The US election is over. Now comes the battle over what it means. The right wing of the Democratic Party aside, it seems pretty clear this was one of the periodic “realignment” elections that are of historic significance. Obama’s base, overwhelmingly the progressive heart of the Democratic Party, is a powerful coalition of the younger generation, racial and ethnic “minorities” (each probably constituting larger voting blocks than the right wing linchpin of white evangelicals), GLBT groups, women, young professionals, those deeply concerned about the environment, traditional Democratic progressives. The hallmark of the Obama campaign’s appeal — the thing that cuts across these groups — is not its different messages to each group. On the contrary, it is the idea that we are all more alike than we are different. It is not the diversity of the base but the underlying idea of its unity that strikes a chord. As significant as the success of that message is the failure of the McCain-right wing message that tried to set one part of the country against another, one member of the community against another.
Election success is a complicated and fickle beast, a hostage to fortune. In this election cycle the economic meltdown was the external contingency that have crystalized Obama’s support. But it is his prescription for exiting the long term crisis of energy and economy that resonates with both the base and beyond: an economy based on green-collar jobs, where the economics of energy independence merge with a deep desire for a cleaner and safer world. This isn’t just an economic policy. It is economic change. It is not Obama’s victory but the victory of Obama’s base and a sharp rejection of three decades of destructive conservative ideology.
That base — young voters, women, African-American voters, Latino voters, the GBLT community, young professionals, environmentalists, progressive Democrats — they are the engine that propelled Obama’s campaign and he understood and took advantage of it. It provided the energy, dedication and motivation in every state and city and rural hamlet. It was not just the superb campaign organization (organization that wouldn’t have happened or succeeded without the skyhigh motivation of the base), but the inherent energy of the millions of volunteers and active supporters of the campaign that went into it. That wasn’t just because of Obama, but because of what Obama represented — rejection of Nixon/Reagan/Bush ideology and its vile divisive tactics to maintain power; and embrace of an inclusive, welcoming and hopeful determination to start building a better world and construct a new economy, a green economy, with new kinds of jobs in new industries everyone can be proud of and jobs that will benefit everyone. Obama’s base is a green-collar unity coalition.
It’s eight horrible years late, but our country is finally entering the twenty first century, putting the twentieth century behind us, a historic relic. The election of an African American to the Presidency is a signal that race is finally withering as a cancer that divided us one from another. Yes, there’s plenty of racism left in this country, but this is a watershed moment. The new coalition that has spoken in this election is young and will be around for a while. It needs to develop and grow and evolve. There is no guarantee or even likelihood it will do so in lockstep with the Obama administration or the hidebound Democratic leadership in the Congress. If it does its job it will become a constructive and helpful loyal opposition instead of the obedient lapdog the Republican base became (obedient except when it acted like a spoiled child insisting on getting its way, no matter how selfish and self righteous that way was).
So the election is over. Now the real work begins. But what happy work!