Why Obama Will Win the Election . . . and the Left Should Hope So

Every four years, there is a major debate within left circles as to whether or not movement leftists, often identified with various socialist perspectives, should or shouldn’t participate in the election. As many perhaps correctly argue, there’s not that much difference between the bourgeois parties insofar as both are bought and paid for by the capitalist elites and both parties support the same corporatist, imperialist agendas. There are many grievances the activist left has toward Obama, he continued the Iraqi war for several years, ramped up the losing war in Afghanistan, and expanded military based imperialism in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia etc. Drones have become the “weapon of choice” in the “war on terror” in which large numbers of innocent bystanders become “collateral damage.”

A constitutional lawyer gave himself the right to be the judge, jury and executioner of an accused- without any trial, without any evidence presented, or without any witnesses that can be cross examined. The Justice Department defends indefinite detention of innocent people. His massive wiretapping programs and wasteful drug wars are reprehensible. He has backtracked on marijuana reform, justice for Palestinians etc. Others note that not a single banker has paid a penalty for the many criminal acts of malfeasance that enabled the meltdown.   As Glenn Ford has put it, Obama is not the “lesser of two evils, but the more effective of two evils” in that he can pursue reactionary policies that might provoke massive protests were he a Republican. For many radicals, to vote for Democrats is somewhere between ingenuous or hypocritical at best, or duplicitous at worst. Why then should the left support Obama? The answer that question will be evident from the analysis of his supporters, the actual material benefits many receive, the nature of counter hegemonic struggle, cohort flow and the contrasting moralities of political parties. There are basic differences in social and cultural issues, that have very definite consequences that impact the lives of real people.

I. Elections Have Consequences

As will be argued, if we look at the constituencies that are supporting Obama, it becomes evident why the left should be sympathetic to, indeed supportive of these struggles-even if and when the Democratic Party supports other policies the left considers onerous. Otherwise said, an election has genuine consequences and concrete impacts on the material and social conditions of vast numbers of people. The often cited serenity prayer asks for “…the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference”.  In an ideal world, or perhaps a less than ideal world, where a range of political parties might compete, electoral choices might include various left, socialist, and/or green parties, some of which singularly or in coalition often actually gain power and impact national priorities and policies. In the United States however, given the well-funded duopoly of power, the best that we might hope for is space to organize, struggle and impact the political process. Most progressive changes that have taken place in the United States, advancing various aspects of the social contract, have been the result of progressive social movements, of people educating, organizing, mobilizing and applying political pressures that eventually become legislation. This has had very definite consequences and has led to actual material benefits e.g. the eight hour day, abolition of child labor, minimum wages and Social Security. The Civil Rights Act, and Medicare should also be noted. Today many people, but not enough, accept women, minorities and gays as equals and not only entitled to basic rights, but recognition/respect as dignified human beings. Many of the “victories” over struggles for civil rights, feminism, minority and gay rights could only take place after a certain masses of people, often taught by, or led by and/or influenced by various “organic intellectuals” (who typically tend to be quite progressive if not radical) had created the critiques and conditions that encourage and enabled political mobilizations from demonstrations to the creation of voting blocs, lobbying and/or supporting candidates that might foster change.

Notwithstanding the faults of the Democrats many important movements have been able to realize their goals/interests through that party and indeed, working through the political system.  The election of a Republican president, beholden to both the reactionary base of Tea partiers, as well as the reactionary elites that support them, can only make progressive struggles more difficult-while millions are likely to suffer real hardships.[1]   Moreover, the next president will make Supreme Court appointments that will surely hear cases dealing with Citizens United, Roe V. Wade, AHCA etc. that have major consequences. If the Tea Party influence in the House thwarted progressive legislation for two years, with two more justices like Scalia or Alito, progressive causes could be thwarted for a generation.

A. Constituencies

What are the underlying factors that impact the social and moral basis of politics? Who are the actors that support/oppose a party, candidate or agenda? Why? One of the most basic facts of modern political life is competition within the political arena where groups and/or coalitions or parties with different interests and in turn expectations of government compete for power.[2]  Biology may or may not be destiny, but demographics, gender, race, age, rural-urban residency, immigrant-citizenship etc. impact elections.

