“As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.” -Barack Obama, January 20, 2009
In 2008, I joined a cadre of optimistic, dedicated 20-somethings, and worked as a field organizer on the Obama campaign in Indiana. I remember standing outside on the National Mall, on that bitterly cold inauguration day in January, 2009, with hundreds of thousands of other Obama campaign staff, volunteers, and supporters, and feeling the collective catharsis as the sworn-in president talked about fundamentally changing the direction of his country, altering its compass from immoral to moral, and improving its reputation in the world.
As the red, white, and blue confetti is cleaned up from election night 2012, and many friends who were Obama re-election campaign workers return home from small towns and big cities in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Virginia—and my Facebook news feed is filled with jubilant posts about Fox News’ election night meltdown, Karl Rove refusing to admit Obama had won Ohio, and huge losses by right-wing, anti-women, Koch brothers-funded, conservative Republican candidates—I am torn—proud that my country is not only made up of the 47% but led by it, but ever-more conscious of the arduous self-reflection and necessary changes that mark the way forward.
The 2012 election made a clear statement that a politics of hate against women, minorities, gays, and the 47%, is not what this country is about. Important gains were made at the ballot box for women candidates, marriage equality, immigrant rights, and against the war on drugs.
In a deeply polarized country, Barack Obama won every swing state in play, Elizabeth Warren became the first women elected to the United States Senate from Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin was elected as the first openly gay U.S. Senator in Wisconsin, Sen. Clare McCaskill defeated Todd “legitimate rape” Akin in the Missouri Senate rate, Mazie Hirono became the first Asian American woman in the U.S. Senate, Tulsi Gabbard was elected as the first practicing Hindu to the U.S. House of Representatives in Hawaii, and same-sex marriage was backed by voters in four out of four states (Maine, Maryland, Washington, and Minnesota).
It is now abundantly clear to all (and shocking that it wasn’t already) that women, Hispanics, minorities, gays, and millennials not only show up to vote, but their voices, their experiences, their communities, their politics, and their leadership will continue to shape both elections and policy for years to come.
Obama still represents the same hope he did four years ago, that American symbol of progress and change and diversity that so many Americans, blacks, women, minorities, and immigrants, have fought so bitterly and endured so much brutality to achieve. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try,” he said on election night. “We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America, open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag.”
Yet, at the same time, at this very moment, we are also an America which supports indefinite detention without charge or trial, operates an unjust prison at Guantánamo, fires drone strikes killing innocent civilians at unprecedented rates without transparency, continues to add names to secret kill lists, and deports far more immigrants than the Bush Administration (1.4 million immigrants were deported in the past four years—including some 46,000 parents who had at least one U.S. citizen child in the first half of 2011 alone).
The immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag, dreams to come home to her parents, right?
We so easily voice our disgust and disapproval when Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan or Todd Akin or the Koch brothers offend our ideals, offend who we are as a country or a human being; when some of Barack Obama’s policies reflect those of George W. Bush, he should not get a pass simply because one knocked on doors for him or voted for him twice.
Looking backward and moving forward, we must hold Obama and his administration accountable, to the extent the majority of the electorate did with Republicans and the far right during the 2012 election. More importantly, we must hold ourselves accountable; voice our criticism when actions taken do not align with the ideals we espouse, reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals, assure the rule of law and the human rights of all people, and become pro-active participants and leaders in building a more just, compassionate, tolerant world.