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What Next? Fighting Against Trump’s America

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On Jan. 20, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States of America. Being on a campus as liberal as Swarthmore, tense emotions were palpable within the community following the results of the election. Classes were canceled, tears were shed and a multitude of distressed Facebook posts were written. However, inauguration night seemed much less intense, with most students choosing to ignore it completely. Walking around campus, there was really no sense of panic or despair, a contrast to that which was starkly felt in the days following the election. I, personally, forgot it was the inauguration day last Friday – simply because no one had really been talking about it. I unwillingly caught a few glimpses of the ceremony while in the Ville, but other than that I spent my time watching a movie with a friend, it was a normal Friday night.

 As an international student, I feel I have an “outsider-looking-in” vantage point from which to view this election. Therefore, in order to truly understand the individual experiences of minority Americans – from election night up until now – I sat down with three Swatties to talk with them about what this new president means to them. I talked to them about their emotional processes during this intense election cycle, and their preferred methods of reprieve.

 On inauguration night, I sat down in the ML lounge with September Porras ’20 where she passionately talked about her commitment to protesting. The mood in the room was friendly and casual, everyone around us was nonchalantly socializing and studying. You would never know that a political event as major as a change in presidency occurred just earlier that day, an oddity on a campus as politically charged as Swarthmore.

“I didn’t even remember it was inauguration this morning,” Porras admitted, “which is good because I can focus on things and not be too upset by what’s happening.”

 Although she wasn’t too concerned on the day of the inauguration, Porras spent election night covering the polls on Swarthmore’s radio station, WSRN, with her friends until 2:15 in the morning.

As a patriot, she felt particularly betrayed because she believes that what makes America great is its diversity.

“To think that so many people find that to be not American – that shook me,” Porras said.  However, as time went by, Porras found solace through protesting.

“[The protests] helped me a lot…everyone decided ‘we’re angry and ready to fight back’…it was a sort of catharsis.”

 Porras described her emotional process from election night to inauguration night as a journey from being “sad and devastated, to being angry and then ready to solve.”As to whether protesting is an effective mechanism of resistance, Porras offers the following.

“Protesting an inauguration isn’t going to stop an inauguration. We all know that…the point of protesting is to let the rest of the nation know that people care, … years from now when people look back on documents and photographs – you’re looking at a divide in a nation, this is documented evidence that people did care and people did fight,” said Porras.

The Sunday following the inauguration, I sat down with Mirayda Martinez ’20, who said that she was heartbroken when she realized Trump was going to win.

However, Martinez found solace in solidarity on election night.

“I left the viewing party and went off with a couple of my friends who are also undocumented minorities and Latinx students. We talked about how it would affect us. It was very upsetting and there was a lot of crying, but we let each other know ‘hey, we can get through this,’” she said.  

Martinez also notes the in-your-face nature of social media as it relates to the coverage of the new president.

“I try and stay away from seeing posts on Facebook, I kind of just ignore them – just because it breaks my heart a little bit more every time I see it,” she said.  

Martinez says she “definitely” still feels heartbroken and disillusioned, and it’s been that way “since the day this election started.”

 In terms of protests, Martinez says “I’m really happy that people are acknowledging that this is a problem.”

However, she points out that protesting without active action is not enough. “I feel like some people go to these protests and then the next day they act like nothing happened …Yeah you can go to a protest and show your support…but if  you’re not doing anything about it in your own life and you’re just going to these events that make it sound like you’re doing something – then there’s no point in you trying to join the movement,” said Martinez.

She also acknowledges the positive ways in which social media has been manipulated for resistance. “I definitely think it’s good when people post about [issues regarding the election] on social media because you are making people aware that these are issues that need to be tackled,” she said.  

Byron Biney ‘19 remembered that on the day of the election “people were looking at the results as they came in – this was still around the time Hillary was in the lead, but still any time someone brought it up I’d tell them to stop talking about it — I didn’t want to hear about. Something about it just made me feel very uncomfortable, the fact that we were choosing between Hillary Clinton and this he ominously references the newly elected president.

