In spite of the potential "train wreck" of the Democratic nominating process this year, the coming Presidential election could usher in a new era of progressive politics, says the Campaign for America's Future in a new report. The Campaign's annual Take Back America conference starts on Monday, and co-director Bob Borosage and progressive pollster Stanley Greenberg held a conference call Wednesday to talk about what they see as signs of a major progressive revival.
Don't think of the election of 2008 in comparison to 1992, when Bill Clinton won the White House but failed to produce the coattails to elect a Democratic Congress or accomplish an ambitious progressive agenda, they said. Instead, say Borosage and Greenberg, think of the current political moment as comparable to 1979--the beginning of the Reagan Revolution, which drastically altered the way Americans think and talk about politics.
Historic levels of dissatisfaction with the economy, foreign policy, and the direction of the country make this a particularly ripe moment for change. Borosage compares today's bloggers and MoveOn members to the conservatives who took over government in the early 1980s.
Whatever the outcome of the nominating process "the objective conditions set the stage for a sea change" in 2008, Borosage said.
Greenberg, looking at the polls, concurred. "It's hard to understate the degree of tumult and the desire for change in the country," he said. "The conservative coalition is already shattered. It's demoralized. It has a candidate it does not view as its own. We have not yet seen, fully, the political fall-out."
The crisis in the country is reflected in a series of graphs Greenberg put together showing public opinion, not just on the issues, but on deep, ideological issues, in flux. "In every single area we've seen a trend, sometimes sharply, away from the conservative position," Greenberg said, listing some of the areas: "the role of government dealing with those in need, regulation, the public interest, corporations, multilateralism, social tolerance, and diversity."
Of course, that doesn't mean the Democrats can't whiff it. I seem to recall some similar exuberant talk at the Take Back America conference right before the 2004 election. Nor is it clear MoveOn members and bloggers can rightly be compared to the highly organized army of the right that came out of Goldwater's failed presidential bid and ushered in Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. And then there's the John McCain problem. McCain splits the Republican base. But he also attracts independents, and, as Ira Chernus points out on Alternet, garners the most votes of any candidate from people who oppose the Iraq war. "A clear majority still think the war was a mistake," Chernus writes. "But when the question is which candidate will do best handling the war, McCain wins every time." That's the complicated politics the Democratic nominee will have to deal with.
"That drives rational progressives nuts, but their rage and despair won't change the outcome," Chernus writes. "What could change the outcome is a strategy that faces up to the irrational facts. That might mean starting right now to shift the focus from war to economy. It might mean reframing the war as an economic issue, and finding some other symbolic vehicle for the battle over 'character' issues."
In short, no matter how badly the Republicans screw things up, the Democrats can't count on automatically reaping the benefits. They'll have to work hard to convince those change-hungry voters they mean it.