America’s political consensus is almost absurdly to the right. But because people still need to run to the left of each other, the rhetoric on offer frequently sounds like the rhetoric of the left, even as its actual prescriptions are decidedly within the mainstream of our fairly conservative consensus on economics.
Very true. And, as Klein points out further down, one of the strange consequences of this is that, based purely on policy, Sarkozy is to the left of Edwards. Their trajectories are much different, yet even if both were able to implement all their most radical policy prescriptions (that they have advocated so far), we would not see an America more left than France.
However, rhetoric is important by itself. Successful leftist rhetoric helps make more radical positions respectable and safe. And this helps policy change along, because in our system change is preceded by politicians and movements advocating for it.
This is why I support Edwards right now, foibles and all. I doubt he will be able to enact more progressive policies than Obama, as they both will operate with the same congress. But if we want a more leftist government, then it’s important to make running left/progressive/populist a successful strategy. Candidates are stand-ins for ideology, and both win or lose together.
A popular/successful Edwards presidency creates space for more progressive congressional candidates and makes the centrist schtick unappealing in ways that the candidates with less inflammatory rhetoric do not. Even if we’re getting somone to the right of Sarkozy no matter what.