Six years ago, most progressives eagerly awaited the election of Barack Obama. Now many of us are unhappy with him. Indeed, Obama's unpopularity has become the primary theme of the midterm elections. As a consequence, Republicans are more energized than Democrats. Before November 4, what can be done to revitalize progressives?
Remember how we got here.
After eight years of a catastrophic Bush administration, in 2008 progressives were quick to embrace the optimism of a smart, optimistic presidential candidate, Barack Obama. Most of us knew how hard it is to change the Washington establishment. Nonetheless, we bought into the euphoria of "Change you can believe in."
The fact that President Obama wasn't as liberal as we believed he was, and hasn't accomplished as much as we expected, shouldn't dissuade us from working for a better democracy. When you're in the middle of a battle with the dark side, it's discouraging to recognize that your leaders have flaws. But that shouldn't keep progressives from soldiering on towards a better world.
Reemphasize our values.
1. While Barack Obama managed to stabilize the economy -- which was in catastrophic disorder when he was elected -- he did not make it more equitable. In his memorable 2004 speech at the Democratic Convention, Obama said, "It is that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper -- that makes this country work." This belief, that to make Democracy work we have to practice the Golden Rule, is one that differentiates progressives from conservatives.
Even though Obama hasn't done what we hoped he would do, we cannot let go of our objective to build a just and equitable society.
2. Since February 2009, after the passage of the economic stimulus package, Republicans have adopted the strategy of opposing President Obama at every turn. Republican Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell said, "The single most important thing [Senate Republicans] want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." As a result there has been record obstruction in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. In the Senate, Republicans blocked a record number executive nominations and filibustered hundreds of bills.
Republicans say they don't believe in government and act accordingly. Progressives believe that government can be a positive force.
3. Republicans have not only opposed Obama's legislative initiatives, they have attacked him personally. Beginning in 2008, Republicans spread rumors that Obama had not been born in America, was not a Christian but rather a Muslim, and was connected to terrorist organizations. After he was elected President, this became an unprecedented disrespect. It first flared openly, in September 2009, when Representative Joe Wilson yelled, "You're a liar," when Obama addressed a joint session of Congress. Every day a Republican politician or one of the talking heads on Fox News suggests the president cannot be trusted.
If Obama was a Republican president, and Democrats engaged in this level of disrespect, we'd be labeled "un-American." Progressives believe the president of the United States deserves the respect of every American.
4. When Barack Obama was first elected president, many of us took pride in the fact that an African-American had achieved the nation's highest position. We hoped that this would diminish the amount of racial animosity in America. Sadly, the savage attacks on Obama appear to have inflamed racial tensions. Oprah Winfrey remarked, "There is a level of disrespect for the office that occurs. And that occurs, in some cases -- and maybe even many cases -- because [Obama's] African-American."
In recent months, with the riots in Ferguson, and other events, the U.S. has experienced increasing racial tension. Meanwhile, in many states Republicans have set out to disenfranchise people-of-color. The GOP has become the Party of elderly rich white men. Progressives seek an inclusive political movement.
5. Underlying Republican hatred of government is a fear of change. They embrace the status quo. Republicans don't want to break up big banks, or raise the minimum wage, or shutdown polluting industries, or provide women with access to health services, or close military bases, or feed and educate our children, because that would change the social order. Republicans like things the way they are: with rich white men calling all the shots.
Most voters don't accept the Republican message; they want an inclusive government working for all the people not just the rich and powerful. In a February speech, political columnist Jim Hightower identified the core problem: "[In] today's America... too few people control too much of the money and power, and they're using that control to grab more money and power from the rest of us." Progressives stand for all the people not just the one percent.
Suck it up.
Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said, "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice." Democracy is worth fighting for. Regardless of the president's popularity, progressives need to get involved in this election and fight for candidates that hold our values.