Thursday, November 8, 2012

Joy At Republican Humiliation Shouldn't Make Us Forget The Choices Sucked

I was in a bar/restaurant near my house on election night, trying to get some work done and watching the results come in. At first it seemed like a nail-biter (though I was convinced that it would be a fairly easy sweep for Obama) and people were texting and Facebooking their fear that Romney the snake might win. Of course, he didn't.

I must say that there was a palpable sense of relief. Like the whole city of Toronto let out a collective sigh. (Except for the Ariel Sharon supporting Israeli dude who kept shaking my hand and kissing me on the top of my head - but that's another story). And, I cannot lie, I was one of them. Romney and Ryan were such an odiously diabolical duo that one can hardly NOT be relieved and filled with joy that they were defeated. Here we had a reactionary plutocrat in alliance with a running mate who represented the most profoundly racist and paranoid lashing out of white, middle class (as in petty bourgeois) America. Hell, just the pleasure of reading Donald Trump's shrieking twitter feed was worth the price of admission.

They were defeated and now will commence a process of Republican auto-destruction that ought to be entertaining to watch. Hopefully it will lead to a split between the (cough, cough) moderates and the Tea Party radicals. Likely there will be a shabby compromise that keeps the two demented siblings in the same party.

In the meantime, their defeat will have given hope to tens of millions that America won't be taken over by Christian fundamentalists and free-marketeers who will dismantle what little social safety net exists (and shut down Sesame Street!). Tens of millions will feel that they have beaten back the right and won some space for more social change - an impression that will be strengthened by the victory for state ballot initiatives that won same sex marriage rights in several states and the legalization/decriminalization of marijuana in two states.

All that is worth celebrating.

But we can't stop there because we need to be honest that Obama isn't the answer either. Things have gotten worse under Obama, not better. America has become more unequal and there is more racism than before his election. Of course, the racist backlash of the Tea Party lunatics can't be blamed on Obama but there are plenty of ways to reduce racial inequality in America through government policy and public statements & campaigns; initiatives that were never taken. America's policy of drone strikes inside Pakistan continues, as well as continuing support for repressive regimes in the Middle East - like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Obamacare was a sop to the health insurance industry and not a cure for an unaffordable, inaccessible healthcare system. These betrayals are surely a part of the reason by the biggest bloc of votes for any candidate were the 80+ million abstentions (vs 62 million votes for Obama). Those who abstained are more than twice as likely to support Obama and the Democrats as they are to support Republicans.

The victory for progressive politics that Obama's re-election represents is an almost purely symbolic victory. And, to steal a phrase: symbolism don't pay the bills.

To turn Obama's victory into a real one will require mobilizations that don't depend on the magnanimity of Democrats or Obama. The successful maneuver by trade union leaders in Madison, Wisc. to deflect a mass movement against the GOP governor's vicious union busting into a recall movement to get a Democrat elected was an abysmal failure. The movement was derailed and defeated and Wisconsin is still a red state, run by a Republican governor - and just re-elected Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, to the House of Representatives.

On the other hand, Obama's early failure to support gay rights in anything more than a timid, prevaricating way led to mass mobilizations by the LGBT community, including a mass protest in Washington that had hundreds of thousands of people. I am convinced that a key reason for the ballot victories backing the right to same sex marriage (and the election of the first lesbian senator in Wisconsin) was that the LGBT movement didn't wait for Obama to come around and maintained their independence. Hopefully that lesson has been learned.

Ultimately, workers and the oppressed in America will need to create their own party to represent their interests, rather than a corporate dominated lash-up like the Democrats. That's not likely to occur in the short term but that shouldn't make us depressed or fatalistic - after all the Republicans just got their asses handed to them and gay rights scored some big victories. It is possible to win. But it should inject an element of sobriety.

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