Take a break. It’s been a loooonnnggg campaign. Reading the emails and news articles, checking websites, sending corrections to the smear-watch sites, volunteering at the phone bank, and all those arguments around the office. Especially with those smarmy lowlifes in the accounting and legal departments, as if their fancy educations made them smarter than the rest of us.
And what about those guys and bimbos at the gym? They think working out makes them smart? Drinking that Smart Water didn’t help them form coherent arguments. Yeah, take a break. You’ve earned it. You need a rest after months of this political noise, and watching your 401K drop like pieces of a blown-up space shuttle.
Take a break. Let Obama carry the load for a while now. He wanted the job, now let him do it. He’s got the people. What have they got to do, after all, now that the campaign is over?
What indeed! The President-elect has to start work now on fixing the mess created by the old administration. Our economy is in shambles and is sinking further every day. Most economists think that the housing crisis will grow worse as more people are laid off and can’t pay either mortgage or rent. The colonial government we installed in Iraq is demanding that we leave. Our “friends” in Pakistan are demanding that we finally begin to treat them as if they were sovereign. And polar bears are going extinct faster than Todd Palin can shoot them.
Even England is reportedly looking into criminal charges against our CIA. Are we going to have to start calling breakfast food “Freedom Muffins” instead of “English Muffins”?
President Obama won’t be sworn in until January 20, 2009. Bush/Cheney will inflict as much damage as they can for the next 2½ months. Obama can’t take over now, but he can start preparing so that on January 21, even while folks nurse inaugural party hangovers, his team can hit the ground running.
But what does that mean? When Bush/Cheney got to Washington in 2001, they commanded a congress of loyal, obsequious party hacks. They had a program for looting and undermining government and that program was supported by congressmen eager to ride the gravytrain.
Obama goes to a very different Washington. Nancy Pelosi will still be Speaker of the House. She backed every one of Bush’s war funding/looting requests in the past two years. She opposed any effort to hold even the lowest of the Bushies accountable for their crimes. When Obama proposes changes, will she get on board?
Can we expect multimillionaire Senators like Harry Reid or Diane Feinstein to suddenly “see the light” and shift to support policies which benefit the middle and lower classes? It is true that Democrats took more House and Senate seats in the election. But what does that really mean? How many of the Democrats elected from formerly “Red” districts are progressives?
President Obama is going to face these questions as he confronts the mess left by Bush/Cheney. I expect that Obama will bring to the White House the same discipline and control that served him so well in the campaign. But that may be a big problem for progressives.
In the zeal to run the neo-cons out of the executive branch, the euphoria of finally electing someone who represents real change, and moving Congress closer to a veto-proof majority, many may have forgotten that Barack Obama is not, and has never offered himself as, a progressive. He has consistently been a careful, calculating, mainstream Democrat. Early in the campaign, he said that a solution to our national healthcare disgrace would be to negotiate in good faith with the insurance companies who now control medical decision making.
Insurance companies are fine long-term investments. But only someone naïve or thoroughly integrated into party machinery could use “good faith negotiations,” “reform,” and “insurance company” in the same sentence.
I think that President Obama will learn. I believe that he will bring to the White House the same ability to grow and evolve his positions that FDR and JFK brought. But I also believe that he starts out, as did both FDR and JFK, with less knowledge than sincerity and ability to learn.
As he’s learning, what do we do? I fear both ennui. It has been a long campaign. Most of us have jobs and families and hobbies that need our attention. It is easy to say, “Let Barack do it.” If President Obama does not end poverty and homelessness by February, or at least introduce legislation guaranteed to accomplish those goals, how easy it will be to say “we tried,” and then sink back into our lives, until the next presidential election cycle.
I fear disillusion. For some, the absence of instant results will be a sign of betrayal – we worked so hard and we won, so how come the government is not now progressive!? Must be because our recent heroes have been co-opted, have sold us out. We’ve been betrayed. I knew this would happen. All politicians are the same. There is no hope for the future.
Either response, “we tried” followed by turning away from the process, or “we’ve been betrayed,” helps the neo-cons and the Nancy Pelosi Democrats. Neither response is worthy of the effort so many people put in for so long to get us to where we are.
Registering millions of new voters and bringing younger people into the process is not betrayal.
Electing a black president is not betrayal.
Overcoming the Rovian tactics and the Fox News attacks is not betrayal.
Throwing up our hands in dismay or disgust and walking away would be betrayal. The candidates for whom we worked so hard deserve better than our disappointment when we don’t get everything we want, as soon as we want it.
Democracy is the politics of compromise. It is the politics of sharing results with people with whom we disagree. Think of Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama.
Then think back over the last 8 years. To the neo-cons, sharing was betrayal. Either you were in lock-step agreement with them or you were dismissed as a traitor. Remember how they treated Scott McClellan, who only decided to tell the truth. Remember the words used to condemn Colin Powell after his endorsement. Do we want our administration run on that model?
What now? If we believe in democracy, if we believe in change, if we believe in what we have worked for these many months, we stay at it. We push Obama to learn that real progress means policies more progressive than he has supported so far. We write, call and cajole Nancy Pelosi, Diane Feinstein and newly elected conservative Democrats to see opportunities in moving away from conservative positions.
Sure, we rest and regroup. We spend time with our families and let them hear us speak of something other than social policies and political maneuvering. And we let the people we elected to govern give governing a try.
But then we remember that freedom is not free – that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. And we go back to paying attention to what our elected governors are doing. And we let them know when they are not doing as we would like. We let our neighbors know and we start to speak out to the Courage Campaign, Democracy for America, Move-On, and everyone else who was glad to receive our money. We let them know that we are watching, we continue to care, and we expect them to live up to the promises that were made.
And, we give praise when praise is due. It is easy to find the time to write a screed condemning the politician who abuses our trust. But it may be more important to find the time to write encouragement for one who has found the strength to do what is right, especially on issues when plenty of others may be writing to criticize.
Tom Hall is a family law attorney. He is originally from Boston, where he grew up in the Cambridge Friends Meeting (Quakers), thinking that religion was a progressive force. During the Vietnam War, he organized draft counseling centers and worked with groups training people to participate in highly disciplined nonviolent demonstrations (real disciplined nonviolence is just plain maddening to police forces who count on demonstrators giving them reason to get ‘messy’ during public demonstrations). After the war, he became just another yuppie working to make himself a comfortable life. The Bush administration has shocked him back into social concerns. Tom can be reached at [email protected]
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