It is always dangerous to generalize about ideological trends among the American electorate, since it will always lean right on certain issues (like defense, terrorism and taxes) and hew to the left on others (like healthcare, education, poverty and the environment). But the data are becoming overwhelming that the nation is moving left and is likely to stay that way through at least the 2006 election and, if President Bush doesn't adjust, for a lot longer.
The evidence is clear: The generic party ballot for Congress, for example, has now swollen to a 13-point Democratic edge while Bush's job approval hangs in the 40s and his advisers are relieved that it is no longer a lot lower.
Why the leftward move?
A big part of the reason is the success the Bush administration has had in solving and hence diminishing the importance of the Republican agenda. Taxes have been cut, we have not had a terror attack since Sept. 11 and trial lawyers are on the defensive. The issues that remain energy, environment, healthcare and Social Security usually are Democratic and liberal.
The drip-drip-drip of Iraqi casualties isn't helping Bush any, and Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has done more to hurt the GOP than any Democrat has, but the fundamental reason for the liberal drift is the salience of issues normally identified with the left. To reverse the situation, therefore, Bush has three options:
Fight the Democrats on issues that are already in play but have a Republican skew.
Raise new issues that have a built-in skew right and a Republican orientation.
Recast Republican positions on Democratic issues that are already in play to make them work for the GOP.
The Democrats are helping Bush mightily by their vitriolic response to reports of National Security Agency wiretapping and their opposition to the Patriot Act renewal. Since we have not had a terror attack in four and a half years, the homeland-security issue, the mother of all Republican issues, would seem likely to fade into the background. But by beating Bush over the head for his efforts to keep America safe, the liberals are helping Bush, raising the salience of one of his core issues. In his State of the Union speech, Bush should spend considerable time taking them to task on these grounds, since it will help him enormously.
Two new solid Republican issues are begging for attention from the White House: immigration and drugs.
The administration's guest-worker program is a good step in the right direction to appease Hispanic voters, but it must be accompanied by some red meat for the base the border fence passed by the House. The fence without guest-worker rights will alienate the fastest growing bloc of voters, the Latinos. The guest workers without the fence will do nothing to move voters toward the GOP.
As the victory of Eva Morales in Bolivia makes clear, cocaine is concomitant of oil in fueling terrorism in the Western Hemisphere. The narcoterrorists use our dependence on black oil and white cocaine to power their anti-American work and terrorist activities. Soon their terror will spread to our shores. Already the cocaine infects our young.
Bush should urge drug testing, with parental consent, in schools in his State of the Union address and put drugs back in play as a domestic issue. Crime is down, but drug use is still a vital Republican issue. Put it back on the agenda.
Finally, the Republican Party had better consign itself to defeat in the next two elections unless it does more to elaborate an energy/environmental policy. It must go beyond nuclear power and Alaska drilling in policies to achieve more energy independence.
Terrorism and pump prices have made this issue the dominant one in our political matrix. Bush needs to make hydrogen and hybrid cars a key part of his program and needs to challenge America to switch and end our dependence on imported oil.
On the environment, Americans have already decided that global warming is causing weather aberrations like the hurricane activity this summer. The administration can no longer keep its head in the sand on this issue. More than any other subject, this area of Bush blindness is making America Democratic.
Bush has to decide if he is willing to preside over the diminution of the Republican Party so that the nation embraces Democrats for the ensuing eight years, just as his father did. Those are the stakes.