George Packer mulls the state of conservatism and liberalism. On the latter:
We’ve seen several pieces of landmark legislation, including the most important social reform since the Great Society, health care, which is also the first significant blow to economic inequality since the trend started in the late seventies. But there’s no new or revived ism to sustain the values and ideas behind these achievements. Obama has no larger movement behind him; the one he had ended on election night.
After all the analysis of his political flaws and tactical mistakes (I’ve engaged in this cheap spectator sport myself), here is the heart of his political weakness. F.D.R. had the labor movement; L.B.J. had the civil-rights movement. Obama had Obama for America. His campaign was based on the man more than any set of ideas or clear vision of the future. Everyone knew what Reaganism stood for. No one knows what Obamaism means, which has allowed his enemies to fill in the blank.
Could the President have helped bring a progressive populism into being, by vilifying the banks and hammering his money-backed opponents from the start, as a counter to the right-wing populism that totally dominates the media? Maybe, but it would have been contrary to his character and his approach to governing. I’m not sure it would have found an answer in the country, either.