This story was written by Jason Stahl, Minnesota Daily
Can we win? This is the question I am most often asked by friends and family who are also supporting Barack Obama. While I am always quick to note that there is a lot that can happen to influence the race between now and November, I do think that Obama will ultimately be victorious. Moreover, I believe that there is also a good chance that an Obama victory will represent the last gasp of the current incarnation of American conservatism.
Inevitably, most see this prediction as pollyanish. Maybe so. However, I would argue that conservatives have so lost their grip on the current "common sense" in American politics that defeat for the conservative party seems more likely than not.
None other than David Brooks, a card-carrying member of the conservative elite, recently summed up what I mean by "losing the common sense" when he argued in an interview that conservative ideology no longer feels "fundamentally true." By "true," one suspects Brooks was speaking of what cultural theorist Stuart Hall once described as an ideology which "makes good sense" to the masses of voters and is able to mobilize them for political action.
Back at the beginning of the current period of conservative politics, conservatives were able to ascend because their ideology did begin to "make good sense" to enough Americans. In the face of the crises, which liberals either started, (i.e. the Vietnam War) or which they were unable to respond to, (i.e. the early '70s economic downturn) conservatives seized the opening provided by these crises to "reorganize the common sense" and offer their policy prescriptions as solutions. At the same time, they developed institutions and techniques - such as think tanks, direct mail, and (eventually) talk radio - which actively worked to help with this reorganization. In the face of this, liberals and the liberal party were left looking anachronistic and out of touch.
The situations are now reversed. Conservatives have started the unnecessary, unpopular war and are unable to respond to the current economic downturn. In the face of these problems all they can offer is backward-looking responses. Every Republican primary debate showcased this fact as the candidates competed for who could heap the most praise on Saint Ronald Reagan rather than who could address our current political realities. Meanwhile, progressives are addressing these realities by speaking to and reorganizing the current common sense along progressive lines. As conservatives did in the '70s and '80s, it is now progressives who are creating dynamic new institutions and new techniques through which to help in this reorganization.
Of course, such reorganization - one which will lead to an Obama victory - is not a sure thing. As shown in the book "Free Ride: John McCain and the Media," McCain will continue to get a big assist from the elite political media. They will work to convince the public that McCain is a "maverick" not beholden to conservatism. Moreover, appeals to a common sense long past - the clear basis for McCain's campaign - still has an appeal under the right circumstances.