Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The "L" Word

Once upon a time, there used to be politicians on the other side of the aisle who were not afraid of labels that accurately described their views - if not perfectly, at least generally. Woodrow Wilson, for example, was a progressive. As the leader of the progressive era, which envisioned a new role of the state as a powerful agent of change and control, Wilson unabashedly defended his views.

Modern times are a bit different.

While there is always a "move to the center" in general elections coming off the primaries, it has been true that Democratic candidates, running happily as liberals (Clinton, actually, described herself as "progressive," but none the less) to gather votes among close constituents, not only move rightward, but drop any association with the term "liberal." Why? Well, because liberal has traditionally been the kiss of death for any politician running nationally. Think Carter, Dukakis, Mondale. If a candidate comes off as a cultural liberal, he (or she) won't win.

That brings us to the most liberal senator in the United States Senate, Barack Obama. The operative word now in use to describe his politics is not "liberal," of course. His supporters have rehearsed their script well. Now, when asked whether Obama is liberal/conservative/progressive/regressive/oppressive, advocates repeat the lame phrase that he is "transcends politics." There you have it: the most liberal Senator in the country transcends politics. Sadly, for those with a penchant for self-delusion and a bent to vote for Obama despite apprehension, this is all they need to hear.

There is an ironic, telling twist to all these political games. McCain could do no better than identify himself as a true conservative (which, well, he's not) and hammer home a theme of free markets, free people, and national security. Instead he panders to a slim number of swing voting Democrats and independents by touting a ridiculous, prohibitively expensive, global warming aimed, carbon cap and trade scheme.

When your opponent is trying to mimic you, why mimic him?

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