Yes, election night was a heck of a party and it’s great that the really bad guys lost. Karl Rove and his reactionary ilk were defeated by a new American majority that is younger, more tolerant, rainbow colored and multilingual and one in which women now trump the depressing ignorance of so many older white men. But morning in America already feels too much like a hangover. The house is still a wreck, the family is dysfunctional and there are enormous bills to pay that are not about to go away.
All of us suddenly sobered folks, who voted for Barack Obama because the alternative was so horridly wrong, have got to accept the moral implications of that choice. We won but at what cost? Fool me once, shame on Obama, but fool me twice and I’m the one responsible. That goes for his promises to right the economy by leveling the playing field as well as to end what Obama termed in his victory speech “a decade of war.”
It is now our fingers on the video game buttons that order the drones to kill innocent civilians, and we bear responsibility if the president maintains the Guantanamo gulag and continues to vilify Bradley Manning and Julian Assange for confronting America with its war crimes. Will he make good on his promise to hold the line on the incessant demands of the congressional defense contractor caucus or will he find yet another “good war”?
What about our expectation that Obama will be more vigilant than his vulture capitalist opponent in reining in the greed of the Wall Street crowd that has caused so much economic turmoil? The good news is that Obama, and his party, are far less beholden to the titans of the financial industry than they were the first time around. His own funding from top Wall Street firms that favored him in 2008 was way down, and across the country voters rejected the deregulation and lower tax on high roller income that the finance industry thought it was buying for its more than $400 million in campaign contributions.
“Wall Street Took a Beating at the Polls,” ran the headline in The Wall Street Journal. Referring to what he bemoaned as “Tuesday’s multiple disappointments,” columnist David Weidner added, “not the least of which is the defeat of Mitt Romney, a former private-equity executive who promised to cut or at least review financial regulation while offering more tax breaks for investors. Mr. Romney was perhaps the best hope for Wall Street this fall. He was one of their own, so tantalizingly close to the biggest trading floor of all.”
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Parse the cynicism of that sentence, with its image of representative democracy as a frantic for-profit trading pit and you get what crony capitalism is all about. They thought the fix was in on bribing a compliant Congress and instead the two biggest recipients of Wall Street largess went down to defeat. In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, the single most knowledgeable and effective exponent of consumer protection from financial industry scams, soundly beat Sen. Scott Brown, a champion of financial deregulation. The second main Wall Street target, Sherrod Brown, the Democratic senator from Ohio who sponsored legislation that would break up the too big to fail banks, also won decisively, defeating banker-backed Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel.
Obama didn’t go as far as the Ohio senator and Harvard law professor Warren wanted but even the much more timid steps toward financial industry accountability that the president endorsed met fierce resistance from members of the Wall Street crowd. Hopefully he will finally get the message that their unfettered greed is the problem and hardly the solution. That’s what it took for Franklin Roosevelt to become the true champion of the commonweal in his second term and it could salvage the historic legacy of this president as well.
Will the president now replace Timothy Geithner, the big bank toady, with a Treasury secretary that Elizabeth Warren, the senator for the 99 percent, can enthusiastically support? How about Sheila Bair for that post? The former chair of the FDIC has been a highly skilled guardian of the public interest with the knowledge base and social conscience required to stand up to the banking lobby and its allies in the Federal Reserve.
The 2012 election represents a profound mandate for change because it was a startling manifestation of the power as well as the presence of the long neglected “other” that is the face of the new America. That is the America that continued to stick with Obama, despite reservations over his actual governance, because the alternative was reactionary in the fullest sense of that word. Theirs is an idealistic trust—indispensable to the survival of our republic—that the president must not be permitted to now squander.