I don’t have the highest hopes for Obama’s second term or for American politics in general over the next decade, but I think something has changed last fall, and that all the right-center nation nonsense is now on its way out.
The general consensus is that Obama gave a more openly liberal speech than he gave four years ago. Atrios believes that Obama did a poor job of articulating a liberal vision over the first four years, and maybe so, but DC was wired for Republicans when Obama got here. Josh Marshall put it well in early 2009:
Most of all Washington is a city that coddles up to and worships power. But a generation of one party holding the reins selects for certain kinds of journalists in key positions of power, the policy experts at the think tanks who get the journalists calls, the lobbyists who move the most money and so forth. You build up a set of assumptions about what kinds of people and ideas are respectable and which aren’t. Which are old-fashioned, which are ‘cutting edge’ and so forth. Who defines conventional wisdom?
In all of these respects, DC remains overwhelmingly wired for the GOP.
Over time, the formal government shapes the para-government. But there’s no immediate transition. In fact, in the short-run there’s usually an intensified conflict between the two. And you see evidence of the disconnect in repeated failures of people in the capital to predict the reactions of the country to key political developments — which is something you’ve seen repeatedly in 2006 and 2008. And even into 2009.
In 2008, Obama won by seven-plus points and Democrats won large majorities in the House and Senate. This fall, Obama won by under 4 points and Republicans held the House. But in 2008, a lot of the emphasis was (incorrectly) on Obama’s special abilities and McCain’s shitty campaign and (more correctly) the public’s hatred of George W. Bush; in other words, on temporary personality-driven factors.
This time around, there’s a recognition that the political ground has shifted, that there have been permanent, profound changes in demographics and generational attitudes.
That doesn’t mean that Democrats will win on every issue. We’re stuck with a certain amount of austerity, and gun safety efforts may well be going nowhere. There’s no point in chasing dragons with a sword that’s made of tin, so I won’t be disappointed if Obama takes political stock of things and scales back a lot of what he proposed today.
Maybe it’s meet the new boss (corporatist Democrats), same as the old boss (corporatist Republicans), but I expect at least to hear a new set of political cliches over the next four years.