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By the late 1970's, this long-term political arc - powered by and organized around a specific worldview or set of myths, as you point out - was running out of steam, and was supplanted by Republican conservatives that had spent their time in the desert and now were in a position to capture the public imagination with their new set of myths, that tapped into needs the general public felt were not being addressed by the prevailing worldview.
From 1980 to the present has been the Republican era - even while Clinton was in office, the Republican congress and the conservative-leaning media tied his hands, and he needed to tap into the prevailing winds to get anything done, like "ending welfare as we know it."
The conservative forces that have been the prevailing worldview for a generation are fading now, and the current unmet needs of society are things that the present set of myths cannot or will not address, and this will lead to the formation of a new political liberal coalition that will again take power shortly. Exactly when depends on how quickly things go to hell in a handbasket. Carter was seen as the incompetent last president of the democratic, liberal period [as much as we all love him!], and Bush will be seen as the same for this cycle. Which is why I have said that the far right will view him as their Carter - someone "too moral, too Godly" [gag me!] to achieve success in the cesspools of DC. And the folks closer to the middle will view him as Nixon - someone whose personal weaknesses led to the collapse of all he hoped to achieve, a tragic figure a la Greek drama.
But this social transformation, while partly powered by long-term internal intergenerational dynamics of the American people, can be impeded or encouraged by the instiutions you discuss. We need think tanks, we need media outlets, we need their synergistic effects, but - and this is the key point you've raised - we need the consistent worldview that will tie it all together and light a fire in people's hearts to do the things needed to bring about change.
I've asked here and at Big Orange for that discussion, and more often than not been greeted with a resounding silence, for this is a very long-term perspective we're talking, and most folks only can see as far as getting rid of BushCo and the Republican congress. to which I ask - "All right, then what happens?" Getting rid of these folks is only the first step in what is going to be a generational task.
The ideas that will form a part of the next worldview will come from the problems that are not being addressed by those in power today:
* How to deal with global warming?
* How to deal with immigration?
* How to deal with the growing gulf between rich and poor?
* How to provide health care that's better than third-world levels for the uninsured?
* How to deal with the federal deficit?
* How to achieve energy independence?
* How to have social infrastructure in place so another post-Katrina debacle cannot happen again?
* How to protect privacy from both the government and private data miners?
The worldview will have to start from first principles about why the government exists and what it should be empowered to do. Then the actions needed will flow naturally.
But it isn't just the work of think tanks. Unmet needs will percolate from the bottom up and demand attention. In 1955, most folks could have predicted that the Civil Rights struggle was on the horizon, but few would have predicted the environmental movement or the women's rights movement; those kind of rose up and surprised people, but were incorporated into the new worldview and the coalition that took power to effect change.
Today, the left seems a bit surprised by the immigration uprising of 2006. But if we are going to form the most effective, powerful coalition possible, our new worldview will also address the needs of these folks - or we will be working at cross-purposes and our attempts to put the next big political cycle in place will be self-hobbled.
What is the use of a house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on? - Thoreau
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