Tuesday, November 6, 2012

0 Election Day #2: The Referendum on Values, not the Economy

I wrote this kind of quickly and stream-of-consciousness but bear with me.  I still think it's coherent.

Yesterday I spoke at our school's Black Solidarity Day rally about this election and what it means for me, what it means for black America, what it means for people of color.  After having digested some numbers that show a marked increase in the prevalence of racist attitudes in the US since 2008 (here), I think this election offers much more.

The whole argument that we are somehow post-racial, post-racism, all thanks to Barack Obama's election has led us to talk less about race than we should -- in fact, we should be talking about race a lot considering the way the economy has affected minority communities (here).  There are a lot of hard conversations we are not having and I think the lack of candid discourse and the outpouring of racial animosity, xenophobia, and the crisis-of-identity that is plaguing the Republican Party as it realizes it cannot simply court angry white folks is putting us in a precarious moment.

If there was an election in which racial progress could be measured, I think it's this one more than 2008.  2008 was hype; it was excitement; it was wanting to be on the "right side of history" and being eager to participate in reaching this milestone. 2012 is a policy year, a vision year, a year in which we are being forced to think much more heavily about the attitudes and paradigms that should guide the United States moving forward.  Mitt Romney and Barack Obama offer widely contrasting visions and stand for very distinct demographics.

I feel like Fox News and the rest of the Murdoch progeny like to consider this an election that is a referendum on the President and how he has handled the economy.  I would agree with them to a certain extent but I frame the election entirely differently.  This is a referendum on American national identity, on the road we take to reach the American dream -- this is a values election more than anything else, I believe.  And that is why Obama remains the symbol, the face, the representation of a vision that means so very much to so very many -- even if he has not been the Progressive Messiah I had hoped for.  ObamaCare, the bail-out, student debt reduction, etc. -- I think this campaign cycle has emphasized the extent to which the President has been trying to fight for everyone so that they may fight for themselves.  This campaign has been a reminder that the legislation President Obama pushed for was predicated on values rather than economic theory.  And the quaintest twist to that is that American values are what made America great in the first place and Barack Obama has reminded us of that.  A strong middle class, affordable education, health care, the ability to take risks without fear of losing everything, we know we need these things to stay, "the hope of the Earth," as Mitt Romney likes to call us.

So 2012, if it is called anything, perhaps it should be called the referendum on American values.  Call it like we see it.  Mitt Romney is fighting for the entitled, for those who don't want a ladder to the top available for others, for practices that damage the credibility and health of the Union.  Barack Obama isn't fighting against those people; he is simply fighting for everyone.  He said so in New Hampshire when I saw him on Sunday.  He said so in 2008 when he brought the spirit of hope and change into the White House.  Go back to 2004 and look at his speech to the DNC:
It is that fundamental belief -- It is that fundamental belief: I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family.E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one." 
Are we our brothers' keepers?  Are we all in this together?  Are our futures and successes linked to one another for better or worse?  Is that a necessary condition for the American Dream, for the American identity?  I say yes -- and I think America does too.

So while he may not have been the love child of James Baldwin, Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X, Tim Wise, Audre Lorde, Dr. King, Lyndon Johnson, Frederick Douglass, and Alice Walker, who I had dreamed of, perhaps this campaign season was good because it showed me this: for all the disappointment about what Barack Obama wasn't in his first four years, there is just cause for celebration of what and who he was.  I think it could and should be argued that, in this moment, despite what anyone else has to say: Barack Obama is the President we need(ed).


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