by Deepak Bhargava
October 2, 2012
This article appeared in the October 22, 2012 edition of The Nation.
Much—perhaps too much—has been said about the president and the shortcomings and accomplishments of his administration over the past four years. The record is more mixed than either his cheerleaders or fiercest critics would like to admit.
On the positive side, under this administration we achieved healthcare reform that will provide coverage to 35 million uninsured people; a Recovery Act that represents the largest expansion of anti-poverty programs in more than forty years; financial reform; student loan reform; the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; landmark executive action to protect more than 1 million immigrant youths from deportation; and an end to the war in Iraq.
On the downside, there were the failures to hold Wall Street accountable for crashing the economy; to do right by millions of homeowners facing foreclosure; to reverse the erosion of civil liberties in the “war on terror”; to halt an alarming increase in deportations; and to take bold action on climate change. Perhaps greatest of all was the failure to convey a compelling alternative to market fundamentalism—an ideology that, notwithstanding its disastrous track record, continues to dominate policy-making and the public dialogue at all levels.
Progressives may evaluate the success of Obama’s first term differently depending on how much weight they assign to each of these issues. But however we judge the past four years, it is crucial that we lean into this election without ambivalence, knowing that while an Obama victory will not solve all or even most of our problems, defeat will be catastrophic for the progressive agenda and movement.
We confront a conservative movement that is apocalyptic in its worldview and revolutionary in its aspirations. It is not an exaggeration to say that this movement wants to roll back the great progressive gains of the twentieth century—from voting rights to women’s rights, from basic regulations on corporate behavior to progressive taxation, from the great pillars of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to the basic rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively. After the emergence of the Tea Party, the 2010 elections, the extreme Paul Ryan budget proposal and the 2011 state legislative sessions (which featured voter suppression, nativism, attacks on reproductive rights and vicious anti-unionism), there can be no doubting the seriousness or the ferocity of our opponents. It is also important to note the deep racialized underpinnings of this movement, which seeks to entrench the power of an older, wealthier white constituency and prevent an emerging majority of color from finding its voice. The battles over the role and size of government, taxes, the safety net, immigration and voter suppression have become proxies for this underlying demographic tension. Should Obama lose this election, we can expect a ruthless effort to dismantle the social contract—including efforts to use state power to decimate sources of resistance by further restricting the franchise, destroying unions and attacking any remaining centers of power for communities of color and workers. All of this was clear even before, in a leaked video, Mitt Romney made plain his contempt for nearly half of the American people.
Immediately after the election, we will face one of the most important social policy debates of our generation. Before the end of this year, President Obama and Congress must confront the so-called fiscal cliff—the deep automatic cuts in defense and domestic spending that have been mandated by the last debt deal unless a new budget framework can be reached. This discussion of mounting debts and deficits will take place as the Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire, setting the stage for a clash of ideologies from which the victor will enjoy the spoils for years to come. Winning the elections does not guarantee a progressive outcome to this debate—far from it—but losing certainly means that the dark politics of austerity will dominate the country, resulting in misery on a scale we can’t now imagine.
So the elections—not just for the presidency but for Congress and statehouses across the country—are job one. But we know winning those elections is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a revival of progressive politics. What’s next? In the period following the election, progressives must remain engaged and mobilized. Given the looming fiscal debate, we need to step up with an alternative to austerity that emphasizes three points:
§ We face a jobs crisis. Creating millions of new jobs—by investing in infrastructure, the green economy, care jobs and, yes, the public sector—is not just a matter of reducing human suffering; it is essential to laying the foundation for long-term fiscal stability and shared prosperity. As progressives, we cannot buy into the “deficit first” frame. There is no winning if we do not begin to redefine the problem and break the elite consensus.
§ We need to protect and strengthen Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other critical programs, particularly those serving the most vulnerable people. It has become conventional wisdom that we must “reform” entitlements—which is code for reducing benefits and raising the retirement age, since “we” are all living longer anyway, aren’t we? This is nonsense. As Paul Krugman has put it: “the people who really depend on Social Security, those in the bottom half of the distribution, aren’t living much longer. So you’re going to tell janitors to work until they’re 70 because lawyers are living longer than ever.” Simple measures such as lifting the cap on the payroll tax threshold would guarantee solvency for Social Security for more than seventy-five years and allow us to finance more generous benefits for low-income beneficiaries.
§ To invest in job creation and preserve our social contract, we need to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.
This agenda is not in the mainstream of the Beltway discussion. But we won’t break the austerity consensus without, well, breaking from it! We must shift the frame of the debate to the left without fear or apology.
One great lesson of Obama’s first term was that we made progress when we pushed, and we stalled out when we waited and watched. The LGBT and immigrant rights movements challenged both Republicans and Democrats and achieved significant policy wins. Healthcare reform would never have made it over the finish line without relentless pressure from the grassroots on moderate Democrats. Only robust campaigns operating independently of both parties have a chance at putting jobs, foreclosures, immigration reform and climate change on the agenda.
