Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Political Realignment

Today (October 21) the Washington Post/ABC poll reported that "first-time voters" favor Barack Obama over John McCain by a margin of 73 to 26 percent. This is an astounding margin of 47 percent in Obama's favor. By way of comparison, in 2004, first-time voters favored Kerry over Bush by 53 to 46 percent, or a margin in Kerry's favor of only 7 percent. Similarly, the poll shows that Obama is up 12 points over John McCain among white voters under 30, a complete reversal from 2004 when Kerry lost these voters by 10 points. These poll numbers are of tremendous significance. They mark a generational paradigm shift. In my opinion, they presage a major political realignment of the sort seen this country approximately every 30 to 40 years.

The last political realignment in this country occurred between the elections of 1968 and 1972, in which Richard Nixon used the now infamous "Southern Strategy" to steal conservative southern votes from the Democrats and cement a new working center-right political majority for the Republican Party. We have been living in a conservative political world in this country ever since, broken only by the two Democratic administrations of Carter (an accidental product of the Watergate scandal) and Clinton (a conservative Democrat elected on a plurality vote with the third-party assistance of Ross Perot).

The recent polls indicate that this conservative hegemony may well be coming to an end. Of course, it is still too early to break out the champagne. There are two weeks left until the election--a lifetime in politics. Although recent polls show Obama considerably ahead nationwide and in the battleground states, McCain may yet succeed in his effort to eke out a Rovian 50.1 percent victory through his campaign of fear and loathing about "socialism" and Obama's "otherness," along with Republican operatives' incipient efforts at voter intimidation and suppression.

But win or lose, it is not too late to make one prediction. We are witnessing a major sea change in the American electorate. With numbers like those reported in today's Washington Post, the Republicans have lost the next generation of voters--big time. Voters under 30--the leaders of the future--are turning decisively away from the Republican hegemony that has dominated American political culture since Nixon, and even more from the rigid right-wing ideology that has controlled the Republican Party since Reagan. The "culture war" issues that have so exercised the electorate since the 1960's--abortion, guns, gays, "family values," flag burning, prayer in schools, etc.--no longer carry much weight with the rising generation. Liberal and progressive ideas once dismissed automatically out of hand are being embraced by young people who have little use for the tired old doctrines that for so long have been used by Republicans to beat Democrats into submission and defeat them time and time again. The toxic tactics used by Republicans to win elections ever since Richard Nixon simply aren't working any more.

As a result, we are on the cusp of historic change. I believe the mid-term election of 2006 marked the beginning of a political realignment like the historic realignments that occurred in earlier transformational elections, like those of 1932, 1968 and 1980. That realignment will burst fully into flower with this transformational presidential election.

I'll go out on a limb. I predict this election will be seen historically as at least as significant a political earthquake as the election of 1932, which ushered in a generation of liberal/progressive dominance with the defeat of the old-guard Hoover/Coolidge Republicans and the accession of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. Indeed, we may be witnessing an even more historically significant moment. Eight years of George W. Bush's arrogance, incompetence, hubris and unprecedentedly authoritarian overreaching has left this nation in perilous straits on every front, and at the same time more deeply divided than at any time since the Civil War. The election of 2008 may well be the most important election since those of 1860 and 1864. Not since Lincoln became President has the fate of our nation hung so perilously in the balance of a divisive electoral contest.

1 comment:

Bev Sykes said...

I've been very hopeful as I've watched the poll numbers climb these past few weeks...but then I read Robert Kennedy, Jr.'s article about how votes can be stolen and I'm not going to breathe comfortably until the last vote is finally counted.