Friday, November 07, 2008

Election Post-script #1

It's morning in America and hope has been restored for those of us who see a road forward to the future, not an idealized, mythical past to which we should return. I am hopefuly again for the first time in a long time. I am not the sort to look at America with a totalizing critique. I still see it as an unrealized dream: of democracy, freedom and equality of opportunity. The election of Obama certainly does not address all of the problems in America today, but he has built a movement and lit a torch that can push the country forward with a progressive agenda for change that increases opportunity, heightens civic engagement and responsibility, challenges neoliberalism and its cynical policies that largely serve the elites and restores America's image the world over. This is a moment for real change in America and it is up to not only him but us to struggle forward against the past and toward a better tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day

Been off the past few days, busy with other tasks. Today we find out who the next president will be. I was teaching a class yesterday and argued that this election is a referendum on a number of issues. I believe it truly could be the most important election for a long time to come. If McCain wins, we can assume the strategy and policies of the past will continue. If Obama wins, no matter what he does as President, real change will come to American politics. Here are the larger stakes of this election, at least in my mind . . .

1) Race/Racism in America: if Obama wins, it could challenge the idea that elections can be won or lost on this issue alone. If Obama wins in Virginia, Florida, North Carolina or anywhere else in the South (less likely), it could signal an end to the Republican stranglehold on that region and the need for the Republican party to redefine what they stand for (and clearly what they oppose). While his election will not immediately change the racial dynamics of the country, it is clear it will be a signal moment in race relations in this country and symbolic of the possiblity for real equality of opportunity and an end to racism as policy. If McCain wins, one has to acknowledge that racism played a relatively major role.

2) Economics: it is clear this election returns us to Obama's argument in his book -- can we create a "New" New Deal, that recognizes the role the government can play to soften the edges of capitalism and more equitably distribute the benefits (and risks) of American capitalism gone wild. In traditional terms, this is an election between Reagan and FDR/Keynes and could fundamentally challenge our current notions of markets and government. This will clearly depend on what Obama actually does if he wins, but if McCain wins it appears to continue the argument that "liberal" is a bad word in America and taxes (even during a financial crisis) make all the difference; even to those who will not benefit from still more tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

3) The Nature of Campaigns: a number of changes have emerged in the election this cycle, and a Obama victory could alter the dynamics and strategies of elections for the foreseeable future. Here are the issues:

a) Populism: can an effective Democratic ground game undermine the effectiveness of the Republican machine and its policy of attack, attack and then attack some more? More generally, are we about to see a dramatic upshift in turnout and thus the voice of the people in elections.
b) Rovean electoral strategy: relates to "a", if Obama wins -- will the idea of running exclusively or prodimantly negative campaigns lose steam. This is not a new trend, but it is clear the virulence of hatred-mongering and lies in recent elections has altered the public sphere to our collective disadvantage.
c) Media: can an Obama win force the media to consider its role in the spectacle-dominated politics of today? I don't have great hope in this area, but maybe pressure can mount for issues-based coverage over horse-race and character focus.
d) Money: Obama undermined public financing laws, which make many like me very uncomfortable. But at the same time, the populist nature of his fundraising provides hope that the people can challenge the stranglehold the elites and corporations currently have on elections and daily business in Washington. This will depend first on who wins and then later on the ability of the Obama team to keep this swell of popular participation activated for future campaigns and, hopefully, for more local effors for change. certainly provides a model for maintaining these networks between elections.

I am so nervous . . . and hopeful.