Campaign for America's Future Blog
let’s get this straight: A Republican President is re-elected in 2004
with 284 electoral votes, and the pundits tell us he has the “political
capital” to push an extreme right-wing mandate. A Democratic President
gets re-elected in 2012 with 303 electoral votes, and they’re telling us
he needs to “unite a divided country.”
This election was a clear and unequivocal victory for the populist
positions the President took on the campaign trail. Don’t believe the
hype: This was a great night for progressives, populists, and agents of
change. Our political system may be dominated by Big Money, but this
was a victory for the 99 Percent.
We’ve been through our Dark Night of the Soul. Now it’s time for
inspiration — and for determination to build on these victories in the
weeks, months, and years to come. Here are seven lessons from this
election that have been under-reported, or overlooked completely, in all
the media frenzy, including Occupy Wall Street’s victory, the “Harold
and Kumar” factor, Harry Reid’s big mandate, and the fact that
1. Occupy Wall Street won big.
The Occupy movement may have disappeared from the national media eye,
but this election was a big win for Occupy’s vision and language. After
that movement caught the national imagination, the President adopted
its populist rhetoric. That may have hurt the tender feelings of
America’s CEOs, especially those on Wall Street, but it help cement his
The nature of that victory was underscored by the victories won by
staunch progressives like Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, even as
far-right candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock went down in
The President’s populist theme didn’t end with his victory. He spoke
last night of a “generous America,” a “compassionate America,” a
That deeply victory moving speech mentioned deficit reduction – once –
but emphasized the following themes: Our “common bond” as a nation.
The “weakening” effect of “inequality.” The “destructive power of a
warming planet.” “The best schools and teachers.” Ending our two wars.
Investment in “technology and discovery and innovation,” with “good
jobs” to follow.
The President deserved his victory. But as this election came to a
close, it was the dreamers in Zuccotti Park who Occupied the Night.
2. This was a bigger victory than it looks.
John Nichols did an excellent piece in The Nation
comparing last night’s victory to that of previous Presidents. Read it and remember: This was the first post-Citizens United
Billionaires and corporations poured hundreds of millions of dollars
into races across the country, as well as the Presidential campaign -
- and they still lost.
When you compare last night’s Democratic victory to previous election
results, add a “billionaire factor” to get a more apples-to-apples
(I should be a better person than this, but I take no small amount of
satisfaction in knowing that Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers
wasted lots and lots and lots of money this year.)
3. Social issues can help Democrats now.
Voters in Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational
pot-smoking, while a medical-marijuana initiative won in Massachusetts.
This may be the first time in history that getting high actually increased
voter turnout. At this rate politicians may soon find themselves courting that all-important “Harold and Kumar” demographic.
For years liberals have watched in frustration as conservatives
coasted to victory on social issues, despite the harm that their
economic policies caused conservative voters. That’s the phenomenon
Thomas Franks discussed in What’s the Matter With Kansas?
Anti-gay marriage initiatives were used to increase conservative turnout and wound John Kerry in 2004, for example.
A few short years ago it was considered unthinkable for politicians
to support civil unions for gay Americans. But this year’s ballot
initiatives on marriage equality and marijuana may have hurt Republicans
as all Americans - among them young people of all political views,
including young evangelicals – are becoming markedly more liberal on
social issues, as marriage equality initiatives won in Maine and
In a victory for free choice, Florida’s attempt to ban the use of
public funds for abortion failed. At this rate some conservative will
soon write book about Democratic victories in the Deep South called What’s the Matter With Mississippi?
(Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?)
4. Harry Reid! Good ol’ Harry Reid! He’s got a mandate.
Romney lost, but another Mormon won big last night. This election was
a great victory for Reid and his Senatorial majority. He strengthened
that majority, despite being forced to defend more seats than the
Republicans, and he did it with candidates who tended to be strongly
Warren won in Massachusetts, as did Sherrod Brown in Ohio both. Tim
Kaine pulled out a win in Virginia, in part by decisively rejecting the
“centrist” agenda of the austerity-minded Simpson Bowles proposal.
Meanwhile a candidate who did embrace the “centrist” agenda, Bob Kerrey,
was defeated in Nebraska.
As Majority Leader, Harry Reid now has a clear mandate to fight for
populist causes and resist the radical-right agenda of Congressional
Republicans. Reid has made it clear that he opposes any cuts to Social
Security benefits. With Senators like Tim Kaine, Elizabeth Warren, and
Sherrod Brown by his side, he has the moral and political capital to
Reid also has a mandate to reform the Senate’s procedural rules,
which minority Republicans have repeatedly abused in order to thwart the
will of the American majority. Newly-elected Maine Senator Angus King,
who is a relatively conservative Independent, campaigned on a platform
of filibuster reform. Harry Reid alsohas the political capital to reform
Good ol’ Harry Reid. He’s not loud or pushy, but he last night he got it done.
5. “Socialism” sells
In today’s political rhetoric, the word “socialism” is used to
describe policies that were universally accepted by politicians across
the political spectrum. Here’s one example: The Republican Party
platform of 1956 boasted that millions had been added to Social
Security’s rolls, and to the membership of America’s unions, during
Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first term. Eisenhower built the Federal highway
system. President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection
Agency and proposed a universal guaranteed income for all Americans.
From Roosevelt to Reagan, the ideas now labeled as “socialist” were universal American values.
Those values won again last night. President Obama’s victory in Ohio
would not have been possible if he hadn’t taken the most “socialistic”
action of his Presidency by taking over the auto companies in order to
rescue them. He saved millions of jobs – and turned a profit for the
And while Florida hasn’t been called as of this writing, it’s in play
because the President strengthened Medicare,while his opponents tried
to destroy it with their voucher proposal, and because Republicans
attacked Social Security with a privatization scheme.
6. Unions and progressives matter.
Unions turned out for the President, providing invaluable help in key
states like Ohio. Progressive organizations and individuals contributed
their time, money, energy, and ideas. That helps explain progressive
victories around the country, as well as the President’s national win.
Progressives also contributed heavily to races like that of Alan
Grayson, who scored an historic comeback win in a Republican-leaning
district, and nearly helped unseat Michele Bachmann.
The power and contribution of these movements should be remembered in the weeks and months to come.
7. The “new America” needs bold action.
There’s a lot of talk about the “new America” that contributed to
this victory: women (who are a rising political force, even if they’re
hardly new!), the growing Hispanic population, and young people.
These constituencies need the same things the country as a whole
needs: Hispanics are struggling with low wages and high unemployment, so
they need action for jobs and economic growth. Health issues are
critical to women, which means we need more and deeper reform of our
health sector. Young people need more investment in education, job
creation, and a equitable society with opportunity for all.
Welcome to the “New America.” In most ways it’s just like the old
one, especially in what matters most: We’re still all in this together.
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