I wrote this conversational piece in response to the leftist tendency of bemoaning presidential elections as insignificant and political parties as indistinguishable. It is part of an ongoing digital salon (really, an email thread) among a few smart & talented friends. Written on 11/08/2012, I'm going to use it to debut this here new blog...
I've been absolutely fascinated by politics since 1978, when my grandmother began sending me Herblock editorial cartoons clipped from the Washington Post. Those cartoons portrayed stunned witnesses of the misdeeds of powerful, money-bagged men. I didn’t understand most of the circumstances, but recall the desperate, yearning eyes of Herbert Block’s swindled masses.
I drew my first Reagan cartoon in 1980 (age 9, copied from Mad Magazine). In high school, I teamed up with a conservative friend – a unpopular young programmer with feet as hairy as a Hobbit – and ran his mock election candidacy as Dukakis. Deep in Orange County, "Dukakis" won. I was proud. I read Marx and Chomsky. I listened to the Dead Kennedys and Fugazi. And waited for meaningful liberal victories.
They didn't happen.
Clinton hinted at what might be. Gore might’ve been interesting. I still find it remarkable that Nader actively combated what might've been our greenest presidency. The left in the 1990’s was angry and stubborn – a lot like the tea party today, ornery and noted mainly for what they opposed. Aside from Ted Kennedy and Wellstone (also opposed by the Green Party), liberalism was devoid of nationally prominent thinkers that actually accomplished things.
But along came Obama and his team of pragmatists. If you haven't read it, I recommend The Metaphysical Club, about the creation of pragmatic philosophy, which trails only baseball and national parks as this country's greatest gift to humanity. He solidified a base.
Obama's coalition is Guthrie folk song. It's a liberal Noah's ark: young, multiracial, loaded with estrogen. Compare it to the opposition. It's amazing. Liberals have never been good at keeping people together. We have an anarchistic streak. When Goldwater got beaten, conservatives organized. They coalesced, realizing that everlasting political victories take time and strategy. If the left could've figured that out earlier, maybe they get behind Gore. He wins... and Alito and Roberts are simply lawyers for a devious oil company in Dubai.
Obviously, that didn't work out. But then Obama did. And, with apologies to some leftists, there is a difference between Roberts and Sotomayor. Kagan, too. These are meaningful adjustments and I'm thrilled that they will be ongoing. Ginsburg can retire, if she’s so inclined. A scientist remains the head of the Dept. of Energy. It was difficult to imagine during the Rove years of supremacy, that within the next decade we'd have a president endorse gay marriage and demand that cars get 56+ MPG. Remember when 8 MPG SUVs were outselling everything by ridiculous numbers? That was just one term ago. DOMA and DADT were just reaching their tweener years as laws of the land at the start of Obama’s presidency.
This election, Tommy Thomson lost his senate seat to Tammy. Massachusetts elected a consumer crusader to rightfully replace Teddy. California schools received a tax boost. Marin County is represented in Washington by a former Sierra Club lawyer. Gay marriage won in state contests. Pot was legalized in Colorado.
There remains plenty to do. But it's worth noting that this week was the greatest liberal triumph of my lifetime. Yours too, probably. This isn't hyperbole. Yes, demographic and economic trends suggest that these events were eventually inevitable, but most of the big and small victories that occurred yesterday owe a huge debt to the strategy, optimism, inspiration, and pragmatic patience of a black man at the top of a now competent Democratic party. He's been hammered from the left and the right, but Obama has remained unfazed. He knows the score and the clock. He's building something slowly in an impatient world, but I think it's built to last. In human history, has there ever been a more diverse coalition rallying around one person? I don't think so (Caesar's popularity was coerced). That alone is something truly worth celebrating.
Suggested listening for this post: "Soul-A-Lujah" from the Stax supergroup of William Bell, Eddie Floyd, Cleotha Staples, Pervis Staples, Mavis Staples, Johnnie Taylor & Carla Thomas.