The first lesson liberals need to learn from the election of 2012 is that the battles are never over. The re-election of President Obama, the retention of the United States Senate and the increased Democratic presence in the House of Representatives does not mean that the Tea Party, the Libertarians and the Republican Party are in decline. In 1964 with the incredible landslide re-election of President Johnson progressives prognosticated the demise of the Republican Party. Four years later the Republicans took the White House and twelve years after that the Reagan Revolution began the war on the New Deal. In 1936 the Republicans suffered their worst defeat since the Civil War - they didn’t go away.
Today the battles for gender equality, racial equality, women’s rights, voting rights, and governmental commitment to raising the standard of living of the poor and the elderly are still going on with strenuous efforts by a coalition of conservatives, Luddites and No-Nothings to repeal the twentieth century and return our country to the days of the Robber Barons immediately following the Civil War.
Women are being lulled to sleep with the deserved dream and hope that in 2016 the first woman will be elected President. And, if Hillary Clinton runs that will most likely be the case. But if she does not run what will women have done in 2013, 2014 and 2015 to increase the number of women in elected public office and the potential candidates for the nation's highest office in future Presidential elections.
This requires activity and commitment at every level. In my communities, where I lead the local Democratic committee, we are running nine municipal and school board candidates and seven are women. In the county I live in, Delaware County, Pennsylvania the most activity at the county level can be found in the Women’s Democratic Club and among the women elected officials.
While too many women wait for 2016 the yahoos in the states like North Dakota pass laws that will effectively negate Roe v. Wade and eliminate a woman’s right to determine all aspects of her reproductive health.
While the nation focuses on the Supreme Court and the march toward marriage equality, (which when won will be another battle that will not end) Republican controlled states are passing laws for the express purpose of suppressing the constitutional equal protection of voters and reversing two hundred years of franchise expansion by substituting restrictions to make it more difficult and a more onerous task to vote. These plots didn’t work in 2012 - but repeated every year they may stop resulting in backlash and result in apathetic compliance.
Democracy by its very nature means change can happen. It also means that change can be undone and that generations that do not remember the reasons for change (for example the Great Depression leading to the New Deal programs to ameliorate the economic consequences of that catastrophe) may in fact support in the name of change undoing the earlier change (for example privatizing Social Security because today's generation doesn’t remember a time when the older folks had no income after retirement (didn’t have much retirement either.)
The battle for equal rights for African Americans was won in the 1960's but it is now being fought again. It was first won in the 1860's and then lost in the 1880's. It could be lost again.
The battle for equal rights for women was won in the 1970's with major court decisions. Equal rights chipped away at become unequal treatment. And that could happen now.
In 1796 the Federalists revised the immigration laws to increase the number of years needed to become naturalized citizen form four to fourteen because the Europeans coming over in that decade were voting for the Jeffersonians. Now there is a solid effort of the national Republican Party to prevent a path to citizenship for the twelve million undocumented residents in our country because that party believes that these persons wouldn’t vote for them. (Personally I think they would have a better chance getting Latino votes if they treated them like first class citizens and passed comprehensive immigration reform)
Marriage Equality looks to be the great social reform of this decade and those of our citizens who find personal fulfillment in the love and commitment of someone of the same sex will have equal treatment with all others. But it will become the next battle and will last as long as Democracy lasts. Those opposed to marriage equality will continue to battle. And if they see the equal rights won in the 60's, 70's and 80's undone they will be encouraged to fight to undo LGBT rights.
If anyone personified the political battles, often around social issues, of the decades between 1960 and 2010 it was the Senator from Massachusetts Edward M. Kennedy. As he ended his quest for the Presidency in 1980, at a national Democratic convention I attended, he rallied the liberals of the party by reminding them that the cause endures and the dream never dies. He also sounded the warning trumpet when he said “the work goes on”.
2 April 2013