Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Rehabilitation of Liberalism



Whatever happens at the polls in two weeks, the pendulum has swung back in Liberalism's direction. Economically, culturally, and ideologically, liberal answers are regaining legitimacy.

After all, even though the Democratic party nominated a liberal anti-war candidate over a more moderate establishment canditate this year, and the Republicans turned to a maverick with a reputation for bi-partisanship, the Democratic candidate is ahead in practically every battleground state that George Bush won in 2004.

How quickly times have changed. Whereas John Kerry was swiftboated in 2004, Obama (like Reagan) is developing Teflon powers as he continues to ride his surge in the polls despite stories about Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, and ACORN. When terrorism was issue number one, people preferred a Republican president; but when the economy becomes issue number one, people prefer a Democratic president.

This is why Sarah Palin's charge that "'spreading the wealth' sounds a little like socialism" isn't getting much traction. Spreading the wealth sounds like sharing the wealth, and these days such thoughts aren't all that unpopular. After all, the Bush administration's decision to obtain equity stakes in several private banks in return for a liquidity injection isn't exactly laissez faire.

Culturally, the country appears to have moved on from those culture wars we heard so much about just four years ago. Just this year, the California and Connecticut Supreme Courts' decisions to legalize same-sex marriage and the lackluster response from the conservative community indicates the shifting cultural tectonics. Abortion isn't such a hot button issue this year either. Anti-abortion Catholics have endorsed Obama in significant numbers. If anything, McCain's selection of a running mate who will not make an exception to her pro-life position for rape and incest reveals a campaign completely in illusion about where the country is culturally. McCain's contempy for the "health" exception for women will seriously damage his chances with women. (What is the point of picking Sarah Palin to try to attract Hillary Clinton's supporters only to repel them thricefold with a dismissive remark like that?)

We also see the ideological shift in cross-party endorsements for Obama. Breaking a century and a half year old tradition, the Chicago Tribune has endorsed Barack Obama. Christopher Buckley's defection is both substantially and symbolically powerful, as were the endorsements of Chuck Hagel and Richard Lugar. And now Colin Powell has joined the bandwagon, characterizing Obama as a "transformational" leader. The last time we saw such language being used to describe a potential president was during the landslide and realigning elections of 1932 and 1980.

In the following days to come, Republicans will push back to insist that this is still a "center-right" country - as Karl Rove and Charles Krauthhammer have done - and they will try to remind Americans that Democratic control of all branches of government may not be a good idea. But if the result of the White House race is still unclear, no one doubts that the Democrats will strengthen their majorities in both the House and the Senate. Average Joe, the median independent voter has moved to the Left of Plumber Joe, the median Republican voter. It may be time to excavate "liberal" and "liberalism" from the dictionary of political incorrectness.

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