Thursday, November 15, 2012

Still kicking

Here's another column by a 20-something-year-old, if a little older than the last one. I thought about including it with that post, but this one brings up some different issues:
I was wrong. Those worries—like so many past worries, from Rick Perry’s cowboy machismo in Iowa to a dispiriting debate in Denver—melted away in the ecstasy and elation with the re-election of President Obama. And yet the joy didn’t feel as euphoric as it did in 2008. It felt colored more by relief, which somehow felt all the more rewarding: If Obama’s election taught us that anything was possible, his re-election was the cement that these things could last. Sure, much of the rapture came from a schadenfreude overdose after fending off Mitt Romney’ efforts to cravenly bullshit his way into power. But I doubt we’ll ever think of that strange and weightless man again. No, the night’s focus was on bold progressivism’s renaissance, not just in the presidential race, but in congressional contests and statewide measures as well. This campaign was a referendum on basic liberal thought, the concept that government should take action to protect the vulnerable—and we won. If we had lost, 2008 would have seemed a fad, an outcome of flukish happenstance later colored by failure, and a warning to anyone who sought to calibrate government as a tool to help others. Tuesday’s lesson for Washington was clear: politicians can take purposeful, courageous strides on our behalf and be rewarded for it. ...

Life is all about those disorienting pauses, those moments that make it clear we’re still figuring things out. Perhaps in that way does the Obama story best mirror the American story: doubt and insufficiency are permanent fixtures, and all we can do is keep working on ourselves. Neither as a nation nor as individuals are we ever finished. There’s no perfect ending, no denouement big enough to solve every mystery. The lesson isn’t to let go of the helplessness, but to assert some control over the process. It would be hubristic to think winning this election puts evil in checkmate, with shambolic forces on Washington offering brand-new opportunities for failure every day. But it’s helpful to recall the difference between the White House’s ruinous strategy during the debt-ceiling crisis last summer and its success a few months later in forcing the GOP to extend a payroll tax cut. In the earlier crisis, Obama fixated on negotiations with congressional leaders practically vibrating with obstinate hostility; in the latter, he left D.C. and sold his ideas directly to us. In the confusing darkness of national politics, Obama will be wise to continue handing out the Maglites to the people.

After all, this is our time. There was a hilarious, thumb-brained Politico analysis before the election that said if Obama won “he will be the popular choice of Hispanics, African-Americans, single women and highly educated urban whites… A broad mandate this is not.” Please. The rural white male hegemony is over. And the fact that young voters incredibly made up a bigger percentage of the electorate in 2012 than in 2008 is proof that we’re just about ready to take things from here. (I’m still going to say “we” even though by the next presidential election, I’ll no longer be in the 18-29 sub-group, which I guess will make me a middle-aged white guy? Jesus Christ, let’s move on.)

There are several things I like about this. First, yes, he's right about the results from Barack Obama winning re-election. If he'd been a one-term president, especially after George W. Bush had made a complete and utter disaster of everything, we'd be right back on that disastrous right-wing path we've been moving down (and "down" is the operative word) for decades.

Romney would have appointed far-right Supreme Court justices who would have extended the disaster for generations. Republicans would have moved forward with voter suppression, with dismantling our social safety net, with denying basic science, and with selling America to the highest bidder. Young people in particular would have become dispirited and, likely, apathetic.

Even if the Republicans regain the presidency in 2016, this won't happen - not all of it, at least. Even eight years would mean that change can happen, be it ever so frustratingly difficult.

Second, he's absolutely right that the battle will never end. There is no 'perfect,' not when it comes to human beings. There's just the best we can do. And we have to fight hard even for that. We have to fight and keep fighting and keep fighting. It will never end, not until we do.

The issues will change. What seems progressive now will likely seem conservative later, but it will always be a struggle. (My favorite example of that is how "don't ask, don't tell" changed from being the moderate, if not exactly liberal, position to the conservative position, in just a few years. Truly, it's remarkable how quickly opinions about gay rights have been evolving.)

Third, he's absolutely right about Barack Obama's failed strategy in his first term. One of the reasons I was so happy with Obama's election in 2008 was that I thought we finally had a "great communicator" in the White House, someone who could use that bully pulpit to express our side of things, the progressive side.

Instead, that truly exceptional campaigner seemed to abandon all of his political mojo once he actually became president (and make no mistake, an effective president has to be a good politician, too). He was so concerned about finding a happy compromise with Republicans - with people who would never be happy with him, no matter what he did - that he became a doormat for them, even adopting their rhetoric about cutting spending and the like.

Now yes, I know, he campaigned on bipartisanship. More than that, he believed in it (still does, I suspect). He really wanted to bring our country together, and that's admirable.

But these days, the right-wing sees compromise as treason. And Barack Obama, as our first black president, is the very personification of their fears about the browning of America. To them, he's "the other." He's "them," not "us." I mean, he can't be a "real" American - just look at him!

And the crazy thing is that America has been largely behind him, not behind his right-wing opponents. That's been the case on the issues (polls clearly show us that) even more than what's been demonstrated in either presidential election. Even Republicans, by and large, tend to agree with the Democrats on the issues. They just don't know it.

Well, I really, really hope he's got the message now, don't you? He needs to come to the American people to get backing for specific proposals, rather than just lying back and waiting for Congress to do something. More than that, he needs to use that great bully pulpit to push those proposals.

For chrissake, Obama, the right-wing is pushing secession rather than compromise with a black man in the White House! Republicans are not going to get along with you, no matter what you do. But they are afraid of continued defeats at the ballot box - nothing matters more to them than that - and they'll bend if they have to. For god's sake, declare an election mandate and use it!

And that brings me to my last point of agreement with that column, the mandate. Yes, this was a mandate. Obama might have lost elderly and rural white people, especially in the South, but he won resoundingly with Asians, Hispanics, and African-Americans, with young people of all races, with women, with highly educated urban voters,... and got the vote of plenty of us older white people, too!

And remember, the future belongs to the young - as it always does. Older Americans, who grew up largely in segregated neighborhoods in far more racist times, are dying off. Younger Americans are taking their place. There will be racists for a long time yet, but fewer and fewer. Just look at the clowns opposing white supremacists in North Carolina. Notice anything?

And you know damn well that Mitt Romney would have declared an election mandate, if he'd won, no matter how close it was. Heck, George W. Bush did so even when he lost the popular vote and took office only because of the backing of Republicans on the Supreme Court.

Well, as I say, Barack Obama really does have a mandate. He won a resounding Electoral College victory, taking every swing state but North Carolina. (And the fact that North Carolina is even considered a swing state should tell you something.) And he won the popular vote by 3.5 million!

So, there it is, young people. This isn't the end, but just the beginning. However, nothing is going to happen automatically, election or no. You're going to have to keep fighting. And you're going to have to keep reminding both sides that your side won and that you expect to see some real results from that.

I don't want to disillusion you, but Republicans will stay in opposition and Democrats will, by and large, remain overly timid. This election was a nice kick in the butt, but you're going to have to keep kicking. That's just the way it is.

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