader with vision as opposed to merely a chief operating officer for the federal bureaucracy.
I am increasingly seeing parallels in this race with the 1992 race between Bill Clinton and Paul Tsongas. I’ve recently from quoted an article which shows the value of Obama’s education at the University of Chicago in overcoming some of the economic weaknesses of the Democratic Party, which I also believe are responsible for the Democrats being out of power for much of the past generation. In this interview, Obama shows that he’s a Democratic fiscal conservative in the tradition of Paul Tsongas, Howard Dean and John Kerry.
A Democratic fiscal conservative is quite different from a Republican conservative as Obama repeatedly demonstrates in his discussion of economic matters. While some on the far left of the Democratic Party is upset that Obama spoke of “dynamism and entrepreneurship” in the clip above, Republicans will condemn the economic positions described by Obama as sounding like a “tax and spend” liberal. To place things into perspective, Obama will increase taxes on some of us. The marginal tax rate will go up a whole three percent, and most likely some other taxes will also rise. Most Americans will not see a tax increase.
While nobody enjoys paying higher taxes, we must consider the type of society we will have and look beyond tax rates when choosing a president. Waging a war on credit like George Bush did is hardly sound fiscal policy. Seeing the government so frequently ignore the values of liberty which this nation was founded upon under Republican rule is far worse than a modest increase in taxes. Besides, if we are to look at this solely on materialistic grounds, even though like Obama I will wind up with a higher tax rate should he be elected, I believe that the stronger economies typically seen under Democratic presidents will result in more after tax money in my pocket despite the slightly higher marginal rates.
Obama was asked about potential vice presidential choices and discussed the qualities he hopes a running mate will add. He is realistic in downplaying the chances of a bipartisan ticket but does indicate a willingness to have Republicans in his cabinet. Late in the interview Obama gave an excellent example of his managerial skills as he discussed how he started his campaign from scratch last January. Since then he has organized a political organization to rival or perhaps surpass the organization developed by the Clintons over the past twenty years.
The full debate is well worth seeing. In talking about the economy, Obama shows how he can improve our economic well being without resorting to the populism and anti-business demagoguery of John Edwards. Obama also shows how his vision would be better for this country than Hillary Clinton, who might make a better chief operating officer of the federal bureaucracy, but lacks his vision and principles.
Update: Matthew Yglesias points out that Edwards supporters have often compared Edwards to Reagan “not because they’re closet right-wingers but because they think Edwards can dramatically expand the popularity of progressive ideas.” I guess those Edwards supporters are now going to have to change their arguments. Now that Edwards has become the champion of the politics of exclusion and Rovian government from the extremes, I’m not surprised that John Edwards has joined several liberal bloggers in distorting Obama’s statement.