Saturday, November 8, 2008
Is it just me, or is there something oddly Reagan-like in the feeling of political/cultural sea change that accompanied Obama's win Tuesday? It's not just the consonance of "new day" and "morning in America." As others have said, Obama is a transformational figure in our nation's politics. I take this to mean more than the fact that he appeals to a new generation of voters. The welcome participation of young voters is, in itself, a boon to democracy to be sure, but along with their coming to the (pun alert) party came something else.
I think that's why pronouncements about the "liberal agenda" and "conservative core values" from both the left and the right haven't made much sense over the past week. The constellations of ideas associated with the words "liberal" and "conservative" for the past 30 years or so are realigning. The referents of the words have begun to reform in novel associations of values and goals, as old ideologies about race relations, free market capitalism, the mutual responsibilities of the individual to the community, and the role of religion in public discourse come apart. This is why Obama beat Clinton in the Democratic nomination process: his approach to the nation's challenges recognizes what is going on in the ways we have begun to re-imagine the usefulness of possible solutions apart from ideology. She speaks an aging language. He's developing a new one.
Obama had the foresight to recognize early on what he called "the arc of history" in his victory speech, but the change is not in his vision alone. America has begun to reform its worldview in terms of pragmatic imaginings of the future. The old ideologies unraveled long before Alan Greenspan admitted before Congress his "shock" that he had been wrong in a fundamental assumption about the nature of the economy.