- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2008

The Reagan legacy

“ ’We are at the end of the Reagan era.’ Or, at least, that is the claim of voices as diverse as Newt Gingrich and Ed Rollins on the right and Sen. Chuck Schumer and pollster Stanley Greenberg on the left. It is true the Republican Party is having difficulty retooling its message for the 21st century. But so is the Democratic Party,” former Bush adviser Karl Rove writes in Newsweek.

“Every presidential election is about change, and no more so than at the end of a two-term president’s time in the White House. Parties have to constantly update themselves if they hope to remain relevant. The difficulty for both Republicans and Democrats is that our political system is at a point where more than the normal amount of party growth and development is needed. Both parties are suffering the consequences of seeing substantial parts of their 20th-century agendas adopted; both parties are struggling to fashion new answers to the new challenges of a young century,” Mr. Rove said.

“But that’s not to say that the Reagan legacy is exhausted. Ronald Reagan’s legacy was not simply that he was ‘a campaigner and orator of uncommon skill,’ as Don Campbell argued last week in USA Today. President Reagan’s gifts to the Republican Party were ideas: growing the economy through tax cuts, limiting government’s size, forcefully confronting totalitarian threats, making human rights a centerpiece of America’s foreign policy, respecting unborn human life, empowering the individual with more freedom. Those ideas endure. They give Republicans a philosophical foundation on which to build. The Reagan coalition has a natural desire to stick together. Fiscal, defense and values conservatives have more in common with each other than with any major element of the Democratic Party’s leadership.”

An artless ad

John Heilemann, writing in New York magazine, focuses on Sen. Barack Obama’s desperate effort to keep Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton from sweeping the Hispanic vote.

“The ad begins with a frozen image ofBarack Obama and Ted Kennedy; on the audio track the former intones, ‘Soy Barack Obama y yo apruebo este mensaje.’ The next shot features Congressman Luis Gutierrez from Chicago, looking straight into the camera, speaking in Spanish, too. ‘We know what it feels like being used as a scapegoat just because of our background and our last name,’ goes the English translation. ‘And no one understands this better than Barack Obama.’

“The commercial, which went on the air this week in California and Arizona, is remarkable on a number of levels. There’s the bluntness of the language. There’s the crudeness of the appeal. There’s the way the ad plays the victim card with all the subtlety of [poker pro] Doyle Brunson slapping down a royal flush — something that Obama has refused to do in any other context, Mr. Heilemann said.

“The other day, over a meal in Los Angeles, I asked two seasoned political pros what would happen if an adman proposed running a spot so artless, so thoroughly off-message, on English-language TV. Both responded without hesitation: The idea would be laughed out of the room.

“That the Obama operation is running such an ad tells you a great deal — and not merely that it’s trafficking in the sort of identity politics it claims to abhor. It indicates just how much is at stake when it comes to the Hispanic vote on Super-Duper Tuesday, February 5.”

‘Victory snarl’

“Judging by his campaign’s rise, fall and new ascension, John McCain’s energy is most controlled and effective when he’s low in the polls, but becomes volatile when he’s up,” the Wall Street Journal says in an editorial.

“Take Wednesday’s debate at the Reagan library. Hot off his critical victory in Florida, Mr. McCain might have settled into a role as confident front-runner. Instead, he came across as nasty, even laying into Mitt Romney as some kind of robber baron for having succeeded in business: ‘Oh, I’m sure that, as I say, he’s a fine man. And I think he managed companies, and he bought, and he sold, and sometimes people lost their jobs.’ Mr. Romney also helped to create many more jobs, and such dynamism is called capitalism, which Mr. McCain at other times claims to believe in.

“The exchange, along with some others, reflects a couple of Mr. McCain’s less appealing traits,” the newspaper said. “One is his occasional penchant for anti-business demagoguery, as when he attacked drug companies in a previous debate, only to have Mr. Romney respond, ‘Don’t turn the pharmaceutical companies into the big bad guys.’ Mr. McCain shot back, ‘Well, they are.’

“It’s also obvious that Mr. McCain takes politics personally, which can shade into self-righteousness when people oppose his positions. One of our colleagues called Mr. McCain’s performance on Wednesday a ‘victory snarl,’ which was about right. Should the senator sew up the Republican nomination, none of this is the way to unite his party, or to reassure conservatives that his fall campaign will be about more than his personal honor or renegade habits of mind.”

Name game

“There’s a new rule at the Republican National Committee. Refer to the two leading Democratic presidential candidates simply as ‘Barack’ and ‘Hillary’ and you’ll be fined $10,” Paul Bedard writes in the Washington Whispers column of U.S. News & World Report.

“The reason: Using first names makes the candidates sound more likable but calling them ‘Senator Obama’ and ‘Senator Clinton’ makes them sound more distant and bureaucratic. ‘I don’t think people are actually being fined,’ says one insider. But everyone is being ‘encouraged’ to follow the rule.”

An endorsement

Garrison Keillor, host of public radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” has endorsed Democratic Sen. Barack Obama for president, Mr. Obama’s campaign announced yesterday.

“I’m happy to support your candidacy, which is so full of promise for our country,” the author and humorist wrote in a letter declaring his support. The Obama campaign provided excerpts of the letter.

The program is based in St. Paul, Minn. Minnesota holds its caucuses on Super Tuesday.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes .com.

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