A vote for the “idea of Obama”

idea of obamaThe cartoonist Tom Tomorrow used to draw cartoons showing the disconnect between the actual Barack Obama and the “idea of Obama” in the minds of his core supporters.   The “idea of Obama” is a cautious progressive who favors peace, civil liberties, full employment and health insurance for all.   Even though, in my opinion, this view does not reflect reality, I’m glad that a majority of voters apparently favor the “idea of Obama,” or at least think it is better than the alternative.

As Glenn Greenwald wrote the other day:

The greatest and most enduring significance of Tuesday night’s election results will likely not be the re-election of Barack Obama, but rather what the outcome reflects about the American electorate.  It was not merely Democrats, but liberalism, which was triumphant.

To begin with, it is hard to overstate just how crippled America’s right-wing is.  Although it was masked by their aberrational win in 2010, the GOP has now been not merely defeated, but crushed, in three out of the last four elections: in 2006 (when they lost control of the House and Senate), 2008 (when Obama won easily and Democrats expanded their margins of control), and now 2012.  The horrendous political legacy of George Bush and Dick Cheney continues to sink the GOP, and demographic realities – how toxic the American Right is to the very groups that are now becoming America’s majority – makes it difficult to envision how this will change any time soon.

Meanwhile, new laws to legalize both same-sex marriage and marijuana use were enacted in multiple states with little controversy, an unthinkable result even a few years ago, while Obama’s late-term embrace of same-sex marriage seems to have resulted only in political benefit with no political harm.  Democrats were sent to the Senate by deeply red states such as Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota, along with genuinely progressive candidates on domestic issues, including Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, who became the first openly gay person elected to the Senate.  As a cherry on the liberal cake, two of the most loathed right-wing House members – Rep Joe Walsh of Illinois and Allen West of Florida – were removed from office.

via Glenn Greenwald

The actual differences between Obama and Mitt Romney were less than their campaign rhetoric indicated.  I think both candidates are aligned with Wall Street and the military-industrial complex, both accept perpetual warfare as a necessity which supersedes the Bill of Rights.  Within that basic framework, Obama will try to appease poor people, minority groups and feminists while Romney would have scapegoated them.

In their campaign speeches, Obama and Romney were very different.  We might have been back in the days of Johnson versus Goldwater.  The election outcome was highly significant as an indicator of what the voters want, although not necessarily of what they’re going to get.

I think that President Obama’s priority is to make a Grand Bargain with the Republicans on balancing the federal budget, which will involve compromising Social Security, Medicare and other historic Democratic social safety net programs.

But maybe I am wrong (which I certainly have been in the past) and the President’s supporters are right.  Either way it is important for Americans to let their elected representatives know what they think about important issues—preserving Social Security, not going to war with Iran, preventing Wall Street banks from gambling with the U.S. economy.

Click on Obama and progressives: what will liberals and Democrats do with their big election victory? for the full comment by Glenn Greenwald on the difference between the real Obama and the idea of Obama.

Click on Interpreting Obama’s victory by Richard Falk for Al Jazeera English for more on the differences between Obama and his supporters.

Click on Obama’s victory settles a bitter argument by E. J. Dionne in the Washington Post for a hopeful view of the Obama victory.

Click on Obama Won a Mandate on Election Day to Take America Further Forward by Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic for another hopeful view.

Click on We Probably Should All Calm Down a Bit by Kevin Drum in Mother Jones, who argues against exaggerating the significance of the election.

Click on Is Demography Destiny? by Megan McArdle for The Daily Beast, who argues that the Democrats are far from being a permanent majority.

Here are some of Tom Tomorrow’s classic “idea of Obama” cartoons.




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