Like Porras, Biney was also broadcasting live with WSRN. “There were so many emotions in that room, I feel like I’m going to remember that for the rest of my life,” he said. Biney also expressed the need to be in contact with loved ones during the elections.

“This is a move which threatens so many different people based on their identities, so there was just a longing to be in contact with my family,” he said.

After  the broadcast was over, however, Biney spent time with his friends, “they were trying to create a safe space to relax and calm down, and I did what I could to contribute to that safe space” said Biney.

The night ended for Biney with him walking back to his dorm, “playing the saddest song on my phone, and crying quite a bit.”

Biney continued by describing his headspace. “America is a system that has never really been for marginalized groups…[the election] is just a continuation of having to create a place for yourself in a system that really doesn’t want you to begin with, and now that Donald Trump is our president it’s just more upfront.”

  When news about the inauguration came up on his phone, he ignored it because it made him feel powerless amidst the day’s events- “the inauguration was going to happen and Donald Trump was going to come out looking like a bowl of spilled milk,” he said.

“I definitely have a more cynical viewpoint where I feel as if the protests aren’t going to convince people who are Trump supporters to not be Trump supporters,” Biney said.

“It’s almost as if they live in two different worlds.” he went on to say about the divide between Trump supporters versus those against Trump,

What effect does this have on protesting?  “Protests are more or less and expression of grievance and call to action, but Trump supporters won’t find those grievances valid – so what you end up with is people like Tomi Lahren saying it’s a gathering of cry babies,” Biney stated.

“I’m someone who goes to DIY punk shows, which are specifically made for marginalized groups. I see a lot of utility in the gathering of people from marginalized backgrounds and people actually creating discussions and expressing themselves through art or physical action,” said Biney.

Biney also acknowledges the fact that violence as a protesting tactic has become a very divisive feature of protests. He believes however, that marginalized groups are often inevitably considered aggressive or violent when they try and advocate for themselves.  

“[Protests] are the tools which they have, we can’t villainize those people just because they are using the tools around them.” His parting message for America: “My advice would be for people to stop treating these issues as if they’re new.”  

Oppression isn’t new, it just has a new face, and Americans must be ready and willing to fight against it as they always have.

Spending on inauguration draws questions

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The college spent over $100,000 during the weekend of the inauguration of Swarthmore College’s 15th President, Valerie Smith. Neither that number nor any form of budget was made available for members of the committee responsible for planning the event during the planning process.

The inauguration weekend took place from Oct 2 to 4 and included student-led dance performances, the Changing the Lives, Changing the World symposia, and the installment ceremony — held on the afternoon of Sunday, Oct 4.

Because an inauguration occurs only once every few decades, the college can divert extra financial resources to the planning and execution process. Vice President for Finance and Administration Gregory Brown said in an email that presidential inaugurations are a relatively infrequent event and present an opportunity for the college to join together as a community to celebrate. He explained that the inaugural steering committee, a group of faculty, staff, students, and managers created to plan the inauguration, operated with the policies and procedures of the college in mind.

According to Brown, there are a few key areas in which the steering committee focused their financial resources: performances, such as those at the Lang Center and the installation itself, “festive meals” provided to members of the community during the weekend, and the cost of setting up lights, tents, and audio and visual equipment for the weekend’s activities. Contrary to rumors, the design of the “Changing the Lives, Changing the World” logo and brand did not incur any extra costs to the college. It was created by Associate Director for Design and Publications Phillip Stern as a part of his normal working responsibilities. Brown explained that there was no single budget that covered all of the expenses for the inauguration weekend, but several different ones that were associated with different parts of the weekend’s activities.