This is especially urgent in the case of racial justice. The real unemployment rate for African-Americans is now above 22 percent, including part-time workers who want full-time jobs and those who gave up looking altogether. That’s nearly twice the rate that white workers face, and it amounts to a catastrophic depression in cities like Cleveland, Detroit and Buffalo. People of color have seen a generation of progress in building wealth wiped out by the recession. Median white wealth is now nearly $100,000, compared with under $5,000 for blacks and Latinos. Whatever the real or perceived constraints on the president’s ability to engage the confluence of race, poverty and economics, those constraints do not apply to us.
It is also critical that we push for an agenda to strengthen democracy in 2013 to combat the growing power of organized money. Measures to strengthen unions, expand the franchise and provide a path to citizenship for immigrants are not just good public policies; they also empower working people. The right used its takeover of state governments to shrink democracy, as in Wisconsin, which passed harsh anti-union and voter suppression laws. If and when we have a chance to use power to expand democracy, whether through immigration reform or executive actions to strengthen unions or enforce voting rights, we must do so—not just because these measures are important in themselves but because they are levers that can push the other changes we seek.
If 2008 was a time for the audacity of hope, the years ahead are a time for sobriety, determination, patience and resilience. The problems we face are deep enough that there will be no quick fix. The most important question for progressives is how to build a movement for economic justice—a people’s movement that can topple the elite austerity consensus and overcome the massive money and energized conservative movement on the other side. The real crises facing the country are barely being discussed inside the Beltway, and rarely are the solutions proposed commensurate with the problems at hand: more than 106 million people—one in three Americans—are facing material hardship (defined as living under 200 percent of the poverty line); 20 million are living in extreme poverty; 12.5 million are officially unemployed; and wages and working conditions are in decline for a majority of Americans. The new framework for shared prosperity developed by Jacob Hacker and Nate Loewentheil, endorsed by a broad swath of labor, community and civil rights groups, spells out an alternative to austerity with the capacity to address these crises—but only an organized constituency can give such ideas life.
Part of the task before us is to build a deep alliance of movement forces—labor, community, women, faith, civil rights, immigrants and others—behind a broad social vision. No part of the movement has the resources or strategic capacity to solve its problems by itself. The other part of the task is to reach out to Americans who do not already agree with us, or who perhaps haven’t heard from us. An insular left that deludes itself into thinking we are stronger than we are, that talks mainly to itself and is not constantly creating new on-ramps to participation, will fail dismally to meet the challenges of this historic moment.
This recruitment challenge presents some hurdles for progressives. Most Americans hold complicated and sometimes contradictory views about the economy, but there has been a turn away from public solutions and toward private ones. As Ronald Brownstein observed in National Journal earlier this year: “One theme consistently winding through the polls is the emergence of what could be called a ‘reluctant self-reliance,’ as Americans look increasingly to reconstruct economic security from their own efforts, in part because they don’t trust outside institutions to provide it for them. The surveys suggest that the battered economy has crystallized a gestating crisis of confidence in virtually all of the nation’s public and private leadership class—from elected officials to the captains of business and labor. Taken together, the results render a stark judgment: At a time when they believe they are navigating much more turbulent economic waters than earlier generations, most Americans feel they are paddling alone.”
Those changes in perspective, together with the attack on and decline of unions—where habits of community, reciprocity and collective action have historically been nourished—mean that we face a very steep climb in making the case for public, collective action. We will have to experiment with new ways of building power and giving voice to working people. Such experiments are, in fact, already under way in diverse settings around the country. What they have in common is reconstructing the role of paid organizers, putting volunteers front and center, aligning people behind deeply meaningful visions instead of short-term issue transactions, and combining deep education and relationship building with creative action. There is nothing new about any of these methods—they have powered all the great movements that have changed America—but we must recommit ourselves to them. The patient work of movement building lacks the seductive power of many of the strategies in vogue among progressives, but there is no substitute for it—and there is a huge appetite for it in working-class communities across the country.
Perhaps the most resonant line of President Obama’s Democratic National Convention speech was when he said, “So you see, the election four years ago wasn’t about me. It was about you.” If we ever thought that an Obama presidency would by itself produce dramatic change, we are wiser in 2012. Our progressive history is a history of getting our hope fix from movements, not just from individuals. The extraordinary example of Brazil—which has defied world trends, lifted 40 million people out of poverty, reduced inequality and passed major affirmative action legislation—demonstrates the power of social movements today. Over many years, Brazilian leaders aligned key movement sectors around a transformative vision, focused on recruiting the unorganized, engaged in politics and changed a country. There are signs of movement right here at home—in senior centers in Akron, in housing projects in Charlotte and churches in Phoenix, where ordinary people are coming together to talk about how we got into this mess, what it has meant to them and the people they love, and what we can do to get out of it. They are working tirelessly in this election because they know just how much it matters, but they are clear-eyed about the organizing work that must continue after election day. That’s change we can believe in.
