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George W. Bush and his adviser Karl Rove have proved remarkably shrewd in their reading of modern U.S. history. Many others misjudged the direction of the country and its essential nature. The liberal left in particular has paid a price for that mistake. The fact is, long-term political majorities can be assembled by locating and amplifying cultural trends. The classic example was F.D.R., who crafted a 30-year-plus stable majority in the Democratic Party by recognizing that the large immigrant communities that had arrived the generation before the Great Depression were ready to become politically mobilized. In embracing those constituencies, the Democratic Party built itself a durable long-term majority.
These days, similarly, one of the most significant cultural shifts in America is the growing Hispanic presence. Many assumed this constituency would be solidly Democratic. However, thanks in part to Bush's emphasis on traditional and particularly religious values, the Latino vote is coming into the Republican fold in surprising quantities. Bush had a decent record with the Latino community in Texas, but that had been dismissed as an anomaly--until this past election, in which he won an impressive 40% of the Latino vote. Evangelical Christians are another potent new political force. Many liberals dismissed evangelicals as the "Booboisie" and underestimated their size and power. Bush deserves credit, not for pandering to them but for honoring the authenticity of their beliefs--and recognizing their electoral weight.
A Missed Moment On Gay Rights
The history of Liberalism is a gradual evolution in which first women's rights and then the rights of blacks and now of gays have made claims on the values of the nation's founders. The role of the Republicans has been to resist each of those reforms. Fifty years from now, I suspect that Bush's position on gay rights--in particular his opposition to gay marriage--will look as misguided as opposition to civil rights in the 1960s looks today.
That said, Bush does accurately reflect the core beliefs of the majority of the public. Most Americans are socially conservative, and many oppose abortion and gun control in addition to gay marriage, and Bush's positions reflect that. Indeed, one characteristic of a real democracy is that the leader can't get too far ahead of public opinion. F.D.R. and Bill Clinton understood that. The U.S. is now culturally divided, and Bush has identified himself with the segment of the populace that is resistant to change. I think it's sincere on his part, but in the end, Presidents who have resisted the expansion of rights have not looked good in the history books. --Interviews conducted by Massimo Calabresi