A Progressive Surge - Obama has Political Capital. He Should
1. A Progressive Surge - The Nation Editors
2. Obama has Political Capital. He Should Use it. - Richard
Eskow, Campaign for America's Future
A Progressive Surge
by The Editors, The Nation
November 7, 2012
A country reeling from one disaster has dodged another. While
President Obama's re-election inspires varying degrees of hope
among progressives, it has evoked one common sentiment:
relief. Democracy may not be reborn, but a living symbol of
plutocracy was defeated by the voters on November 6.
It's worth remembering, before Mitt Romney settles into a
comfortable 1 percent retirement from politics, that his
victory would have imperiled the security of all but those
insulated by extreme wealth from concerns like being able to
find safe, warm housing in the wake of a hurricane. A
Romney/Ryan win would have been viewed as a validation of a
radical individualist worldview that runs counter to every
value progressives hold dear. It would have collapsed the
space the left needs to gain strength, and it would have
empowered social forces - from the religious right to the Tea
Party voter-suppression machine to Wall Street and corporate
elites - that form an intractable bloc of opposition to
progress for all those struggling for equality and opportunity
in today's United States.
This right-wing coalition was defeated at the polls by a
"rising American electorate," a coalition of women, African-
Americans, Latinos, the young and unionized blue-collar
workers in Midwestern battleground states. These voters not
only provided Obama with his margin of victory but carried
several stalwart progressives in high-profile Senate races to
exhilarating wins: Massachusetts' Elizabeth Warren, the
Harvard Law School professor who emerged as a champion in the
fight to regulate the financial sector, took Scott Brown's
seat despite a furious effort by Wall Streeters to stop her;
Ohio's Sherrod Brown, who despite a deluge of negative Super
PAC ads, costing upward of $31 million, overcame his
Republican rival with his populist labor-based campaign; and
Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin, who prevented a vulnerable
Democratic seat from being snatched by former Governor Tommy
Thompson and will become the first out gay or lesbian to serve
in the Senate, where she will join the ranks of a record
number of women senators. Thank you, voters, for that fitting
response to the Republican war on women.
As a result of outcomes like these, the new Democratic
majority in the Senate is not only slightly larger but
decidedly more progressive than the one it will replace. Some
of the Democratic victories resulted from the missteps of
right-wing Republicans: Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill was
surely aided by Republican Todd Akin's infamous "legitimate
rape" comment, as Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly was buoyed
(despite his own anti-choice stance) by the outrageous remarks
of Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock. But other winners,
such as Connecticut's Chris Murphy and Virginia's Tim Kaine,
simply won hard-fought races against enormously well-funded
The Senate's newly invigorated progressive caucus provides
majority leader Harry Reid with an opening to respond to
pressure for reform of Senate rules, ending filibuster abuses
and making the Democratic majority a functional force that can
hold its own in negotiations - over everything from Social
Security's future to ending the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich
- with a House that will remain in Republican hands. House
minority leader Nancy Pelosi will have a harder time of it,
but she has a fighting caucus, strengthened by the additions
of newcomers like Wisconsin's Mark Pocan, New Hampshire's Ann
McLane Kuster and Florida's Alan Grayson. Democrats would do
well to take a cue from Grayson, who lost his seat by eighteen
points in 2010 but stormed back in 2012 with a promise to
serve as "a congressman who's going to fight for full
employment, a congressman who's going to fight for universal
healthcare, a congressman who will protect Social Security and
Medicare and Medicaid, a congressman who will fight for health
benefits and paid sick leave and paid vacations and the things
that we need to be decent human beings in our lives, a
congressman who will fight for progressive taxation and make
sure that even the filthy rich have to pay their fair share, a
congressman who will fight for clean money and clean
elections... a congressman who will fight for justice,
equality and peace."
For those like Grayson who care about getting big money out of
our polluted political system, there's a reform push to watch
in Fair Elections Now legislation, introduced in both the
Senate and the House, that will have the likely support not
only of the usual Democratic suspects but of independent Angus
King, who has endorsed Maine's Fair Elections-style system.
It was heartening to hear the president note in his victory
speech that our electoral system is in need of repair. But
grassroots activists know by now that counting on the
president's sympathy is not the most effective strategy.
Desperately needed change on clean money and other fronts -
like the immigration reform that Obama promised but failed to
deliver in his first term - will come through independent
movements, fusing grassroots mobilization and progressive
electoral power, which the White House and Congress cannot
afford to ignore.
The challenge for progressive movements begins not in January,
when the president is sworn in again and the next Congress
convenes, but now. Thanks to the debt ceiling deal, the nation
faces a "fiscal cliff" at the end of this year that could
trigger devastating cuts to social programs while risking a
slide back into recession. In the absence of a massive popular
mobilization, only those government programs and agencies with
richly funded Washington lobbies are likely to emerge
unscathed from a panicked lame duck Congress.
Unfortunately, as Robert Borosage wrote bluntly in these pages
just weeks ago, "in the fundamental struggle over the `dark
politics of austerity,' a re-elected President Obama will
likely lead the wrong side." The president still displays an
interest in a "grand bargain" that will end up dealing out the
most pain to the people Romney disparaged as the "47 percent"
- in reality the majority of Americans who rely on government
programs and services to make ends meet. Progressives
therefore can't afford to lose a day in fighting for our own
independent agenda. We need to put the jobs crisis first,
shifting the frame of national discussion away from deficit
fearmongering and toward the investments in education and
infrastructure that will truly protect our country's future.
The devastation nature has visited on the East Coast has
clarified our situation and given us a glimpse of an
alternative path. Perhaps the ferocious winds of Sandy will
sway the country toward a renewed appreciation of government
and public employees, toward the need to rebuild America's
infrastructure (while creating lots of good jobs), toward
taking climate change seriously at long last. The president at
least acknowledged the need to act on global warming on
election night, after a campaign in which he raised the issue
all too rarely. Perhaps the hurricane will also make a
powerful case against austerity where Obama has failed to do
We are glad the 1 percent were rebuffed at the polls. We are
glad the racist minority that still poisons this country's
politics failed to get their way. We are glad that progressive
politics - small-dollar donors, early voting, an expanded and
diverse electorate - made the difference. We are ready to help
- or to push - President Obama to have a successful second
term. Whatever intransigence he meets in Congress, there's
much that President Obama can do with his executive power - on
immigration, as we've seen, on ratcheting down the drug war,
and even on carbon emissions and climate.
But we don't need tweaks; we need deep structural change. It's
up to the organized people who defeated organized money at the
polls in this election to make that happen.
Obama has Political Capital. He Should Use it.
By Richard Eskow
November 7, 2012
Campaign for America's Future
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
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
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
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
(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
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,
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
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
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 also has 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
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
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
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
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
[Richard (RJ) Eskow is a well-known blogger and writer, a
former Wall Street executive, an experienced consultant, and a
former musician. He has experience in health insurance and
economics, occupational health, benefits, risk management,
finance, and information technology.]
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