About the Author
Deepak Bhargava is Director of the Campaign for Community Change.
Frances Fox Piven and Lorraine C. Minnite: “Movements Need Politicians—and Vice Versa”
Saket Soni: “We Need More than a New President”
Bill Fletcher Jr.: “Defeat the Reactionary White Elite”
Tom Hayden: “Obama’s Legacy is Our Leverage”
Ai-Jen Poo: “A Politics of Love”
Robert L. Borosage: “Re-elect Obama—But Reject His Austerity”
Ilyse Hogue: “Time to Rewire”
Go for the Jugular
Dorian T. Warren
October 2, 2012
This article appeared in the October 22, 2012 edition of The Nation.
I agree with Deepak Bhargava that President Obama’s record “is more mixed” than critics and admirers admit, that progressives must refocus our attention on Congress and statehouse elections, and that elections are a “necessary but not sufficient condition for a revival of progressive politics.”
While Bhargava is right that we need to build a “deep alliance of movement forces” to pursue and win on a progressive agenda, we also need to become more hard-nosed, strategic and indeed ruthless in our effort to weaken the legitimacy and power of the right. Much as conservatives went for our collective jugular after the 2010 midterm elections by targeting the public sector labor movement, we must be willing to go for theirs—regardless of how much more money and power they might have.
What would a principled attack strategy look like? It must proceed on at least three tracks: ideological, organizational and structural. On all three, the Occupy movement has been a spark in jump-starting such a national campaign.
Ideologically, we need to put forward an alternative economic narrative—and demand that our elected officials embrace it, too—that powerfully counters market fundamentalism and trickle-down economics. One way to do this is to be relentless and repetitive about identifying the “Bush-Romney economy” as the exemplar of right-wing economics and remind people how that worked out for them in the last decade—followed by our alternative vision of shared prosperity and economic justice.
Organizationally, we should draw on the momentum from Occupy and target the 1 percent. I don’t mean merely rhetorically or even symbolically, but institutionally. By targeting the 1 percent, I mean the billionaires, corporations and oligarchs who fund hundreds of political organizations, affect thousands of communities and control millions of jobs. But we should go for the organizational jugular as the right has gone after public sector unions. One idea suggested to me by economist Suresh Naidu is to attack corporate political groups on anti-trust grounds. A serious political and legal campaign to protect voters (and consumers) from political collusion as well as business monopolies and anti-competitive concerted action in the political sphere might be waged against the Chamber of Commerce and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Besides attacking these corporate political cartels, we could develop campaigns to identify the “small group of supervillains” who exert outsize economic and political power over all of us and hold them accountable for the injustices from which they profit, as veteran labor strategist Stephen Lerner argues.
Structurally, we must reclaim our democracy. We’ve been playing defense in dozens of states against the right’s coordinated campaign of voter suppression. If they really want a fight around voting and inclusion in the polity, let’s give them one. How about launching a true campaign for voter justice that dilutes the influence of their aging and numerically decreasing electorate? Let’s start with a robust debate about mandatory voting—which already exists in many rich democracies—and then make declaring election day a national holiday with same-day registration our compromise position. This would immediately reduce the power of the right’s core electorate and usher in Senator Lindsey Graham’s worst nightmare: a progressive majority that outnumbers the “angry white guys,” not enough of whom exist to keep the right “in business for the long term.” Combine that with a campaign for a constitutional amendment to ban corporate money from politics once and for all.
Each of these three tracks worked to bring our first Gilded Age to an end and usher in the New Deal. It’s time to pick up the fight to end this second Gilded Age and usher in a New Deal for the twenty-first century.
Re-elect Obama—but Reject His Austerity
Robert L. Borosage
October 2, 2012
This article appeared in the October 22, 2012 edition of The Nation.
Students cheer as President Barack Obama makes a point during campaign stop on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Bhargava’s fair-minded list of triumphs and disappointments from Obama’s first term omits the greatest calamity: the president turned toward austerity—and gave us Simpson-Bowles—in the midst of mass unemployment, rising poverty and declining wages. He joined the “elite consensus” on austerity early and has shown that he’s ready to put Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid “on the table.” He has touted his budget for cutting domestic spending to levels not seen since Eisenhower. And though he’s been bold in advocating increased taxes on the wealthy, his is a very modest version of progressive tax reform, returning top-end taxes to their Clinton-era levels and insisting that billionaires shouldn’t pay a lower rate than their secretaries. It’s a stark contrast to the trickle-down offerings of Romney/Ryan, but for addressing the nation’s needs, it isn’t even close.
The fight over austerity will be defining. To turn now to getting our books in order is to accept the current levels of joblessness, poverty and insecurity as the new normal. That is simply unacceptable. To focus on deficit reduction and not on how to revive an economy that works for working people is an ignoble retreat for a reform president.
