Cheer Up, GOP: We Just Re-Elected a Republican President

How you look at things.
Nov. 6 2012 11:27 PM

Cheer Up, Republicans

You’re going to have a moderate Republican president for the next four years: Barack Obama.

Presidents Barack Obama, Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower.
Presidents Barack Obama, Richard Nixon, and Dwight Eisenhower

Photographs by Max Morse/Getty Images; AFP/Getty Images.

Dear Republicans,

Sorry about the election. I know how much it hurts when your presidential candidate loses. I’ve been there many times. You’re crestfallen. You can’t believe the public voted for that idiot. You fear for your country.

Cheer up. The guy we just re-elected is a moderate Republican.

I know how stupid that sounds. Barack Obama is the head of the Democratic Party. For five years, conservative politicians and media told you he was a raving socialist. In the heat of the campaign, when you’re trying to beat the guy, it’s hard to let go of that image of him, just as it’s hard for Democrats to see past the caricatures of Mitt Romney. But now that the campaign is over and you’re staring at a second Obama term, the falsity of the propaganda may come as a relief. By and large, Obama’s instincts are the instincts of a moderate Republican. His policies are the policies of a moderate Republican. He stands where the GOP used to stand and will someday stand again.

Yes, Obama began his presidency with bailouts, stimulus, and borrowing. You know who started the bailouts? George W. Bush. Bush knew that under these exceptionally dire circumstances, bailouts had to be done. Stimulus had to be done, too, since the economy had frozen up. A third of the stimulus was tax cuts. Once the economy began to revive, Obama offered a $4-trillion debt reduction framework that would have cut $3 to $6 of spending for every $1 in tax hikes. That’s a higher ratio of cuts to hikes than Republican voters, in a Gallup poll, said they preferred. It’s way more conservative than the ratio George H. W. Bush accepted in 1990. In last year’s debt-ceiling talks, Obama offered cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in exchange for revenue that didn’t even come from higher tax rates. Now he’s proposing to lower corporate tax rates, and Republicans are whining that he hacked $716 billion out of Medicare. Some socialist.

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Yes, Obama imposed an individual mandate to buy health insurance. You know who else did that? Romney. You know where the idea came from? The Heritage Foundation. Personal responsibility—insisting that people carry private insurance so we don’t have to bail them out in emergency rooms and hospitals—was a Republican idea. Same with Wall Street reform: There’s nothing conservative about letting financial institutions gamble with other people’s money in ways that would force us to bail them out again. Even Obama’s cap-and-trade proposal echoed the market-based emissions-control policies of the 1990 Bush administration and the 2008 McCain campaign. And last year, when the EPA proposed a new air-pollution limit, Obama ticked off environmentalists by killing it on the grounds that it might jeopardize the recovery.

Remember how Democrats ridiculed George W. Bush’s troop surge in Iraq? Obama copied it in Afghanistan. He escalated the drone program, killing off al-Qaida’s leaders. He sent SEAL Team 6 into Pakistan to get Osama Bin Laden. He teamed up with NATO to take down Muammar Qaddafi. He reneged on his pledge to close Guantanamo Bay. He put together a globally enforced regime of sanctions that is bringing Iran’s economy to its knees. That’s why Romney had nothing to say in last month’s foreign policy debate. No sensible Republican president would have done things differently.

Obama’s no right-winger. You might have serious issues with his Supreme Court justices or his moves on immigration or the Bush tax cuts. But you probably would have had similar issues with Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, or Gerald Ford. Obama’s in the same mold as those guys. So don’t despair. Your country didn’t vote for a socialist tonight. It voted for the candidate of traditional Republican moderation. What should gall you, haunt you, and goad you to think about the future of your party is that that candidate wasn’t yours.

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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