Legalization of pot (in Colorado and Washington state), a big hurray for gay marriage (in Maine, Maryland, Washington), lots of progressive women in the Senate and resounding defeat for the champions of “legitimate rape” (Akin, Mourdock) — oh my! Election Day 2012 went better than I thought it would.

And Barack Obama, the designated Lesser Evil, clobbered Mitt Romney in the swing states, despite Republican efforts to keep likely Democrats from voting there. I went to bed last night feeling an irrational joy, an enormous inner cry of relief, that the neocons and right-wing crazies were held at bay for four more years.

Now what?

In the dawn’s early light, the joy is ebbing. Last night’s victory high is wearing off, especially as I read the banal analyses and balanced blather in the mainstream media and realize that all the crucial issues that were off the table during the election season — drone assassination, the military budget, climate change, corporate hegemony, GOP vote suppression tactics — are still off the table. Not that I’m surprised or anything, but it reminds me that the presidential election is mostly spectacle.

As Laura Flanders said last night on Democracy Now!, “The only thing that has ever brought about change in this country is social movements.”

So this is the thought I nurture the day after Election 2012, in the wake of disaster averted. The next four years promise mostly more of the same, politically speaking — including, I fear, the rightward drift of the Democratic Party — unless some external correction occurs, something bigger than politics as usual.

I sat at my computer on Tuesday night, listening for six hours to the discussion on Democracy Now!, and was therefore spared having to endure the incoming election results in a mainstream, values-bereft context. That helped me consolidate a perspective on the election and stay connected to the larger context in which we live and breathe.

And one of the points around which there was a sort of consensus among the Democracy Now! guests — and the sort of thing that the mainstream media are incapable of noticing — was that much of the American electorate is far more progressive than either of the major parties, despite the fact that our political system has bounced issues of global importance from the political arena and criminally marginalized third parties.

For instance, Ralph Nader pointed out that third party candidates advanced numerous positions, such as universal healthcare, that are far more in step with majority opinion than either the Democrats or Republicans.

Dennis Kucinich, declaring that “there needs to be a third force in American politics,” told Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein: “Those who voted for you were casting their ballot for an America that has yet to be born.”

And Stein, pointing out that support for the Green Party increases significantly among younger voters, noted optimistically that “the politics of fear is beginning to age out.”

Meanwhile, Rocky Anderson, former mayor of Salt Lake City, who ran for president on the newly formed Justice Party, which was on the ballot in 15 states, warned that “having a Democrat in office has basically neutered the Democratic Party.” That is, much of the Obama agenda — especially the military agenda — garnered fierce opposition when it was carried out by the Bush administration, but in the last four years, though little has changed and much has expanded, our global militarism has disappeared into the background of American awareness.

Flanders said, “We’ve watched the Democratic Party move to the right for years. Who held Obama’s feet to the fire in 2008?”

Not his progressive base, she noted, but the Tea Party — that is to say, an amalgam of big corporate money, covert corporate agenda and old-timey, populist racism. This sort of opposition is not going to challenge drone warfare, fracking or the looming “grand bargain” devastation of Medicare and Social Security.

But Bob Herbert, while critical of much of the Obama agenda, applauded his victory, saying: “This is a wonderful election to begin building a movement on.

“The public,” he said, “is out in front of Obama and Democrats.” Pointing out the adversity many voters endured in order to cast their ballots this year, he said, “This means they want change. The energy of this election needs to be harnessed.”

And this is where I sit a day later, wondering if that energy is already beginning to dissipate. Perhaps not. Progressive values, focused and sharpened by adversity, penetrated this year’s election, despite a system built to keep them out.

Climate change, financial devastation and the cruel excesses of militarism are not going away. There is an America out there unafraid to face these realities, waiting for its political birth.


Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at Bob Koehler, visit his website at Common Wonders or listen to him at Voices of Peace radio.


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