This time, it’s about change we can accomplish
I’m a longtime fan of Dave Eggers—author, editor, originator—so I became a quick enthusiast of his 90 Days, 90 Reasons project with its countdown-to-election stream of essays from people on why they’re voting to re-elect President Barack Obama. So far, we’ve heard from Jonathan Franzen, Khaled Hosseini, Jamaica Kincaid, Judd Apatow, Paul Simon, Michelle Tea and plenty of others.
Inevitably, the website led me to consider my own reason for supporting Obama. This time, it doesn’t have to do with how I felt in the full sweep of “change we can believe in,” with the idealistic bumper stickers and “Hope” posters. It doesn’t have to do with the elation with which I listened to each one of Obama’s speeches in 2008 as he hopped ahead from one gleaming victory to the next. It doesn’t have to do with the unanticipated and whole-cloth optimism I felt suddenly, and at last, about the future of the country.
No, this time, my reason for supporting Obama is less breathless, not as wide-eyed. But it’s just as genuine. This time, it’s not about change we can believe in—it’s about change we can actually accomplish.
Like so many, I’m enormously distressed by the ultra-conservatives in Congress and across America who want a return to the failed policies of the Bush administration. But lately, I find myself even more unglued by progressive-slash-liberal friends and readers who say having Obama in office would be pretty much the same as having Mitt Romney there. On the Opening Salvo page on the 90 Days website, Eggers and Co. speculate that some members of the left simply want “to punish President Obama [for not achieving all that was hoped for] by electing an arch-conservative to rule the most powerful nation on Earth.”
I can relate to this. And it’s not because I haven’t thought through what it takes to become president. I’ve interviewed three candidates for the country’s top job. In 1992, I interviewed presidential contender and California’s now-Gov. Jerry Brown while driving in a van from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. He may not think it timely to offer this recollection, but make no mistake: As a national candidate two decades ago, Brown was very much a liberal progressive in his outlook and platform.
It was 2000 when Ralph Nader came to SN&R’s offices and spoke to a small group of us about his bid for the presidency. (I remember him offering a shrug when I asked if his candidacy in a general election might actually wind up helping a Republican become president.) Finally, in 2004, I wrote about presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, another leading progressive voice in America. I still remember him striding back and forth on the stage of Davis’ Varsity Theatre with a handheld microphone, thrilling the crowd with his call for economic justice and a new grassroots democracy.
What do all these presidential contenders have in common? 1. They inspired. 2. They moved the political debate to the left. 3. They would never, ever become president of the United States.
It can be difficult to grasp from inside a liberal political bubble (i.e., the state of California), but history teaches pretty clearly that a majority of voters in this country embrace moderate views and are never going to support an agenda that calls for a fundamental left restructuring of how things work in America. They can be manipulated by fear into voting to the right, but so far, there seems to be no equivalent motivating force to convince them to vote to the left.
All this brings us back to Obama—brilliant, liberal and challenged out of the gate by an alarming recession, giant deficit, two wars and, all too quickly, a hostile right-wing Congress. One can certainly criticize him for a too-accommodating record. But I think Obama is, in every way, as good as we’re ever going to get.
He signed the landmark Affordable Care Act that, though it’s not a single-payer program, expanded access to care for all and stopped insurance companies from denying care to people with pre-existing conditions. He ended one war and will soon achieve the same with the other. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and stood up to a GOP hell-bent on rolling back a woman’s right to choose. He appointed two women to the Supreme Court, and he supports gay marriage. He passed the DREAM Act. He saved the auto industry from collapse. He invested lots into clean energy and put a lid on the building of new coal-fired power plants. He’s attempting to end tax loopholes that favor billionaires and millionaires.
Voting for Obama this time won’t feel like it did in 2008, and that’s OK. This time, it’ll feel practical, steadfast—smart. The last thing this country needs is to go backward. As Dave Egger’s realized 79 days ago, the direction has got to be forward.