The Spectacle Blog

The Democrats’ Reagan

By on 7.7.08 | 10:18AM

This David Frum column strikes me as about right, assuming Barack Obama can, Reagan-like, close the sale and break out of his virtual tie with John McCain:

Not since 1964 has the Democratic party simultaneously won a majority of the vote for president while also increasing its representation in both Houses of Congress. There's a very realistic possibility that they will do just that this year. Which opens the question: Then what?

Will they launch a dramatic policy revolution, as Reagan did in 1980? The temptation to try will be strong, perhaps overwhelming. But what kind of revolution? How far left will they go? They are not saying, and probably they do not know.

Policy revolutions are risky things. If they succeed, as Reagan's succeeded, they can transform a nation and realign politics for a generation. But if they fail, they can recoil in disaster. After all, George W. Bush also tried to launch a policy revolution, and look where he and his party are now.

Two things ought to give conservatives some degree of confidence. The way Obama has campaigned recently makes it seem less likely that he'll succeed as a "liberal Reagan." Second, policies have to actually work for a policy revolution to succeed. Policies that slow economic growth to a crawl and exacerbate pressing national problems aren't the stuff that make lasting national majorities. Then again, it can take a while for policies to fail. And programs like national health insurance tend to create lasting constituencies for the party of government no matter how well or poorly they work in the long run.

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