The Economist‘s cover last week asked, “Is America Turning Left?” The magazine’s answer–a grudging yes. “…The American people seem to be reacting to conservative overreach by turning left. More want universal health insurance; more distrust force as a way to bring about peace; more like greenery; ever more dislike intolerance on social issues.” (Sounds like a common sense program to me; after all, what passes for “left” in American politics is quite moderate by historical standards.) The cover story is catching up to a real and marked progressive shift in Americans’ views.
Meanwhile, the forward march of conservatism has come to a screeching halt. Karl Rove, the architect of that never-to-be-had permanent GOP majority, leaves a White House, a party and a movement in shambles. A disastrous war, metastasizing corruption and cronyism, an incompetent and inhumane response to Katrina–no wonder even Republicans believe that Democrats are likely to sweep in ’08, winning the White House and increasing their majority margin in both Houses. Republican Congressman Ray LaHood (Ill.), one of a slew of GOP House members retiring this year, was quoted last week in the New York Times lamenting, ” I think our party’s chances for winning the majority back next time are pretty bleak at the moment.” Another GOP congressman Ralph Regula, hinted that he won’t seek reelection; one of his main reasons–his bellwether state of Ohio was “moving towards more of a blue state.”
Underlying that shift, in Ohio and in many other parts of the country, is greater support for the social safety net, more concern over income inequality, and a growing belief that military strength may not be the best way to secure peace. (Check out recent surveys by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.) But even while there is more fertile terrain for a progressive politics, there are also real limits to the political debate as it’s playing out in the Presidential campaign. If those limits aren’t actively, intelligently and passionately challenged by the emerging progressive movement–NGOs and activists, thinkers and think-tankers, labor and netroots, and magazines and citizens–we risk losing a critical opening. It is crucial that we use these next months to challenge candidates (and the Democratic Party leadership) to think more boldly and dissent more creatively from a failed conservative consensus of the last quarter century.