By Eric Soble
Driving political activist Paul Loeb back to Harrisburg airport earlier this week, I remember talking at length about the absolute trouncing moderates had undergone in this week’s election. Democrats had lost 60+ seats in the House, making this the largest Republican victory since 1948. Republicans had also gained six Senate seats, a more modest success. President Obama admitted that this election was “humbling” and acknowledged that this would stall the creation of a comprehensive climate change policy as well as thwart Democrat efforts to continue Obama’s job creation agenda. After I vocalized this pessimistic yet truthful analysis, Loeb paused for a second and said something that still sticks out in my mind: “Disappointment is inevitable. It is what you do after disappointment that truly matters.”
Democrats and Independents cannot afford to do what they did after 2008—wash their hands of activism and become overly confident in the powers of a supposedly messianic figure. Simply put, a lot of us got lazy. We believed in the unbelievable and allowed ourselves to go about our daily lives, hoping someone above us was working hard to fix the nation.
The stakes are even higher now. In the lead up to 2012, the Democrats must reassert their goals for America and recalibrate their strategies for achieving these goals. They must rely upon compromise in some areas and maintain their ground in others. Compromise between parties may be easiest when it comes to government reform—abolishing the filibuster, agreeing on campaign finance reform, cutting unneeded spending, etc. But it may prove difficult in economic and social matters, such as healthcare reform, equality for sexual minorities and moving out of Afghanistan.
In this political climate, the main question left for the President is this: fight or flight? He must choose his battles wisely if he wishes to continue on after 2012. The two most contentious debates will concern the Bush tax cuts and the healthcare bill. These will surely be complex and lengthy issues to face, and will take up much time and energy. It is near impossible to predict how these will play out, but one thing is for sure: neither side will be happy.
Here are some fights the President can win:
- Sign an executive order repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” A May 2010 Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 75 percent of the nation believes it should be repealed. There is no good reason not to act on this now.
- Combat the contradictory statements of the Tea Party. This party is a noxious branch of Republicans that wishes to travel back to an imagined “golden age” of our Founding Fathers. They do nothing but drain energy away from the political process and distract the public from the issues at hand.
- Move forward on climate change and responsible energy policies. The President cannot wait for the global warming denialism on the right to catch up to 21st century scientific fact. He should not compromise with representatives like John Boehner—the likely Speaker of the House—who think carbon dioxide emissions are not harmful to our planet.
- Reduce the deficit and cut the defense budget. The president should reign in spending on trillion dollar wars overseas. This does not mean sacrificing our armed forces or our security but rather ensuring a maintainable and efficient military force. This would force the so-called “economic conservatives” elected on Nov. 2 to show that their ideology can be evenly applied across the spectrum.
The next two years may be an exercise in extreme partisanship and frustrating gridlock. The “change we can believe in” slogan was great for 2008, but it could stand an addendum in 2010. Maybe “change we can feasibly accomplish in a limited number of months given our political and economic constraints” would be more apt. It surely isn’t as catchy, but it is something we can run with.