Astonishingly, a Newsweek poll finds that 52 percent of Republicans believe that it is “definitely true” or “probably true” that “Barack Obama sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world.” So a majority of Republicans think that our president wants to impose Islamic law worldwide.
That kind of extremism undermines our democracy, risks violence and empowers jihadis.
Though F.D.R. was predictably accused of “class warfare,” his antibusiness “radicalism,” was, in Kennedy’s words, “a carefully staged political performance, an attack not on the capitalist system itself but on a few high-profile capitalists.” Roosevelt was trying to co-opt the populist rage of his economically despondent era, some of it uncannily Tea Party-esque in its hysteria, before it threatened that system, let alone his presidency. Only the crazy right confused F.D.R. with communists for taking on capitalism’s greediest players, and since our crazy right has portrayed Obama as a communist, socialist and Nazi for months, he’s already paid that political price without gaining any of the benefits of bringing on this fight in earnest.
F.D.R. presided over a landslide in 1936. The best the Democrats can hope for in 2010 is smaller-than-expected losses. To achieve even that, Obama will have to give an F.D.R.-size performance — which he can do credibly and forcibly only if he really means it. So far, his administration’s seeming coziness with some of the same powerful interests now vilifying him has left middle-class voters, including Democrats suffering that enthusiasm gap, confused as to which side he is on. If ever there was a time for him to clear up the ambiguity, this is it.