Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Late night dorm conversations with strangers have a magical way of bursting the bubble of our beliefs. Several early morning hours spent futilely trying to convince two stubbornly committed non-voters to cast ballots next Tuesday made it painfully apparent that, even at Swarthmore, the logic of political participation perpetually requires more elucidation. In this crucial week before the election, I’m happy to take my appeal both to the pages of the Daily Gazette and the live debate, at which I hope you’ll join myself, Danielle Charette and Will Lawrence the Monday night prior to the election. What I want to suggest now and later at the debate is this: vote for the slow and steady progressive change represented by Mr. Obama on November 6, but recognize that without dedicated extra-electoral activism, the promise of Mr. Obama’s prospective second term will never be fulfilled.
The immediate decision between Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama is not difficult. From the reactionary American right we here nothing this election season but shameless chauvinism and utter disdain for elementary mathematics, that most elite of disciplines (yes, even with the heroic stymieing of job losses of 800,000 per month we should expect unemployment to rise, albeit at a slower rate. The term Romney-Ryan supporters ought to google is ‘concave down.’)
It is not difficult to see that this a better country when health care access is extended to 32,000,000 Americans previously uninsured. It is not difficult to see that this is a better country after the redirection of $36 bilion in student aid away from the banks that once provided those loans but rather directly towards the students who need them. It is not difficult to see that it is a better country when the guns of the most potent military in world history are not needlessly deployed against whatever country at which Richard Cheney wakes up with his pecker pointed. Nor is it difficult to see the impertinent irony of handing the country over to a man whose wealth was “earned” by the exploitative violation of two of the few principles Democrats and Republicans have historically agreed to condemn: outsourcing that continues to cost millions of American jobs and Cayman Island tax loopholes.
For those who need to be reminded yet again of the accomplishments of this Administration and the unequivocal danger of Mr. Romney’s unabashed corporatism, I will be happy to bring the tonic this Monday evening. I also look forward to addressing the unmistakable failures of this Administration to: enact a WPA-like public jobs program, break up the largest banks, expeditiously end the war in Afghanistan, and resist Far Right pressure on deportation, tax cuts, and the public option. These are critiques to which I am sympathetic. What I am not sympathetic to is the docility that is too often their illogical extension. The notion that the failures of the Obama Administration justify non-participation is the type of asinine irresponsibility that only the privileged isolation of a place like Swarthmore College could allow.
The failures listed above suggest severe structural problems that must be confronted by the type of mobilized citizenry once embodied by Occupy Wall Street. One of these structural problems is the anti-democratic influence of powerful corporations that fund campaigns and often determine public policy. It is unreasonable to expect such problems to be remedied in one term or by one man.
Thus while it is necessary to vote for President Obama this Tuesday, it is hardly sufficient. The inescapable fact is that the reforms disillusioned leftists seek –public campaign financing, more equitable distribution of income, and decisive action on climate change– require cooperation between a progressive Administration and the concerted pressure of progressive outside groups. The New Deal represented FDR’s understanding, in the face of strikes, sit-ins, and national marches, that he had to respond to the aspirations of the suffering public or risk the delegitimization of capitalist democracy itself. Similarly, the civil rights movement achieved its most significant progress when grass-roots activists coordinated with sympathetic politicians, as in the Kennedy Administration’s heavy involvement in the 1963 March on Washington.
So vote for President Obama on Tuesday, for, on the verge of an evisceration of Roe v. Wade, an unnecessary Iranian escapade, or an even greater transfer of wealth and power to the already wealthy and powerful, we cannot fall prey to the ease of taking President Obama’s daily battle on behalf of ordinary Americans for granted. Take Obama at his word when he said in 2007 that the election was not about him, but rather about “summoning a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility.” This means rejecting the dangerous fallacy that merely voting for President Obama is sufficient, and instead joining in the diverse types of extra-electoral activism that embody the historic logic of progressive change.
Come comment in-person at The Daily Gazette Columnists’ pre-election debate. Monday 8pm SCI 101. Also featuring Will Lawrence ’13 and Danielle Charette ’14.