Here, the successes of the movements for gay and immigrant rights or the fight over healthcare offer little precedent. And the coming struggle won’t be similar to the citizens’ lobbying effort for the public option within the president’s health reforms. This struggle requires a citizen mobilization that upends the “table” at which the president sits and demands bold action on jobs.
Here the president will not only be a reluctant warrior; he’ll be wearing the wrong jersey. A win by Romney in November would be catastrophic, but Obama’s victory will not be the triumph of hope; it will be the defeat of fear. The president increasingly defines himself as separate, if not antagonistic, to the movement he inspired. In 2008, it was “Yes, we can.” In 2012, “The election four years ago wasn’t about me. It was about you.” This is, as Bhargava notes, “resonant” but not for the reasons he suggests. After November, progressives will fight the next determining battle not only without the president, but also most likely against him. And the movement he helped inspire will succeed only if it moves far beyond the limits of his politics and policies.
Robert L. Borosage is president of the Institute for America's Future.
Defeat the Reactionary White Elite
Bill Fletcher Jr.
October 2, 2012
This article appeared in the October 22, 2012 edition of The Nation.
The 2012 election is not really about Obama or Obama’s record. As Deepak Bhargava points out, there is a debate over the president’s record, and there is much that we on the left can and should critique. Yet what has been unfolding before our eyes is a referendum on the changing demographics of the United States and whether any redistribution of wealth will even be considered in the ruling circles of Washington.
The Republicans have built on a white revanchism located among the racists and the fearful within white America. These voters not only despise the idea of an African-American serving as president of what they believe to be a white republic; they are terrified that the demographics of the country are changing in favor of people of color. For this reason, calls to boycott the election or turn toward third-party candidates miss what is going on. The right wishes to perpetrate a massive disenfranchisement in its desperate effort to preserve the rule of a reactionary white elite.
Although I will be voting for Obama on November 6, it would be incorrect to view the president as anything approaching a savior. At best, his re-election provides some breathing room—but as we have seen in the past four years, irrespective of his speeches, Obama remains the head of a global empire, and that empire has interests that are antithetical to the mass of humanity, including the mass of humanity within the borders of the United States.
Thus we are brought to the question of what posture to take after November 6, should Obama be re-elected. While I agree with much of what Deepak raises, I do not believe the agenda he outlines is sufficient. We on the left side of the aisle seem to abhor the fight for power unless (a) we are speaking in either the long-term or utopian sense; or (b) we surrender ourselves to liberalism. A very different approach must be taken. Not only must mass pressure be exerted immediately on a new Obama administration—as opposed to allowing a grace period, as occurred in 2008—but there needs to be a reorganization among progressives that has as its object securing power for working people in several key metropolitan areas as a jumping-off point for a larger national project. This means building a combination of mass electoral alliances that seek to win office on a platform of insisting on structural reforms, and mass movements for social and economic justice, whether in workplaces or communities.
The left needs to organize itself—politically and structurally—in such a way that its various tendencies can flourish, but also so that it can build a majoritarian bloc in which one can see the contours of a very different, progressive United States.
by Frances Fox Piven and Lorraine C. Minnite
In historical fact, movement politics and electoral politics are continuously intertwined. The fundamental dynamic is triggered when politicians have to deal with voter blocs composed of the same people to whom movements direct their appeals. We can see this dynamic on both the right and the left. The Tea Party picked up steam when Republicans eager for re-election began to repeat its slogans. So did the labor movement of the 1930s gain momentum from Franklin Roosevelt’s rhetorical appeals to the “common man,” just as the civil rights movement was energized by Lyndon Johnson’s echo of the movement refrain “We shall overcome.” When politicians echo a movement’s demands, they signal a degree of vulnerability to its constituency, and the movement gains traction.
It’s also worth remembering that when politicians are dependent on electoral blocs that are also movement constituencies, they will often hesitate to use the full arsenal of the state’s repressive capacities against movement actions and may even make uncertain efforts to protect movements—as when Robert Kennedy, as attorney general, grudgingly tried to protect the Freedom Riders.
Moreover, movements make gains when an electoral regime is forced to offer concessions to heal the widening rifts that the movement is causing in its electoral base. The demonstrations and marches against the beginning of the war in Iraq are often cited as a measure of the impotence of movement politics. We think rather that the problem was that the antiwar movement did not speak to an antiwar voter bloc that Bush and the Republicans depended on, so they could simply ignore the protests. By contrast, a smaller immigrant rights movement has pressured Barack Obama, who depends on Latino votes, to use presidential authority to void the deportation of undocumented youth. Similarly, looking to LGBT voters, Obama responded to the gay rights movement’s demands, ordering the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and reversing his position on gay marriage. And in one of the environmental movement’s most important recent victories, Obama denied a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline after activists staged months of mass nonviolent civil disobedience in front of the White House.