Brown explained that the Board of Managers, knowing that the college was completing its search for a new president, set aside funding in the 2015-16 budget to cover the costs of a presidential inauguration.  The budget was based on expenses that had been incurred in prior presidential transitions, with adjustments for inflation. According to Brown, tenting costs for the weekend were budgeted at $60,000, and the budget for food for 1500 students and up to 2300 guests was $85,000. This puts the total costs for the weekend well above $100,000, and does not factor in the costs of audio and video equipment needed for the installment ceremony or any of the costs for printing the various pamphlets, posters, and other media associated with the event. The only two parts of the budget Brown was able to disclose were the two mentioned above, and the total cost of the inauguration still remains unclear.

Whatever its exact size, the budget for the inauguration weekend is still a small fraction of total yearly costs for the college. One of the smallest pools of money in the budget — the $1.25 million allocated for base funding for technology capital projects in the 2015-16 fiscal year — exceeds the weekend’s expenditures by approximately ten times. Thus, despite the apparent magnitude of the funds allocated for the weekend, it is actually a relatively small pool of money.

Some students who heard the size of the budget felt like the spending was well-intentioned, but that there were alternatives that might have made more of an impact on the college.

“I think the campus is very lucky to have Val and she deserves to feel honored in her new home… [but] maybe the best way to honor her would be to put that money towards the students and the school she’s trying to lead rather than just into one event,” Anna Scheibmeir ‘18 said in an email.

Despite the fact that the committee members were not given a budget for the inauguration, members of the steering committee did not express concern over the lack of information regarding concrete financial details. Professor of neurobiology Kathy Siwicki feels that instead of being a cause for concern, the college’s lack of disclosure around the amount of financial resources was a liberating experience. According to Siwicki, when the committee originally proposed the idea for having fireworks on Saturday evening, Greg Brown approved the idea without a single mention of the anticipated costs.

“When new ideas would come up, we’d run it by Greg, he’d say ‘Okay’, and I didn’t ask questions about where the money was coming from. I was assuming that [it was a] Board decision to allocate a certain budget to this new start for our new President,” Siwicki said.

Students involved in the process of planning the inauguration also felt that there was very little discussion regarding the availability of financial resources in the steering committee’s discussions. Isabel Knight ’16, a member of the steering committee, expressed that the college sometimes displayed inconsistencies in how it distributed its resources across various parts of the campus.

“It seems to me, what’s so weird is that we spend tons of money on things that seem nonsensical, and not enough money on [things that make sense]… there’s tons of things that, as a student, you can point to and say, ‘Maybe we should spend money on this, maybe we should fix the milk machine one day,” she said.

Smith installed as 15th president of college

in News/Uncategorized by
photo by Z.L. Zhou
photo by Z.L. Zhou

This past weekend over 1,200 people came to campus to celebrate the inauguration of President Valerie Smith. The celebrations started on Friday, October 2 with the Tree Planting Ceremony and came to a close Saturday, October 3 with the Installation Ceremony.

Smith was named the 15th president of the college last February. Previously, she was the Dean of the College at Princeton University and is a distinguished African American literature and culture scholar. Smith first came to campus last November before her interview process.

“What I saw on Parrish beach last November, and what continues to inspire me as I walk across the campus each day is the [undeniable] connection of the inner life to the world of action and expression,” said President Smith. “As I walked past the rose garden I caught my first glimpse of the section of campus we call Parrish beach. … The beauty and the tranquility of that view simply took my breath away. … At that moment I had the sense that I had found my place. The college spoke to me and I had an unspeakable sense that I could be at home here.”

The Installation Ceremony, originally scheduled to be in the Scott Amphitheater, was held in the Lamb-Miller Field House due to the rain. Speakers at the event included Student Government Co-Presidents Christine Kim ’17 and Stephen Sekula ’17.

“Val we chose you, you’re at Swarthmore and you’re going to have to deal with all our quirks all our opinions a bunch of enthusiasm and plenty of complaints. At times there will be a lot of hurt, and even more often a lot of passion,” said Sekula.

Speakers also included people from other institutions connected to Smith or the college.

