Point: The dawn of the conservative Democratic party?

Alex Potter

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Credit: Wolff

Credit: Wolff

What do you get when you take the culture warrior out of Pat Buchanan? Why, President Obama of course.

No, seriously, think about it. Obama made big headlines when he slapped a 35 percent tariff on Chinese tires recently, even drumming up fears of a trade war with China. Not one major politician has seriously contemplated that kind of protectionism for a long time. Unless you are, say, Pat Buchanan. America first, anyone?

Then there is the war in Afghanistan and foreign policy. As I wrote about last week in “Obama’s Conservative Foreign Policy,” the prospect of a major reevaluation of our nation-building mission in Afghanistan and a draw down in U.S. troops is probably one of the most prudent foreign policy moments regarding overseas commitments since Eisenhower declined to intervene in French Indochina (we know too well what his successors’ decision was).

That’s not even mentioning the latest: pulling the rug out from Eastern Europe on missile defense to get Russia’s support on a real threat to our security, Iran. America first, anyone?

Energy independence is a conservative-isolationist position if I’ve ever seen one. Let’s think about it: we are seceding from a global market in favor of a more economically inefficient system that will create more “jobs at home” and sever our entangling alliances from terrorist-sponsoring, non-democratic, Islamic states.

Make no mistake that is the logic making the windmills turn, not global warming. I mean did you see the T. Boone Pickens commercials? America first again, anyone?

Then there is health care, on which Obama has taken an incredibly pragmatic position. He has basically said that as long as the bill he gets from Congress lowers costs and insures a lot more people, then he is happy.

Public option, no public option, tort reform, no tort reform, whatever. Just get the job done.

But even at his most liberal, Obama has been pretty reasonable. After all, guess which president also offered a “public option” as part of his health care reform? It was Nixon. So Republicans can whine about that ‘socialist’ Obama, but he is only ‘left’ on policy because the entire debate has shifted ‘right’ over the past several decades.

If Obama were to wall the border but offer everyone living within the U.S. a path to citizenship, I would seriously consider him to be the most pragmatic, conservative politician of the past 100 years.

But these musings on the similarities between Obama and Buchanan point to the fundamental truth that party lines in America today obscure the real policy and ideological debates we are having.

The real divisions today are internationalist vs. nationalist and free trade vs. protectionist.

Do we consider ourselves global citizens or American citizens? Do we pursue American self-interest or do we pursue Afghanistan or the U.N.’s self-interest? Is a job in Detroit worth more than a job in Kyoto or Shanghai? Do we value maintaining a robust working-class in America even if it isn’t ‘economically efficient’ (because personally I want America to still be a country, not just a market)?

I’m not alone in arguing that increasingly it is the Democrats who are coming down on the “American” side of things on all of these issues. Just check out the blog “Right Democrat” or an  article from The American Conservative profiling the victory of hardcore conservative Bob Conely in the South Carolina Democratic Senate primary in 2008.

Sure there are culture wars, but considering Catholic bishops are praising the Democrats’ Pregnant Women Support Act like it’s baby Jesus, probably preventing more abortions in one bill than the Republicans have since Roe v. Wade, then I think we are on to something significant.

They said that only Nixon the communist hunter could go to Red China. Maybe only President Obama, the first African American Harvard-trained civil rights lawyer could turn conservative mid-West working-class Catholic autoworker and usher in the dawn of a conservative Democratic Party.

Alex is a senior double-majoring in politics and Asian studies.