By Michael Hirsh - No one would have thought of the comparison six months ago, before the economic data turned a bit more bright and Mitt Romney went a lot more Right. But based on President Obama’s feisty speech on Tuesday—now widely seen as the opening barrage of the fall campaign—the template for his reelection effort could well be Bill Clinton’s smashingly successful 1996 run against a hapless Bob Dole.
In that campaign, then-President Clinton sought early on to tie the center-right Kansas senator to the then-far-right Newt Gingrich, speaker of the House. In particular he warned voters that “Dole-Gingrich” would cost them large parts of their Social Security and Medicare. The charges stuck in a devastating way, helped by Dole’s decision to run with a zealous supply-sider, former Rep. Jack Kemp.
Now Obama is seeking to join Romney at the hip of another congressman, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., whose budget is so tea party-driven that a Congressional Budget Office study showed his planned cuts would effectively eliminate the entire U.S. government except for defense, Social Security, Medicare, children’s insurance, and interest payments.
And the president made a point of going into minute detail about just how far right the axis has shifted since 1996. “Instead of moderating their views even slightly, the Republicans running Congress right now have doubled down, and proposed a budget so far to the right it makes the Contract With America look like the New Deal,” he said to laughter. “In fact, that renowned liberal, Newt Gingrich, first called the original version of the budget 'radical' and said it would contribute to 'right-wing social engineering.' "
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