Our Nation Books authors have been writing about what the 2012 election means and addressing the ubiquitous "Where to go from here?" question.
Peter Dreier, a professor of politics at Occidental College, and Donald Cohen in their piece in the Nation "Obama Won. Now It's Time to Change the System," write about the importance of President Obama's victory in light of the disillusionment that many Americans felt after the past four years. He argues that many of these disappointments are linked to a political system that allows "corporate plutocrats' stranglehold on Congress." Although Obama's win, he suggests, is better than the alternative:
…the major contours of American politics remain intact. The nation's extreme concentration of wealth still gives businesses and billionaires outsize political influence. Corporate campaign contributions and lobbyists tilt the political playing field so much that ordinary citizens often feel their votes and voices don't count. The United States ranks number one in low voter turnout: even in this year's hotly contested elections, fewer than 60 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. Paradoxically (but understandably), the people least likely to vote—the poor, the jobless, the young—are those who need government the most, and who, if they did vote, would tend to favor liberals and Democrats.
Dreier and Cohen clearly identify three main areas that require reform: campaign finance, voting, and labor law. These reforms will require a "bolder" second term from President Obama, similar to Lyndon B. Johnson in his dealings with the civil rights movements — as covered in Dreier's book 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century — mobilized organizers and activists for progressive change.
But as activists, we too, Dreier and Cohen write, must step it up. "Activists need to be bolder and more audacious, like the suffragists, strikers and civil rights crusaders before them."
Chris Hedges, co-author of Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt with Joe Sacco, takes a characteristically less optimistic view of the 2012 election, opening his post election analysis with, "The presidential election exposed the liberal class as a corpse. It fights for nothing. It stands for nothing. It is a useless appendage to the corporate state. It exists not to make possible incremental or piecemeal reform, as it originally did in a functional capitalist democracy; instead it has devolved into an instrument of personal vanity, burnishing the hollow morality of its adherents."
Hedges asserts that in the very act of voting for Barack Obama, liberals have
[B]etrayed the core values they use to define themselves — the rule of law, the safeguarding of civil liberties, the protection of unions, the preservation of social welfare programs, environmental accords, financial regulation, a defiance of unjust war and torture, and the abolition of drone wars. The liberal class clung desperately during the long nightmare of this political campaign to one or two issues, such as protecting a woman's right to choose and gender equality, to justify its complicity in a monstrous evil. This moral fragmentation — using an isolated act of justice to define one's self while ignoring the vast corporate assault on the nation and the ecosystem along with the pre-emptive violence of the imperial state — is moral and political capitulation. It fails to confront the evil we have become.
Although some liberals claim that they will hold President Obama accountable now that the election is over, Hedges argues that they have no concrete plans or methods to do so.
On the other hand, Van Jones, building on the ideas from his New York Times bestselling book Rebuild the Dream, moves the discussion to "Democratic strength" and celebrates the fact that "we have been able to hold together the coalition from 2008." Jones writes,
There is a new governing coalition emerging in this country. It looks different, talks different and thinks different. It has a different view from the traditional electorate. The president won because the African-American community went out in record numbers, and young people stood in long lines in Florida and Ohio and voted. It was also a big night for marriage equality and the right to collective bargaining.
Journalist John Nichols, author of Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street and the forthcoming Dollarocracy: How Billionaires Are Buying Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It, John Nichols, takes the time to point out that election wasn't even close, in fact it was "a real victory" including winning the popular vote and electoral vote. Obama now has political capital that he must use not to simply reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but to strengthen and expand them, as well as push for a Robin Hood Tax and a revisitation of Citizens United."
Robert Scheer, author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street, tells his readers, "It is now our fingers on the video game buttons that order the drones to kill innocent civilians, and we bear responsibility if the president maintains the Guantanamo gulag and continues to vilify Bradley Manning and Julian Assange for confronting America with its war crimes."
The 2012 election represents a profound mandate for change because it was a startling manifestation of the power as well as the presence of the long neglected "other" that is the face of the new America. That is the America that continued to stick with Obama, despite reservations over his actual governance, because the alternative was reactionary in the fullest sense of that word. Theirs is an idealistic trust — indispensable to the survival of our republic—that the president must not be permitted to now squander.
There is no doubt that the 2012 election was monuminetal in the sense that the country rejected the clear road to social and economic ruin. But the sun isn't bursting through the clouds yet. Progressives now have to wrangle with tough choices and most importantly, work actively and critically for change.