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Kristol speaks on new era of American politics

Joseph McMahon | Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Founding editor of the conservative periodical “The Weekly Standard” William Kristol said President-elect Barack Obama’s leadership, if deemed successful by the American people, could lead to a new era in American politics in a lecture Tuesday at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies.

Kristol’s speech entitled “American Politics: A New Era?” assessed the current political situation and predicted where Obama’s leadership would take the country in the future.

Kristol, who is also a regular contributor to Fox News and the editorial page of the “New York Times,” said the November election results were “not so surprising” due to a war in Iraq “judged by a majority of Americans as a mistake” and the current economic crisis.

“In some sense, you could argue it was no big surprise,” he said.

Kristol said the results, however, did not demonstrate an ideological shift for the country.

“Americans remain more moderate than anything else and more conservative than liberal,” he said.

Kristol said arguments could be made “that [the Republican Party] really stepped back not a great deal, or you could say this was the end of an era.”

Kristol called Obama “the first liberal Democrat to be elected in modern times,” and cited the fact that the preisdent-elect is the first Democrat since 1964 to receive more than 51 percent of the popular vote.

He also said Republicans would have to face being the minority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate after backlash against the Bush administration both in 2006 and 2008 resulted in a Democratically-controlled Congress.

“This is two elections in a row where a comfortable majority has voted Democrat,” he said. “It could be the beginning of a new era.”

Kristol said furthermore it is highly unlikely that the Republican Party would be able to retake Congress in 2010.

“Obama has at least four years with a Democratic Congress,” he said.

However, Kristol said the future would mostly depend on “how Obama governs.” He cited the example of Franklin Roosevelt beating Herbert Hoover in the midst of the Great Depression, comparing it to how Obama is taking over for President George W. Bush in the midst of the current recession.

Any Democrat would have beaten Hoover, Kristol said, but Roosevelt was able to govern successfully and thus changed American politics.

“Obama has to change American politics if he governs successfully,” he said.

Kristol said Obama is lucky to take over in the middle of a recession, because strategically he cannot receive any blame for having caused the crisis.

“Objectively, honestly, he has a very good hand to play,” Kristol said.

Instead, many Americans will blame Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress, which Kristol said would damage the public perception that Republicans know how to run the economy.

“Voters right now think this is a problem that happened … due to Republican negligence,” he said.

Kristol said after Bush’s victory over Sen. John Kerry in 2004, the Republican Party reached its “high water mark.”

Bush’s failure to deliver on his campaign promises of Social Security privatization and immigration reform, as well as the unpopularity of the Iraq War and the gross mismanagement of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, led to Democratic victories in the past two elections, Kristol said.

“The voters punished Bush and the Republican Congress in 2006,” he said. “At the end of the day, this happened during the Bush administration.”

Kristol said Obama’s biggest challenges lie in foreign policy, particularly when it comes to controlling nuclear proliferation in Iran and ending the Iraq War.

Kristol cautioned it is often hard to predict what will happen in the future, and any failure by Obama could result in the Republicans regaining control.

“It’s amazing how quickly things can reverse,” he said.