1. Women: The largest and most important constituency supporting Obama consists of single women namely 1), the younger and never married, 2), divorced and 3), widowed. His lead among such groups is close to 20% easily making up for Romney’s lead among men, especially white working class men and older and more affluent white men. These women have certain overlapping interests as well as more specific interests that are clearly addressed and supported by Democrats and opposed by Republicans. For the younger  women, issues such as access to birth control, now available without co-pay thanks to ACA, freedom of choice, the Ur symbol of female agency (now supported by over 50% of Americans) , and the readily availability of healthcare are salient issues. These women have more positive views of government involvement in both creating jobs and protecting women from various adversities including sexual harassment on the job. For the divorced women, especially those with young children, the availability of support for education, child care, school lunch programs and health benefits for children (vaccination programs) are important along with job creation. For the widowed, especially the retired and or near retirement, among their most important issues are the solvency and security of Social Security and Medicare programs initiated by and long supported by Democrats.[3]

2. Hispanics: It goes without saying that for Democrats, African-Americans are the most loyal ethnic constituency. But among the ethnic based constituencies, the largest and most important consists of the rapidly growing population of Spanish-speakers, whose origins are typically from Mexico/Central America. Bush got substantial support from the Hispanic vote. But today, for many Republicans, Mexicans immigrants became seen as a dangerous “enemy” especially since they either steal American jobs or garner huge welfare benefits – claims that are patently false. Democrats look at the Hispanic numbers and see them as voters. Obama’s recent support of the “Dream Act” has given increased his support among Hispanics– save for older Cubans. (Younger Cubans are more appreciative of Obama’s efforts to lower the travel barriers to Cuba. For many Hispanics the central issues include “immigrant rights” and it here that Democrats clearly hold an advantage-about 50% lead. In many swing states like Florida or New Mexico, the Hispanic vote, will determine the outcome (most polls suggest the Florida is leaning toward Obama – as a result of the Hispanic and older populations).

3. Older Americans: Despite media representations and Rolex ads of trim, tanned, handsome, and slightly grey haired folks stepping out of their Mercedes, most older folks have few assets and many of those over 65 live primarily on their social security and depend other Medicare for their health needs.   The most recent data suggests that “in all, 25% of married couple retirees and 50% of single retirees rely on Social Security for 90% of their income. Today, 46% of Americans will die with less than $10,000 in financial assets enough to cover the funeral. (Source: CBS, Aug. 8, 2012.)  Further, most people over 65 now have at least one chronic medical condition that requires continual medication and checkups.  These typically include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, perhaps loss of hearing, declining vision, etc. Serious illnesses and diseases can cost fortunes to treat. On the one hand, older voters tend to be more conservative and among the most likely to vote. Nevertheless, preliminary polling evidence suggests that notwithstanding conservative/Republican sympathies, many fear any changes to their SS/Medicare and will support Obama rather than trust a voucher system proposed as by Ryan whose selection, to mobilize the base, has turned out to be a disaster, alienating many of the older voters.

When Ryan was nominated, many Florida newspapers said Romney lost that state. The most recent polling has substantiated that prediction. As the NYT notes:

Medicare ranks as the third-most crucial issue to likely voters in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin — behind the economy and health care, according to new Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News polls of the three swing states. The Republican proposal to retool the program a decade from now is widely disliked. Roughly 6 in 10 likely voters in each state want Medicare to continue providing health insurance to older Americans the way it does today; fewer than a third of those polled said Medicare should be changed in the future to a system in which the government gives the elderly fixed amounts of money to buy health insurance or Medicare insurance, as Mr. Romney has proposed. And Medicare is widely seen as a good value: about three-quarters of  likely voters in each state said the benefits of Medicare are worth the cost to taxpayers. [4]

When Paul Ryan spoke before the AARP and mentioned the need to overturn Obama care, he was resoundingly booed.

4. Gays: The gay vote only accounts for about 8-10% of the voters, but they are an important constituency. In general they tend to be better educated, more affluent and more likely to vote and even if they only represent a small fraction of the total vote, in a close election like this one, that can determine the outcome. But there is an indirect effect as well.  For a number of reasons, younger voters do not share the homophobia of their parents-Lady Gaga has told them “gays were born that way”, they love, Ellen D., Lindsey L., Elton J. and respect Rosie. When Obama read the polls and saw the election would be close, he moved to support gay marriage and will likely get about 1-2% boost in votes, and in this election, every vote, straight or gay counts. And just as a majority of gays support Obama, so too do younger voters, many of whom reject the homophobia of older generations. The toleration for gays has become an important symbolic marker of toleration and respect for difference in general- and in this respect the party differences are noticeable.

