Mark talks to a lot of people and cites some interesting polling data but wisely leaves the conclusions to the reader.
And while it's true that,
...issues once largely walled off to the liberal hinterlands have suddenly gained mainstream acceptance and urgency. “There does seem to be momentum around a set of issues that have traditionally been the property of the left,” says David M. Kennedy, the Stanford University historian.This doesn't mean the country has suddenly gone to Berkeley. The fact is, these issues have never been far from the surface of mainstream thought.
Presidential candidates, for instance, can now safely utter “universal health care” without being tarred as supporters of “socialized medicine.” Polls show increasing support for raising the minimum wage, stem-cell research, gay and lesbian civil unions, alternative-energy initiatives and increased financial aid to offset the escalating cost of college.
Republicans can no longer blockade the cause of global warming to the wild-haired left. Once derided as “Ozone Man” by the former President Bush, Al Gore is now up for a Nobel Peace Prize and an Oscar (while California’s non-Oscar-nominated Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been hailed as an environmental action hero for introducing stringent emissions standards).
Since at least the 60s, Americans have been socially liberal and slowly becoming increasingly tolerant. The failure of the GOP has been their lack of understanding this fundamental premise. The GOP has always overplayed their hand, and are now as out of step as the Dems were in the early 80s.
The GOP lost all three presidential elections since the fall of the Berlin Wall until post 9-11. American don't vote the GOP on issues; only fear.
And the fear is subsiding, at least for now.
While Americans are not hateful social conservatives, neither are they wide-eyed lefties looking for government to spend on them lavishly.
Let's use universal health care as a example.
Despite popular belief, Universal health care was not wildly unpopular in the early 90s. It was just marketed badly and the timing was off. The Clintons tried too much, too soon. 13 years ago, the GOP was able to tell people that many would have less coverage and pay more for it. The Clintons didn't have a good reply......perhaps because there was some truth in the criticisms. It was common at that time for people to have health care at work for which they paid nothing, at least on themselves, and sometime for dependent care as well. In the last 13 years health care cost have skyrocketed and coverage for many working Americans evaporated. The stories of behemoths like GM being shaken by health care costs are all over the news. So it should be no surprise that people are more ready than ever to reconsider. It's not like they hated it before, they just didn't feel like they needed it so much.
And here is where the GOP misses the point. They are convinced Americans hated the idea.
Of course, there are lessons for the Dems in the debacle of the Clinton health care plan, and much of what I read from the left on universal health care worries me that these lessons have been lost. In the 80s, 20 years after the war on poverty, we had a long national conversation of the role of government in social programs. Americans don't think the government does a good job running massive programs. Medicare is a good example. While it gets the job done, and we could never do away with it, it is wildly expensive and inefficient.
When talking about universal health care, the Dems need to realize the natural distaste for massive government programs and design programs that have an element of competitiveness to them. The Clintons, by the way, tried to do this. Americans do not want to deal with Federal employees when they need health care. They want efficiency.
Americans also prefer baby steps. The Clintons tried to do too much, too fast. If any Dem is serious about universal health care, they been to build a coalition with corporate America (traditional GOP supporters) to get the job done.
The Dems need to do a lot to build lasting majorities, but not as much as the GOP. The first lesson for Dems is not to believe their own press and overplay their hand. It is the moderate middle who elect governments; not the left or the right.