Now is the time to fight for a legacy you can be proud of, and to lay down a path to victory for your
coalition in 2016.
The Congressional losses which are being blamed on you by the Republicans and mainstream media were actually not as bad as they would have us believe. Ignored in the commentary are the huge losses, for example, suffered in off-year elections by Bill Clinton, Dwight Eisenhower, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Those presidents came back and are remembered well.
Now is the time to fight for a legacy you can be proud of, and to lay down a path to victory for your coalition in 2016.
There will be voices loudly calling for you to take even greater steps towards a governing system in which “the art of compromise” is apparently their highest ideal.
This is a false choice, as you know. Compromise for its own sake has no inherent value. Compromise in the pursuit of the North Star is inevitable and necessary at times. John F. Kennedy negotiated a compromise with Nikita Khrushchev, pledging no invasion of Cuba and taking American missiles out of that island to spare the world a nuclear war.
Franklin Roosevelt gave up on national health insurance to assure social security and pensions. Those were progressive and necessary compromises.
It’s the incoming Republicans who have pursued an uncompromising policy towards anything you have offered in recent years. They can be expected to continue that path until they prove otherwise. Their unswerving goal has been to defeat you politically and destroy your example and your legacy.
You should not feel pressured to compromise for the sake of appearing ‘responsible’ or
‘graceful in defeat.’
You should not feel pressured to compromise for the sake of appearing “responsible” or “graceful in defeat” or any of the other rewards the media bestows on those who maintain the system of power by setting aside the principles they wish to be remembered for.
Who knows: I doubt it, but there may be some Republicans who want to join you in breaking up crony capitalism or the secret surveillance state. It’s worth listening carefully to them.
But remember: they won an election in which Democratic turnout was going to be diminished no matter who was the president or how much money was spent. The system is designed to lessen turnout in off-year elections among the young, the poor and people of color. This election was no different. In addition, the states which were at stake generally leaned Republican before your coalition swept through them in 2008 and 2012, years when the turnouts were much higher.
These facts of political life were exploited by a Republican Party using billions in campaign funds [much of it secret pools] and every possible means to suppress turnout among Democratic voters. After$3.4 billion was spent on this campaign, the whole affair ended where any serious analyst could have predicted before it began.
Even with turnout against the Democrats, it should be noted that living wage increases were enacted across the country, marijuana legalization was supported by majorities, personhood proposals were rejected, and in California we saw a huge reversal of mass incarceration policies, a reversal encouraged by your own attorney general, Eric Holder. [And Denton, Texas, banned fracking!] The right-wing assault on Obamacare faded as a campaign issue as the actual program took root among millions of Americans. Your fuel efficiency standards are being phased in and the clean energy economy has expanded under your watch.
A majority Democratic coalition, built on the Obama victories of 2008 and 2012, is entirely predictable for 2016.
A majority Democratic coalition, built on the Obama victories of 2008 and 2012, is entirely predictable for 2016. Not inevitable, of course, but a new multiracial, multicultural electorate has been born and is growing everyday. They need hope. They need to believe you fought for them whatever the odds. They need to believe they can set things right in 2016.
What they don’t need is a reinforcement of the cynical perspective that all politics begins in lofty promises but ends in the same Old Deal instead of real change. Here are some examples of what you might do to assure a progressive legacy and improve the prospects of Democrats for years ahead.
- First, you should implement immigration reform as soon as possible by executive order. It’s a great sign that you already have announced your willingness to do so soon. If the Republicans are willing to compromise on an immigration package — without more wasteful expenditures on trying to seal the border — it’s fine to have some bipartisan support.But waiting for the Republicans, while piling up massive deportations to satisfy their ideological needs, only lost crucial Democratic votes in Colorado and among millions of Latinos generally. You should leave out the Republicans if they demand more concessions. If they agree to a very watered-down package, they only will use it to enhance their chances in 2016. If they rebel against an executive order, it will be noticed and hurt them in 2016.
- Second, on Iraq and Syria, you should challenge the Republicans to pledge no use of American ground troops as you have. I would have advised against the present bombing campaign, but I understand the political pressures upon you at the time. Both parties wanted to avoid dealing with the war during the November election. But now you can demand that the Congress put up a vote, define the objectives as narrowly as possible, cement a no-ground-troops pledge and a deadline on our military involvement, as well as another new up-or-down vote before the 2016 election.It’s bad enough that you have unleashed a unilateral bombing campaign on borrowed funds, especially since you yourself note that there is no military solution. Now you need to ask the Congress what limits to an unlimited war they will accept, and force the next presidential candidates to vote again in 2016 when this war is likely to be a quagmire.
Engage in sharp public debate with the incoming lunatic Republicans from the climate-denying fringe.
- Third, on environmental issues, you should go all-out to raise public awareness and campaign for your regulations scaling back our death-dealing coal power plants. You should veto if necessary the XL pipeline. You should publicly carry the fight for a climate change agreement all the way to the Paris talks one year from now. You can fortify your environmental base, link the climate issues to environmental justice, and be proven right by history. There is no downside for you unless you compromise further.Engage in sharp public debate with the incoming lunatic Republicans from the climate-denying fringe, and make it a debate on the future of American health and economics. In doing so, you will consolidate the environmental constituency for future Democratic candidates.
- Fourth, you should announce a two-year plan to move as far as possible to the normalization of relations with Cuba, with the release of American AID contractor Alan Gross at the center of the U.S. agenda. The New York Times — the voice of your constituency — has not only editorialized frequently for normalization but recently proposed a swap of AID contractor Alan Gross for three of the Cuban Five still sitting in American prisons. This doesn’t even have to be a literal swap, but a comprehensive and sequenced package of reforms. It would be enjoyable [in a weird way] to hear Menendez and the Republicans argue that Alan Gross should not be released until Fidel and Raul Castro are dead and the right to build casinos renewed again in Havana.Even without the Republicans, you can lift travel restrictions on Americans and take Cuba off the State Department’s “state terrorism” listing which complicates Cuba’s ability to seek loans. Even the Cubans in Miami favor diplomatic relations and lifting the economic embargo. How many Americans would object to having the right to vacation in Cuba and use their credit cards? And by the way, wouldn’t Hillary Clinton like you to get Cuba “off her plate” before 2016?
- Fifth, appoint a new attorney general as aggressive as Eric Holder on civil rights and voter suppression, and give him/her a mandate to examine new and innovative ways to rein in the surveillance state. Here’s a fantasy, for example: give Guantanamo back to the Cubans in exchange for Alan Gross. That seems unthinkable, of course, but here’s the point: you suddenly are liberated to think big, with fewer restraints than ever before on the exercise of your powers.
- Finally, as the next session unfolds, any compromises on the core Democratic beliefs in social security should be ruled out. As Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders argue, Medicaid should be expanded, not diminished. Any trade agreements should avoid the deep flaws of NAFTA. Protections of civil rights should be non-negotiable. Sensible judicial appointments should be made immediately.
The point is that the election returns have given you a last chance to dream a bit, about what you can do as President of the United States, a president free to speak and campaign across America for what you believe, making plans to thwart the Republicans and complete the transition to a new American majority by 2016. You are free at last.
Read more of Tom Hayden’s writing on The Rag Blog.
[Tom Hayden, a regular contributor to The Rag Blog, was an early and outspoken critic of the War in Vietnam. Tom, who served in the California Legislature for nearly two decades, was a leader of Sixties peace, justice, and environmental movements. An enduring progressive voice, Hayden is the author of 20 books, is director of the Peace and Justice Resource center, and is editor of The Democracy Journal.]