In a one-word election (Iraq) the post-mortems can begin early.
Most of them are too complex. Other Democratic talking points (Foley, corruption, deficits) merely buttress the main charge. The Republican talking points (terrorism, the economy, immigration) are simply drowned-out.
Take out Iraq and it’s likely Democrats still win, albeit more narrowly. But you can’t take out Iraq. Iraq is the elephant in the room. How could this happen? What do we do now? What happens next? These are the question Americans want answered. They are looking to Democrats for answers because Republicans haven’t dealt with it.
Ironically, this is just what happened 40 years ago, at the previous generational turn. Then the one word was Vietnam. It was a Democratic problem. Republicans won. It was the same in 1930, the word being Depression. And the same in 1894, the word being Money. And the same in 1858, the word being slavery.
A generational crisis is always highlighted by a blow-out election. Sometimes, as in 1930, it presages another blowout, which is what happened in 1932. Sometimes, as in 1894 and 1966, it means there’s a re-alignment coming, progressivism-populism in the first case, the Southern Strategy in the second.
Sometimes it means the whole temple is about to fall. That’s what happened in 1858. The fear of it happening this time is still very real. And it’s this kind of fear which drives the generational re-alignment. Without such fear there can be no political transformation, inside people, where it counts.
What we haven’t seen publicly (but what you’ve read here privately)
is the nature of the new coalition — its myths and its values. I have
called this the Open Source Thesis, values and myths based on the
Internet, which has risen to importance over the second half of the
current Thesis of Conflict.
This again is in keeping with long-established patterns.
- The Nixon Thesis of Conflict did not emerge out of Richard
Nixon’s head full-blown. It arose from McCarthyism and from the Civil
- The FDR Thesis of Experimentation only seemed to emerge full-blown
from Roosevelt’s head. It was based on the progressive side of
Wilsonism (less its racist baggage), which had been around for 20 years
before the New Deal.
- Populism and Progressivism had been around for many years, too, in
the Mugwumps, on the farms, in the story of the railroads and the
factories they served.
- Anti-slavery agitation, as every schoolkid knows, actually began in
the 1830s, and had been part of the nation since its founding. As David
McCullough’s biography makes perfectly clear, John and Abigail Adams
left their family farm in the care of a black couple when he was
stationed in England.
The Internet has been around for over 35 years. Its values and
protocols were established early-on, when it was still called ARPANet,
and was home of scientists and engineers (like the guys pictured here).
These values survive, despite
everything which has happened on the commercial Internet over the last
12 years, and act a bit as Myths of the Founders acted for Jacksonian
Democrats in the 1820s. (Yes, the Internet today is about as old as the
nation was when Jackson first ran against J.Q. Adams in 1824.)
If you’ve hung around until now, you’ll see we have gone quite a
distance from the single word Iraq. Such is the nature of a true
generational crisis. Dealing with it calls upon everything we have —
our history, our very souls. Through the coming crisis (and the crisis
has barely started) values will be our North Star. Openness, connectivity, and consensus are the words to remember, because that is what we seek.