I've discussed the 'swing liberal' block before, noting that this group moved from Obama to Clinton between Iowa and New Hampshire. Unfortunately, we can't really fully understand this trend in Nevada because the entrance polls aren't great. Still, while the not great, it is the only data set we have to go on.
In Iowa, Obama beat Clinton by 16 points among those who consider themselves as 'very liberal'. In New Hampshire, they were even. And now in Nevada, Clinton simply destroyed Obama within that block by 16 points. In other words, while it's not entirely clear who 'won' Nevada, whatever that means, had Obama run even with Clinton among those who describe themselves as 'very liberal', he would have soundly defeated her at the caucuses outright instead of having to play delegate games.
Both Edwards and Clinton dog whistled hard on Obama's Reagan remarks. Many readers and friends simply don't believe me that the stuff he said about Reagan was bad. Here's what it sounds like to people who lived through that period, which is still a majority of the voting universe. Digby helpfully wrote this in a frame of reference many will understand. Imagine George W. Bush in 2000 saying this.
We're still having the same arguments. It's all around regulations and smaller government and it's all ... even when you discuss traditional values the frame of reference is all around abortion. Well, that's not my frame of reference. My frame of reference is "what works." When I first came out against abortion, my first line was I don't oppose all abortions, specifically, to make clear that this is not a theocratic, you know, snake-handling prayer vigil kind of approach."
I think Lyndon Johnson changed the trajectory of the country in a way that JFK did not and Nixon did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of racism and anti-communism and government refusing to raise taxes to care for the poor and the elderly, I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was, we want a return to that sense of community and compassion that had been missing."
Bush would have lost the nomination right then and there. Conservatives simply do not run away from their past, they create narratives that reinforce it as a tradition worth belonging to. What Obama did when lauding Reagan as an answer to the 'excesses of the 1960s' (which you can very well see is a conservative meme by doing a quick Google book search) was attack and insult the liberal traditions of feminism, civil rights, environmentalism, consumer rights, and peace movement work from that time.
And he got torched by the older liberals who lived through Saint Ronnie's time and don't remember it as such an optimistic time when a dynamic man reigned in government and brought back entrepreneurship (which is not in fact true).
The right creates and protects their icons and history jealously, just as they tear down our traditions and heroes or appropriate them for their own usage by claiming that our best people were in fact conservative (hence JFK becomes a strong national security Democrat who cut taxes). The past matters. It just does. And if you want to know why, just remember that Bush has rung up a huge credit card debt that we will have to pay off. And if we can't explain that Bush rang up the bill by referencing the past, the country is going to blame Democrats for what Bush did. It's happened before. Just ask Bill Clinton and the 1994 Congressional class of Democrats, who paid the price for Ronald Reagan's binge spending.
We have been fighting Ronald Reagan's psychologically diseased followers and predecessors since, well, since they called themselves the Confederacy and fought for slavery. And we will keep fighting them if we are to retain a republic. That's why the self-identified very liberal Democrats swung away from Obama and took Nevada from him. Because he very self-consciously explained that he is not part of that fight, and they want a leader who is.