So I know we are all riding high after Tuesday’s big win. The people have spoken, and they have said that they are tired of George W. Bush and his ilk, tired of the unabashed Republican cronyism that has plagued Washington, tired of neoconservative right-wing wackjobs running things.
Okay fine. That’s great. But if you take a closer look at what we have accomplished vis a vis our victory on November 4, we really haven’t come that far.
Okay okay I know – how Debbie Downer of me. I am sorry to throw a wet blanket on things. Look, I was jumping around screaming in the streets of Adams Morgan in the early Wednesday morning hours after Obama gave his acceptance speech. I spent two weekends and Election Day canvassing in Bumfuck, Virginia, talking to voters, handing out reminders to vote. Via the labor union for which I work, I sent countless e-mails to members about why they should vote for the Democratic ticket this year.
So don’t think I am not happy to have Barack Obama as our president-elect; I worked hard to make it happen (though not as hard as countless others.) I am excited to see him take the oath of office, as well as to see a majority of Democrats in the House and Senate.
But I am not expecting huge, sweeping changes. I am not expecting a savior.
The fact is that all sensible Americans have been so pistol-whipped by 8 years of a Bush administration that just a return to moderate, reasonable leadership seems like a big success. What? A president who won’t give away taxpayer’s money to the super rich? What? A president who believes in science, human rights, and The Constitution? What? A president who believe in listening to the people instead of calling himself “the Decider?” What? A president who won’t completely humiliate us on the international stage?
AMAZING! What a triumph!
Um, I think our standards have clearly dwindled in these past 8 years.
I echo the recent sentiments of blogger PZ Meyers, who said very plainly, our new president-elect is a moderate, standing slightly to the right of Hillary Clinton, also a moderate. And as Meyers points out, “the opposition is shrieking ‘socialist!’ at every suggestion, so don’t expect an easy road to accomplishing even the centrist plans of President Obama.”
We still have quite a an uphill climb even to get to a sane, moderate government. So don’t set your expectations too high. An Obama presidency isn’t going to be smooth, and there will not likely be any broad, progressive shifts in American politics. We still have a lot of wackos and greedy bastards in our government, and not all of them are Republicans. A lot of the Democrats who have wrested control from Republicans in the Senate, such as the recently elected Senators from Virginia, are a new breed of Democrat – more conservative than a Charles Schumer or Ted Kennedy. That’s not to say they’re all bad, but don’t expect your wildest liberal dreams to be fulfilled without a big fight.
Don’t expect a New New Deal anytime soon.
I am not saying that this is the end of the world. But progressives are fooling themselves if they think they have won. Our success is that we have begun bringing people back to the middle. It’s just that after 8 years of dragging us so far right, the middle looks like Marxism in comparison.
I am still optimistic about the future. That we, as a country, were finally able to reject the radical conservatism that began to take hold in American politics nearly 3 decades ago is heartening. That a historically racially divided country was able to elect its first African American President a mere 44 years after the Civil Rights Act was passed is a humongous milestone that we should be proud of. I am hopeful that a President Obama will be the type of leader that our international allies can admire, and that our foes will respect.
I am also deeply inspired by the increase in civic participation for this past election cycle. I’m not just talking just voter turnout, which was of course, unprecedented. I am talking about people getting off their butts and getting involved in the process. In Virginia, the Obama campaign was overwhelmed with volunteers on the days leading up to the election, to the point where many offices didn’t know where to put them all. I have always thought that the people of this country have been hungry for a leader that would inspire them to get involved – all they want is for someone to ask them to help, tell them where to go and how they can make a difference, and they will show up, ready for action. I saw that played out all over the country, as the Obama campaign got the vote out, raised money in $5 and $10 increments, turned out more young people to canvass and vote than ever, inspired friends who have never volunteered in politics in their life to show up with me at an office in Sterling, VA to do whatever they could to help.
This is what I hope Obama will continue to inspire in America, and it is the one point he drives home time and time again that I truly believe in. This election was not about him. It was about us. He alone cannot change our country for the better, and indeed, with a crumbling economy, skyrocketing healthcare costs, two wars, and angry, rapacious Republicans plotting their return to power, he may, alone, fail in many of the goals he has set out to accomplish.
But We The People have the power to help him. We have the power to keep the pressure on, to hold our elected officials’ feet to the fire, to speak up loudly against tyranny and cronyism in either party, to demand that our representatives do what we hired them to do – fight for a better future for us, our children, and our children’s children.
So if you, like me, were inspired by this election, inspired by Obama, and got involved by knocking on doors, making phone calls, or even just cajoling your friends to vote, don’t go back to the couch. Stay involved. Stay informed and engaged. If we don’t see the kind of change we want over the next four years, we should keep pounding the streets, writing letters, standing up to our government, living the change we seek. Our government can only act with a mandate from the people – so speak out and step up!
Don’t be disheartened and disengage again if Obama doesn’t turn out to be the savior of our country. He is just one man. He is just a start at turning America around in the right direction. We have to keep the momentum going if we’re ever going to see the kind of future that Americans deserve. Let’s not fall asleep at the wheel again. We cannot ever again afford to allow our country to be taken from us.