Friday, May 15, 2009

The Times, They Are a Changing

The further we get into the Obama administration, the more I'm convinced that the country is going through a major political realignment on a scale not seen since at least Reagan's election. Like Reagan, Obama's rise came on the heels of an administration perceived by most Americans to have been a failure in all areas; foreign policy, the economy, and social issues. Also like Reagan's, this realignment will fold out over the course of several years. While I once believed that the prospect of this was more directly linked to how quickly we can dig out of the economic crisis or defeat terrorism (whatever that means), I'm not so sure anymore.

Looking back both at the Reagan and the FDR realignments, the latter being even larger in scale, I see similarities that can likewise be applied to the present situation. Chief among these was the widespread and prolonged misery felt by many, if not most, Americans at the time. While both FDR and Reagan enjoyed overwhelming victories to begin their first terms, the more permanent majorities they inspired were never fully realized until well after they took office. This was largely due to the ease of both of these presidents to attribute any and all bad news to the last guy (or philosophy).

Being able to credibly blame the other side when so many Americans are feeling the big hurt instills political passions that are much more long-lived than those inspired by Clinton's blow jobs or by Newt Gingrich being a big asshole. FDR's "New Deal" era Democrats comprised a political majority that lasted for several decades before they started dying off en masse. As for Reagan's majority, it took three successive administrations, two botched wars, a complete financial meltdown, and a considerable amount of culture-war fatigue before any real number of the "Reagan Democrats" ever came back home.

Judging from what I see so far from the Obama administration, I believe they are quite aware of the above-mentioned historical lessons and are applying them correctly. While I'm beginning to get tired of hearing the word "inherited" so often, the politics behind it is right on the money. I doubt anyone needs me to tell you how pissed off people are at Bush/Cheney right now. If the American public is to be subject to years of additional bad economic news peppered with persistent reminders as to how we got here, a permanent and/or lasting Democratic majority is quite likely. If, on top of that, Democrats can establish a national health insurance company to compete against the private-sector interests and can get the union card-check bill passed, a permanent majority will be practically inevitable.

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