Earlier in this series on the future of American democracy, I noted Barack Obama's formidable power as a transformational leader and partisan politician entering his second term as president. Now, I'd like to consider what America might look like when he leaves the White House.
I'm particularly concerned in this series about systemic consequences for the historic "Great Experiment" of American democracy. For example, I wonder how our pursuit of democratic ideals will evolve in "Obama Nation"? Or, if conservative clarions are right in their warnings, what will be the nature of our devolved experiment in "Obamanation"?
But that is a matter to be discussed throughout the rest of this series. For now, let's take a look at some current reactions and projections -- positive and negative, from the left and the right -- about Barack Obama and the future of American democracy.
I will focus today on "Obama Nation," followed by discussion of "Obamanation" in my next post.
President Obama's Vision.
Perhaps the best place to search the ambitious promise of "Obama Nation" is President Obama's inaugural speeches. These statements are very significant in that, together, they extend his earlier transformational message to a partisan political agenda during his second term. I previously quoted his ambitious promise to fundamentally re-make America (2009); now I will attempt to capture the essence of his political plan in the most recent address (2013):
But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action ...We, the people declare today that the most evident of truths--that all of us are created equal--is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
Obama then called for more activist government on behalf of "our wives, our mothers, and daughters," "our gay brothers and sisters," "our children," and "striving, hopeful immigrants."
Enthusiastic Media Reaction.
Nothing conveys the exhilaration among left-wingers (and provoked outrage from right-wingers) than the post-election, pre-inauguration coverage by Newsweek, which splashed an on-line cover photo of Obama with a headline, "The Second Coming," as the tease for inside text from Evan Thomas. Thomas says he was not comparing Obama to Jesus Christ; but, alas, he had previously uttered the following sentiment during a 2009 television interview: "In a way, Obama's standing about the country -- above the world... He's sort of God. He's going to bring all different sides together."
Journalist Bob Moser wrote in the American Prospect that the recent election could be more consequential than anyone had dared to dream ("Obama Wins the Future"):
Americans made foundational choices in this election...The president ran, and won, on the most resonant pro-government message Democrats have offered in four decades. He did it by assembling the most diverse political coalition I the nation's history--huge majorities of young people, African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, women, and highly educated whites. This is a coalition of the future ...This opens up a politics of progressive possibility that, just two days ago, few were envisioning.
Buzzfeed staffers Ben Smith and Zeke Miller claimed that the 2012 presidential election cemented the reality of a changed America ("Welcome to Liberal America"):
Democrats now have, in Obama, their Reagan: A figure both historic and ideological, who can carry, if not quite fulfill, a liberal vision of activist government and soft but sometimes deadly power abroad that will define his party for a generation.
They also predicted that "The future of the Grand Old Party will be determined by how well it adapts to the brand-new Liberal America -- indeed the Obama America -- that is now here to stay."
Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson pointedly challenged "conservative bloviators" ("A New America Speaks"):
It's our country, too ... It's not a traditional America anymore ... On Tuesday, the America of today asserted itself. Four years ago, the presidential election was about Barack Obama and history. This time it was about us - -who we are as a nation -- and a multihued, multicultural future.
From abroad, there were similar feelings about the birthing of a new America and liberal prospects. The Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland watched on election night and proclaimed a remarkable progressive achievement ("Barack Obama's Odyssey Continues"):
Yet the night marked more than just the extension of the Obama presidency: it also confirmed the arrival of the Obama nation. For underpinning the president's success was a shift in the very nature of the US electorate, with white voters accounting for a smaller share than ever before. Now 28 percent of American voters are non-white, a threefold increase over the past four decades. And these rising groups that make up the new America vote Democrat.
Whether "Obama Nation" is the future of America remains to be seen. As evidenced in the comments in this post, many have considerable faith in Barack Obama the transformational leader and Barack Obama the partisan politician.
Just as importantly, he is good at both jobs. He seems smart and pleasant and he radiates compassion for people. Furthermore, like Ronald Reagan, he has those people with him at this point in his career.
However, there is a significant number of Americans who are not enthralled with President Obama. He won by only four percentage points in the actual popular vote just a few months ago; and a simple googling of the terms "Obama Nation" and "Obamanation" reveals one-sidedly negative commentary about the chief executive's vision for America.
Apparently, many Americans are concerned about what lies ahead; and they have dug in their heels against his transformational mission and political agenda. I will present their take on "Obamanation" in my next discussion.
Author's Note: This post is part of a series of discussions about "Election 2012, Barack Obama, and the Future of American democracy." This series includes edited, updated material from my book, The Future of American Democracy: A Former Congressman's Unconventional Analysis (2002). I'm grateful to University Press of America for allowing me to borrow from that publication for my discussions on Huffington Post.