David's been doing excellent push-back against the "center-right nation" meme that's exploded post-election, just like 2006, but on steroids. While it's vitally important to keep up this fight, I'd like suggest opening up a second front--to wit, thinking about how to coopt all the building centrist narratives. Doing so goes back to one of the most important 2004 post-election analyses, Chris's "Eureka! Or How To Break the Republican Majority Coalition", in which he distinguished a form of moderate that really didn't fit on the traditional liberal/conservative spectrum. He identified these moderates with states that had a history of strong support for third parties, whose outward ideologies varied from populist to progressive to socialist to Perot's reform party.
At the time, Chris wrote:
While it is currently non-ideological, this segment of the population, which has existed in large numbers since at least the 1880's, has an outlook on politics that is far more closely allied with liberalism than conservatism because of its emphasis on reform. It is, to put it one way, latently liberal. This segment of the electorate can be swung toward the liberal camp, thus breaking the Republican majority coalition, if the pragmatic, non-dogmatic, reformer, anti-status quo, entrepreneurial aspects of liberalism are foregrounded and turned into a national narrative and platform.
So familiar? Maybe even prophetic? Not only that, but put this way it exposes precisely why those pushing the "center-right nation" narrative are just as opposed to Obama's message as they are to ideological progressives. For they are not only arguing against traditional progressive politics, but against any disruption to the status quo.
|I'm planning a more extensive treatment for this weekend, but the essential argument is relatively simple: The American people never moved to the right along with the political elites after Reagan's election in 1980. However, the Democrats failed to craft an effective new counter-narrative to consolidate their allegiance. At long last, that may have begun to change.
In the interim, however, neither party created an effective political program. Although Reagan was an inspirational orator for the intellectually disengaged, Reaganism never worked in any fundamental sense. Its economic promises never paid off, as the economy basically stagnated, while income inequality skyrocketed. Its foreign policy looked to be more successful, as the Soviet Union crumbled, and the Cold War ended, but that really owed more to the Soviet Union's senescence, and the continual redefinition of what Reagan's foreign policy was. Worse, it had nothing lasting to say about what should come next, but instead inadvertently planted the seeds that would eventually yield 9/11.
Thus, we had two failed wings of insider politics as the Reagan era came to a close, but it took the inevitable post-Reagan recession that dogged Bush I to make that dual failure particularly salient, and propel Ross Perot's 1992 presidential bid. Clinton, too, ran against this dual failure, but he failed to assimilate Perot's support, when he chose to embrace the Reaganite free trade path.
The Republicans, in turn, made a counter-play, embodied in the reformist agenda of the "Contract With America," but this was much more PR than substance, as the power gained by Congressional Republicans went increasingly toward social conservative agendas that held little interest for Perotista reformers. 9/11 deferred the day of reckoning, but it has finally come, ushered in by Obama's compelling--if somewhat ambiguous--call to reform.
The "center-right nation" narrative seeks to frame Obama--and the reform ideology--in opposition to ideological liberalism. But if there's anything the reform ideology stands opposed to, it's the very people peddling this narrative, and their dogmatic insistence that nothing fundamental should be changed.
The reality is that ideological liberalism and the reform ideology lie on two different axes. They are independent of one another, not opposed. This means they can be harmonized to make each other stronger, or they can be played off against each other to make each other weaker. But what cannot happen--at least in the current political setting--is that the reform ideology becomes stronger while the liberal ideology becomes weaker--much less that the reform ideology becomes stronger because the liberal ideology becomes weaker.
This scenario is impossible for a very simple reason: both ideologies share a common enemy--the very people who are pushing the "center-right nation" narrative, and telling us that no matter what, nothing fundamental can be changed. We need to have a very healthy, robust dialogue about how to harmonize the two ideologies. Doing this will make it increasingly manifest that they combine to represent a substantial super-majority of the American people. But to have that sort of dialogue, we must first tell the peddlers of the "center-right nation" narrative to kindly STFU.
I'm not so arrogant as to say what the Obama victory means. Obama himself has already said that it means an opportunity for fundamental change. I can only say that he's right: it means we have a chance. A chance at what is up to us collectively. No one has the answer.