This is why the diverse protests we call Occupy need a Democratic victory in 2012: not because Democrats on their own will magically implement the movement’s agenda, but because Democrats depend on some of the same constituencies that the movement represents and to whom it directs its appeals. The overlap creates space for movements to grow and thrive. They win policy reform to the degree that they are able to leverage these electoral opportunities. Progressive hopes for a bolder second Obama term thus depend on the vigor of the Occupy movement and the degree to which it sparks activism and defiance among the other great movements for social justice that have always been important in American politics.
To be clear, we don’t think Occupy activists should drop their work on foreclosures or student debt or worker rights in favor of joining the election campaign by knocking on doors or staffing the phone banks or whatever. After all, not only is it unlikely that many Occupy activists, disgusted as they are by the hypocrisy and corruption of electoral politics, would do so, but their movement work is actually a contribution to the campaign. Think of the impact of Occupy on the national discussion, with its slogans about Wall Street and the 99 percent, along with its encampments and general assemblies and twinkling fingers! It has made extreme inequality an issue no one can ignore. Even the Republicans are campaigning as the party of jobs and economic recovery.
Was Obama’s victory perhaps the high point of his historic contribution, opening the doors of diversity to others? For Thompson and millions of others, the answer is no. Independent progressive movements will be needed to compel Obama to act. Progressive achievements may occur where the demands of movements converge with Obama’s need for a legacy.
The need to expand democracy is essential in its own right, but also for Obama’s re-election and legacy. California has just adopted same-day registration, for example, while right-wing politicians seek to suppress the vote and hollow out the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Beyond protecting the franchise, the main target for progressive reform is the Citizens United decision, with Obama encouraging a constitutional amendment to reverse it. What progressives can do is organize state by state against Citizens United, delegitimize the authority of a partisan Republican Supreme Court, push the president for two progressive appointees, and educate a new generation of Thurgood Marshalls to attack the undemocratic notions that money is speech and corporations are people.
A re-elected Obama will plunge immediately into a maelstrom of debate on deficit reduction and taxes. If he wins, the voter mandate will be to raise taxes on the rich and preserve Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. If Obama and the Democrats don’t find ways to defend that mandate, the possibility of leaving a positive legacy will be damaged at the beginning of the second term, perhaps even stillborn. Obama can also rely on a voter mandate to embrace the Stiglitz-Reich-Krugman school of economic thinking and support a “Robin Hood” tax on Wall Street transactions (as he once did before being smothered by his economic advisers).
From day one, Obama will need to use the bully pulpit and his executive powers if he wants a legacy of restoring progress toward reversing global warming. Given Beltway realities, progress is likely to be driven at the state and community levels in places like California, with supportive rhetoric and regulatory blessings from Obama.
Before November or shortly after, Obama’s legacy may be shaped by an Israeli attack on Iran, drawing America into regional war. Fifty-nine percent of Americans oppose joining Israel in going to war with Iran, and 70 percent oppose a unilateral US attack. Obama should rely on that mandate to navigate away from the brink and toward UN recognition of a Palestinian state.
Obama will have to pull back 68,000 American troops from Afghanistan by 2014 or break a fundamental pledge. And if he doesn’t want a legacy of restoring Richard Nixon’s imperial presidency (and provoking Muslim rage by his drone attacks), the former constitutional lawyer will have to engage in a serious revision of the 1973 War Powers Act. He also needs to embrace an FDR “good neighbor” policy toward Latin America—including Cuba—or face diplomatic isolation from our nearest neighbors.
Finally, Obama needs to resume the quest begun in his Columbia student days to freeze and reverse the nuclear arms race, the greatest threat to humanity alongside global warming. The United States has 5,113 nuclear warheads, which will cost $352 billion to maintain and “upgrade” over the next ten years. Obama’s opening to Russia, which Romney opposes, is merely an initial step in the process. Public opinion, inert since the 1980s nuclear freeze movement, will have to be reawakened, partly with his leadership.
A movement perspective always differs from a governing one, and in the best of times the two interact productively. Most progressives I meet believe the challenge is clear: get Obama’s back through November, then get in his face. But legacy might be the critical factor in focusing the president’s agenda in a second term.
Voting is vital, but it’s not the only thing that matters.
Two dates are critical to the direction of our nation on environmental and energy policy. The first is November 6, when a failure to reelect President Obama would signal a retreat from recent progress made on protecting citizens from polluters. Mitt Romney’s contempt for society’s most vulnerable members and his close ties to billionaire polluters would undermine the safeguards against mercury, soot and carbon pollution that we’ve won during the past four years.
In addition to letting the EPA do its job, Barack Obama has been the strongest supporter of renewable energy ever to occupy the White House. He championed the Recovery Act, which was the single largest investment in clean and renewable energy in our nation’s history and helped create tens of thousands of new jobs. Wind power has doubled during the past four years; solar has quintupled.
