The Democratic presidential campaign began with remarkable unity from the candidates regarding what needs to be done to revitalize the economy and restore America’s moral authority—and their populist themes even spilled over into the Republican primary.
That does not simply speak to the candidates’ position papers and records. It reflects a broad mandate from the public for fundamental progressive change, breaking from the failed conservatism of the Bush Era.
After all the histrionic punditfying throughout the campaign, after all the trivial media distractions over surrogates who blurt out mean things, after all the phony guilt-by-association attacks, the public unity around a progressive vision remains: an economy that works for everyone, health care for all, a clean energy future, affordable education and the end of the Iraq occupation.
The minor dispute over health insurance mandates did not change that most voters want their government to guarantee quality affordable health plan choices for everyone—not trash employer benefits and force workers to bow down to insurance companies and pay thousands more for health care.
The minor dispute over the gas tax did not change that most voters want bold investment in renewable energy and energy-efficiency—not more misguided foreign occupations in oil-soaked countries that destabilize the globe and keep us at the mercy of price spikes.
The back-and-forth over trade only has reinforced that the public wants an end to unfair trade deals and a new economic strategy for the global economy of the 21st century that lifts up workers and protects the planet—not a continuation of rules rigged for multinational corporations.
The Democratic primary race produced no division within the party over the big issues, and no rift with self-described moderate independent voters who want the same things. The unity over substance extends beyond party lines. That means the Democratic nominee, widely presumed to be Sen. Barack Obama at this point, does not need to overhaul his message and platform to appeal to swing voters in the general election.
The Republican primary race, on the other hand, was wracked with internal division, still not fully resolved, as the party grapples with how to deal with seven years of complete conservative failure in Washington. On the issues, the conservative base of the party is completely out of sync with swing voters. Sen. John McCain has no choice but to revamp his campaign strategy to be competitive in the fall.
But McCain’s initial attempts to bridge that wide gulf—clumsily offering red meat for conservatives and populist rhetoric for independents at the same time—have produced policies and statements that risk being seen by voters as not just out-of-touch, but disturbingly detached from reality. Not just a Bush third term, but a Bush third term on crack.
The public is united on issues. The mandate for progressive change is being built. Conservative dead-enders are increasingly marginalized. Pity the poor candidate who can’t deal with that reality.