Nabobs of negativism

It’s ironic that Republicans, usually so eager to emulate their idol Ronald Reagan, today lack the faintest traces of the late president’s sunny optimism. They’ve abandoned “Morning in America” for “The Decline and Fall of the American Empire.” 

Newt Gingrich, Man of Ideas, regularly paints a dystopian picture worthy of Philip K. Dick.

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“We are really at risk someday in your lifetime of losing an American city [in a terrorist attack],” Gingrich said Monday, stuck in 2004. “[D]efeating Barack Obama becomes a duty of national security.” A CBS/New York Times poll last week found that zero respondents rated terrorism as the issue they’d most like to hear candidates talk about. In these post-Osama bin Laden days, not even Republicans are in the mood to be fear-mongered over terrorism.

And then there’s Mitt Romney, who actually appears angry over Detroit’s dramatic resurgence. In 2008, Romney wrote a pessimistic op-ed in The New York Times titled “Let Detroit go bankrupt,” arguing that the U.S. auto industry should be allowed to die. “If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye,” he wrote. “It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.” 

Of course, today the U.S. auto industry is in the midst of a dramatic resurgence. GM just notched its strongest earnings report ever, and has retaken its place as the world’s largest automaker. The entire industry looks to add 60,000 new jobs this year, rather than shed the hundreds of thousands that would’ve been lost had President Obama followed Romney’s plan. Yet Romney seems determined to double down on his pessimism as he campaigns in Michigan.

Meanwhile, as the economy rebounds, GOP talking points have increasingly focused on social issues and context-free attacks on the sitting president as some sort of historically awful monster.

“Remember, the Greatest Generation, for a year and a half, sat on the sidelines while Europe was under darkness, while our closest ally, Britain, was being bombed and leveled, while Japan was spreading its cancer all throughout Southeast Asia,” Rick Santorum told a church crowd (of course) this past Sunday in Georgia. 

Sure, Santorum’s audience loved it — conservatives have been comparing Obama to Hitler for years. But it’s not the kind of talk that resonates outside of Rush Limbaugh’s audience. 

The shrillness of Santorum’s rhetoric has increased in direct correlation with his rising poll numbers. In recent days he accused Obama of having a “phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible,” while his spokesman raged about Obama’s “radical Islamic policies.” And in case you wondered about the conservative definition of “freedom,” Santorum obliged, confirming every negative right-wing stereotype: “Freedom isn’t to do whatever you want to do, it’s to do what you ought to do.” 

Republican leaders just seem cranky and depressed. And therein lies the crux of the problem — Republicans have nothing to offer voters in terms of our still-shaky economy. There is nothing to their economic agenda other than extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich. Instead, Republicans are more concerned about birth control, forcing women to suffer invasive vaginal ultrasounds before having abortions, shutting down Planned Parenthood and amping up voters’ fear of terrorists. 

Americans looking for optimism, an improved economy and talk of a better future are left with the incumbent president, who still seems to believe in the promise of the nation.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com).