Mitt Romney has attacked those clean energy investments and would revert to policies that prioritize fossil fuels.
Although presidents have bemoaned our dependence on oil for decades, Obama is the first to do something significant about it—two rounds of stronger vehicle fuel-efficiency standards will double the mileage we get from cars and trucks and create 570,000 new jobs across America by 2030. Once implemented, these fuel-efficiency standards alone will cut US carbon pollution by 10 percent. Romney opposed these standards and instead favors more drilling in the Arctic, offshore and on our public lands.
Despite the failure to pass a climate bill, President Obama acknowledges the seriousness of the climate crisis and has done something about it. US emissions are down; oil and coal consumption are at levels not seen in decades.
Romney, in contrast, has joked about climate change and believes the United States should increase its use of the dirtiest and most climate-polluting fossil fuels.
Just as important as November 6, however, is November 7. That is when we must inspire the president as he inspired us. We must both challenge and support the president to deliver on the promise of a clean-energy future. Regardless of how the Democrats fare in Congress, a second-term Obama administration will have many opportunities to leave a lasting environmental legacy. For starters, it can:
• Finish the job it has started on cleaning up power plant pollution, including carbon and mercury pollution from new sources, coal ash, and cross-state air pollution.
• Protect our public lands by prioritizing conservation and public recreation over dangerous oil and gas drilling, fracking, and oil shale development.
• Preserve the power of the Clean Water Act and end mountaintop-removal mining in Appalachia by enforcing the act.
• Get us closer to the goal of moving beyond oil by doubling the fuel efficiency of heavy trucks (as was done with cars in the first term) and rejecting the Keystone pipeline permit.
So, although the choice is clear, winning this election will only mark the beginning of meeting the challenges we face as a nation. It will be up to all of us—and President Obama—to make the next four years count.
Twelve years ago, as a different presidential election approached, I was frustrated. I graduated from college and grad school in the mid-’90s and entered a robust job market, even in my chosen field of nonprofit advocacy. I faced few challenges paying off the loans I had taken to cover the portion of my tuition that my parents couldn’t pick up. Still, the world looked—and was—unjust. The wave of unchecked free trade sweeping the globe was wreaking havoc on the manufacturing base here at home and human rights abroad. Privatization of natural resources was the buzzword of the day, and the ecological projections felt downright apocalyptic. I wondered whether there was anything besides cosmetic differences between candidates Bush and Gore.
Twelve years, two wars, one financial crisis, 15 million underwater homes, trillions in tax cuts for the wealthy, and a social safety net hanging by a thread have disabused me of that notion: what’s cosmetic to one relatively privileged white girl is life-changing for the tens of millions living in poverty.
Deepak Bhargava lays out the imperative to lean into this election and keep an eye on post-election movement building. His basic premise is inarguable: things will get a whole lot worse if there’s a Republican takeover. But it is also worth considering how, in addition to the devastating material impact of a Romney presidency, a GOP victory robs us of the oxygen required to grow deeper and broader roots for the progressive movement.
This may seem counterintuitive, since surges in participation are often most visible in times of opposition, but the strength and numbers required to elect majorities are different from those needed to rewire policies and priorities. The latter requires us to innovate, to invest in multi-tiered organizing, and to shift our culture to embrace power—all of which would become virtually impossible under a Romney presidency.
An emphasis on innovation is our best bet to secure the necessary breakthroughs in organizing. Experimental online organizing drove the electoral wins of the last decade. Maybe the next breakthrough will come from merging advocacy and service to help people in distress and strengthen incentives for participation. Or maybe from programs that prioritize horizontal relationships and the elevation of community leaders. Or maybe from putting pressure on less visible actors like ALEC. Whatever that next breakthrough is, we won’t find it if our imagination is tied up in defense.
Victory feeds progressive momentum and participation. Strategically picking and winning offensive fights will not only help the folks who need it most; it will set the stage for continued progress. From the Dream Act to marriage equality, early success came in the states. Opportunities at the state level are looming—including a real chance for clean elections in New York—and acting on them requires the breathing room a Democratic presidency offers.
For the long game, progressives have to learn to embrace power. Winning deep concessions requires not only outside pressure but deep ideological connections with officeholders. Progressives, long wary of the way power corrupts, are often reluctant candidates. But those connections are far more assured when we elect our own. Our candidates will be more viable if we have time and money to invest in training them and strengthening their campaigns.
We still have our work cut out for us if Obama wins a second term. What we’re fighting for now is the opportunity to do that work.
