Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Four More Years: Hope for Change

By Garrett FitzGerald
A jubilant scene in Chicago - Getty Images

Progressives across the country breathed a a collective sigh of relief last night as President Barack Obama was elected for a second term over GOP challenger Mitt Romney. In many very real and concrete ways, last night does represent undeniable progress for this nation. 

Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill (D) successfully fended off a challenge by GOP contender Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin, and, just as God intended, Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) defeated Tea Party darling Richard Mourdock for Republican Sen. Richard Lugar's seat.

Thanks to the election of progressive champion Elizabeth Warren (D) in Massachusetts, along with Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Deb Fischer (R-NE), there will be a record 13 women serving in the US Senate. Senator-elect Baldwin's victory in Wisconsin holds additional significance, as Baldwin will become the first openly gay member of the Senate. 

Last night also marked the first time that same-sex marriage has ever won at the ballot box. Voters in Maryland and Maine passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, with margins of 52 to 48 and 54 to 46 percent respectively, and Minnesota voters defeated a constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage in their state. At the time of this posting, results of a further ballot initiative which would legalize same-sex marriage in Washington remain too close to call. 

We as a nation should look to these new realities with a sense of accomplishment, but over the next four years it is imperative upon us both as progressives and as people of faith not to rest on these hard-won laurels. Now that President Obama has secured a second term, it is time to force the third-rail conversations that have spent far too long relegated to the legislative dustbin, labeled as politically inexpedient or too hot to touch. 

It is time to talk about climate change - While global climate change was virtually ignored by both candidates during the general election, a certain catastrophic superstorm that you might have heard of has landed talk of climate change back in the news. Coupled with a brief mention in President Obama's acceptance speech last night, the undeniable destruction wrought by Sandy could help set the stage for serious talks about mitigating the disastrous consequences of climate change not just in terms of US economic impact, but in terms of global humanitarian concerns.

It is time to talk about gun control - During the second presidential debate President Obama opened the door for conversation about reinstating the lapsed ban on assault weapons. We desperately need a national effort to limit access to assault and automatic weapons (which are quite legal, contra Governor Romney's claims), to outlaw extended magazines, and to limit availability of the cheap handguns turning cities like Chicago into war zones.

It is time to talk about immigration reform - President Obama has already indicated his desire to address immigration reform in his second term, but with conservatives' stance on the issue drifting ever further to the right it will be a challenge to ensure reform that reduces the number of deportations for residents with no criminal records, which offers expedited paths to citizenship for the children of undocumented parents living in the US, and which helps to ensure that undocumented workers receive fair wages and cannot be abused and exploited by employers who threaten them with deportation.

It is time to talk about financial regulation and reform - With wealth and income disparity on the rise in the US, we must continue to push the conversation around financial regulation and reform. President Obama's reelection can be viewed in part as a referendum on the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts on high-income households, but the government must pursue additional and aggressive measures to ensure the continuation of the economic recovery.  But beyond the tax code, now is the time to push back against the wave of conservative union-busting that has swept the country since 2010, to continue the push for wage fairness for women, to advance the conversation about the crippling effects of student loan debt the cost of education, and to fundamentally reassess, from a personal to a national level, our relationship to the interconnected, exploitative processes of globalization and neoliberal capitalism.

It is time to talk about the 30 states in which same-sex marriage remains illegal - This election showed real promise for the advancement of LGBT rights, as marriage equality received its first ever endorsements at the ballot box, not from  the courts. But the next four yeas will likely witness Supreme Court review of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the ruling of which could ripple to the state level prohibitions on same-sex marriage. Progressives, and religious progressives in particular, must continue the push to change minds and hearts at the local and state levels as we roll back the legal impediments to the further realization of LGBT rights.

It is time to talk about our broken criminal justice system - In the legalization initiatives of Washington and Colorado and the expansion of medicinal marijuana to Massachusetts should serve as a bellwether indicators of the country's changing opinions about the drug war, at least as it pertains to marijuana. But during President Obama's second term, it will be incumbent upon progressives to push the conversation not just about drug law reform, but in relation to the staggering racial and economic disparities in the criminal justice system, as well. And although the proposition to repeal the death penalty in California failed yesterday, state-sanctioned executions of criminals remain a stain on the moral character of the nation.

It is time to talk about our drone program - Washington needs to own to up the existence of our covert program of extrajudicial aerial assassination, and owes the American people - never mind those pour souls in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen who live in constant fear of becoming one more collateral damage data point - at the bare minimum, a more transparent process subject to judicial review by which the targets are chosen. 

It is time to talk about Palestine - With Republicans hammering the president over his strained relationship with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, the over-the-top pandering on issues of Israeli security during the second and third presidential debates were frustratingly predictable. Now that President Obama's second term is secure, it is time to demand a stop to settlement construction in East Jerusalem, to address the Palestinian push for non-member observer status at the UN, and to attempt to breath new life into the stalled negotiation processes that could achieve a viable two-state solution.

It is time to talk about campaign finance reform - Estimates of spending on just on this year's presidential and congressional elections are running as high as $5.8 billion. While last night demonstrated that money can't buy national elections - and as gratifying as it is to know that Karl Rove has effectively spent the last couple of years setting billionaires' dark money donations on fire - it is time to revisit Citizens United and to reign in the gross excesses of our electoral spending. 

It is time to keep talking about health care reform - As often as 'Obamacare' found its way into the national arena, progressives need to continue to push the notion of a fundamental 'right to healthcare' that moves beyond the current mandate. The goal is not only to ensure the availability of a viable, ideally single-payer option, but to change the tenor of the conversation itself and the expectations of care and coverage to which we have access. 

Despite the very real progress that last night represents, particularly in terms of the electorate's forceful rejection of Tea Party-flavored conservative social and economic doctrine, progressives must continue to work during President Obama's second term to hold him accountable to the ideals he has espoused and to which we as a nation aspire. We can breath a bit easier knowing that "President Romney" is not a phrase we need get used to, but we cannot afford to pause after catching our breaths before we continue to push these and other vital conversations forward.  

Update: Officials from Washington United for Marriage (WUM) have announced that Referendum 74, which legalizes same-sex marriage in Washington, has passed by by a margin of 52 to 48 percent.

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