5. Occupy: Occupy Wall Street, as a left populist response to the crisis of 2008 and subsequent stagnation, critical of the financial elites and the government that bailed them out, does not generally view Obama/Democrats as any different than the Republican elites. They disdain the two party system run by the 1%. Moreover, their protests and confrontations took place in the “public sphere” as they attempted to change consciousness rather than engage in electoral politics that would at best reform a corrupt system not worth reforming. Thus becomes easy to dismiss OWS playing any role in the election.[5] But, Occupy changed the national discussion from austerity and debt reduction to the vastly unequal wealth and power of the financial sector, the elite 1% and this favored the Democrats, despite their culpability for the crisis[6].   While there was no direct influence of Occupy, many of their issues were embraced by the Democrats who began to talk about fairness, equality and preservation of a number of benefits from low interest college student loans, Medicare and Social Security. Occupy made it easy for the Democrats to cast Romney as an out of touch plutocrat, a vulture capitalist indifferent to most Americans. Given the numbers of their poorer minority constituencies Democrats, have been more likely to support programs that provide for benefits, job creation etc. and to position themselves as the defenders of the “middle class.” As Steve Zunes (2012) put it, since Occupy:

President Barack Obama has taken on much more of a populist stance, mobilizing his Democratic base and economically stressed independents against an opponent whom his campaign is depicting as the quintessential representative of the 1%…The fact that Obama’s re-election campaign recognizes the advantage of decrying unfair tax laws and similar policies that affect middle class Americans is indicative of how the tone has shifted.[7]

Moreover, Romney, the perfect exemplar of the 1% living in splendor, paying less taxes than most, sheltering his money in the Cayman Islands has made it much easier for the Democrats to have that discussion. This was especially evident after Romney dismissed 47% of Americans who were moochers, takers and parasites. Even when he attempted to be contrite, he still referred to these people as “them” – indicating that they are truly different than those millionaires in his social circles

As Korn (2012) notes, Occupy may yet play an important despite their formal opposition to electoral politics.[8] How?  Korn suggests that by acting within the Democratic Party, against its Blue Dogs and conservatives, they could have an important influence.  For many Occupiers, this was the first time they were engaged in a political movement and despite the disdain toward Democrats, many are still likely to vote and vote for Obama.  Why? Despite the well-deserved distrust and disdain of Obama/Democrats, a number of the Occupy people, as individuals, will still support Obama since a number of the Occupiers are still in school. And Obama promises to keep student loan programs intact and keep the interest rates low so those Occupiers still in school and/or burdened with student loans, are more likely to vote for their interests. As the young and restless join with the more established movements, labor, immigrant rights, and supply new energy and vitality to those movements, they will also learn that given the history of the US, there must be engagement with the political system.

II  Why Should the Left Care?                                                                                                                                             I previously noted some of the reasons why a number of progressives are not likely to support Obama.  Why then support him?  I will argue that 1), Democratic administrations provide more spaces for counter hegemonic “wars of position.” Moreover Democratic programs that have indeed provided people with material benefits may be scaled back by Republicans. 2), As cohorts flow through time, each generation tends to embrace more liberal social values. Over time certain values move from acceptability within small, perhaps deviant minorities to an acceptable alternative for many and eventually become the new normal. Premarital sexuality was once considered evil and sinful (and among the hypocritical right it remains so), but now the vast majority of American couples cohabit before marriage – if they marry. Finally, 3), there a fundamental question of morality involved, as De Tocqueville clearly raised the question when he saw the “new nation” embracing both freedom and individualism on the one hand, and equality and democracy on the other (as seem in slavery).

A. The struggle for hegemony: For Gramsci, the ideological control of culture, hegemony, is one of the primary means through which elite classes (historic blocs) sustain their economic and political power by masking their domination and making the historically arbitrary appear as normal, natural, “common sense” that is in the best interests of all.  The duopoly of political power in the US, and the almost total colonization of consciousness by the “entertainment industries” that distract and deceive, now including electoral politics is hegemonic. Many Americans, ironically often very poor Americans, believe that supporting Republicans is actually in their interest. In much the same way, many women support very traditional notions of femininity, sexuality, and family – notwithstanding the fact that voting for conservative politicians has undermined their economic well-being and indeed subverted the idealized family for which they long.[9]

Insofar as hegemony not only mystifies class domination, but ensures that many people act contrary to their own self-interests, the “public sphere“ as the site of ideological struggles over hegemony, is  important. This is where the elites seek to reproduce their domination in face of various counter-hegemonic discourses, contestations and challenges. It is absolutely s crucial to maintain spaces in the where progressive groups can engage in counterhegemonic wars of position and engage in the intellectual and cultural debates, critiques and struggles over values, consciousness, identity and the desirable kind of society that would undermine ruling class hegemony. As Bill Fletcher and Carl Davidson remind us, the left in America is too small and fragmented to get the candidate we want.  Even Howard Dean was too liberal for the Democratic Party. But despite the poor record of Obama, they argue, that the left should still support him since the Democratic Party is the only place where widespread serious challenges to reactionary ideologies take place.

