For many caring and thinking people who pine for the honesty, integrity, intelligence, energy and hopeful change that Barack Obama brought to the presidency, the 2020 primary season has been a sobering and, at times, dispiriting one.
Here, however, are five things to keep in mind that might just bring some perspective to the next few months and help you not to lose sight of the forest for the trees:
#1 – For all the amazing gifts Obama brought to the table, his was an imperfect presidency – It’s hard to remember now, but there were many missteps and missed opportunities during the Obama years. Many experts, for example, believe Obama missed a golden opportunity early on in 2009, when the Great Recession was still raging, in choosing not to press the advantage he had in bringing the Wall Street plutocrats to heel. Rather than forcing the giant banks and investment houses to accept the kind of bitter regulatory medicine the economy needed, many feel Obama “blinked.”
Part of this was likely the result of inexperience and uncertainty – Obama had, after all, served only four years in the Senate before ascending to the White House at the comparatively tender age of 47. As in all other complex and challenging fields of endeavor – there is something to be said for practice and experience. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has demonstrated this fact over the past year in her relatively skillful herding of 230 or so Democratic cats.
But an even more important explanation for many of the shortcomings of the Obama years is to be found in the failure of progressives to follow up the impressive electoral win of 2008 by building a lasting, issue-oriented movement. Simply put, having helped secure Obama’s historic victory, too many progressives tuned out of politics and ceded much of the field to the right-wing noise machine that attacked Obama relentlessly from the moment he was elected.
The obvious lesson: Don’t make the same mistake in 2021.
#2 – Fox News, the Kochs and their ilk aren’t going anywhere – And speaking of the right-wing noise machine, progressives would do well to keep in mind that any new president taking office in 2021 is certain to face vicious and unremitting attacks – maybe worse than ever.
After having championed a president for four years who made the bald-faced lie his trademark, why would we expect anything other than more lies from the same forces if a new president is elected in November?
#3 – The Trumpified judiciary will be a big problem – Donald Trump hasn’t had much success in passing legislation during the first three years of his presidency, but he has appointed a passel of new federal judges. Thanks to procedural maneuvers engineered by Mitch McConnell, the Senate has confirmed nearly 200 of Trump’s judicial nominees, more than any of the last five presidents at the same time in their presidencies. Indeed, Trump has already appointed a fifth of all federal judges, nearly a third of circuit court judges two of the nine members of the Supreme Court.
Any new president is sure to face pitched judicial battles over virtually any progressive policy changes he or she manages to engineer.
#4 – The U.S. Senate is a likely roadblock as well – Even if Democrats maintain a majority in the U.S. House and manage to reclaim control of the Senate – a highly uncertain proposition – passing legislation of any kind will be no easy feat. Not only do Senate rules still require a supermajority in many circumstances, but even the task of keeping all Democratic members working and voting together is likely to be a herculean task – especially for dramatic legislative overhauls of health care, the tax code or any number of other important matters. Simply put, big money special interest lobbies aren’t going anywhere, regardless of who is in the White House.
#5 – The global environmental crisis remains an existential threat – As the current public health emergency only serves to emphasize, our increasingly crowded, interconnected and resource-challenged species faces a growing list of dire environmental problems. It’s all well and good to talk about addressing the many domestic problems that face the country – healthcare access, the upside-down tax structure, the lack of affordable housing, our long list if social inequities and the growing threats to democracy itself – but unless Americans find some kind of productive path forward to address the environmental crisis and discuss real change and sacrifice to make it happen, the planet they inhabit is likely to become tragically unrecognizable and soon.
The bottom line: It’s critically important for Americans to vote in the presidential primaries leading up to what’s certain to be a momentous election, but it’s even more essential to remain engaged throughout 2020 and after the election – whoever is nominated or elected.