The election of 2012 sets the stage for an emerging seismic political realignment. Skeptics will note the basic contours of our deeply dysfunctional political scene is still at status quo ante: a skillfully gerrymandered Republican majority in the House of Representatives, driven by a hyper-partisan (and now smaller) Tea Party right-wing faction; a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate, stocked with lots of Blue Dog old school Democratic Leadership Council neo-liberal corporate Democrats who are not reliable vehicles for forwarding the progressive agenda; and the newly re-elected president and the technocratic centrists in the Obama Administration. The appearance of continuity is misleading, because the 2012 election has shifted the tectonic plates under the American electorate.
The newly emergent progressive majority coalition of Latinos, Blacks, white working class union members, Progressives, old school liberals, gays and cultural minorities, independent women, Millennial youth, and knowledge economy workers has broken through the demographic sound barrier with the re-election of President Obama. The tide is finally turning; it is apparent that the natural base of the Republican Party, conservative white folks concentrated in the South and the West, is no longer an electoral majority.
We may be marking the beginning of a sea change in the political landscape. First, the long-term demographic transformation of America to a rainbow nation with a multi-racial, multi-ethnic and socially tolerant culture (the fruit of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s) has now passed the tipping point. The culture has changed for the better among the young.
Secondly, this election settled a long-standing political debate on the role of the social safety net that has been in play since the Reagan Administration and throughout the past 30 year ideological dominance of the conservative movement. The Republican leadership has been shown repeatedly that you just can’t beat the faith in the New Deal social contract out of the American people. We want to keep Social Security and Medicare as social guarantees, thank you very much. We don’t want to hand those trillions of dollars over the tender mercies of the Wall Street pirates.
Elections have consequences. The Affordable CARE Act is now the law of the land. We will need to refine and assess the ACA, which represents a good first step toward the long-cherished progressive dream of a cost-effective, publicly supported universal health care system in the U.S., which is finally catching up to the rest of the G-20
advanced nations. In terms of the long term prospects for the Supreme Court and federal judiciary, we can be grateful that we will now get a more balanced Supreme Court and a broader spectrum of views on the federal courts. Corporations may not enjoy “personhood” status in a decade, under current trends. Women’s reproductive rights will be protected and the Religious Right abortion culture war can evolve from attempting to overturn a deeply ingrained social consensus on the right to reproductive choice and ready access to contraceptive services, to working collaboratively with government and nonprofits to minimize the number of abortions.
Most significantly, we will likely avoid the next war on Iran that the neo-conservative Bush era foreign policy hawks on the Romney team had in store for us. That alone will save us a trillion dollars from the deficit.
Close to home here in California the voters finally gave the Democrats super-majorities in both houses of the state legislature. This is more a verdict on the many weary years of obstinate, bad faith political malpractice by the California Republican Party than a ringing voter endorsement of the California Democratic Party. The reason that the California Republicans are no longer at the adult table is that they irresponsibly used their minority control, under the Prop.13 two-thirds budget requirement, to block every reasonable effort to raise the necessary revenues to run the state properly. The voters of California want to know that you represent their community’s interests, not a pledge to Grover Norquist in D.C. to never, ever raise one dime of tax under penalty of banishment from the conservative club.
The progressive movement seeks to achieve the 21st Century New Deal we have been dreaming of and working on behind the scenes through decades in the political wilderness. The America we want to see is one in which ordinary citizens don’t have to live in fear of ruin from bankruptcy and foreclosure due to a common medical emergency, and one in which anyone who wants a job will be put to work right away doing socially useful and much-needed work such as helping re-build the infrastructure, aiding the environment, providing education for children, caring services for the elderly, and maintenance of public spaces.
Major labor organizations and civil society groups like Rebuild the Dream are actively supporting a national jobs initiative that will provide millions of jobs now, in the mold of the New Deal WPA project. A jobs program will help set young people on the path to lifelong workforce participation, provide the dignity of work in service to the community, and accelerate the end of the recession. That is a worthy policy goal for progressives in the second Obama term. There is political momentum for immigration policy reform, an end to the drug war, election law standardization, creating a more progressive tax system, and long-overdue labor law reform that will strengthen union power, and protection of civil liberties in the internet age.
One lesson that we all learned from the first term of the Obama Administration is that we can’t sit back and expect that our leaders will act on our behalf. Politics is a participatory sport, and we must get active to support the causes that we care about.