by Robert B. Reich
Soon after President Obama's second inaugural address, Speaker of the House John Boehner said the
All President Obama has done is finally find ways to exploit these inconsistencies.
Republican libertarians have never gotten along with social conservatives, who want to impose their own morality on everyone else. Shrink-the-government fanatics in the
Ronald Reagan papered over these differences with a happy anti-big-government nationalism. His patriotic imagery inspired the nativists and social conservatives. Reagan gave big business and Wall Street massive military spending. And his anti-government rhetoric delighted the party's libertarians and right-wing populists.
But Reagan's coalition remained fragile. It depended fundamentally on creating a common enemy: communists and terrorists abroad, liberals and people of color at home.
On the surface, Reagan's
In his first term, Obama seemed the perfect foil: a black man, a big-spending liberal and, perhaps (they hissed), not even an American. Republicans accused him of being insufficiently patriotic. Right-wing TV and radio snarled that he secretly wanted to take over America and suspend our rights. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that unseating Obama was the
But it didn't work. The 2012 Republican primaries exposed all the cracks and fissures in the
The party offered up a Star Wars barroom of oddball characters, each representing a different faction -- Bachmann, Perry, Gingrich, Cain, Santorum. Each rose on the strength of supporters and then promptly fell when the rest of the party got a good look.
Finally, desperately, the
The 2012 election exposed something else about the
All of which has given Obama the perfect opening -- perhaps the opening he'd been waiting for all along.
Obama's focus in his second inaugural -- and, by inference, in his second term -- on equal opportunity is hardly a radical agenda. But it aggravates all the tensions inside the
In hammering home the need for the rich to contribute a fair share in order to ensure equal opportunity, and for anyone in America -- be they poor, black, gay, immigrant, female or average working person -- to be able to make the most of themselves, Obama advances the founding ideals of America in a way that the
History and demographics are on the side of the Democrats, but history and demography have been on the Democrats' side for decades. What's new is the Republican crack-up -- opening the way for a new Democratic coalition of socially liberal young people, women, minorities, middle-class professionals, and what's left of the anti-corporate working class.
If Obama remains as clear and combative as he has been since Election Day, his second term may be noted not only for its accomplishment but also for finally unraveling what Reagan put together. In other words, John Boehner's fear may be well-founded.
The GOP Crack-up and Obama's Unraveling of the Republican Coalition | Politics