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Reagan More Out-of-Mainstream Than Obama

Book review editor Sam Tanenhaus, who was considered a conservative when he took the job, seems amazed that "Some 40 years later, there are conservatives who still inveigh against the perils of socialized medicine."

Sam Tanenhaus, the Times book review editor who was said to be some kind of conservative when he took that position in 2004, doesn't sound that way in his Thursday news analysis, "A Once-United G.O.P. Emerges, in Identity Crisis."



He suggested that Ronald Reagan was moreout of the mainstreamthan Barack Obama (the most liberal senator in 2007). Tanenhaus also said the GOP may have to "jettison" welfare and crime issues and is amazed "there are conservatives who still inveigh against the perils of socialized medicine."


It may well be that some of Mr. Obama's positions are to the left of the nation's at large - as Mr. McCain and others asserted time and again. But it may also be that most Americans do not much care. What seems to have impressed them is Mr. Obama's attunement to the problems afflicting the country and the hope he offered that they might be solved.


If so, then Republicans may have to jettison some of the most familiar items on their agenda. "The issues that have provided conservatives with victories in the past - particularly welfare and crime - have been rendered irrelevant by success," Michael Gerson, the Bush speechwriter turned columnist, wrote last week. "The issues of the moment - income stagnation, climate disruption, massive demographic shifts and health care access - seem strange, unexplored land for many in the movement."


In fact these "issues of the moment" have been with us for years now, decades in some instances, but until recently they were either ignored by conservatives or dismissed as the hobby-horses of alarmist liberals or entrenched "special interests."


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Some 40 years later, there are conservatives who still inveigh against the perils of socialized medicine. In the last weeks of the campaign, Mr. Obama was repeatedly labeled a "socialist" - a word all but emptied of meaning today when nations like China and Russia have lustily embraced the free market even as a Republican president proposes a $700 billion bailout of failing Wall Street firms.


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This highlights a profound temperamental difference between the parties. The Democrats, more inclined in recent decades to pragmatism, have tended to bow to popular will even in close elections. President Bush, though he lost the popular vote in 2000 and though many believed that the Florida recount was unjustly halted by the Supreme Court, nonetheless had little trouble pushing his first initiatives through Congress, including one of the largest tax cuts in history.


When Mr. Reagan was elected in 1980, he probably stood farther to the right of the public of his time than Mr. Obama stands to its left today. Only two years before, in the Congressional election of 1978, Democrats held on to substantial majorities in both houses of Congress, despite the troubled leadership of President Jimmy Carter. And there was little tangible evidence that voters had embraced the supply-side economics that became a cornerstone of Reaganism.