What’s at stake

Michael Tomasky writing yesterday in the Guardian

[…] Americans look around themselves and see a middle class that is prosperous but deeply anxious; a healthcare system that works reasonably well, except when you really need it; a world that hasn’t reacted very positively to our attempts at bullying it; a planet that might indeed be suffering for our, pardon the pun, sins of emission.

Americans have given up on Bush. That much we know. What we don’t know is whether they’ve given up on his ideology. It may be they look at Bush’s failures and see an ideological failure, a failure of conservatism. But it may also be that they see only an execution failure, a failure of competence.

So these are the questions – and they’re very important and profound questions – this election will answer: will American voters say that they want a “change,” to go back to the key word, only from incompetence to competence, keeping basic conservatism intact (John McCain, arguably)? Will they say they want a shift away from conservatism, but the cautious and incremental shift that Clinton represents? Or will they want the broader change that Obama signifies – a change not dramatically to the left of Clinton in ideological terms, because he is not, but potentially a vast change in the political culture, toward something that does not accept our red v blue divide and culture wars as a given and would redeem America’s most solemn original sin of racism?

Liberals around Washington, indeed around the country, are upbeat because it feels like it might be one of those moments. It feels like enough Americans are tired of conservatism, not just of incompetence. It feels like enough of them see that conservatism doesn’t have good solutions to some of the new problems America confronts. Not that many Americans, still, are willing to call themselves liberal; just about one adult in five. And no one is hankering for a return to the 1970s or seized with a burning desire to pay higher taxes. But the current mood in the country seems to indicate that Americans are willing to give liberalism that second chance.

And if liberalism gets that chance and succeeds, the modern conservative movement will enter into a period of introspection and recrimination unlike any it’s ever experienced. What in this context does “succeed” mean? As little as two things. If a Democratic president and Congress – and everyone expects that Congress will stay in Democratic control – can 1) pass healthcare and 2) articulate and implement a strategic foreign policy vision that defends America and charts a new course in the world, then Americans will embrace this new liberalism. Movement conservatism will be forced to transform itself so utterly as to be unrecognisable as its erstwhile self; which is another way of saying that, short of its 60th birthday, it will in essence perish.

That’s all that’s at stake.

(Courtesy of Memex 1.1.)

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