This will be one of the most polarized and critical elections in recent history…  Unfortunately what too few leftists and progressives have been prepared to accept is that the polarization is to a great extent centered on a revenge-seeking white supremacy; on race and the racial implications of the moves to the right in the US political system. It is also focused on a re-subjugation of women, harsh burdens on youth and the elderly, increased war dangers, and reaction all along the line for labor and the working class. No one on the left with any good sense should remain indifferent or stand idly by in the critical need to defeat Republicans this year.[10]

In a similar vein, Tom Hayden (2012) states

The consolidation of right-wing power would put progressives on the defensive, shrinking any organizing space for pressuring for greater innovations in an Obama second term. Where, for example, would progressives be without the Voting Rights Act , programs such as Planned Parenthood, or officials like Labor Secretary Hilda Solis or EPA administrator Lisa Jackson?[11]

Together, they argue that this election should not be framed as a referendum on Obama. Rather, what is important is 1) stopping the barbarians at the gates 2), keeping what genuine gains of previous struggles e.g., Social Security, Medicare, Roe v Wade, and now AHCA, the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” or appointments of Supreme Court justices and 3), keeping alive the cultural spaces for counter hegemonic argument and debate and in turn, organization, mobilization and political impact that can advance progressive agendas.

So too today we must we go back to Gramsci. From what has been stated, electoral politics can be understood as wars of position in which progressive forces, engaged in counter hegemonic struggles prepare the cultural grounds for wars of maneuver, the actual elections as a means for gaining political power.[12]  Most of these struggles, battles and wars are initially fought on the margins, on the peripheries of the social, outside the mainstreams of the political, but as they gather strength they become more visible as they move to the centers where they appear to suddenly erupt as if from out of nowhere. From what was noted about the constituencies supporting Obama, especially women, people of color/minorities and gays, their cultural and political power has been the result of long term, often invisible, struggles and debates, wars of position that nevertheless eventually impacted the political.  I would argue that this strategy is what has led to genuine change— but these battles are never won, challenges remain and struggles endure. At this time in our history, progressive struggles must fight wars of position simply to keep previous accomplishments (choice, gay marriage, eliminating prayer in schools) in place that are now under assault by the right. And indeed, that is where the tradition of left social organizations and mobilizations can be most effective. In the present circumstances, the best and most realistic outcome for the progressives to stem and reverse the power of the reactionary, revanchist elements of American politics.  As bad as the Democrats administration has been, a Republican presidency would be far worse for progressive social movements and might endanger the number of benefits that people do receive. Moreover, a Republican administration would most likely attempt to rescind a variety of environmental regulations, health and safety standards etc.

As Fletcher and Davidson note:

The weakness of left and progressive forces means we have been largely unable to participate, in our own name and independent of the two party upper crust, in most national-level elections with any hope of success. In that sense most left and progressive interventions in the electoral arena at the national level, especially at the Presidential level, are ineffective acts of symbolic opposition or simply propaganda work aimed at uniting and recruiting far smaller circles of militants. They are not aimed at a serious challenge for power but rather aim to demonstrate a point of view, or to put it more crassly, to ‘fly the flag.’ The electoral arena is frequently not viewed as an effective site for structural reforms or a more fundamental changing of direction.[13]

An Obama election does at least keep and maintain the spaces in the “public sphere” for debates, discussions, contestation’s and indeed facilitate  progressive cultural shifts over women’s rights, gay rights, as well as ensure Supreme Court appointments that are very crucial in cultural debates over abortion, school prayer, evolution etc.

B. Cohort Flow: Counter hegemonic wars of position consist of educating, organizing and mobilizing that call attention to grievances, perhaps bring in new recruits and sometimes engaging in various types of direct actions – strikes, sit ins, protests etc. that might change or ameliorate certain adversities. But at the same time, many wars of position require a long period of time for incubation and ultimately depend on cohort flow – every generation faces very different social, cultural, historical and economic realities that subsequently shape their identities and values.[14] Struggles over civil rights, feminism and even gay-rights had a very long history. And for the most part, it is been generally the younger cohorts that is been most likely to accept social changes. In this way, over time progressive struggles eventually become the new normal.

