For better or worse, I think Obama is going to pull this thing off. I wrote in 2004 that the Democrats lost the election for two main reasons: ?They were seen as weak on foreign policy, and they were seen as offensively hostile to middle class values at home, specifically on issues like gay marriage, abortion, and the like.?
It?s possible the Democrats can win this time around. Indeed, it?s likely they will do so. They have a candidate with star power who is maintaining a hopeful and vague message that is in tune with the zeitgeist.
The structural factors have changed too. The salience of the perceived threat of terrorism has receded and been overshadowed by the Republican Party?s sins of commission in Iraq. As in the wake of Vietnam, the American people are wary of foreign adventures that take a long time, cost a lot of money, and yield uncertain results. They want something done about terrorism, and would even support the approach of punitive raids and increased spending on domestic security, but transforming the Middle East with a policy of installing democratic regimes is widely perceived as an abject failure. The surge only changes this perception slightly. Iraq is still a dangerous place with daily bombings and atrocities that speak for themselves.
The Democrats? focus on law enforcement, intelligence, and foreign cooperation is more palatable this time because of the inconsequential results of the Iraq War and the Republican Party?s abdication of its traditional role as the hard-headed voice of foreign policy realism. People are more afraid of a drawn out war with Iran than with an intervention to defang its alleged nuclear programs.
On social issues, the Democratic Party will have its traditional troubles, but younger voters are more liberal on these issues, there are more post-60s voters than ever, and McCain will do little to mobilize the base. George Bush has almost single-handedly destroyed the traditional Republican coalition with his aggressive foreign policy, his lack of credibility on intelligence matters, his support for extremist open border immigration policies, and his failure to use wedge issues to his advantage to keep Republicans and independent (though socially conservative) voters from giving Democratic candidates serious consideration.
Democrats have problems, but Republicans have more. And those problems are almost all the legacy of Bush?s idiosyncratic and bellicose policies. These politicies stem not from the logic of unilateralism and realism, but from the neoconservative (mis)diagnosis of the causes and cures for Islamic terrorism, domestic prosperity, and a host of other issues. The final factor in the Republicans’ dim prospects are the problems of McCain himself, whose age and crotchitiness contrasts sharply with the charisma and sales ability of the dynamic Obama.
One thing we can be sure of: there will be a totally unique set of policy disasters with Obama if he wins that will make many wonder what they were thinking in giving this guy the keys to the car.
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