Friday, November 9, 2012

Election 2012

Amazing! That's the only way to describe it - I am excited about and thoroughly pleased by the results of the 2012 election. I have never been happier with the outcome of an election day! I stayed up late nervously waiting for the results of the two Minnesota Amendments, and I was so grateful and so happy to see them defeated. These were meaningful and unqualified victories, and everyone who worked to defeat these amendments should pause to savor the outcome. We earned the right to feel great about what we did.

In the spirit of magnanimity, whether you voted yes or no, I hope that people on both sides of these amendments realize that we actually have a lot of common ground. In the case of the Marriage Amendment, the side that voted no is pro-marriage and pro-child and pro-family too. In the case of the Voter ID Amendment, the side that voted no wants fair and clean and transparent elections too. We are not so different as it may seem.

What about the rest of the election results? Many liberals and other progressives have expressed a high degree of dissatisfaction with President Obama, and rightly so. That dissatisfaction translates into some ambivalence about the whole 2012 election, which I think is a shame. Regardless of how one feels about Obama, this election was so much bigger than the presidential contest, and the election results really could not have been better.

Obama's critics from the left are absolutely correct: he is a centrist. Maddeningly so. President Obama has not been a progressive champion one might have hoped for in a black Democrat, and he did not live up to the expectations I had at the beginning of his first term. I think that as far as presidents go, however, Barack Obama has been the best in my lifetime: he has faced huge challenges, had a great deal of legislative and policy success, and fought against a ferocious personal and political backlash, all while retaining his grace, integrity and good humor. So I think they are wrong to be ambivalent about this election.

Why are people on the left so disappointed with Obama? I think it boils down to two words: drone strikes. In our country, there is a War on Terror/War on Drugs/Security State governing consensus eerily similar to the Cold War Consensus that gripped the two major political parties for fifty years following World War II. In this context, Obama is an ugly continuation of George W. Bush, and in many ways, of every president since Harry Truman. This is a completely valid criticism of him, and Obama's abuse of our national security apparatus should be a lasting stain on his legacy. But Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich notwithstanding, it is really hard to imagine a viable presidential candidate standing up to these outrageous "wars" with any success - unfortunately, that simply is not where we are as a country. I think we are finally starting to wake up to the colossal failure of the war on drugs (go Colorado & Washington!), but there is no sugar-coating it: drone strikes are popular, the war on terror is popular; we are willing to sacrifice the right to privacy upon the altar of national security (not to mention social media, but that's another story).

Unfortunately, Obama isn't pushing back against these immoral policies. He's simply floating with the current of public opinion and the governing consensus. But I say this without hesitation, and I think it's true: John "Bomb Iran" McCain and Mitt "Double Guantanamo" Romney would have been substantively worse in these areas: more belligerence, higher military budgets, more war. A presidential candidate will never gain traction on these issues (and thus will be forever on the margins) until there is a public consensus that the current policies are immoral. That will take a major grassroots movement. Which leaves us to evaluate Obama on foreign policy (as distinct from national security policy) and domestic policy. Judged by these standards, Obama has been okay to pretty good on both, and on the strength of his record in those areas, I think he deserves another term.

Back to why I'm excited: overall, if you are a liberal, if you are a progressive, if you think that actual data and science should guide public policy, and/or if you believe that collectively, we can and should use government to work together to solve problems, I think this particular election could not have gone better. Here in Minnesota, not only did we beat back those awful amendments, we threw out the cynical legislators who put them before us. That was unexpected, and it is huge.

Nationally, Karl Rove poured $300 million of one-percenters money down a black hole - he was completely shut out. That should please everyone who wants to put an end to Citizens United. Elizabeth Warren won. As a senator, she's going to be a great national figure. The rape guys lost. And perhaps most significantly, structurally, the right-lurching GOP is broken. The country will never be whiter or more conservative than it is right now, and the GOP made one last gambit for power using an all-white strategy. It failed pretty spectacularly. This is beautiful and it also is cause for celebration.

I feel like we may have turned a corner with this election, that we may start to develop into a *real* modern democracy like our European and Asian counterparts. Who knows - only time will tell. But have a look at this list of Obama's first-term accomplishments and check out Rachel Maddow's excellent summary of November 6th, 2012 and tell me you still feel totally ambivalent about this election.

One last thought - a quote from Charles Pierce, a writer deeply critical of the relentless war on drugs and of Obama's campaign of drone strikes -
"There is a story that they tell in Georgia politics about the first time that Barack Obama was inaugurated as this most improbable president of the United States. Shortly before the ceremony, they say, he met with John Lewis, the congressman and American hero who was nearly beaten to death on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama as he marched to demand the right simply to vote. The two huddled in the corner and the president-elect wrote something on Lewis's inaugural program. He walked away, and Lewis showed the program to the friends who had come with him.
"Because of you," it said. "Barack Obama."
I get goosebumps reading that. Obama is still paving a trail, and he is aware of the pioneers who came before him. Does anyone think that Romney (or McCain or Bush) has a sense of history like that? The American Empire will have its day of reckoning, maybe sooner than we can prepare for it. In the meantime, if Obama is the best we can do right now, and I think he is, I am content.

Of course, I might just be feeling good because I participated in the two vote no campaigns, and they won. But it feels pretty damn good to be a Minnesotan today, and pretty good to be an American too.

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