Similarly, the growing influx of immigrants and minorities over the past several decades have shifted the centers of political gravity to the left insofar as most of these groups have interests, that are economically, politically and culturally that are generally closer to Democratic agendas (constituencies of voters) than do the older, whiter, more conservative agendas more recalcitrant to multiculturalism that are more typical of the White Protestants Republicans. Much of the Republican rhetoric, couched in “polite terms”, consists of racist/xenophobic “dog whistles” denigrating the growing populations of minorities. Consider only the “birther” charges about Obama, his being a “food stamp president” or is abolishing work requirements for welfare recipients as not so subtle ways of expressing racism and offering deniability that this critique is racist. Similarly the anti-immigration positions of Sheriff Joe Arpaio or Governor Jan Brewer, are decried by the Democratic Party. And consider the various expressions of Islamaphobia, the new McCarthyism, whether from Michele Bachmann, Pam Geller, John Bolton or Daniel Pipes are mainstream Republican positions.

Younger cohorts tend to be more liberal on social issues – especially over issues of race, religion, gender and/or ethnicity. They tend to be more tolerant of diversity, more likely to accept the reality of climate change and need for environmental action, and they expect the government to provide more in way of benefits to the majority, to serve the 99% rather than the 1% as is generally been the case. These have been the themes articulated by Occupy movements. Thus to repeat what has been said, the Democratic Party does provide places and spaces for these various diverse groups – many of whom have been systematically scapegoated and denigrated by Republicans.

As the population changes over time, as youth become young adults who in turn become middle-aged, there are cultural shifts in values. At certain points these changes may appear to be sudden and abrupt, for example suffrage, civil rights, feminism, the sexual revolution or gay rights. But many of these rhizomatic movements were often incubated for a very long time. Thus for example the feminism articulated by Simone de Beauvoir, itself influenced by works including Marx and Engels on the family was quite radical and in it’s time mostly ignored. But with the eruption of feminism in the 60s and 70s it became part of the feminist doxa.  In much the same way, if we look at the youth cohorts of today, the 18 to 30-year-olds, a number of things are perhaps clear beginning with the diminishing appeal of the Republican Party.  Less than one third consider themselves Republicans. Conversely they are less supportive of the military, reluctant about imperialist intervention and in many cases, quite sympathetic with the goals and values of Occupy – even if the majority has never participated in its protests or meetings. If Occupy at least changed the national discussion from debt and austerity to any quality, fairness and social justice, we might also note that this widened the spaces for discussions of socialism. What is especially important for the current argument is that salient and growing sentiment among younger cohorts is a growing critique of capitalism and almost a third of this cohort is sympathetic to socialism, despite the fact that very few have much of an understanding of just what socialism is other than the more generous welfare states of Scandinavia.

Those who would seek a more just, democratic, egalitarian society need to understand the means by which the structure and ideology of capital undermines a number of progressive struggles.[15] The last thing the ruling classes want is to see various progressive movements converge and jointly critique, organize and combat capital. Surely, as time moves on, growing numbers of each cohort, especially women, minorities and indeed many progressive workers are becoming increasingly aware of the adversities of capitalism and today there is more sympathetic toward socialism, various forms of cooperatives, economic democracy etc. While this may not be a significant factor in the contemporary political struggles, insofar as so many of these struggles will take place in the near future, we can expect more and more discussions of socialism among younger cohorts. But it’s a long, slow struggle. Nevertheless, as I have argued, the spread of counter hegemonic discourses often dependa on cohort flow. Democratic presidencies have generally done more to advance the causes of women, minorities and immigrant populations. Not only would Republican administration thwart progress by arresting the process of cohort flow, but indeed reverse many of the victories that have been made.

Moreover, those student occupiers more likely to complete educations are more likely to become the political leaders of progressive movements in the future. Otherwise said, whatever else Occupy may accomplish, it has been an incubator for both progressive ideas and future progressive leaders that have had and will continue to have impact and consequences.[16]  As time goes on, as they develop more political sophistication, they will come to realize the need for organization, leadership and the necessity of engaging and contesting the economic and ideological power of the 1% with counter hegemonic understandings and mobilizations. As distasteful as it might seem to many of the Occupiers, this can only be done through Democratic Party in so far as third parties are quite unlikely to gain power.

