Most would say, after a sober analysis of everything that happened on Tuesday and the months leading up to it, that there’s nothing surprising about President Obama’s comfortable re-election victory. Frankly, there wasn’t…as far as the vote count goes. The story is different, however, when it comes to the progressive movement itself. Progressives were smart this year: they actually backed progressive candidates, and blew apart the myth that no openly liberal politicians could get elected in today’s political environment.
Nationally, progressive ideology is gaining strength, but still has a lot of ground to cover. A May 2012 Gallup poll shows that conservatives, even after gaining ground between 2000 and 2010 (only to lose it this week), consistently get less support than moderates and liberals (combined) on various economic and social issues. Even so, nearly half the respondents in the poll identified themselves as “totally economically conservative.”
This isn’t because conservatives make up the majority of the country. Election results in 2008 and 2012 have showed this, increasingly, to be a bunch of crap. What it means is that conservatism is easier to describe, its ideas are simpler-sounding, and those ideas make more and better sound bites. Moreover, conservatives have had several decades (since the Reagan revolution of 1980) to perfect their message.
Now, with landmark victories in 2012, it’s our turn to perfect our progressive message. For 2012 to mean anything in the future, the Obama coalition must become the progressive coalition in the same way that Reagan’s coalition became the entire conservative movement after 1980. This election’s exit polls show plenty of opportunity for new and invigorated progressive policies.
The president scored decisive victories in the demographic groups that will soon make up the majority of the country: women, Latinos, and young people. If those same exit polls are right in saying that sixty percent of voters considered the economy the most important political issue when casting their ballots, then one can only conclude that the majority of the country has had just about enough of conservative economic theory. I cannot underscore this wholesale rejection of extreme conservative economic theory enough: according to the very same exit poll, more people states they were worse off now than four years ago. In other words, the conservative message was crushed.
Obama challenged Romney on Romney’s terms and ripped him apart.
For this very reason we, as progressives, have to step up to the plate and keep the momentum going. Sure, we didn’t take the House back. The deficit in House seats from the 2010 election many progressives chose to sit out is going to take a while to completely reverse. But we sent some real, openly liberal champions to the House and the Senate, and they all had one thing in common: they shouted from the rooftops that they were social and economic liberals and won anyhow.
If there’s one lesson, any lesson, that progressives should take from this election, it’s that our ideas are winning after decades struggling in the wilderness to reach an audience. Now, then, is the time to push aggressively for the kind of change we’ve been waiting for: not just filibuster reform (though don’t get me wrong, it’s a great idea), but real and systematic change.
We hold so many of the cards now: a President whose held together a coalition against all odds and is now no longer bound by re-election worries, several progressive heroes in the Senate (and even a few in the House), an economic message that seems–according to all indicators–to have completely beaten out compassion-less conservativism, and demographic trends moving decidedly in our direction. If there was ever a time to mobilize, it’s now, because a tree will always grow back if you don’t rip out the roots.