In Reinventing Political Culture, I argue that there are four components to Barack Obama’s project in reinventing American political culture: (1) the politics of small things, using new media to capture the power of interpersonal political engagement and persuasion, (2) the revival of classical eloquence, (3) the redefinition of American identity and (4) the pursuit of good governance, rejecting across the board condemnations of big government, understanding the importance of the democratic state. I think that there is significant evidence for advances on all four fronts. The most difficult in the context of the Great Recession was the struggle for good governance, but now the full Obama Transformation, responding the Reagan Revolution, is gaining broad public acceptance.
The election was won using precise mobilization techniques. Key fully developed speeches by the President and his supporters, most significantly Bill Clinton, defined the accomplishments of the past for years and the promise of the next four. Obama’s elevation of the Great Seal motto E pluribus unum (in diversity union), defining the special social character and political strength of America, has won the day. And now, the era of blind antipathy to government is over.
The pendulum has finally swung back. The long conservative ascendancy has ended. A new commonsense has emerged. Obama’s reinvention of American political culture is rapidly advancing. The full effects of the 2012 elections are coming into view. The promise of 2008 is being realized. The counterattack of 2010 has been repelled. The evidence is everywhere to be seen, right in front of our eyes, and we should take note that it is adding up. Here is some evidence taken from reading the news of the past couple of days.
It is becoming clear that Obama’s tough stance in the fiscal cliff negotiations is yielding results. The Republicans now are accepting tax increases. Signs are good that this includes tax rates. A headline in the Times Friday afternoon: “Boehner Doesn’t Rule Out Raising Tax Rates.” A striking shift in economic policy is apparent: tax the rich before benefit cuts for the poor, government support for economic growth. The Republicans are giving ground. The grand bargain to avoid the fiscal cliff will represent a major change in policy, with broad public support.
Boehner is talking tough but is gathering support of his party to enable a deal on President Obama’s terms, the Times reports in another story. The Republicans will support now what Boehner negotiates.
Even Rand Paul is supporting Harry Reid’s proposal in the Senate to increase taxes on the rich, albeit with a professed assurance that this will hurt the economy and in the long run hurt Democrats. Rand’s ideological conviction enables him to politically act. He pretends to know that taxing the rich will ruin the economy and be good in the end for libertarian Republicans such as himself. But note: he is accommodating to the new commonsense as he expresses a conviction that in the long run it will end.
Shockingly, following the same pattern, Ann Coulter, the extreme right wing Fox commentator, scandalized her host Sean Hannity by maintaining that Republicans support Obama’s tax proposals. Rightists are recognizing that the winds are pushing left.
And the far right is moving to the margins. Witness Boehner’s demotion of four Tea Party Republicans from choice committee assignments in the House of Representatives , and Jim DeMint, the Tea Party Senator, choosing exile at the Heritage Foundation, as its president, over completing his term in office, a luxurious exile worth one million dollars a year.
There are also more creative Republican responses. Rising stars in the Republican Party, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, gave speeches to a Jack Kemp tribute dinner, which emphasized the need to address the concerns and needs of the less advantage. I think that David Brooks reading of the significance of this is on the mark. There is a new “Republican Glasnost,” an openness to ideas, beyond trickle-down, ideas that could positively affect the life chances of the vast majority of the American citizenry, ideas that recognize positive government roles, that address the concerns of the less privileged.
The age of the attacks on big government is over. The times are truly changing. The New York Times today, under the headline “Obama Trusted on Economy,” reports on a Heartland Monitor Poll, finding broad support for Obama’s economic policies, with little support for the Reaganesque Republican approach. The age of debate about good government has begun in an America that is becoming more comfortable with and confident of its pluralist identity, with more citizen involvement, and in which eloquence and intelligence matters. The election mattered.
On a more sober note: I don’t think that all is well in the Republic, that we are entering a new era of good feelings, that the President has the answer to all challenging problems. On many issues, the environment, national security, privacy and citizen rights, education and poverty, I think his policies and programs are wanting. I agree with the many leftist criticisms of Obama found on the left. But I think now is the time to push for corrections, with a chance to achieve them. As Obama himself said once, he has to be pushed to do the right thing.
I also think that the ideological polarization of the American public and its leadership is still a very serious problem. I wish the Tea Party were a thing of the past, but I fear it isn’t, and I hope the Occupy Movement will more practically engage in our pressing social problems, but I worry that it may not. It needs to work on speaking American, as Tom Hayden once put it in the 60s, stop dreaming about utopian visions, anarchism and the like, that make no sense to the broad American public, and address the incompleteness of the Obama transformation in ways that the public can understand and support. The emerging commonsense makes this possible. Obama has moved the center left, which has long been his project. The task for leftists is to move it further, engaging their fellow citizens.