Parenthetically, it might also be noted that whereas the older populations are generally more conservative, given their apprehensions over cuts in either Social Security or Medicare, in many states, Obama has surged ahead of Romney among older Americans. While these older cohorts may never become the bastions of radicalism, in so far as we can expect more and more debates over guns and butter, or should we say guns versus Social Security and healthcare, we might very well expect more support from these groups for cutting military expenses and curtailing a costly and wasteful imperialism

C. Morality: Western political theory began with Plato’s Republic, an inquiry into the nature of justice. To a great extent, one could argue that politics is fundamentally normative and indeed many of its great debates and issues have been concerned with the nature of what constitutes a good society. Various Enlightenment thinkers criticized dynastic rule as arbitrary, unjust, if not tyrannical insofar as the aristocracy was little concerned with either popular will or the common good. Let them eat cake! In modern political systems, parties compete over such normative issues as what constitutes justice, what is the “good society”, and how might it be achieved. The Marxist critique of capitalism can be seen as a moral critique of private property and the unbridled individualism that enabled the owners of capital to prosper and flourish while the vast majority, the workers, suffered alienation, immisseration and impoverishment. As he put it, “the free development of each depends of the free development of all”. Bourgeois governments have traditionally been more likely to support the “free development” of the bourgeois classes and provide the rest with just enough crumbs to prevent revolt.

One of the most long-standing debates over the nature of American culture concerns its role in support for individual freedom or  community betterment. For de Tocqueville, this was seen in the dialectical tension between individualism expressed in the commercial world, getting rich,  versus the values of democracy/equality that might be seen in civic activism to benefit the community. Our contemporary business elites see the primary function of government as creating the conditions for unrestricted economic growth. This is a very different worldview from those who see the government, as elected by a majority, should represent and serve the interests of that majority, the larger community. Today, this can be seen as the expectations of support for a social contract to promote equality, recognition, dignity and grant a variety of benefits and protections, consisting of programs to ameliorate poverty, create jobs, support education, and provide for safety and healthcare, Social Security, or Medicare .

Bellah (1991) and his collaborators have long been concerned with the vision of the “good society” that has been challenged by the unbridled, Lockean individualism that has given us great wealth especially for the few, while many face unemployment, underemployment, and even hunger, homelessness, and untreated illness. We all suffer by living in a fragmented society with a decaying infrastructure and environmental degradation.[17] The logic of the market has insinuated itself within the entire society and undermined shared purpose, public virtue, collective spirit or concerns for the unfortunate-indeed the poor, minorities, immigrants and students are often seen as evil parasites – moochers and takers.[18] The “good life” has been seen in terms of freedom to pursue personal satisfactions and achievements apart from others, and the preference to retreat to one’s own circle of friends and family. Indeed for many politicians and even clergy, this “freedom” from social concerns and indifference to less fortunate others is itself a virtue to be celebrated. But this indifference and/or withdrawal from the public concerns is exactly what enabled the massive corporate takeover of America and in turn its subsequent decline.

Finally, this dialectic can be seen psychologically as a fundamental difference in character structure. Although these concerns go back to the work of Wilhelm Reich on sadomasochism/authoritarianism, more recently the work  of George Lakoff (2010) best captures the fundamental psychological/moral differences between the two parties.  The Republicans embrace “strict father” values of toughness, competition, and individualism, it’s a “tough world” out there and only the most determined individuals will succeed-success being based on the competition for the accumulation of material wealth. Conversely Democrats, embrace the “nurturant parent” morality guided by empathy for the needs of the  Other in which the government functions to provide for the care and support for all the people so that their unique creative potentials may be realized – especially those that are unemployed, retired, and the military are attending school.

The common thread of these arguments asks if the government should serve the economic elites or the rest of the society. Moreover this question is not simply one of economics, but providing recognition and dignity to various groups in the society – more specifically, as has been noted, equality and dignity, recognition for women, minorities and gays etc. As Nancy Fraser has argued, a just society must provide for both recognition and redistribution.[19] The fundamental problem, as has been argued, is that both political parties are beholden to the economic elites, and in terms of fundamental policies whether economic and geopolitical, there may not be much differences between the parties. This is this reason that many on the left will not support Obama/Democrats. But at the same time as has been argued, there are differences in the parties that should be noted. This is not the lesser of two evils argument, but simply noting that the Democratic party has and does provide space where progressive agendas can be debated and realized. More specifically it is the Democratic Party that provides spaces where counter hegemonic discourses, protests and demonstrations in the public sphere can and do eventually migrate into the political and result in concrete policy changes. This was true when Social Security laws were passed, when the Civil Rights Bill was passed and today is this is evident in the support of various feminist causes especially healthcare issues, eliminating “don’t ask don’t tell” and the Affordable Healthcare Act. On the one hand these changes express a morality that privileges the collective good over individual wealth. But at the same time, these changes had very definite material impacts consider only the availability of regular healthcare versus going to the emergency room.[20]

