Since the 1972 rout of liberal George McGovern by Richard Nixon, the Democrat Party has had a problem. How does a New Leftist party win the presidency in a nation whose voters are not so far left?
It has been a difficult 36 years for the left. The Democrats won the presidency twice in that period with southern governors, Carter and Clinton. Their primary strategy has been to obfuscate their identity as liberals. They have been a party that is afraid to admit who they really are. Liberal became a dirty word, so much that even Ted Kennedy would not admit on a Sunday morning talk show that he was one. The Democrat Leadership Council was created to help Dems get elected in a nation afraid of liberals.
The great hope of the left has been that the American electorate is changing, becoming more liberal, and the Democrats can stop "triangulating" and compromising their liberal principles. The "netroots," led by Daily Kos, have championed the more open, in-your-face liberal candidates. Recently, there has been an upheaval as supporters of Hillary Clinton have left the web site. Kos doesn't care, sneering at them as "laughable."
I'm hoping the 2008 election answers the question of whether or not the Kossacks are right. Can the Democrats campaign honestly and openly as liberals and win the presidency?
It's an open question. America is not the same country it was in 1972. Take California, where I live. This is the state that gave us Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. Orange Country used to be synonymous with the far right wing; now it seems to be full of young college educated kids and hispanics, two groups that vote Democrat. It's been a long time since a Republican presidential candidate wasted any time in California.
At the same time we have seen a growth in religion in America, and those voters tend to be conservatives. But as Huckabee showed, religious people can happily embrace environmentalism and socialism. Another big question of our time: what does it mean to be conservative? Ironically, it seems that, like the liberals, conservatives are giving up the pretense of being against big government.
We have two parties getting in touch with their inner statist. Hey, I love big government! Yes! This is who I am, damn it, and I don't care who knows it! I'm liberated!
I suspect we are at the precipice of a whole new era in American politics. The prospect is ominous.