“While at Princeton, Val was a tiger who worked tirelessly to enhance the undergraduate student experience to create a more inclusive campus climate and help students develop into global citizens with a commitment to serve the needs of others in the world around them,” said Christopher Eisgruber, president of Princeton University. “At Swarthmore Val is reborn not as a tiger but as a phoenix.”

As Smith is the first African American president of the college, many speakers discussed matters of equality in academia.

“The long shadow of racial and gender bias still lingers in this society and will influence some of what she will experience on a day to day basis,” said Ruth Simmons, former president of Smith College and Brown University. “In spite of her distinguished and unblemished career some will expect her to prove every day and everywhere her worthiness for this wanted role. Consequently I applaud Swarthmore for its sensible yet bold decision to embrace difference. A difference that by its rare inclusion at this level and in this sphere lifts, edifies, and heals us all.”

Speakers also touched on the impact an African American president would have on the college.

“While I do not for one moment believe that this is what you’ll be best remembered for. I am especially proud to acknowledge the historical significance of this occasion and to celebrate the naming of our first African American president,” said Tom Spock ‘78 Chair of the Board of Managers at the Installation Ceremony.

Smith herself commented on the importance of a diverse community during her address.

“Certainly opening our institutions to students from underrepresented communities will improve their life choices and inspire others to follow in their footsteps,” said Smith, “but these  students are not the only ones who will learn from these encounters. The process of change goes both ways. When we commit to diversifying our institutions we improve those institutions as well.”

Speakers recognized the challenges of the job but were confident in Smith’s abilities.

“Swarthmore today faces important challenges and opportunities — among them growing income inequality, the impact of the technological revolution, and questions about the value of a liberal arts education,” said Eisgruber, “In your new president Val Smith you have a leader who will rise to these challenges and harness these opportunities embodying the mission of Swarthmore College.”

Smith hopes to teach students to become lifelong learners and empower them to make a difference.

“Here we must encourage them to develop the practice of reflection. [And] to discover the value of observing and lingering in the present,” said Smith.

 

The sounds of inauguration

in Arts by
Swarthmore College Chorus
Photo by / Dan Z. Johnson

Last weekend, the campus celebrated the inauguration of our 15th president, Valerie Smith. This included a certain amount of pomp and ceremony, met with enthusiastic fanfare. Smith was welcomed by a wide variety of musical acts, many of which were comprised of Swarthmore students or alumni. Smith reported being impressed with the breadth of musical styles and talents displayed by the students, asserting that the inaugural celebration was an excellent display of the creative capabilities of Swarthmore students.

President Smith’s inauguration was preceded by a performing arts celebration the night before. This event included performances by the Alumni Gospel Choir, Audrey Pernell ‘04 and Andrés Zará, the college’s Chamber, Chorus, and Jazz Ensembles, and Taiko. The night was capped off by a performance by the Trio Ivoire, including Cornell Visiting Professor Hans Lüdemann.

The inauguration ceremony itself included two musical acts. The procession was accompanied by Gamelan Semara Santi, described by the inauguration program as “a classical Indonesian percussion orchestra that specializes in traditional music and dance from Bali.”

Regarding the selection of Gamelan Semara Santi to play during the procession and recession, Faye Ma ’19, a member of the group, explained, “Gamelan itself is for rituals or ceremonies so it was a very appropriate choice.” The rotating piece they played, in fact, is traditionally used for royal ceremonies.

Ma believes that the ceremony garnered positive exposure for the group. She explained, “Gamelan is not well known or popular on campus, so it was a great chance for other people to learn about us.” Additionally, Ma noted the significance of the Gamelan group on campus. “Cultural diversity is well represented on campus, but the musical aspects of those cultures are not as well represented,” Ma said.

The installation ceremony also had two musical interludes, both performances by the Chester Children’s choir, directed by Professor John Alston. The first song, “Ubi Caritas,” is a traditional Latin hymn, while the second song, “Oh, Freedom” was performed accompanied by a keyboard and drums.

