I'll start with this from Rick Perlstein, a year ago:
These programs make life in America fundamentally better... these gooses, Social Security, Medicare, lay golden eggs. They manufacture Democrats.
It is the duty of every generation of Democrats to produce new geese to lay 70 years of golden eggs. It is the only way our party has grown—as Bill Kristol puts it, by reviving the reputation of the Democrats as the generous protector of middle-class interests.
There's a sizable and increasing chance that 2009 will present the Democratic Party with a historic opportunity. The Senate calendar favors Democratic gains, and our House majority is large. Congressional investigations will degrade the Republican Party's brand identity further. If we can get a progressive Democrat into the White House, we'll be able to do things that make American life fundamentally better, and which voters remember for decades to come.
It's this opportunity that makes the John Edwards campaign so exciting. He's got the ambitious antipoverty program, and all indications are that a whole bunch of similarly progressive economic proposals on issues like health care are on the way. While other candidates -- including both Obama and Clinton -- try to maintain moderate reputations by publicly distancing themselves from bold economic proposals like single-payer health care, Edwards doesn't. I don't know for sure what sort of plan he'll come out with, but the policy guys working with him are solid progressives. All this and his base in the labor movement make him the one candidate who can absolutely be relied on to do his best for the economic left.
I recall Hilzoy's excellent post on Barack Obama's legislative accomplishments. He has, in fact, done a lot of good stuff in the Senate, and proven himself to be a very able legislator. He's worked across party lines with moderates like Richard Lugar and conservatives like Tom Coburn to get some useful stuff done. (I had no idea that anybody had done so much good stuff in the expiring session of Congress until I read Hilzoy's post.) But it doesn't go far enough in answering the really pressing question for the next presidential election -- will Obama be able to capitalize on a historic opportunity to put solidly left-wing ideas into effect? Obama strikes me as better suited for 2000 than 2008. Obviously, his past legislative performance isn't a good sign that he won't capitalize on the historic opportunity, because he was working under conditions where nothing like that was possible. But his unwillingness to commit to left-wing proposals makes me worry that he's trying to play some kind of triangulation game. It's still possible that he could be the guy we're looking for. But he'll have to come out and prove it.
Meanwhile, we've got Edwards polling ahead of McCain 43-41, while Hillary loses to McCain 47-43 and Obama loses 43-38. As I've argued many a time before, Edwards is uniquely suited to beat McCain in a general election. I like the way Petey put it once -- "We're through the looking glass here, people!" This is the year where the hard data keeps showing the candidate of the left to be more likely to win than the moderate alternatives. It's also important to remember that popularity doesn't lose all its value once you're elected -- a president's poll numbers help legislators decide whether they want to align themselves with his ideas. We'll need that to get ambitious economic proposals through.
If you wonder why Edwards has sort of been an idee fixe for me ever since I started blogging, that's a big part of it. We have the means to our greatest ends at our fingertips, and I'll do whatever I can to make sure we don't throw away this historic opportunity.