Having endured the Republican Convention in Tampa, mercifully cut one day short by Hurricane Isaac, I am looking forward to better things when the Democrats gather in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week.
Coming to my perch in front of our big screen TV, the Republican confab lived up to my every expectation. In glorious technicolor came major speeches the mainstream media deemed “breathtakingly dishonest.” Many others were filled with peevish, racially tinged divisiveness. Still others outlined fantastical “kick the poor” plans you know a Romney-Ryan administration couldn’t effect if it wanted to. And all were given to an ocean of angry white faces screeching “we built it,” when you know most of them hadn’t built anything bigger than a birdhouse.
But enough of even-handed reportage.
Four years ago, during President Obama’s historic run to the White House, you probably couldn’t have found two more fervent Obama supporters than Sharon and I. We had just launched LA Progressive at the beginning of 2008 and were excited to present one article after another extolling the virtues of the various candidates competing for the Democratic nomination, before settling on the community organizer from Chicago.
Early on, I had jumped in behind Obama, taken by his life story and energized by his soaring rhetoric that counterbalanced the dreadful eight-year decline under George Bush and Dick Cheney. Sharon initiatively flirted with the fast-talking pseudo populist from North Carolina, whose name escapes me, before falling in beside me.
Needless to say, we were overjoyed when Barack Obama and Joe Biden won. Just as needless to say, we have been disappointed time and again when the Obama administration has tacked just to the right of a Nelson Rockerfeller administration, had there been one.
It was easy enough to see that the Bush-Cheney debacle had presented Obama’s people with a near impossible task: two wrong-headed wars put on the credit card, a financial collapse threatening to take us back to the days of bread lines and general strikes my father has has described for me, an energy policy threatening to suffocate us in our own waste, a privatizing approach to education designed to leave the poor and dark-skinned behind — well, we’ve only got so much space.
But there was fault to be found in the Obama administration’s approach, too, in its endless attempts to reach out in conciliation to Tea Party foes who had vowed nothing short of utter destruction for his presidency; turning his back on the progressive forces, however unruly, that had poured so much time and energy into his campaign; managing to meet regularly with Wall Street and Silicon Valley fat cats but never once standing in the snow with the Madison, Wisconsin, public sector union protesters; not once acknowledging the joyous spirit of the Occupiers except in one speech given — for chissakes — in Kansas.
But, if for no other reason than I don’t believe we’ll win anything by losing, I fervently want President Obama and Vice President Biden re-elected. If I wasn’t convinced before, the Republicans’ Clint Eastwood Convention drove a major angry nail in the argument.
Here are five things Barack Obama and the people running the Democratic Convention can do to seal the deal.
1. Show That You’ve Learned. Too many times during the past four years, the Tea Party-tilting Republicans have made a mockery of the President and his people by throwing any efforts at collaboration and compromise back in Obama’s face. They have shown beyond any doubt that they seek not compromise, but utter defeat for anything a Kenyan-born black, socialist, community organizer from Chicago could offer. While it’s only sensible to offer an olive branch or two in Charlotte, show, too, that the Obama administration finally understands the nature of its enemies — yes, enemies — and is prepared to forge ahead without their cooperation, as with the presidential memo for the DREAMers and the undoing of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
2. Feed Your Base. The Republicans are masters at hurling “dog whistle” remarks designed to inflame fears its white working class supporters might have for immigrants, for gays, for blacks, for liberated women, for any “others” they find threatening. In a contrary vein, Obama needs to show that he really does understand the passions that drove so many Americans — many of them young but certainly not all of them — into the streets as part of the Occupy Outburst, a movement that is still growing and spreading in ways that don’t attract the same kind of alarmist media attention the original encampments and police confrontations did. Obama needs to bring the message home that he stands with the people threatened with foreclosure, with the people who have been out of work for months or are working at much reduced wages, with the chronically homeless, with all the people the Occupiers sought to defend.
3. Don’t Just End The Wars. Yes, get us out of Afghanistan as quickly as you can. Romney may not mention the war in his acceptance screed, but Americans still want it to end, especially the families of the fighting men and women who have served tour after tour after tour in combat. But more than that, show that you’re going to ratchet back our military-industrial complex that forever has us on war footing — now the Republicans want to drag us back into a cold war with the Soviet Union, er, Russia, and create another bogus war, this time with Iran. Condi Rice may declare that peace comes through strength, but real strength comes not from bankrupting our social programs with military spending, but by getting people back to work, pulling people out of poverty, rebuilding public education systems that really do give all people a shot in life, and creating infrastructure systems that enable small businesses to take root and grow.
4. Learn From History. When the aristocratic Franklin Delano Roosevelt was faced with persistent high levels of unemployment during the Great Depression, which threatened the nation’s stability and raised the specter of a fascist lurch to the right like Germany, Spain, and Italy had taken, he created government jobs programs that put people back to work building dams and bridges and post offices, many of which are evident today. In those parts of the country where current efforts to restore employment levels have fallen short, show that you’re not afraid to be a Democrat and use the government to solve problems the private sector has proven it can’t handle. You won’t lose a single Republican vote that way and you might energize a few people ground down by unemployment and fears of foreclosure who think only bankers and auto company executives warrant government support.
5. Stand Foursquare Behind Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Every reasonable American knows we both have to secure our borders and find a way to bring the millions of people who have lived here for years without proper documentation into the mainstream of American life. We all come from immigrant backgrounds. My father’s mother came here from England as a teenager, recruited to teach English at a small Minnesota town’s school**** (and another distant relative come over on the Mayflower — probably rowing). Sharon is a second generation American with roots in the West Indian Islands of Antigua, St. Croix, Dominica, and St. Kitts. Most of us know the energy immigrants bring, whenever and however they crossed the border. Show us that you’re going to do everything in your administration’s power to bring reasonable resolution to this persistent problem, not kick the can down the road.
I struggled to watch the Republican Convention, fast-forwarding through the recordings when the “snow” got too deep. As I watch the Democrats in Charlotte, I certainly hope I see enough to recover at least a part of my enthusiasm from four years ago.
What five things do you want to see come out of Charlotte?
Editor, LA Progressive
Posted: Sunday, 2 September 2012
****Fact Check: My Aunt Elaine says I’ve got it all wrong about my Grandmother, with whom I lived for a year when I was in first grade. It was my great grandmother and great grandfather who immigrated from England, neither of whom I met. My Grandmother was trained as a teacher, but at Mankato State in Minnesota.