Americans are increasingly eager to break away from the Republican agenda of less government, reduced oversight of business, and tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations, as voters return to a more Democratic approach of using government to improve everyday people's lives, says David Axelrod, chief strategist for Barack Obama.
"This Republican project has exhausted itself," Axelrod told U.S. News in a telephone interview Wednesday. He argued, "We are at the end of a historical epoch that started with Ronald Reagan's election in 1980." Now, he added, the political pendulum is swinging away from the conservative, antigovernment, deregulation philosophy that Reagan ushered in, with Bill Clinton's two-term presidency representing an "interregnum" in an otherwise Republican era of White House mastery.
Axelrod says the final three and a half weeks of the campaign will probably continue to be very negative as GOP presidential candidate John McCain slips in the polls and attacks Obama's character and judgment at every turn. "It's not a situation where we can simply glide into victory," he says, "but the tide of history is on our side."
"We are prepared to fight every day and expect to fight every day until November 4," he says, adding that "John McCain has a losing hand, a losing argument" because he has been a "faithful adherent" to Bush's unpopular economic and foreign policies for the past eight years.
"They are going to Plan B, trying to create a sense of high anxiety about Obama," attempting to bill him as a scary, unpatriotic, dangerous person—and a risky choice as commander in chief, Axelrod says. But he argues that Americans have gradually gotten to know the Illinois senator, who has been running for president for nearly two years, written two autobiographical books, given many interviews, participated in numerous debates, and made countless speeches. "It's much harder to draw a caricature of someone who's been such a visible presence," Axelrod says.
In the past, the GOP's successful attacks on Democratic nominees have come very late in the campaign against candidates who were not well known nationally, such as Michael Dukakis in 1988 and John Kerry in 2004. But because voters have been evaluating Obama for such a long time, "the last thing he looks like is a dangerous radical or a frightening figure," Axelrod says, adding that, as a result, most Americans are becoming comfortable with the Democratic nominee in the role of president.
From the start, Axelrod says, the Obama campaign has waged a campaign based on the need for change, which he says is resonating more than ever with voters. Recent polls find that only about 9 percent of Americans believe the country is headed in the right direction.