There is a new breeze blowing through Washington this week. Yes it has hit 70 degrees outside. Spring is in the air, and it has lightened everyone's step a bit. But the real change is what is happening in the governing party and in the Capitol. The people's business is starting to get done.
It has been a remarkable few weeks here in DC. A payroll tax cut for small businesses to help provide a modest boost to the economy was signed into law, passing the Senate with 11 Republican votes. A serious bipartisan immigration reform plan outline was advanced. The final financial regulatory reform package is taking shape. The President offered up a thoughtful vision on how to improve the nation's education system, and is about to pass a major overall and expansion of the college student loan program. Competitive - and what we all hope were fair - elections were conducted in Iraq. And of course, the big one - modernizing and improving our health care system - is close to passage.
After a fitful first year, the Democrats are learning, however clumsily, to become the governing party. None of the three Democratic leaders - Obama, Reid, Pelosi - have ever been in their position when the Democratic Party was in such a strong position with the public, or had so much power in Washington. Democrats have more seats in Congress and received a higher vote share in 2008 than in any time since the 1960s. Barack Obama was not yet age ten the last time Democrats were in a similar position in DC, and frankly, the years of conservative ascendancy, which kept the Democrats on the defensive and largely out of power, left an entire generation of politicians more used to challenging the power of others than wielding it themselves. And it has shown over the past 14 months.
This new day for Democrats - huge Congressional majorities, a country tempered by failed conservative policies, a significant Party ID advantage, and a powerful and growing majority coalition - is unlike any time we've seen in Washington in at least 40, if not 70 years. The Democrats have clearly needed time to learn how to be a governing party, to align their interests, manage complex legislation, bring along a lot of new staff, Senators, Members of the House, and a young President into a coherent team. It has been a bumpy process - no big surprise - but there are signs this week that this new 21st century Democratic Party is finding its way, learning how to manage the new circumstances, do what is required to move the nation forward. It is learning how, after the end of the conservative ascendancy, to become a governing party.
In 2007, Peter Leyden and I wrote an article called The 50 Year Strategy, which argued that the failure of conservative politics and the emergence of a "new politics" of the 21st century offered the chance for the progressive movement to build a new and durable progressive era, and usher in a re-alignment in American politics. I still believe, deeply, that this opportunity is very much present today. With strong leadership and the courage to tackle the nation's most important problems, it is still very much within the center-left's grasp. And in many ways this question - could the Democrats seize the historic opportunity they had to realign politics, and usher in a new era of reform and progress? - has been, and remains the single most important question in American politics today. This morning, the chances of the Democrats seizing the moment - and the conservatives continuing to make equally historic political miscalculations - seems ever more possible.
Steven Pearlstein has a nice reflection on all this in the Washington Post this morning.
It may not be morning in America just yet, but today it certainly feels a lot more like spring - a time of hope and of possibility - for Washington and for the 21st century center-left.
Cross-posted at NDN. See our recent report on the changing coalitions of the two political parties to learn more about the current state of the Democratic Party's emerging majority coalition.