III. Conclusion.

The importance of this election cannot be underestimated.  From what has been said, despite the many shortcomings of the Obama administration, first and foremost, his reelection is necessary to thwart the heretofore growing power of the Tea Party, the God parties (the American Taliban), and the other Know Nothing irrationalists of today that has in fact peaked, notwithstanding the largess of the right wing elites. Given both demographic changes and increasingly liberal cohorts undermine their agendas. There’s just not enough angry white men left to elect a president. A resounding defeat of  Romney will force Republicans to rethink the value of reactionary conservatism. Will they reject the tea party extremism, or simply remain a regional, Southern/Mountain political power?

Romney’s embrace of the reactionary tea party agenda may have been necessary for him to get the nomination, but on the way, he alienated vast numbers of women, minorities, gays, the elderly (especially with the selection of Paul Ryan) and independent voters. By all indications, evangelical fundamentalism, patriarchy, racism/xenophobia and scapegoating, homophobia and the retrenchments of social benefits are losing their purchase in electoral politics. Young voters are little swayed by such appeals and indeed many are turned off by that strategy. Atheists, agnostics and pagans are the rapidly growing denomination; they are now the third largest denomination after Catholics and Southern Baptists. The good news is that however slowly, the progressive agenda is moving forward. And it is for that reason, that the future promises to be an especially ripe  moment to advance counter hegemonic struggles. While in the near future such struggles are likely to remain separate, they’re all foregrounded by the crisis of capitalism. It is for this reason that the left needs to seize the moment and prepare for a time in which a number of counter hegemonic social movements can converge and jointly challenge the very nature of capitalism. Surely Republican victory would set many of these struggles back and would require the left to refight old battles that had been won.

As has been argued, this is an extremely important election with implications for several decades. On the one hand, it is absolutely necessary thwart and indeed begin to reverse the power of the reactionary elites, and the Tea Party extremists. But at the same time, this must be seen as one moment of a number of progressive struggles over equality, dignity and recognition for the heretofore excluded and marginalized, as well as insure that government provides material benefits from income support to healthcare for its citizens. It is absolutely crucial that these struggles take place at this time in so far as they become part of the historical context that shapes the identities, values and ideologies of the present cohort of youth. After the 2008 election, many of the young people who supported Obama were disappointed by his policies, broken promise  and became disenchanted with political engagement. This is indeed unfortunate and fails to recognize that despite the corporatist/imperialist agendas that seem paramount, below the surface, and indeed often the more peripheral sites of the public sphere, a number of counter hegemonic struggles are taking place that promise a more progressive future.  At this historical moment is evident throughout the world, whether in Egypt or Tunisia, Québec or Chile, Greece or Spain, that young people are playing a crucial role in struggles against injustice and inequality. It becomes incumbent upon the American left to not only support and encourage our own domestic struggles. As Occupy matures, it will surely learn that it must move from occupations, marches and demonstrations to political organizing and exerting pressures within the political system. The left must support the emerging, progressive cohorts that can hopefully reset the national agendas and restore a progressive tradition that many have forgotten. And this is more easily done in a Democratic administration

Finally, as has been argued, the ultimate goal of various counter hegemonic struggles, is moral, how do we achieve a society that that is fair, just, and democratic? It is of course quite evident how the economic power of the elites has influenced the power of government, through supporting “friendly” candidates as well as commanding a small army of lobbyists. Thus as has been evident, we live in a society that is neither fair, nor just nor democratic. Moreover, this reality has been sustained by a valorization of the role of the individual and his/her freedom which is ultimately economic freedom. As Tocqueville first noted this freedom of the individual was at odds with democracy and equality. How do we challenge the morality of individual freedom and instead privilege democracy and equality. As I have argued this can only take place through struggle and essential part of that struggle rests on influencing young people. It is for such reasons that whatever the many faults of the second Obama term may be, a Democratic administration does provide more space for various progressive struggles for the equality, dignity and recognition of all. Nor let us forget, that for many of our citizens, especially the poor, the young and the old that dignity includes various material benefits gained through struggles.