Tiye Pulley ’19, who was in the audience at the installation ceremony said, “I really enjoyed the Children’s Chorus, especially the second song. I thought it was really lively, not typical choral fare. It was nice because it gave the concert a celebratory atmosphere — good vibes.” Additionally, “Oh, Freedom”’ originates from the Civil Rights Era. The song tied together the themes of race touched upon by many of the speakers.

After the installation ceremony, the college hosted a Campus Celebration on Parrish Beach, with food and performances by all of the college’s a cappella groups and two dance groups. One notable highlight of the evening occurred during Grapevine’s performance, when the all-female a cappella group sang “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse to President Smith, who was brought on stage. Pulley, also present at this event, said “‘Valerie’ was a nice touch, but I was expecting Valerie Smith to sing. That was a disappointment. I’m still expecting Valerie Smith to sing.”

Shana Herman ’19, the soloist for that song explained, “At the last second they told me we’d be performing Valerie first and that I’d be singing it with Valerie Smith. It was very fun, very nice, she even tried singing at one point. I got a hug from her after, so it was really nice.”

The evening also included a cappella performances by Mixed Company, Chaverim, Offbeat, and Sixteen Feet. Between these were interspersed slam poems performed by members of Our Art Spoken in Soul (OASiS), the college’s slam poetry group, and dance performances by Rhythm N Motion, Terpsichore, and the African Drum and Dance ensemble led by Isaac Akrong. Herman echoed Smith’s statements and appreciation of the variety of artistic acts. She said, “The music of the inauguration was very representative of the broad range of music and arts we have here. This range was really shown by the contrast between the slam poems, a cappella, and African tribal dance. It was beautiful.”

 

Sitting down with incoming President Valerie Smith

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IMG_7123
New president Valerie Smith has been busy getting to know the college and its students.

In the coming weeks, preparations will be made: grass watered, buildings groomed and lines rehearsed all in anticipation of President Valerie Smith’s inauguration on October 3rd, 2015. After a year and a half of presidential flux — the somewhat sudden 2014 departure of Rebecca Chopp, followed by a year with Interim President Constance Hungerford — President Smith, esteemed scholar and administrator from Princeton University, will take up her position as the 15th president of Swarthmore College, making a symbolic and historical mark on the presidency as the second female and the first person of color to hold the job.

President Smith has already been on campus for a few months. Beginning her official term in early July, she has spent time acquainting herself with the town of Swarthmore and its residents, meeting current students, alumni, staff, and faculty at the college, working with the Inauguration Steering Committee, and moving into Courtney Smith House, where she will live during her tenure as president. The Brooklyn native also took time to enjoy some of her favorite pastimes, including traveling, walking, and reading.

“The most recent book I read was Elizabeth Alexander’s new memoir called ‘The Light of the World’ … I think I went into the book thinking it would be about grief and loss, but it’s actually also a book about beauty and love, romantic love, family love, love across the generations, across the diaspora, and creativity and art,” Smith said. “That’s probably the book I read that really stood out for me this summer. I highly recommend it. It’s a gorgeous book,” she added.

President Smith also enjoys theatre and film, passions which are noticeably reflected in her scholarship on African American literature and culture. She described her academic work, saying, “I have been interested in the impact of social and historical change on aesthetic practices, and my work is very much informed by black feminist theory. … I work on film, literature in the late 20th and now the early 21st centuries.”

But now with the school year in session, President Smith is intensifying what she calls “an effort to begin the process of understanding the community.” Already, Smith has been asked to move in circles directly with students, citing her recent participation in a student-hosted debate between herself and Dean Braun, and various invitations to attend student activities and games.

Going forward, she plans to make herself available to students in structured settings like presidential office hours and school-wide collections (a tradition, she noted, that she hopes will become more frequent while she is at the college). While these planned events will be integral to her process of familiarization with Swarthmore, President Smith also finds a lot of satisfaction and meaning in the quotidian — the everyday interactions she has with students, from going on walks together, to casual run-ins in the Ville or in Sharples.

