In the final weeks of this campaign, John McCain has been telling
Obama, of course, is no socialist – far from it (and I’ve worked for Congress’s only self-described socialist, so I have some firsthand idea of what a socialist is and isn’t). And his aides, like Cass Sunstein in today’s
In that success, of course, the Right has set up a McCain defeat not merely as a loss for one candidate in one election, but a larger rejection of conservatism itself. As The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder wrote:
"It might be dangerous for the Republican Party to elevate the stakes for this election to a death match between competing ideologies. If Barack Obama’s victory is as decisive as it is shaping up to be, the Democrats can justifiably claim that conservatism itself has been rejected as a political and governing philosophy. In the closing weeks of the campaign, as the Republican ticket continues to run against the very idea of progressive politics, they are sowing the seeds of the post-election realignment narrative…Obama has been talking about the larger GOP governing philosophy for a while now, but until recently, the race hasn’t seemed like as much of a referendum on Republicanism; it’s been more of a referendum on the Bush years. What changed? The GOP went all in on an ideological war."
Put another way, progressives may have very substantive concerns with some of Obama’s positions on issues like NAFTA, the bailout, etc., and the media may cite polls showing many Americans don’t call themselves "liberal" – but because the GOP has framed the election on such extreme ideological grounds, the mandate that would come out of an Obama win would be way more progressive than Obama’s own policy platform. It would be as progressive on many issues as the public already is (despite whether people call themselves "liberal" or "conservative").
This is the point of a new Institute for
It is the same the point I and Bill Scher made in a series of dispatches last week about how McCain, in making the election a referendum on Reagan conservatism, is creating a larger and more expansive economic mandate for a potential President Obama than Obama himself ever aspired to create for himself (though granted, Obama has occasionally put the race in ideological terms). In short, John McCain’s message during the stretch run is creating a mandate that – if Obama wins – makes
Whether a President Obama would seize that mandate is an open question – though one far less important than the more bottom-up question of whether that mandate would embolden the progressive movement to pressure a President Obama to reach farther than his own more incrementalist impulses may initially lead him to reach.
Our national religion may be presidentialism (ie. the worship of presidents as gods who hand down change to the masses), but American politics has always been the other way around. Electoral mandates create popular pressure and expectations that force presidents to embrace the change they may never have embraced. That
McCain is forging this mandate for a President Obama is certainly ironic – but it’s also an undeniable reality.
*The word "potential" will be removed if Obama wins on Tuesday. At that point, it WILL be a progressive mandate.
Order David Sirota’s brand new book The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street & Washington. The book was just released in June of 2008. A logical follow-up to his 2006 New York Times bestseller Hostile Takeover, Sirota’s new book uses firsthand, on-the-ground reporting far away from the national media spotlight to explore the most intense and successful organizing at the edges of American politics. To pre-order the book, go to Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Powell’s Bookstore. To subscribe to Sirota’s regular newsletter, go to www.davidsirota.com and sign up on the left hand side.+