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GOP, take cues on U.S. mood from Obama

By Maria Cardona, CNN Contributor
updated 7:54 AM EST, Tue January 29, 2013
Many in GOP have slammed Obama's inauguration speech as liberal. Maria Cardona says his views align with most Americans
Many in GOP have slammed Obama's inauguration speech as liberal. Maria Cardona says his views align with most Americans
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Maria Cardona: As GOP faces future, it should pay attention to Obama's inaugural address
  • Instead of slamming "liberal agenda," note views he expressed mirror polls, she says
  • She says Americans' views on gay marriage, immigration, climate show nation progressing
  • Cardona: Speech was reflection of American mainstream; GOP should catch up to be relevant

Editor's note: Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist, a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton and former communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

(CNN) -- Republicans are dealing with their demons. At the Republican National Committee meeting last week, they seemed to be taking a hard look at what they need to do to compete at the presidential level in the years to come. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said the GOP needs to stop being "the stupid party." He is right, to be sure, but it is not simply a messaging problem. It is a policy problem. So here is some advice.

Reread President Barack Obama's inaugural speech and avoid the the knee-jerk impulse to call the president a socialist because of his defense of a so-called "liberal agenda." Instead, observe how the issues he raised align with where the American people are. Simply put, majorities of the country, including an overwhelming majority of the demographic coalition that got him reelected, mainly agree with him.

Maria Cardona
Maria Cardona

The GOP is so in a tizzy about Obama's vision and how they are certain it is all but DNA proof he is a socialist. But Republicans needs to consider that something much less pernicious is at play here on both scores: The nation is progressing.

Obama talked about immigration reform by stating, "Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our work force rather than expelled from our country."

Majorities of Americans have supported comprehensive immigration reform for years. Today, more than 75% support it. Importantly, many Republicans recognize the need to do something real on immigration, given the shellacking they received from Latinos in November: 71% supported Obama. To his credit, Sen. Marco Rubio has proposed some common-sense measures that are a great start to ensuring the GOP gets serious about real reform. And on Monday, a bipartisan group of Senators proposed a sensible plan on this important issue, further proof the GOP knows it has to do more than just change their rhetoric.

Avlon: Can Jindal change 'the stupid party'?

To the offense of many conservatives, the president said, "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well." On this issue, Americans' evolution is recent, but has been quite dramatic, and given the generational divide, support for it will only get stronger. Currently, 53% of Americans support gay marriage, while 46% oppose. Even the Boy Scouts, a staunchly conservative organization, announced Monday it is considering "potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation."

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Obama's mention of climate change further rankled Republicans, He said: "Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But Americans cannot resist this transition. We must lead it." Interestingly enough, 63% of Americans believe that global warming is a serious issue, according to a poll by Rasmussen, which skews rightward. And while there is certainly no consensus on what should be done legislatively about it, the president's focus on alternative energy sources and renewable fuels also is in line with where many Americans stand.

But the line in Obama's inaugural address that opponents have pointed to as proof that he is and has always been an extreme leftist president, was this:

Jindal: Stop being the 'stupid party'
Priebus: GOP has to be a 'happy party'
Obama: 'We are made for this moment'

"...Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society's ills can be cured through government alone."

Some Republicans, once again, choose to make hyperbolic, hysterical proclamations about looming socialism. The reality, as always, is less dramatic and more straightforward. The fact is Democrats, buoyed by majorities of its winning coalition of Latino, African-American, women and young voters, believe the government has a constructive role to play in society. Not a bigger role, which is what the Republicans' sky-is-falling reaction has been. But one that can protects the individual as a consumer, levels the field so that everyone is playing by the same rules and jobs are based on merit, and ensures smart investments in innovation, work force, military, and infrastructure. These, spurred by our American ingenuity, will continue to make us exceptional.

What the president's opponents need to understand is that this is the face of progress. This is the face of the America that exists today. Obama's vision is mainstream -- a guide to where majorities of Americans already believe we need to go as a country. Once Republicans understand it is not a legislative roadmap designed to annihilate them, maybe they too can realize they would do well to start to embrace these changes and evolve along with the rest of us.

If they don't they may as well change their symbol from the elephant to the woolly mammoth.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Maria Cardona.

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