7 Big Lessons from Obama's Win
So, let’s get this straight: A Republican President is re-elected in 2004 with 284 electoral votes and the pundits say he has the “political capital” to push an extreme right-wing mandate. A Democratic President gets re-elected in 2012 with 303 electoral votes, and they’re telling us he needs to “unite a divided country.”
This election was a clear and unequivocal victory for the populist positions the President took on the campaign trail. Don’t believe the hype: This was a great night for progressives, populists, and agents of change. Our political system may be dominated by Big Money, but this was a victory for the 99 Percent.
We’ve been through our Dark Night of the Soul. Now it’s time for inspiration — and for determination to build on these victories in the weeks, months, and years to come. I’m not known for being a “silver lining” kind of guy, but there’s a lot of silver in the sky this morning.
Here are seven lessons from this election that have been under-reported, or overlooked completely, in all the media frenzy. They include Occupy Wall Street’s victory, the “Harold and Kumar” factor, Harry Reid’s big mandate, and the fact that “Socialism” sells.
1. Occupy Wall Street won big.
The Occupy movement may have disappeared from the national media eye, but this election was a big win for its vision and language. As that movement caught the national imagination, the President quickly (and wisely) adopted its populist rhetoric. That may have hurt the tender feelings of America’s CEOs, especially those on Wall Street, but it help cement his decisive victory.
The nature of that victory was underscored by wins for staunch progressives like Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, even as far-right candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock went down in defeat.
The President’s populist theme didn’t end with his victory. He spoke last night of a “generous America,” a “compassionate America,” a “tolerant America.”
His deeply victory moving speech mentioned deficit reduction – once – but emphasized the following themes: Our “common bond.” The “weakening” effect of “inequality.” The “destructive power of a warming planet.” “The best schools and teachers.” Ending our two wars. Investment in “technology and discovery and innovation,” with “good jobs” to follow.
The President deserved his victory. But as this election came to a close, it was the dreamers in Zuccotti Park who Occupied the Night.
2. This was a bigger victory than it looks.
John Nichols did an excellent piece in The Nation comparing last night’s victory to that of previous Presidents. Read it and remember: This was the first post-Citizens United election. Billionaires and corporations poured hundreds of millions of dollars into races across the country, as well as the Presidential campaign -
- and they still lost.
When you compare last night’s Democratic victory to previous election results, add a “billionaire factor” to get a more apples-to-apples comparison.
(I should be a better person than this, but I take no small amount of satisfaction in knowing that Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers wasted lots and lots and lots of money this year.)
3. Social issues will help Democrats now.
Voters in Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational pot-smoking, while a medical-marijuana initiative won in Massachusetts. This may be the first time in history that getting high actually increased voter turnout. At this rate politicians may soon find themselves courting that all-important “Harold and Kumar” demographic.
For years liberals have watched in frustration as conservatives coasted to victory on social issues, despite the harm that their economic policies caused conservative voters. That’s the phenomenon Thomas Franks discussed in What’s the Matter With Kansas? Anti-gay marriage initiatives were used to increase conservative turnout and wound John Kerry in 2004, for example.
A few short years ago it was considered unthinkable for politicians to support civil unions for gay Americans. But this year’s ballot initiatives on marriage equality and marijuana may have hurt Republicans, as all Americans – among them young people of all political views, including young evangelicals – are becoming markedly more liberal on social issues, as marriage equality initiatives won in Maine and Maryland.
In a victory for free choice, Florida’s attempt to ban the use of public funds for abortion failed. At this rate some conservative will soon write book about Democratic victories in the Deep South called What’s the Matter With Mississippi? (Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?)
4. Harry Reid! Good ol’ Harry Reid! He’s got a mandate.
This election was a great victory for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid strengthened that majority, despite being forced to defend more seats than the Republicans, and he did it with candidates who tended to be strongly progressive.
Warren won in Massachusetts, as did Sherrod Brown in Ohio both. Tim Kaine pulled out a win in Virginia, in part by decisively rejecting the “centrist” agenda of the austerity-minded Simpson Bowles proposal. Meanwhile a candidate who did embrace the “centrist” agenda, Bob Kerrey, was defeated in Nebraska.
As Majority Leader, Harry Reid now has a clear mandate to fight for populist causes and resist the radical-right agenda of Congressional Republicans. Reid has made it clear that he opposes any cuts to Social Security benefits. With Senators like Tim Kaine, Elizabeth Warren, and Sherrod Brown by his side, he has the moral and political capital to defend them.
Reid also has a mandate to reform the Senate’s procedural rules, which minority Republicans have repeatedly abused in order to thwart the will of the American majority. Newly-elected Maine Senator Angus King, who is a relatively conservative Independent, campaigned on a platform of filibuster reform. Harry Reid alsohas the political capital to reform the Senate.
Harry Reid. He’s not loud or pushy, but he last night he got it done. (Update – When it comes to Social Security, Harry’s already on it. Like we were saying: Good ol’ Harry Reid.)
5. “Socialism” sells
In today’s political rhetoric, the word “socialism” is used to describe policies that were universally accepted by politicians across the political spectrum. Here’s one example: The Republican Party platform of 1956 boasted that millions had been added to Social Security’s rolls, and to the membership of America’s unions, during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first term. Eisenhower built the Federal highway system. President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and proposed a universal guaranteed income for all Americans.
From Roosevelt to Reagan, the ideas now labeled as “socialist” were universal American values.
Those values won again last night. President Obama’s victory in Ohio would not have been possible if he hadn’t taken the most “socialistic” action of his Presidency by taking over the auto companies in order to rescue them. He saved millions of jobs – and turned a profit for the country, too.
And while Florida hasn’t been called as of this writing, it’s in play because the President strengthened Medicare,while his opponents tried to destroy it with their voucher proposal, and because Republicans attacked Social Security with a privatization scheme.
6. Unions and progressives matter.
Unions turned out for the President, providing invaluable help in key states like Ohio. Progressive organizations and individuals contributed their time, money, energy, and ideas. That helps explain progressive victories around the country, as well as the President’s national win.
Progressives also contributed heavily to races like that of Alan Grayson, who scored an historic comeback win in a Republican-leaning district, and nearly helped unseat Michele Bachmann.
The power and contribution of these movements should be remembered in the weeks and months to come.
7. The “new America” needs bold action.
There’s a lot of talk about the “new America” that contributed to this victory: women (who are a rising political force, even if they’re hardly new!), the growing Hispanic population, and young people.
These constituencies need the same things the country as a whole needs: Hispanics are struggling with low wages and high unemployment, so they need action for jobs and economic growth. Health issues are critical to women, which means we need more and deeper reform of our health sector. Young people need more investment in education, job creation, and a equitable society with opportunity for all.
Welcome to the “New America.” In many ways it’s just like the old one, especially in what matters most: We’re still all in this together.