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Can A 1960s-Style Liberal Like Obama Win?

This week in politics, the House rejected an Iraq (and Afghanistan) war funding bill, the two remaining contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination sparked a dust-up over an endorsement from the nation's pre-eminent pro-choice lobbying group, and a Democrat picked up the last of three once reliably Republican House seats that were contested this year's special elections.

All that, and California's Supreme Court stamped a big "OK" on the right to gay marriage. Are we back in the 1960s, or am I having a flashback? Is the American public moving left, and, if so, does that boost election chances for almost-nominee and extremely liberal Sen. Barack Obama to win the White House in November?

Not so fast. Let's examine each of the above-mentioned phenomena individually before jumping to any rash conclusions. Yes, liberal politics ruled supreme in the late '60s and early '70s with gains in women's rights, civil rights and environmental protections. But America remains a conservative, God-fearing nation, and that hasn't changed, no matter how much difference one president makes.

In the House, the victory for antiwar Democrats was more procedural than substantive, according to the Los Angeles Times:

The funding portion of the bill failed in the House because Republicans were angry that Democrats wrote the bill without GOP input, bypassing the Appropriations Committee and putting the $184-billion measure on the House floor without giving GOP lawmakers much time to read it.

The NARAL Pro-Choice America endorsement of Obama riled feminist activists who wanted the group to endorse Sen. Hillary Clinton or stay mum.

But that doesn't address the larger question of whether pro-choice groups have regained the political muscle they used to wield. As recently as 2004, congressional Democrats ran like lemmings from abortion rights.

Which leads me to those three recent Democratic special election victories. Democrats in Louisiana, Illinois, and Mississippi won reliably Republican House seats, throwing the GOP into a frenzy over its prospects for the fall. But the victor in Mississippi, Travis Childers, veers right on social issues and avoids typical Democratic liberal social stances. As the AP reported:

The other Southern Democratic victor also adopted a socially conservative mantra. From Politico:

Lastly, on gay marriage, opponents promise to run an antigay-marriage referendum on the November ballot that could overturn the court victory.

What does all this say about Obama's chance to move to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in early '09? At this point, I would answer:

"Unknown." The voting public clearly is disgusted with President Bush's leadership. Polls show more than 80 percent of Americans believe the country is on the "wrong track."

Just as clearly, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain has "a lot of 'splainin' to do," to borrow the words of "I Love Lucy" star Desi Arnaz. McCain has angered Christian conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and many in between.

But wait until the public views Republican campaign ads highlighting Obama's '60s-style liberalism. Obama was named the most liberal member of the Senate by and is way to the left of the American mainstream on almost every social issue. In Mississippi, GOP attempts to link Childers to Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backfired. But those same attempts might not backfire nationally. It's a cliché, but it's true in this case: Only time will tell whether Obama can win the White House with a '60s-style liberal social record.

By Bonnie Erbe