A strange period has now passed into history. Captivated by a presidential campaign in 2008, Americans by the millions came to believe that a new leader would be able to produce more than a transformed society and an era of world peace. Politics could be extended beyond its ordinary boundaries and bring about a spiritual renewal. This exhilarating prospect fed on its own spiraling expectations, surprising even its original purveyors.
Faith in this political religion eventually dissipated. Four years into the experience, many ceased to believe. Today most have forgotten. Politics has retreated to its more usual limits, focusing on the harder core of ideology.
Modern progressivism has driven much of American politics for the past seven years. It now fully owns the Democratic party. President Obama failed to achieve the general electoral realignment that many anticipated after 2008, but he succeeded in creating an ideological realignment within his own party. The result was attained by subtraction. Advocates of rival positions - New Democrats, "blue dogs," pro-lifers - were either sacrificed or induced to sacrifice themselves. The Democratic party is now divided between a progressive wing and a more progressive wing, one that openly wears the label of socialist.
Modern progressivism is a combination of three components: theories inherited from the original progressives of the early 20th century; ideas introduced since the 1960s by the intellectual movements of the left (the New Left, multiculturalism, postmodernism); and the practices and patterns of behavior that have resulted from progressivism's central role in shaping American politics and culture.