The moderate beat the reactionary. Two cheers!
Americans stood up for their values. Three cheers!
Many Americans sighed with relief the day after the 2012 election that they had beaten back a powerful right-wing assault. There was little enthusiasm about what we had achieved in retaining Obama, but much joy that for the moment the most reactionary forces in American life were held at bay. Liberals and progressives are happy, but not elated, at the outcome.
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Obama voters are now trying to get themselves ready for the variety of ways that Obama will once again disappoint us. Our re-elected president is poised to embrace some variant of an austerity program (sometimes called Simpson/Bowles) with large-scale cutbacks to social programs for the poor and middle classes and a narrowing of who can receive Social Security benefits and at what age, all done in the name of an invented fiscal emergency or debt crisis which are only real to the extent that one’s highest priority is paying off the bankers and large investors.
Obama will do nothing to provide mortgage relief for those still suffering from the irresponsible behavior of banks and loan companies. He will talk cap and trade for an environment that can only be effectively protected by a serious tax on carbon emissions and by aggressive restraints on the oil, gas and coal companies that are at the forefront of environmental destruction. He will continue his assault on whistleblowers, allow his Justice Department to harass medical marijuana providers even in states where the voters legalized it, continue his drone attacks with their murderous impact on civilians, and allow Monsanto and other large corporations to shape his agricultural policies. And he is unlikely to seriously restrain Netanyahu’s desire for a war with Iran that might eventually drag in our troops, and he almost certainly will not publicly demand that Israel end the occupation of the West Bank. He will compromise before fighting for liberal or progressives program and will avoid challenging the dominant worship of the marketplace that has become the mantra of all Republicans and the right wing of the Democratic Party. His conception of educational reform as measured by test score outcomes will continue to frustrate teachers and students alike, and it will be justified in terms of Obama’s goal for the United States to continue to dominate the global economy (rather than calling for global cooperation in which our success is linked to the well-being of everyone on the planet and on the well-being of the planet itself, rather than just on making the United States number one in its economic, political, military and media powers over others).
Because the expectation level is low, this time his supporters will not be disillusioned, but neither will they be mobilized. Despite the rhetoric of “democratic involvement” that he preaches during election seasons, there is little reason to believe he will actually set up mechanisms to get serious feedback from those who stretched themselves to ensure his re-election.
Yet liberals and progressives do have something to celebrate. The vast majority of Americans still yearn for a world based on generosity, caring for each other, caring for the environment, respecting difference (racial, gender, sexual orientation) and eliminating poverty and war. Though the Democratic Party and the re-elected president will provide few avenues to advance this kind of an agenda, Americans used the only available mechanism they had for publicly reaffirming this commitment.
And don’t count out the ongoing impact of big money on our politics and election outcomes.
The task for genuine liberals and progressives is to affirm this yearning for better world and to not let it get co-opted into narrowly focused struggles between Congressional Democrats and Republicans, when what Americans want is a much more visionary voice that can affirm their own highest values. Aside from affirming identity politics and respect for difference, that voice will not come from President Obama or Congressional Dems.
Liberals and progressives must recognize that their constituencies have essentially been frozen out of the policymaking institutions controlled by Obama moderates, and that they will not be heard or taken seriously until they articulate a coherent and unified alternative vision, what we at the Network of Spiritual Progressives call our basic value: seeking to create The Caring Society – “caring for each other and caring for the earth.” The most important contribution the left could make to American society in the next four years is to popularize that idea and unite around it, showing how every specific program idea we have is a manifestation of this larger vision. It is this shared vision which would make an otherwise fractured left appear to be a coherent force, and it might prepare us to mount a significant campaign both inside and outside the Democratic Party in 2016 – a campaign to challenge the globalization of selfishness and materialism that is the real content of what the Obama Democrats and their ideological allies in the Republican Party are likely to deliver in the next four years.
We have one overwhelming advantage: most people want a society based on love, caring, generosity and solidarity, if only they thought it possible. Our task is to use concrete struggles as a foundation for articulating that vision.
1. Money Out of Politics. Go way beyond overturning Citizens United and back the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment (ESRA) to the US Constitution, which would require public funding of state and federal elections and bar money from any other (private or corporate) source, require free and equal media time for all major candidates, and require large corporations every five years to prove to a jury of ordinary citizens that they have been pursuing environmentally and socially responsible policies or else risk losing their corporate charter and permission to function. This would be a very popular position, because even though the huge amounts of money spent by the Republicans didn’t guarantee them electoral victory, it was only because of equally large amounts of money spent by the Democrats, and the sources for some of that money are the corporate and financial interests who will expect (and receive) real consideration from policy shapers to protect their interests. It is the power of that money and its shaping of the media discourse that helps marginalize spiritual progressive ideas like building a world based on love, generosity, social justice, peace and environmental sanity. The absence of that money for progressive voices is a major part of why more decent and principled people don’t enter into politics in the first place. So, don’t let anyone tell you that the 2012 election proved that money wasn’t important – it was often central to shaping the choices we’d have when we voted.
Similarly, though the media is telling us that the Republicans now need to rethink their racist and sexist attitudes, and I hope they do, don’t believe for a moment that the Republicans are in crisis about their loss. The amazing thing about big money is that it has enabled a tiny minority of wealthy people to get access, through media, to anywhere between 40 and 50 percent of the voting population and sell them a distorted picture of the world in which the real alienation most people in this society feel gets blamed upon the poor, the powerless, the immigrants, the homosexuals, the feminists, the liberals or progressives, or even the Democrats. It’s an amazing accomplishment for the 1% to still be able to get 40-50 percent of the American voting public to vote for policies that are contrary to the needs of the majority of Republicans, but instead serve the needs and interests of the 1%. And simultaneously, that money helps to push spiritually progressive ideas (check out the Network of Spiritual Progressives’ Spiritual Covenant With America) and secular progressive ideas totally out of the realm of what is considered respectable discourse.
Getting money out of politics is a first priority – and the ESRA is the only effective way to do it. Check it out online.
2. Homeland Security Through Generosity, not through military, economic, or media domination of the world. Concretely: a domestic and global Marshall Plan to once and for all eliminate domestic and global poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education and inadequate health care both in the United States and around the world.
3. A new New Deal to protect the middle class, provide a living wage for all, extend Medicare for all and aggressively protect the environment.
Taken together, those three foci give teeth to what The Caring Society would be like. Obama and his cheerleaders are as likely to be obstacles as they are allies in taking the steps needed in that direction. Yet we can still be happy that we don’t have to spend the next four years arguing against those who would have used a Romney victory as proof that Americans care only about themselves and little about the well-being of others on this planet! Let’s build on the goodness and decency of the American public that came into fuller view this past Tuesday at the polls.