Opinion: Last stand for liberals

President Obama is in political trouble. In my opinion the probability he is elected is slightly less than 50-50. The best case for Obama today, on current course, is that he wins a narrow victory without any mandate to govern, without a Democratic majority in the House and without enough Senate Democrats to challenge the inevitable Republican filibusters.

This outcome would leave the Obama presidency permanently disfigured, deformed and destroyed. The alternative is even worse. If Mitt Romney is elected the entire progressive legacy of economic betterment and social progress from the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt until today would be disfigured, defunded, deformed and destroyed, which would take America back to the days of the robber barons.

Let’s be clear. Republicans today would not recreate the Reaganism of 1980, they would recreate the Gilded Age of 1890. They would destroy any role of government as a balance against the excesses of greed and corruption that poisoned America before Teddy Roosevelt, and continue to attack the middle class and poor today.

Today Republicans have an enthusiasm advantage, a turnout advantage, a money advantage, a voter suppression advantage and a media advantage, which is why I warn Democrats so severely.

A campaign that is limited to a sledgehammer of sludge will not win in 2012. The president and Democrats must identify themselves, affirmatively, with the legacy I define here and offer a roadmap to a better life. Merely demeaning Romney with relentless attacks will lower the bar for Romney to look better than the Obama ads, in debates and generally, and help Romney win.

The obvious move for the president to avoid the two negative outcomes I suggest in this column would be to run with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE as vice president. Apparently the president does not believe he and Democrats need the booster shot Hillary would provide, a symptom of larger problems I will discuss at length on the day after the election, no matter who wins.

Given my disappointments in the Obama presidency, why do I believe that a vote for Obama and Democrats in Congress is the most urgently needed vote in my lifetime, and, I suggest, in many lifetimes? Because for those of us who stand truly in the tradition of Jack and Bobby, Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez, the suffragettes and muckraking journalists who battled Gilded Age corruption, defenders of the earth and opponents of those who put poisoned food into the bellies of little babies, 2012 can be described as our last stand.

If Obama is reelected with sufficient Democrats in Congress, we can continue the modest but real advances since 2009 and the preservation of 120 years of steady progress that created the great national consensus that lifted many of the poor out of poverty, built the great middle class that remains threatened by descendants of forces that hated both Roosevelts, and built what was correctly called the American Century, which is the true American exceptionalism.

The only thing exceptional about today's Republicans is that they seek to destroy the 120-year legacy of great progressive advancement, tempered by moderation that brought a century of bipartisan support, of advances that did so much for America. Republicans would destroy the legacies of (Republican) Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, (Republican) Dwight Eisenhower (who created millions of jobs building the nation's infrastructure while warning about the military-industrial complex), John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson (whose war on poverty lifted tens of millions out of poverty to expand the middle class) and Bill ClintonBill ClintonAll five living former presidents to attend hurricane relief concert The Hill's 12:30 Report The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (whose great popularity today is because the nation prospered as he expanded this century-long national consensus).

Even Richard Nixon defended the environment, proposed a guaranteed minimum income and promoted healthcare reforms similar to those Republicans despise today. Even Ronald Reagan quoted FDR and JFK often and approvingly, worked collaboratively with the great liberal Tip O'Neill, never tried to destroy collective bargaining, and sought (and achieved) historic nuclear arms control.

Republicans would defund, deform and destroy this entire legacy of social progress and economic betterment achieved through responsible bipartisanship that balances business and government. They despise Social Security because it is a brilliantly successful liberal program and, unlike previous generations of Republicans, their project is not to share its success but to destroy its security and turn it benefits into welfare for Wall Street. They despise Medicare, another brilliant liberal triumph achieved with historically bipartisan support, which their project would turn into a bailout for insurers.

Republicans oppose the next great advance for women, full pay equity, while they reward campaign donors who cheat women on pay. They do not defend the earth, as every previous generation of Republicans has joined Democrats in doing, while they deny the dangers through the delusion of dishonest "science" and reward big donors who pollute the planet in their rapacious hunger for short-term profits.

This election is the last stand for liberals and Democrats. Our champion Obama is not fully our champion. Our party in Washington sounds an uncertain trumpet. But make no mistake. If Republicans win they will turn back the clock to 1890 and destroy a long legacy of progress.

The 66 percent popularity of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton reaffirms the national consensus I write about here. President Obama should embrace this — fully. Of course he should run with Hillary. He will not — shame — which is his loss, and even worse, ours. But:

This election is about the real American exceptionalism that began more than a century before Obama took office, and must survive after he leaves offices — whenever that is.

If enough voters care about these things, the last stand for liberals will look more like General Washington crossing the Delaware than General Custer at Little Big Horn. If not, I tremble for the future of our country.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.