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Repeal & Defeat

On Israel, health care, and many other issues, Obama's opposition has its work cut out for it.

Apr 5, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 28 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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President Obama’s theory has always been that once health care reform passed, people would rally to it.

Repeal & Defeat

Well, they aren’t rallying yet. The last Rasmussen poll before the House passed Obamacare had 54 percent of voters opposed and 41 percent in favor. The first survey taken after the president signed the bill showed 55 percent favoring repeal, with 42 percent supporting the legislation. (Independents were 59 to 35 percent for repeal.) And the generic congressional ballot remained virtually unchanged, with Republicans holding the steady 7-9 point lead they’ve had since the new year. If anything like that margin holds, Republicans will win the House in November.

But there are those who are rallying to Obamacare. Fidel Castro, for instance. Last Thursday he declared its passage “a miracle”: “We consider health reform to have been an important battle and a success of [Obama’s] government.”

So, the verdict on Obamacare: The American people, No; Castro, Si.

Castro would presumably approve of some other recent Obama initiatives, too: The wholesale retreat on Iran sanctions and from any prospect of acting seriously to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The fact that a Guantánamo detainee released in December—with much touting of how careful Team Obama was being in contrast with the Bush administration—has rejoined the battle against American troops in Afghanistan. And, of course, the stunning turn against Israel.

Why the exploitation of a minor disagreement with the Israeli government to justify a turn against Israel? President Obama cares about being popular—in America, certainly, but in the world as well. And not just because popularity in the world can help the United States achieve its foreign policy aims. But because, as James Ceaser argued in these pages in January, Obama aspires to be a leader of humanity, not merely a president of a single country.

And there’s no better way to be a leader of humanity than to show disapproval of the Jewish state. Sure, Obama’s turn against Israel will make it less likely that Palestinians will negotiate seriously with her. Sure, it will embolden radical Arabs and Muslims against those who would like their nations to take a different, more responsible, course. Sure, it’s a distraction from the real challenge of Iran. But the turn against Israel is ultimately a key part of what Obamaism is all about. That’s why there’s been so little attempt by the administration to reassure friends of Israel that Obama has been acting more in sorrow than in anger. Obama’s proud of his anger at the stiff-necked Jewish state. It puts him in sync with the rest of the world.

So, for the next three years, at home and abroad, we, the loyal opposition, have our work cut out for us. The Obama administration is unlikely to embrace the lessons Elliott Abrams spells out in this issue (“The Future of an Illusion”). But Congress and public opinion can push Middle East policy in a better direction and mitigate the damage Obama can do. Congress can also begin to undo the damage Obamacare threatens to cause. And then, in 2012, we can nominate a candidate who campaigns on a platform of solvency and liberty at home, and seriousness and greatness abroad.

This Republican nominee will need to appeal to the best traditions of both parties. In his 1980 acceptance speech, Ronald Reagan went out of his way to quote a couple of sentences from Franklin Roosevelt’s 1932 remarks accepting the Democratic nomination for president.

Similarly, Reagan’s heir can also quote from FDR’s 1932 convention speech: 

I congratulate this convention for having had the courage fearlessly to write into its declaration of principles what an overwhelming majority here assembled really thinks. .  .  . This convention wants repeal. Your candidate wants repeal. And I am confident that the United States of America wants repeal.

(FDR was speaking about Prohibition; the GOP nominee will be speaking about Obamacare.)

As for foreign policy, the 2012 GOP nominee can quote John Kennedy in 1960:

Abroad, the balance of power is shifting. There are new and more terrible weapons. .  .  . Friends have slipped into neutrality—and neutrals into hostility. .  .  . Courage .  .  . is our need today—leadership, not salesmanship. .  .  . Our ends will not be won by rhetoric and we can have faith in the future only if we have faith in ourselves. .  .  . That is the choice our nation must make—a choice .  .  . between national greatness and national decline.

FDR in 1932, JFK in 1960, Reagan in 1980—all appealed to the virtue of courage. It will take courage to persevere over the next two and a half years to check Obama as president and then to defeat him. But the prize is worth the effort.

—William Kristol

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