I'm generally sensing a positive shift in the zeitgeist. There are three movies out this year about the Beat Generation, one of those clusters of hindsight or nostalgia that can catch impressionable minds. That's a good thing in my book — phalocentric as they may have been, the original hipsters (angel-headed) still have a thing or six to teach young minds about freedom. Not sure what the corresponding equivalent would be lending itself to the liberation of young women, but hopefully it too is on the rise.
Also, there's the Obama inauguration, and somewhat more importantly the fact that his administration successfully won a couple negotiations, which I admit was a surprise. It appears that the slow roll of generational demographics that underpinned his electoral victory may coalesce into some kind of new national consensus. It's still a long shot, and I think anyone putting much hope or trust in this administration from the Left is likely to be disappointed, but at the same time it's hard not to notice momentum.
The "Big Mo" is there culturally, no doubt about it. I think we're going to look back at 2004 as a kind of last hurrah for the hugely successful cultural politics that a generation of conservative activists executed in reaction to civil rights, feminism, Lyndon Johnson and hippies. Call it the Buckley brigade. They were able to push a not-very-popular GW Bush over the top with patriotic rhetoric and an intelligent strategy of linking "traditional marriage" constitutional amendments to drive base turnout.
Just eight years later the pendulum is swinging back the other way: black president, marriage equality, decriminalizing marijuana, etc. The same talking heads and activists are still around, but they're getting old and less relevant, and they can't call Ohio correctly.
Whether or not this adds up to anything other than the ballot box catching up to the cable box is an open question. If all we were concerned with was the right to live our lifestyle(s) free of persecution, we'd be in great shape. However, to the extent that we look at the rest of the century and see a future hanging in the balance there's a lot of work to do.
See, the governing elite are more or less ok (personally) with social liberalization. It may hurt the right's organizing initiatives, but the smart ones on that side know demography means they need a reboot anyway. There will be a lot of re-branding going on over the next few years, but the game goes on. Overall the "center" agenda on financial, industrial and military policy has yet to show any major signs of shifting.
Will our working governing consensus — cuts to social security a high priority; global climate change, low/no priority — be moved? The fact that progressive taxation got some validation is a good sign, but if there's a pendulum-like action that's similar to the cultural swing, it's significantly further behind and probably slower. These issues are ultimately a lot less sexy and far more entrenched, well-defended.
Still, Zeitgeist is a real thing. Culture defines the realm of the possible. Hopefully good possibilites are opening up.