Here is a fascinating post over at Mother Jones:
Is Barack Obama exaggerating when he compares his campaign to the great progressive moments in US history? We asked two dozen writers, thinkers, and historians to answer that question; read their responses below.
I think the most interesting thing about the answers is the degree to which just about everyone sounds ambivalent or confused. It's a very odd array of answers from people who are immersed in politics and history and who should be able to rattle off a compelling rationale for the candidate without any problem, even if they disagree with the notion that it's a movement on par with civil rights or the labor movement. I think all of the people queried want Obama to win, but virtually none of them seem to be sure what he's going to do.
This convinces me that the central problem for the campaign is that nobody knows what Obama stands for. It's a perennial problem for Democrats, but I think it may be an even bigger problem this time. The hope and change theme was galvanizing in the beginning but it isn't enough to sustain full campaign. What was once inspiring has become a fog.
As for whether the campaign is comparable to other great movements in American history, it is obvious to me that it is not. That's not to say a progressive movement doesn't exist, but the Obama campaign is a slightly unorthodox political campaign (more orthodox by the day) with an historic candidate, which isn't the same thing. They may merge at some point, depending on how Obama chooses to govern, but at this point, I think the 21st century progressive movement (such as it is) will work outside the administration and on the edges of the Democratic party for some time. The institutional torpor of the party and the internalization of the belief that conservatism is a default setting of the American political soul means that it's going to take more time than I had hoped. If the professionals can't make a strong and creative case for progressive rule after the spectacular Republican meltdown during the Bush years, then it's clear they have a long way to go.
Any Democrat would be at least marginally better than John McCain and Republican hegemony so I'm not particularly moved by the question of whether we are being led by a savior or a disappointment at this point. I just want to ensure that we don't have another psycho running things. I am interested in whether this nascent progressive movement can actually coalesce into something meaningful by gathering enough political power and cultural heft to actually do something. At this point I have no earthly idea if that will happen but I'm fascinated by the prospect.