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Dave Zirin Headshot

Last Night's Lesson: It Ain't Rocket Science

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One of the first photos I saw of Barack Obama was a picture of him at his desk with a poster of Muhammad Ali staring down upon him. That was cool to me. Here is a basketball-playing Chicago politician and he chooses Ali over that icon of apolitical apathy, Michael Jordan.
But if last night's election results reveal nothing else, the time for swooning over photo-ops has long passed. This is not rocket science. Throughout the country, Republican turnout stayed the same as in 2008 while Democratic turnout cratered. That's what happens when you don't deliver the goods. For all the people who voted Democrat because they wanted to bring home the troops, stand for civil rights for all people, and see real job creation and union protections, the last year has been a thin gruel indeed.

It's not about accomplishing my personal laundry list of wishes. It's about forward progress -- or even effort -- from the Oval office. The White House didn't say one word about the Maine referendum to protect LBGT marriage equality. AG Holder even said last week that he didn't "know enough about it" to comment, which was both a lie and a slap in the face. Obama hasn't fought a lick for the pro-labor Employee Free Choice Act or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act known as ENDA. And please don't mention Afghanistan, Iraq or the Wall Street bailouts. Please don't mention an economic policy geared toward socializing debt and privatizing profit. There is no effort coming from the White House that moves the people toward the direction that people rallied, campaigned, and voted for in 2008 and that is an indictment of this administration. It also reveals something very bankrupt about the nature of our political system and the Democratic Party. The people spoke and it mattered little. Now we need to do more.

Yes, the 21st century incarnation of the Republican Party achieves the double distinction of being both cartoonish and frightening in the extreme. But patiently waiting for the Democrats to figure out how to both appease their big money backers and the popular desire for change is a recipe for failure. Look at Virginia last night where less than 10% of voters were under 30 and African American turnout was a non-factor. As Dr. King said, "You have to give the people victories." But all we are getting is spin. We need action, not words. We need to become more than the scenery for eloquent wordplay. We need to fight for our goals and this administration can choose to get on board or get out of the way.

As Bill Maher said of Obama, "Muhammad Ali also had a way with words, but it helped enormously that he could also punch guys in the face."