During the 2008 campaigns, we’ve seen the GOP put out all the strops against Obama, they’ve attakced him on his associations, on his views, questioned his patriotism and his honor, and even on some instances used phrases which could be considered racist; Fox News has been like a massive swift boat channel against Obama, and the standard “culture wars” arguments about abortion, guns and gays have been trotted out.
Yet in spite of all this, Obama remains well in the lead, in fact if recent polling is to be trusted he could have a landslide victory; how is this possible you may be asking, for the last few decades these attacks have been used to great effect against Democrats, the Swift Boat ads of 2004, Willie Horton in 1988, attacking Democrats as being weak on terror and communism; for being godless, elitist, baby killers . These have been among the bread and butter of the GOP, and how they’ve dominated the post-Vietnam era.
None of that seems to matter this year, the GOP has already begun blaming each other for the massive losses, and its possible that the dems could get a filibuster-proof majority. This could be the biggest shift since the New Deal. The reason that this shift is occuring is clear when one understands the concept of political realignment; it is a enduring shift in the electorate; for decades the nation has aligned into a center-right nation, however that is changing. The issues of the culture wars are still there, but they are submerged in favor of more pertinent issues, the Iraq war and the ongoing economic crisis, one which has been called the wors since the great depression. Although History never exactly repeats, it does move in cycles and there are similarities; in the early 20th century the nation was Republican leaning, the Democratic party outside the south was the minority party (the south was off on its own path due to Segregation), the victories in that era for the Democrats ocured when the dems nominated moderate cantidates or were able to take advantage of splits in the Republican party. In much the same way that the Democrats who have won in the last few decades, Carter and Clinton, positioned themselves as centrists, and Clinton in fact rode to power on a split of the electorate courtesy of third party cantidate Ross Perot. However with the Market Crash and Depression the electorate turned away from the Republicans and Herbert Hoover who they blamedas ineffective in the crisis, and voted in the Democrats and FDR. Although 1932 was a critical election, it wasn’t until 1936 when he was relected that it was clear a realignment had occured, African Americans for example abandoned the Republicans, the party of Lincoln and emancipation and sided with Democrats, a change that has endured to this day, FDR had forged an enduring coalition. At that point the Democrats became the dominant national party and it wasn’t until well in the 60’s that the conservative Republicans recovered, only moderate Republicans like Eisenhower, were successful in the intervening period.
Are Obama and the Democrats riding another realigning wave, we won’t know for another few years, however the signs are there, the shift is widespread, Obama, a man of mixed heritage, has succeded in making the Democrats competitive in the south, a region largely lost to them since LBJ and the Civil Rights era. Even those in rural America are beginning to show their support for the Democrats; Obama has succeeded in energizing the under 30 “Youth voters”and turnout this year is expected to be at record levels, especially if early voting is any measure. It is of a great magnitude, as many national polls show Obama garnering well over 50% of the electorate, and the Democrats increasing their majorities in the Senate and House at the national level.
The question remains, is this a durable shift, well that is up to the Democrats and Obama; if they succeed in the next few years, if their policies are seen by the public as moving the country in a beneficial direction, if the economy improves, if the overseas threat recedes, if they withdraw from Iraq with success, if they bring Osama Bin Laden to justice, then it could very well be. If they can show to the electorate that they are the party that can lead them in this new century, then it wont matter if the GOP accuses them of supporting abortion and gay marriage; they will be seen as the party that cleaned up the mess of Bush and the GOP, and the nation will realign once again.