I know I'm preaching to the choir when I say that Rachel Maddow rocks but it bears repeating in light of her interview with Barack Obama yesterday.
If you missed it, at the beginning of the interview, Rachel challenged Barack on why he doesn't speak in more harsh terms about the failure of conservatism and the Republican Party rather than just sticking to criticizing George Bush and John McCain's failures. Here's how the exchange went:
MADDOW: Senator, you criticize the Bush administration frequently. But, you almost never criticize the Republican Party itself...
OBAMA: Well, I do think there's a difference between the parties, but here's my belief. That I'm talking to voters. And I think they're a lot of Republican voters out there, self-identified, who actually think that what the Bush administration has done, has been damaging to the country.
And, what I'm interested in, is how do we build a working majority for change? And if I start off with the premise that it's only self-identified Democrats who I'm speaking to, then I'm not going to get to where we need to go. If I can describe it as not a blanket indictment of the Republican Party, but instead describe it as the Republican Party having been kidnapped by a incompetent, highly ideological subset of the Republican Party, then that means I can still reach out to a whole bunch of Republican moderates who I think are hungry for change, as well. [...]
MADDOW:And so, you have the opportunity to say John McCain, George Bush, you're wrong. You also have the opportunity to say, conservatism has been bad for America. But, you haven't gone there either.
OBAMA: I just think people are tired of that kind of back and forth, tit for tat, ideological approach to the problems.
Now, there is no doubt that there is a set of premises in the reigning Republican ideology that I just think are wrong. [...]
The Republican Party has gone so right when it comes to how we think about our obligations to each other, how we pay for things. And as a consequence, because most people think it's pretty important to pay for roads and bridges, schools. What we've ended up doing is tax cuts, no spending cuts, huge national debt. There's a core hypocrisy to how they have governed over the last several years, that I think has to be reversed.
And so we're going to challenge those things. The important thing though is, I just want to make sure that I'm leaving the door open to people who say to themselves, well, you know, I'm a member of the Republican Party and I remember people like Chuck Percy in Illinois, or Abraham Lincoln, a pretty good Republican. That there's some core values that historically have been important to the Republican Party, but just have not been observed over the last several years.
Rachel here echoes a sentiment I've been expressing for more than a year. Back in June 2007, in my first post on the front page of MyDD in fact, in the wake of poll numbers that showed the Republican candidates competitive, I lamented the failure of the Democratic candidates to use the presidential primary to attack the Republicans as acolytes of a failed party and a failed philosophy:
...every single one of them needs to be pinned with the scarlet letter 'R.' It needs to be ingrained in the minds of every voter that this mess that the Democrats are currently trying to clean up, failure after failure of six years of the reign of Bush and his Republican Congress -- whether it be Iraq, Katrina or the increase in economic inequality -- are systemic to the Republican Party. Republicans need to cease to be an acceptable option.
And then at a meet and greet at YearlyKos in Chicago last year, I had the privelege to meet Barack Obama and ask him directly why he didn't speak in more partisan terms about the failure of the Republican Party. I said I believed he had an opportunity to talk about his values as Democratic values and completely rebrand the Democratic Party. His response to me was fairly similar to what he told Rachel.
But a lot has happened since last summer (duh!) and I've been heartened to see the rhetoric of Barack Obama and Joe Biden in fact tack toward precisely the sort of language I (and Rachel) have been hoping they'd use. To some degree, this general election has in fact become a referendum on more than just Bush or even McCain but on the Republican Party and their governing philosophy as a whole. Certainly that became an overt part of the Democrats' stump speeches post-financial meltdown, but even prior to that, Obama took a swipe in his acceptance speech in Denver:
For over two decades -- for over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy: Give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else.
In Washington, they call this the "Ownership Society," but what it really means is that you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck, you're on your own. No health care? The market will fix it. You're on your own. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, even if you don't have boots. You are on your own.
Well, it's time for them to own their failure. It's time for us to change America. And that's why I'm running for president of the United States.
As I wrote at the time, this was the indictment of Republican governance I'd been waiting for.
Now, it's true, after the height of the fiscal crisis, once Obama gained a fairly comfortable lead, he has reverted back to his post-partisan messaging, which makes perfect sense for all of the reasons he describes in his interview with Rachel. But it's not entirely true that he has completely shunned any rhetoric that brands the Republican party and philosophy as failures during this campaign and for that I am grateful and indeed I expect we'll see the fruits of that branding reflected in elections all over the country on Tuesday.
Video of the first part of Rachel's interview with Barack is over the flip.