The Invitation

12/06/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

5 PM Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I think Barack Obama is in the process of winning today -- so it's worth taking a moment to reflect on what his extraordinary campaign has already meant, and will continue to mean for American politics in the future.

Most simply put, the expansion of the American electorate in the past 18 months--the millions of newly registered African-Americans, Latinos, young people, and other likely Democratic voters--and the renewed public interest in electoral politics itself, combined with a world-class economic crisis, offers the most important invitation to progressives and a progressive agenda in two generations, since the 1930s.

Don't get me wrong. No matter what policies he offers, progressives are likely to be disappointed. Obama has steered clear of supporting single-payer health insurance, for instance. And advocates of humane immigration reform, gay marriage, and real help for families trying to meet college tuition -- feel left out of what one lesbian friend of mine calls "your party."

What is far more important, I believe, is what he and his campaign have done to unleash the power of political activity, build political expertise, and inspire and sustain the hope essential for any progressive movement. Tens of thousands of Americans have already reshaped the political landscape toward the left in more than a dozen states -- from Colorado and Nevada to Indiana (!), North Carolina, and Virginia. Those folks aren't going away.

These are openings that haven't existed for a very long time. I think a President Obama will combine elements of FDR's and JFK's presidencies: charismatic leadership, ideological flexibility, and responsiveness to pressure from the left. And if he wants to be re-elected, he'll have to persuade an even larger, younger, less white, less closeted, and less Anglo electorate four years from now.

That is one hell of an invitation to progressives, as I see it. It's time for us to show up at the party, make it our party too -- and crash it when necessary.

11 AM Wednesday, November 5
The Best Morning After of All

In a remarkable speech in which he quoted from Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, President-elect Barack Obama (such words to be writing, words I never thought I'd be able to write!) made that invitation explicit. It's up to us, now, to take him even more seriously than he expects.

And to have some fun for at least a few days. After all, we elected an African-American President of the United States of America yesterday, redrew the electoral map, and gave millions of young people a taste for democracy and victory. Not bad.