“I feel as if I’m off to a great start with the students, so I hope that that will continue. I’ve been so grateful to students in all four years who have been willing to come over and introduce themselves to me,” she shared. Amongst President Smith’s top priorities, she emphasized, is “getting to know the college, values, people, and culture,” and ensuring that this relationship is a two-way street so that the college can get to know her, too.

Getting to know Swarthmore, of course, also means getting to know our history — especially of the last few years leading up to Smith’s presidency. The college has, in recent memory, grappled with a host of contentious issues, from sexual assault to fossil fuel divestment, that have made their way into the press and deeply affected many students’ experiences. Though it is not yet clear what her precise proposals are, President Smith said that she is in the process of developing plans to address these hot-button issues, and has deep respect for the dialogue that Swarthmore — and student communities at large — create around topics like these.

“Historically, students in colleges and universities across the globe have risen to the challenge of calling to the attention of their institutions matters of social and political urgency. I think each generation first of all needs to be grateful to students for asking us to pay attention to areas we may not have attended to sufficiently,” she said. “The first thing I want to make sure I’m doing is listening carefully to the voices of students and others who raise these areas of urgent concern, and the next thing is to investigate or research the different positions and options … to help inform our response, and our sense of what our options are. Finally, I want to communicate what the response is in a clear and transparent way.”

Perhaps nothing, though, is as telling of what President Smith’s relationship to students and the college community at large will be like than a look into her past at Princeton, where she served as the dean of the college prior to coming to Swarthmore. Smith mentioned two focuses she had at Princeton that will follow her from that institution to this one: making the abundant resources of the college available to students, and working on international initiatives.

President Smith expanded on her opinions regarding accessibility, saying, “I think it’s early to start announcing specific plans, but I can mention a few areas that I’m interested in. One is to make sure that students are actually aware of various resources Swarthmore has to offer … to make sure students are aware of extraordinary resources. I’d like to know if there are any barriers to taking advantage of those opportunities, and how we can address them.”

With regard to actually addressing the issue, Smith shared a bit about her experience at Princeton, which may serve to guide her implementation of certain changes at Swarthmore. At Princeton, she began by vetting the structures and programs already in place, decided what to add or restructure. She described what shape that may take at the college in the coming months and years.

“It will of course start with my speaking with the individuals who are in charge of various offices, of course, and reading background documents. It can go any number of directions after that some of it will involve speaking with students who represent the affected populations but also probably, looking at what some peer [institutions] are doing in similar areas,” Smith said.

President Smith’s ethos of calculated decision-making fits well into her overarching desire to completely, carefully and thoughtfully become a part of the intricate fabric of the college.

When asked “Why Swarthmore?,” President Smith answered, “I love the campus. I think that [it] provides so many opportunities for meditation and contemplation just because of the natural beauty, and we are fortunate to be in a place that provides bucolic environment but easy access to major city with culturally rich resources.” Smith also has a special appreciation for the history of Swarthmore, which, she noted, is enmeshed with and “committed to the common good.”

President Smith is also eager to be at Swarthmore because, as she sees it, students at the college seem immensely capable of approaching the multiple and diverse aspects of the Swarthmore experience.

“I’m delighted to see the wide range of student interests and talents and gifts … and I would like to make sure that we are cultivating an environment where students feel that they can embrace their full humanity here, even as they challenge themselves intellectually that this is an environment where they can explore their total humanity … I think there’s a lot of work we can do in those areas. Trying to live a life in balance is a lifelong challenge, so let’s begin to figure that out,” she said.

Curing “Obama Disappointment Syndrome”

in Columns/Opinions/The Pragmatic Progressive by

Barack Obama delivered his second inaugural address on Monday. In clear and compelling terms, he celebrated the accomplishments that “we, the people” of the United States have achieved throughout our history in creating a more perfect union. He declared that “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action” and that “the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still.”

