How can one be so glum in this time of potentially historic victory? Because the Left still seems to be losing the branding battle. What is astonishing about this election and these past few years is that "conservative" is still a label of pride in mainstream American politics--and "liberal" remains a pejorative. That this is so remains a testament to the power of Republican marketing and branding.
Consider this: it is certainly not difficult to make the case that a (neo)conservative ideology led to a war in Iraq that was (by the standards of the war's early advocates) a colossal failure and managed to destroy America's standing in the world. This debacle could have banished conservatism to the sidelines of American politics for a generation. But it hasn't.
Consider also that it is not difficult to make the case that conservative principles have not only wrecked the nation's foreign policy, but have also brought the nation's economy to its knees. A de-regulated market preceded a credit crisis and conditions that many are comparing to the Great Depression.
And yet conservatism remains, for the most part, untainted.
Don't believe me? Look at the presidential debate transcripts. Yes, it is true that McCain has run from the Republican party, and has emphasized his past bipartisanship. The "Republican" brand has suffered greatly from the damage to the foreign policy and especially the economy.
But in the debate, McCain could still believe he was scoring political points by calling Obama a "liberal." And Obama defended himself by saying--proudly--that he has worked with Tom Coburn, who Obama bragged was "one of the most conservative Republicans."
In other words, the economy is in ruin and we are bogged down in an endless war (or at least an apparently endless nation-building project), but Obama is up only 7 points--and the "conservative" brand remains popular and amazingly blemish-free.
If Obama wins on Tuesday, I will certainly celebrate. But I'll also be thinking about the remaining battle: a re-branding effort for liberalism so that a destroyed economy and/or a disastrous war are no longer necessary for a Democratic victory in a presidential campaign.