03/25/2008 10:39 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

"Obama's Test" or Ours?

One of the more enduring myths in Washington is that Americans live their lives on a left-right ideological spectrum. We are all little liberals or little conservatives. Thus, the New York Times ponders how the "liberal" Barack Obama can fashion a governing coalition when conventional wisdom continues to convince us that the political center of gravity in America is right of center and only Clintonian "centrism" offers the Democrats a shot at governing. And, if you spend your adult life in Washington (which some of us choose not to do), you fall into the static mindset.

But what if most Americans, unlike perpetual Washington insiders, are neither liberal nor conservative? What if, instead, we live our lives on a future-past continuum? Students of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and others know that those who deal only in ideology can still make this work: the Democratic party (at its best) is the progressive party, the party of the future, and the Republican party is the party that wishes to hold onto the past. When the Democratic party is truly the party of the future, for change, for experimentation, for adaptation, we win. When we "triangulate," we may create enough confusion to get ourselves elected, but we have no mandate to govern and we sacrifice our identity.

The best Democratic leaders, those who succeed as national leaders, are those who define the future and show us how to get there. It shouldn't surprise anyone that those rare leaders, like Barack Obama, also have a "liberal" voting record, especially when, as Senator Obama accurately points out, right-wing ideologues make sure the voting deck is stacked to reflect the old divisive agenda they've perfected. But, as he also points out, "as president, I would be setting the agenda."

Contrary to the New York Times story, this election is not a left-right election. This is a future-past election and that is why I, a veteran of such politics, strongly believe the candidate of the future, who understands the dramatic changes now at work in the world and who is bold enough to propose innovative ways of dealing with them in the nation's interest, is Barack Obama. Besides, when he is elected, perhaps we will have journalism that understands the difference.