That rhetoric and that vision match the real-world achievements of the first term. In four years, he stabilized the economy by rescuing the automotive industry and preventing the collapse of the financial system. He invested in infrastructure, renewable energy, and education with a stimulus bigger in real dollars than the entire New Deal. He reformed the health care and student loan systems. Moving counter  to recent political trends, he strengthened Wall Street regulations rather than cutting them. He advanced the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans as no other president ever has. He made the tax code more progressive. He ended the war in Iraq and began to wind down the war in Afghanistan. He accomplished most of those with the support of congressional Democrats and in spite of zealous opposition from Republicans determined to shut his presidency down.

Yet it was not just the conservatives who resisted these achievements. Too often, the president was also coping with recurrent complaints from the American left-wing commentariat, which was disappointed by his insufficient commitment to ideological purity. This chronic refusal to accept compromises as the price for progress made efforts at reform much more difficult. It is a major reason that even today the political dialogue often overlooks the scope of the first-term record.

Consider health care reform. The Affordable Care Act alone is sufficient qualification for Barack Obama to be considered a good president and the 111th Congress a good legislature. It created a robust regulatory regime to protect people from insurance company abuses and to make health care more affordable over the long term. It gave millions more Americans access to Medicaid and extended the longevity of Medicare. It was the greatest expansion of the American social insurance system since the Great Society. Liberal pressure no doubt helped make that happen.

Yet the ACA was considered a sellout by many left-wing pundits and bloggers because it lacked a public health insurance option. These critics wanted to abandon the cause entirely because of what the president once called a “sliver” of the proposal. Typical was the influential blogger Glenn Greenwald, who declared any reform bill lacking one to be nothing more than a “glorified bailout of the insurance and drug industries.” The loss of the public option was interpreted as a sign of the president’s wishy-washy temperament or even, to use the detractors’ jargon, “corporatist” political sympathies. The virtues of the legislation were forgotten in the quest for ideological perfection. The complaints were loud and frequent enough to amplify public discontent with the reform effort, making progress all the more difficult.

Like most Swatties, I am more liberal than most Americans. I would prefer a health care system similar to those of Canada, France, and the Scandinavian social democracies. Failing that, I would have liked the public option. Yet neither had any chance of passing Congress; the large public health programs we do have, Medicare and Medicaid, were passed when Democrats had 67 Senate seats and almost 300 House seats. Politics, as the cliché goes, is the art of the possible, and what is most desirable is not always possible. This is particularly true in this country, which has a Constitution lined with obstacles to major legislation. There are times when we must choose between commitment to ideology and action for the greater good. In these times, it is almost always better to act. An inability to solve all problems is a poor excuse for solving none of them.

Given these limits, Barack Obama’s presidency has still been more progressive than any since Lyndon Johnson’s. He has earned his second term and in the process established the foundation for a new regime of liberal governance. He has made compromises, but his agenda indicates a focus on building a more secure, prosperous, and inclusive America. He is calling for action in the next four years to deal with climate change, reduce gun violence, overhaul our immigration system, end the war in Afghanistan, and keep rebuilding the economy. If the successful “fiscal cliff” negotiations are any indication, he can find ways to enact at least some of that agenda despite a Republican House and a dysfunctional Senate. Whether the results will please leftist critics remains to be seen. The inaugural address sparked renewed enthusiasm for the president, but that will likely dissipate again when the time inevitably comes, once again, to compromise in the pursuit of progress.

Liberals face a choice in the next four years: heed the complaints of a relatively few vocal purist pundits, or continue to move forward. A smart left would support the left-of-center president, his party, and their policy initiatives, even as it organizes to bring bold solutions to a broad range of issues into the realm of political possibility. There is still progress to be made. The war on drugs continues. Gaping economic inequality persists. Our social insurance system needs to be made sustainable for future generations. President Obama’s successes are not ends, but they are steps along the long road to a more perfect union. He has given liberals a rare opportunity, and it is our responsibility to seize it.

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