By Richard Reeves
I thought I had said all I had to say last week about the accelerated change in American attitudes toward gay marriage and “illegal” immigration. But there are a lot of other folks out there examining the accelerated politics of the day and generally coming to the conclusion that, after years of moving right, Americans are moving left again.
In The New Yorker, George Packer has written a delightful riff on what seems to be happening demographically, culturally and politically right now in the good new USA:
“If you’re one of the dwindling number of Americans who oppose gay marriage and think that illegal immigrants should not be allowed to stay in this country, these are not good days for you. On both issues, seemingly at the same time, the national conversation has turned decisively in the other direction. ... These dramatic movements are the culture-war equivalent of the spring and summer of 1918, when both the German and Allied armies suddenly advanced dozens of miles across France after years of stalemate in the trenches. According to the Venn diagram of polls on both issues, if you’re over 50, white, male, vote Republican, didn’t get past high school, and live in a rural area of Kansas or Kentucky, the chances are high that you’re not a bit happy about it.”
Citing demographic and polling data, Packer rubs it in:
“You could be forgiven for believing that we now live in a country called Liberal America, where the emerging majority of citizens are 25 years old, have a Hispanic mother and a Jewish father, reside in a big city, have doubtful employment prospects, spend most of their waking hours on social media, care intensely about pot legalization, and can’t fathom the fuss over gay marriage, while carrying a load of college debt they believe the federal government should force their lender to forgive.”
Leaving his tongue-in-cheek assessment, which I’ll come back to, the Packer piece does kind of sum up commentary now coming from both the blue and red sides of our political divide.
From the left, in addition to me, Paul Waldman has a piece in the current American Prospect, called “The New Liberals: With an eye on 2016, Democrats decide some aggressive liberalism is good politics.”
“When he leaves office in January of 2017—provided there isn’t a terrible scandal or some kind of economic or foreign policy disaster between now and then—Barack Obama will probably be hailed as the greatest Democratic hero since John F. Kennedy,” Waldman writes. “Perhaps most importantly, Obama—particularly the second-term Obama—does not apologize for liberalism. ... The days when Republicans could sneer that a Democrat was a ‘(Northeastern state) liberal’ and know that attack would make the liberal in question shudder in fear seem to be over, at least for now.”
There is even a book out—“The New New Deal” by Michael Grunwald—arguing that the much-maligned Obama stimulus broke the Great Recession and is as significant as Franklin Roosevelt’s programs during the Great Depression.
From the right comes a bleat: Ross Douthat of The New York Times says liberals should avoid “triumphalism” over the prospect of a gay marriage victory. Daniel McCarthy, editor of of The American Conservative, warns both sides about kidding themselves, writing: “Although the (Republican) party still sees Ronald Reagan when it looks in the mirror, what the rest of the country sees is George W. Bush—much as post-Vietnam Democrats continued to think of themselves as the party of Franklin Roosevelt when in the minds of most Americans they had become the party of Johnson and McGovern.”
A majority of Americans now do seem to believe again that Democrats can actually govern, both domestically and in foreign affairs. Good for them. But this is America. For better or worse—better, I’d argue—Packer in The New Yorker ends by writing, “The wheel of history never stops turning, and no majority is permanent.”
Robert Merry, more from the center, says in the current issue of The National Interest: “(The Republican Party) will have a chance to govern as soon as the Democrats screw up in the White House.” What an inspiring thought, but that is how the wheel turns.
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