As the campaign reaches fever pitch, the candidates are slipping toward caricatures of themselves--Huckabee's piety, Hillary Clinton's control-freakiness, John Edwards' angry man act, and now Barack Obama gives us too much audacity about hope in praising Ronald Reagan for "clarity...optimism...a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing."
True enough that Reagan rode to the White House on "the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s," but it was Nixon's resentful Silent Majority that propelled him there to express, behind the "Morning in America" façade, a social meanness that cut taxes for the very rich and falsified a "trickle down" effect for everyone else.
After his Iowa victory, Obama said, ""The time has come for a president who will be honest about the choices and the challenges we face...who won't just tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to know."
In this campaign, there has been very little of that, but Obama has showed some signs. Tuesday night, for example, he dared to suggest that one way to cut American dependence on foreign oil is to consume less energy:
"We are going to have to make our buildings more efficient. We're going to have to make our lighting more efficient. We're going to have to make our appliances more efficient. That is actually the low-hanging fruit if we're going to deal with climate change...
"And there's no reason why, with the kind of presidential leadership that I intend to provide, that we can't make drastic cuts in the amount of energy that we consume without any drop in our standard of living."
Not exactly a call for blood, sweat and tears, but amid all the pumped-up promises of no-cost change, Obama has here and there dropped a hint that it will take more than optimism to cure the economy. It's disheartening to hear him praise the false hope of the 1980s in an attempt to "bring us together" and pick up some votes from surviving Reagan Democrats.