[1] As Joshua Holland  recently noted, recent research into the psychology of politics helps us understand why most people cannot see the actual impact of government policies-cutting taxes and spending sounds good, but these cuts include income support, medical care etc. that can mean starvation, malnutrition, illness and death.


[2] This of course does not assume that interests may necessarily be rational; pursuing one set of interests for example a pro-life agenda may very well support candidates and policies that undermine their economic interests. This is of course the fundamental meaning of hegemony in which, as Gramsci demonstrated, is how a ruling bloc gains and/or maintains its domination through the control of cultural values. Thus when Italian workers rejected unions – as the Church demanded – they undermined a progressive agenda and improving their own life conditions. Thomas Frank said much the same about Kansas; they voted for pro-life candidates and lost jobs. Working class whites who believed Blacks were both taking their jobs away and squandering their taxes moved to the Republican party.   And look what that got them.  Frank, Thomas, 2004  What’s the Matter with Kansas, New York, NY: A Metropolitan/Holt Paperbacks Book

[3] It  is often said that Social Security is the third rail of American politics and any politician who dares to change that program will lose.

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/23/us/politics/polls-say-medicare-is-key-issue-in-3-swing-states.html?pagewanted=all

[5] As Fran Piven Fox reminded us, Occupy has barely begun, social movements typically take years if not decades to become powerful actors, and eventually they will need to confront political power. See: https://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/17/occupy-protest-not-over

[6] It was Clinton who pushed for the repeal of Glass-Steagall that was a precondition for the subsequent meltdown.

[7] https://www.cnn.com/2012/09/17/opinion/zunes-occupy-movement/index.html?hpt=hp_c1

[8] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/pearl-korn/occupy-movement-upcoming-election_b_1801492.html

[9] It is  well known that conservative, Red states tend to be more poor, and higher divorce rates, greater family violence, sexual abuse, and out of wedlock pregnancies. But Republicans have been able to convince many whites that their adversities are due to Democratic largess to African Americans

[10] https://www.alternet.org/election-2012/2012-elections-have-little-do-obamas-record-which-why-we-are-voting-him?akid=9203.1088490.wqLX2v&rd=1&src=newsletter691462&t=10&paging=off

[11] https://tomhayden.com/home/saving-obama-saving-ourselves.html

[12] This is not to ignore the economic power that controls the political, but the only way that can never be transformed is through massive political mobilizations. But we already know that opposition citizens United is growing and whatever else might be said, the success of such movements will depend on mobilizing political pressures.

[13] https://www.alternet.org/election-2012/2012-elections-have-little-do-obamas-record-which-why-we-are-voting-him?paging=off

[14] See Karl Mannheim,  The Problem of Generations, https://mediaspace.newmuseum.org/ytjpressmaterials/PDFS/ARTICLES_ABOUT_THE_GENERATION/01_The_Sociological_Problem.pdf

[15] Whatever else Occupy may have done, they made critique of capitalist political economy a central aspect of their mobilization. Nevertheless, their reluctance to directly engage the political blunted the power of that critique.

[16] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/pearl-korn/occupy-movement-upcoming-election_b_1801492.html

[17] Bellah, Robert. (1991) The Good Society, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc

[18] Lukacs showed how the very categories of thought of bourgeois society were themselves reification’s that masked class consciousness and the possibility of transcendence.

[19] Fraser, Nancy, 1997 Justice Interruptus. New York: Routledge;

[20] And the unseen elephant in the room is the looming environmental and/or resource crises


Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

By Jeff Madrick: The Reluctant Vote

By Benjamin Barber: Prudence or Principle? Why I will Vote for Obama and Why I Won’t Blame You This Year If You Don’t

By Stephen Eric Bronner: The Right, The Left, The Election: The Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, and The Presidential Campaign of 2012

By Judith Stein: The Day After Election Day

By Rogers M. Smith: Progressivism, Polarization, and the 2012 Election

By Lauren Langman: Why Obama Will Win the Election . . . and the Left Should Hope So

By John Ehrenberg: How to Kill a Vampire

By Claire Snyder-Hall: The King of the 1% v. The American Republic

By Steve Early: Labor’s Quadrennial Condition: Between A Rock and A Hard Place

By Chip Berlet: Vote for Democrats—Then Organize to Kick Their Butts

By Richard Meagher: Founding Principles

By Alyson Cole: What’s Wrong with Victims?