The general consensus that there has been a significant change in political mood, a shift toward liberalism, seems correct. It is, of course, extremely welcome, offering new possibilities for people of our persuasion; though we should take care to make necessary qualifications as to what liberalism means in present-day America.
1) No single explanation will completely account for the Democratic victory and the defeat of many reactionary candidates. But one formula may help: the image of well-being and assurance that has dominated American society these past ten or fifteen years —an image resulting from conscious fakery on the political summit and somnolent malaise at the base of a mass society—has been shattered. Samuel Lubell has put this accurately:
One finds a deep uneasiness. This uneasiness has a curious quality. It is not fretting over something that already has happened. Mainly, it reflects an anxiety over impending disaster, a sense that as a nation we are beset by problems which are slipping beyond our control.
Things have gone badly in too many ways for some awareness of this fact not to have penetrated the consciousness of millions of people. The past two years have brought repeated shocks in foreign policy, the domestic economy and the apparently sudden rise of complicated new problems: urban development, care of the aged, education. Not merely has the administration failed; it has collapsed. This sense of a country being stranded may explain the tremendous shift in voting.
But there is more to it. I think people are beginning to see that the liberal stance (that is, the stance of thirty years ago) is the very minimum, if even that, for coping with the country’s problems. The moment for a bellicose reactionary foreign policy passed in the late forties; for the preventive warriors it was then or never. As a result, the liberal posture is required simply to gain adequate attention in the world arena.