A Politics of Love
An Occupy Wall Street demonstrator raises her hands painted with hearts during what protest organizers called a "Day of Action" in New York November 17, 2011. Reuters/Mike Segar
Building on Deepak Bhargava’s points , I would offer that there is a broader base for an economic justice movement than ever before. Despite political polarization, just below the surface, more and more Americans are feeling deep pain around their jobs, homes, health, security and future opportunities. From immigrant domestic workers and their families in California, to aging white boomers in deindustrialized Pennsylvania, to African-American teachers in Alabama and young veterans in Iowa, there is a continuum of anxiety and suffering that connects us. Regardless of election outcomes, this may be the greatest opportunity for us to unite in generations. To seize the opportunity, we must pay attention to the connective tissue needed to build and hold a broad movement together.
We must create a culture that welcomes people from all walks of life and creates opportunities for everyone to participate meaningfully. And that starts right now. As Deepak points out, there are dire issues that we will face immediately after the election, namely the so-called fiscal cliff, a defining budget fight that could cost us important infrastructure and many of the social services on which our communities depend. If we can communicate what’s at stake and how this moment affects each of us, we have the potential to achieve broad engagement. We should be organizing as many actions as possible to take place immediately after the election.
We need to embrace the direct-action spirit of the Occupy movement, and we need to broaden that spirit by offering the millions of people who are hurting ways to connect and participate. We should claim the significant voter protection, registration and mobilization work that was done to promote democratic participation in this election cycle. We can embrace the many ways in which people are coming together already to support one another and meet their communities’ growing needs.
We need to engage in massive efforts to change the culture, both within and beyond our movements. We need to engage in politics from a place of love and care; we must challenge the tendency toward individualism and self-interest that has dominated our politics for several decades. We need to reaffirm our humanity and spirit, emphasizing the importance of building emotional connections between people in local communities and identifying where interests overlap across constituencies. We need to come together to write a new story for our changing nation, one that places equity, care and human connection at its center.
When we do all of those things, we adopt a more powerful stance with which to face the future. And once we have reached a space expansive enough to see them, we will recognize that we already have many of the solutions we need.
Barack Obama for Re-Election
October 27, 2012
New York Times
The economy is slowly recovering from the 2008 meltdown, and the country could suffer another recession if the wrong policies take hold. The United States is embroiled in unstable regions that could easily explode into full-blown disaster. An ideological assault from the right has started to undermine the vital health reform law passed in 2010. Those forces are eroding women’s access to health care, and their right to control their lives. Nearly 50 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act, all Americans’ rights are cheapened by the right wing’s determination to deny marriage benefits to a selected group of us. Astonishingly, even the very right to vote is being challenged.
That is the context for the Nov. 6 election, and as stark as it is, the choice is just as clear.
President Obama has shown a firm commitment to using government to help foster growth. He has formed sensible budget policies that are not dedicated to protecting the powerful, and has worked to save the social safety net to protect the powerless. Mr. Obama has impressive achievements despite the implacable wall of refusal erected by Congressional Republicans so intent on stopping him that they risked pushing the nation into depression, held its credit rating hostage, and hobbled economic recovery.
Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has gotten this far with a guile that allows him to say whatever he thinks an audience wants to hear. But he has tied himself to the ultraconservative forces that control the Republican Party and embraced their policies, including reckless budget cuts and 30-year-old, discredited trickle-down ideas. Voters may still be confused about Mr. Romney’s true identity, but they know the Republican Party, and a Romney administration would reflect its agenda. Mr. Romney’s choice of Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate says volumes about that.
We have criticized individual policy choices that Mr. Obama has made over the last four years, and have been impatient with his unwillingness to throw himself into the political fight. But he has shaken off the hesitancy that cost him the first debate, and he approaches the election clearly ready for the partisan battles that would follow his victory.
We are confident he would challenge the Republicans in the “fiscal cliff” battle even if it meant calling their bluff, letting the Bush tax cuts expire and forcing them to confront the budget sequester they created. Electing Mr. Romney would eliminate any hope of deficit reduction that included increased revenues.
In the poisonous atmosphere of this campaign, it may be easy to overlook Mr. Obama’s many important achievements, including carrying out the economic stimulus, saving the auto industry, improving fuel efficiency standards, and making two very fine Supreme Court appointments.
Mr. Obama has achieved the most sweeping health care reforms since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. The reform law takes a big step toward universal health coverage, a final piece in the social contract.
It was astonishing that Mr. Obama and the Democrats in Congress were able to get a bill past the Republican opposition. But the Republicans’ propagandistic distortions of the new law helped them wrest back control of the House, and they are determined now to repeal the law.
That would eliminate the many benefits the reform has already brought: allowing children under 26 to stay on their parents’ policies; lower drug costs for people on Medicare who are heavy users of prescription drugs; free immunizations, mammograms and contraceptives; a ban on lifetime limits on insurance payments. Insurance companies cannot deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. Starting in 2014, insurers must accept all applicants. Once fully in effect, the new law would start to control health care costs.
Mr. Romney has no plan for covering the uninsured beyond his callous assumption that they will use emergency rooms. He wants to use voucher programs to shift more Medicare costs to beneficiaries and block grants to shift more Medicaid costs to the states.
