President Barack Obama and America’s new values voters
When John Kennedy was asked if he was a liberal, he replied that it depends on the definition. “If by a ‘Liberal’ they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a ‘Liberal,’ then I’m proud to say I’m a ‘Liberal.’”
President Barack Obama would very likely answer the question in much the same way. So would Bill Clinton, Lyndon Johnson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Obama’s predecessors in the tradition of liberal Democrats.
Though some of the progressive views espoused by Obama can be traced back to Roosevelt, the decade of the 1960s built the foundation on which Obama’s progressive support rests. The civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam protests, the liberation of women, the environmental movement and the spread of community organizing — from which Obama emerged — all helped transform American social and political values and pave the way for a new liberalism.
For the past four decades, conservatives have resisted the progressive trend that started with Roosevelt and continued through the Johnson administration. During that time, Republicans have occupied the White House 70 percent of the time, enabling them to appoint 86 percent of the Supreme Court justices during that time period.
For the past four years, congressional Republicans convinced themselves their obstructive tactics would ensure Obama was a one-term president. Now they must face the reality that their vision of a nation dominated by corporate and individual wealth, serving special interests before the people, has ended.
Ironically, the Supreme Court’s notorious Citizens United decision, affirming that corporations are persons and unleashing unlimited unaccountable funds into elections, helped produce the backlash that turned back the Republican tidal wave of money.
Demographers say that the balance of political power has shifted away from the GOP because a new coalition of minorities, single women and the young outnumber older white men.
But these groups did not coalesce because of genetics, gender or age. They were drawn together by shared values and common goals.
As The New York Times editorialized, “The contours of the 2012 presidential race were shaped less by the country’s changing demographics than by the underlying attitudes and values of American voters.”
Obama won, The Times continued, “because he articulated a set of values that define an America that the majority of us wish to live in: A nation that makes the investments we need to strengthen and grow the middle class. A nation with a fair tax system, and affordable and excellent education for all its citizens. A nation that believes that we’re most prosperous when we recognize that we are all in it together.”
For too long, the term “values voters” has applied strictly to the right-wing religious zealots who drove the Republican party too far to the right of the cultural and political mainstream.
But it was different values that drove this election, as ordinary people rejected both the zealots who threatened to impose their narrow morality on women’s bodies as well as their laissez-faire economics on working Americans.
The GOP failed to recognize that people have lost confidence in the party and lost faith in the theory that, if corporate America was doing well, prosperity would trickle down to the middle class.
This election could determine the political direction of the country for the next election cycle and beyond. Offered a clear choice between economic policies that would restore and sustain the middle class, or a return to the principles that enriched the 1 percent and collapsed the middle class, the voters chose liberalism.
Obama said from the beginning of his campaign that the election is about what kind of country Americans choose to live in. His re-election affirms that the road the people choose four years ago is still the route they want to travel.
It won’t be easy for Obama to implement his vision for America, but the chances are better now than most of us imagined just over a week ago. It will be even better two years from now, unless Republicans in Congress realize that the American people have will no longer tolerate the unpatriotic and unprincipled values that have consumed the most conservative Republicans.