Still, there are limits to how far the GOP will go. Even President George W. Bush, a Republican from Texas who championed the issue, could not round
up enough votes in his party to get reform passed.
To break through and shift the debate their way, those on the left will have to make an ambitious but principled deal. While we would support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, there’s little evidence that such a plan could pass. Rather than losing momentum and leaving 11 million people in limbo, Democrats should be willing to accept a result in which deportations end for all, citizenship is granted to those who came here as children, and lifetime legalization is guaranteed for adults (with deferred citizenship also possible).
Passing such a plan would not be easy, but it is politically feasible and would dramatically improve the lives of millions of immigrant families.
Energize the climate debate
On climate change, Hurricane Sandy, drought and other unusual weather events seem to have convinced a majority of voters that the problem is real and must be addressed. But how do you turn this public concern into action?
Learn from the failures of the “cap and trade” legislation in the last Congress. Rather than backing a sweeping, economy-wide plan that has little chance of becoming law, advocates should seek more incremental approaches to reducing emissions. That means, for example, embracing America’s newfound reserves of natural gas, which creates 50 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than coal. Rather than fight the gas sector, the left should be encouraging its use as a bridge fuel as we move toward cleaner sources of energy.
Finally, to make the most of this potential tipping-point moment, Democrats must understand the moderate nature of the Obama coalition. Our post-election survey found that the group that reelected the president is not liberal. In fact, his voters are largely centrist, with 42 percent labeling themselves moderate and 14 percent saying they are conservative.
And this centrist coalition clearly believed it was voting for principled compromise between the two parties: When asked whether they wanted to see the parties work together, 80 percent of Obama voters said they strongly support such action on issues like the deficit.
What should all this tell us? That the Democrats finally have a chance to effect change on issues that have been stuck for decades. But they will get there only if Obama’s congressional and interest group allies can see and navigate the political dynamics are they are, not as they might wish them to be.
Matt Bennett and Jon Cowan, co-founders of Third Way, are the group’s a senior vice president and president, respectively.
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