Mr. Obama prevented another Great Depression. The economy was cratering when he took office in January 2009. By that June it was growing, and it has been ever since (although at a rate that disappoints everyone), thanks in large part to interventions Mr. Obama championed, like the $840 billion stimulus bill. Republicans say it failed, but it created and preserved 2.5 million jobs and prevented unemployment from reaching 12 percent. Poverty would have been much worse without the billions spent on Medicaid, food stamps and jobless benefits.
Last year, Mr. Obama introduced a jobs plan that included spending on school renovations, repair projects for roads and bridges, aid to states, and more. It was stymied by Republicans. Contrary to Mr. Romney’s claims, Mr. Obama has done good things for small businesses — like pushing through more tax write-offs for new equipment and temporary tax cuts for hiring the unemployed.
The Dodd-Frank financial regulation was an important milestone. It is still a work in progress, but it established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, initiated reform of the derivatives market, and imposed higher capital requirements for banks. Mr. Romney wants to repeal it.
If re-elected, Mr. Obama would be in position to shape the “grand bargain” that could finally combine stimulus like the jobs bill with long-term deficit reduction that includes letting the high-end Bush-era tax cuts expire. Stimulus should come first, and deficit reduction as the economy strengthens. Mr. Obama has not been as aggressive as we would have liked in addressing the housing crisis, but he has increased efforts in refinancing and loan modifications.
Mr. Romney’s economic plan, as much as we know about it, is regressive, relying on big tax cuts and deregulation. That kind of plan was not the answer after the financial crisis, and it will not create broad prosperity.
Mr. Obama and his administration have been resolute in attacking Al Qaeda’s leadership, including the killing of Osama bin Laden. He has ended the war in Iraq. Mr. Romney, however, has said he would have insisted on leaving thousands of American soldiers there. He has surrounded himself with Bush administration neocons who helped to engineer the Iraq war, and adopted their militaristic talk in a way that makes a Romney administration’s foreign policies a frightening prospect.
Mr. Obama negotiated a much tougher regime of multilateral economic sanctions on Iran. Mr. Romney likes to say the president was ineffective on Iran, but at the final debate he agreed with Mr. Obama’s policies. Mr. Obama deserves credit for his handling of the Arab Spring. The killing goes on in Syria, but the administration is working to identify and support moderate insurgent forces there. At the last debate, Mr. Romney talked about funneling arms through Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are funneling arms to jihadist groups.
Mr. Obama gathered international backing for airstrikes during the Libyan uprising, and kept American military forces in a background role. It was smart policy.
In the broadest terms, he introduced a measure of military restraint after the Bush years and helped repair America’s badly damaged reputation in many countries from the low levels to which it had sunk by 2008.
The Supreme Court
The future of the nation’s highest court hangs in the balance in this election — and along with it, reproductive freedom for American women and voting rights for all, to name just two issues. Whoever is president after the election will make at least one appointment to the court, and many more to federal appeals courts and district courts.
Mr. Obama, who appointed the impressive Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, understands how severely damaging conservative activism has been in areas like campaign spending. He would appoint justices and judges who understand that landmarks of equality like the Voting Rights Act must be defended against the steady attack from the right.
Mr. Romney’s campaign Web site says he will “nominate judges in the mold of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito,” among the most conservative justices in the past 75 years. There is no doubt that he would appoint justices who would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The extraordinary fact of Mr. Obama’s 2008 election did not usher in a new post-racial era. In fact, the steady undercurrent of racism in national politics is truly disturbing. Mr. Obama, however, has reversed Bush administration policies that chipped away at minorities’ voting rights and has fought laws, like the ones in Arizona, that seek to turn undocumented immigrants into a class of criminals.
The military’s odious “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule was finally legislated out of existence, under the Obama administration’s leadership. There are still big hurdles to equality to be brought down, including the Defense of Marriage Act, the outrageous federal law that undermines the rights of gay men and lesbians, even in states that recognize those rights.
Though it took Mr. Obama some time to do it, he overcame his hesitation about same-sex marriage and declared his support. That support has helped spur marriage-equality movements around the country. His Justice Department has also stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act against constitutional challenges.
Mr. Romney opposes same-sex marriage and supports the federal act, which not only denies federal benefits and recognition to same-sex couples but allows states to ignore marriages made in other states. His campaign declared that Mr. Romney would not object if states also banned adoption by same-sex couples and restricted their rights to hospital visitation and other privileges.
Mr. Romney has been careful to avoid the efforts of some Republicans to criminalize abortion even in the case of women who had been raped, including by family members. He says he is not opposed to contraception, but he has promised to deny federal money to Planned Parenthood, on which millions of women depend for family planning.
For these and many other reasons, we enthusiastically endorse President Barack Obama for a second term, and express the hope that his victory will be accompanied by a new Congress willing to work for policies that Americans need.