President Obama declared in his victory address on election night, “Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated…We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” Those were powerful words. But they must be followed with action.
When he thanked his campaign workers, the former community organiser spoke emotionally from the heart. He ran an incredible grassroots campaign, which must now be turned into a movement to work with Occupy and other progressive groups to effect real change.
Glenn Greenwald warned in The Guardian that progressives are bound to be disappointed again in Obama because we will be under pressure to conform when our demand that he not agree to cut Social Security or Medicare as part of a “grand bargain” does not succeed.
But recall that in 1940, the great labor leader A. Philip Randolph prevailed upon Franklin D. Roosevelt to improve the conditions of blacks and workers. The President responded, “I agree with everything you have said. Now make me do it.”
It is up to us to make Obama do it. How we get the President to do the right things are the challenges we face. What we do know is that those who mobilised to defeat Romney and Ryan should not demobilise. Those progressive constituencies that supported the President must come together to speak with one voice on key issues.
During the presidential election, many progressives were hesitant to vote for Barack Obama. They could not forget that he bailed out the huge banks with no accountability for the white-collar criminals who wreaked so much havoc on our economy while at the same time providing no relief for those whose homes were being foreclosed.
Nor could they countenance Obama’s use of drones to summarily execute untold numbers of people, including many civilians. Progressives were upset that Obama failed to close Guantanamo, continuing to hold many people in indefinite detention without criminal charges. We were outraged that the President wanted to look forward and not hold any of those who authorised and committed torture accountable. He neglected to mention poverty during the campaign, despite the fact that 42.6 million people live below the poverty line in the United States. Obama also deported record numbers of undocumented immigrants and continued the Bush policy of warrantless eavesdropping.
Before the election, Marjorie Cohn joined Daniel Ellsberg, Cornel West, Frances Fox Piven, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jim Hightower, Norman Solomon and Jeff Cohen in issuing a call to progressive voters who were conflicted to ensure that we make defeating Romney a priority: “If you live in a close state, defeat Romney and his right-wing policies by voting Obama/Biden. If you live in a state where the outcome will be lopsided, you’re in a position to send a loud and clear vote of protest against Obama policies you oppose.”
We “consistently challenged Obama policies (on civil liberties, war and bloated military spending, environment, potential cuts to Social Security and Medicare, to name a few)” but we knew “that the policies of a Romney/Ryan administration would be worse on many issues and better on none. Consider Romney’s recent vow to ‘change course’ toward even more war-mongering in the Middle East. Or their profound differences on abortion rights and Supreme Court picks.”
The rest is history. President Obama was reelected handily, the only Democrat besides Franklin D. Roosevelt to win two terms with a majority of the popular vote. Women, gays, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos, youth, and poor people understood the greater dangers of a Romney presidency. Obama prevailed in eight of the nine swing states. Although efforts to suppress the vote in communities of color in those swing states backfired, we know voter suppression is very real. Karl Rove & Co. used millions of dollars thanks to Citizens United to defeat Obama; luckily those dollars turned out to be ill-spent - on ads and not a comparable “ground game.”
Maureen Dowd put it well: “Last time, Obama lifted up the base with his message of hope and change; this time the base lifted up Obama with the hope he will change.” With Obama’s reelection, we must do more than hope that Obama will change. We have a unique opportunity to demand Obama move in a progressive direction.
The Affordable Care Act has survived so we can keep our kids on our health insurance policies until they turn 26, people with pre-existing conditions will not be denied insurance, and many who could not afford insurance before will be covered. But we must push for universal health care.
Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, past president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her latest book is "The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse." See www.marjoriecohn.com
Jeanne Mirrer is an attorney in New York City and president of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.