There is in this election an opening for liberalism to reemerge as a popular approach to government in America for the first time since, really, the 1960s, certainly since the one-two punch of Reagan and Gingrich. Why is Hillary Clinton, notorious establishmentarian who voted for the Iraq invasion, the best champion of the Democratic Party and the liberal cause? Here are two reasons:
1) Although there is a potential swing to policy liberalism, its motivations are not entirely ideological. The center is moving left to some degree as a consequence of the perceived incompetence of Republican government. This has to do with the quality of Bush and Cheney, but it is deeper than that: Republicans today hold that 40 million uninsured people is acceptable healthcare policy, and propose to do nothing. Their position on the national debt and the trade deficit is that this is acceptable fiscal policy, and everything is fine. As to campaign finance reform, they're against it. And so on. Meanwhile, people remember the 1990s: budget surpluses, fiscal policies friendly to the middle class, an effective air war policy in the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East. Unlike the politicians and pundits, the voters are not essentially ideological. They are shoppers, and what they are shopping for at the moment is competence.
2) My Democratic friends tell me they're worried about Hilary's "negatives." But for a new liberal consensus to emerge, the right has to be beaten. This is bottom-line politics, and a secret of the Clintons' success is their understanding of this hard reality: for me to win a mandate, you have to lose (sunny platitudes from Obama notwithstanding). Ironically, Hillary, seen by the left as too establishment, too business-as-usual, is the Democrat who can defeat the conservative bloc in this all-important symbolic way: they hated her, she won the election. And that is how to achieve genuine liberal government.