No More Liberal Boogeymen
by Jonathan Singer, Sun Mar 01, 2009 at 10:25:41 AM EST
During the week leading into the inauguration of Barack Obama, when Pete Seeger led thousands in singing the more radical verses of "This Land is Your Land" and Rahm Emanuel was calling himself a "liberal," it really began to occur to me the extent to which a sea change had occurred. The backlash to the 1960s was finally ending. Liberalism wasn't the taboo it once was. And now, as Mark Leibovich reports in The Times Week in Review today, even conservatives are starting to shy away from trying to tar Democrats with the "L" word, upping the rhetorical ante as they find their previous attempts at smears weren't working (see, e.g., 2006, 2008 elections).
Conservatives might be seeking a spiritual leader, organizing principle and fresh identity, but they at least seem to have settled on a favorite rhetorical ogre: socialism.
As in, Democrats are intent on forcing socialism on the "U.S.S.A" (as the bumper sticker says, under the words "Comrade Obama").
It seems that "socialist" has supplanted "liberal" as the go-to slur among much of a conservative world confronting a one-two-three punch of bank bailouts, budget blowouts and stimulus bills. Right-leaning bloggers and talk radio hosts are wearing out the brickbat. Senate and House Republicans have been tripping over their podiums to invoke it. The S-bomb has become as surefire a red-meat line at conservative gatherings as "Clinton" was in the 1990s and "Pelosi" is today.
I don't think we're necessarily going to see a massive shift in the ideological identification of the electorate just yet, as the reluctance of many Democrats to call themselves Liberals is still palpable. That said, this does have the feel of the beginning of a new era, one in which Democrats aren't afraid to admit that they are Democrats, or that they are liberal -- and, more importantly, that the party doesn't reflexively allow the Republicans to set the ground rules for the important political battles.