Election Night, 8:00pm
This article appeared at The Progressive on November 7, 2012.
President Barack Obama’s triumph was, in the first place, one of brilliant organizational execution built on the changing demographics of America. Obama never lost sight of his community organizing lessons, nor the harder ones of Chicago politics. His volunteers, looking at fewer numbers and less enthusiasm, turned themselves into a relentless machine. David Axelrod and David Plouffe kept the focus of resources on the battleground states while the Republicans, torn by a long primary war, were left behind vying for crucial electoral votes. They always predicted a one or two percent victory, and they achieved it.
Obama’s triumph was also one for the rising political bloc of Latinos and their younger generation of Dreamers, who asserted themselves as an indispensable force in coalition politics; a showing of labor's muscle in the Midwest and in turnout drives; a huge breakthrough for the long-isolated LGBT community; for a resurgent feminist community called back into action; and above all, for a unified African-American community absolutely determined to be at their president’s back.
Obama’s triumph demonstrated, too, a popular mandate for a positive vision of government’s role in protecting workers, consumers and the disadvantaged against the storms of an economy controlled by the One Percent, as embodied in the election of Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts. The decision to attack Romney on Bain Capital and Wall Street issues was a conscious choice by the Obama team to go populist – against the counsel of such key Democrats as Bill Clinton, Cory Booker and numerous others. It was made possible in part by the invisible legacy of the Occupy movement.
Less clearly – but still compellingly – the outcome was a mandate to continue advancing toward a green economy. The political aftershock of the super-storm is only beginning to be felt, but it must lead to Green Keynesianism.
The causes of marriage equality and marijuana legalization have advanced through popular initiatives.
Sadly, many angry white radical critics of Obama may have isolated themselves even further from this enthusiastic popular upsurge. Reading their intense blogging and listening to their rage on Pacifica, one almost had the sense that they there were disappointed in Obama’s success. A quick survey indicates that third party candidates failed to make any difference whatsoever in the elections in battleground states.
I, personally, would rather be the modest left wing of that Joyous Obama Mob we saw on election night than a bitter, isolated white radical packing up my third-party literature. The danger in their greater marginality is rather than leading to lessons, it will descend into a viral howl of self-righteousness.
If these white radicals (and even some liberals) can come to understand that their wounds are self-inflicted, not the fault of Obama supporters, they may yet gain the sensibility of effective community organizers. An organized, popular, effective and radical presence is needed within mainstream civic society. The more pragmatic progressives entirely devoted to Obama will be hard-pressed to become autonomous from the president – on key issues or strategies – in the wake of their exhausting and emotional campaign. But crunch time is at hand for the AFL-CIO, the NAACP and the liberal coalition as the “fiscal cliff” approaches.
How will Obama balance his progressive electoral mandate in negotiations with the Republicans, which begin almost immediately? Who will take up the battle against Citizens United, or forcefully point out the connection between the super-storm and the full-scale arrival of global warming? Can Occupy Wall Street recover from their apparent disdain for any strategies involving concrete demands, electoral politics and pressure? Is there anyone within the political establishment – Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, Bernie Sanders, the Congressional Progressive Caucus – able to forge an inside-outside alliance with the activists party of the streets? It is not even certain what issues MSNBC choose to take up, and how their agenda will be decided.
On foreign policy, the crisis over Iran intensifies almost daily. Obama has few options unless there is an overwhelming popular opposition to the nearing war. American troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, but their path is a rocky and ragged one. The drone wars drone on. Latin America remains devastated by the Drug War, NAFTA-style economics, and toxic political residues of the Cold War. There are few in Congress to take up these burning issues, much less frame them as a coherent whole. But in addition to domestic economic progress, diplomatic, political and economic solutions are needed more than ever due to the crises of the Long War, drone and cyber-warfare, and the violence of the Middle East and Arab Spring. It is all related, while progressives are not.
For more details, please see also by Tom Hayden, “Obama’s Legacy Is Our Leverage.”