Elections still matter

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(NNPA)—“If the teachers sit on their hands this fall, it would be a disaster for Obama and the Democrats,” said a scholar who follows educational politics last week. And it would be a gift to an opposition which has said no to a tax on big banks, apologized to big oil, and encouraged bigotry and fanaticism at its fringes. Teachers have a right to express disappointment in Obama—they spent millions helping to elect him in 2008.

The administration has angered teachers in a dispute over whether funds intended for them can be diverted into an educational program. This dispute may or may not be solved in a few weeks, but the teachers’ anger echoes other segments of the progressive coalition—angered that the change they hoped for hasn’t come to pass, angered that Obama seems to be just a regular politician.

That perception of the Obama administration ignores its many accomplishments to date. In spite of an opposition marching in lockstep and pledging to make it fail, the administration’s record to date is quite impressive. Anyone who contributes to the defeat of Democratic members of Congress this fall will weaken Obama’s chances of adding to this record. If you want Obama to do more, you have to give him more to do it with, not less.

If progressive voters stay at home in November—as young voters have done in every election since they turned out in record numbers for Obama in 2008, we will get whacked by right-wing whackos, and the country will suffer immeasurably as a result.

In his brief tenure as president, Obama has brought us back from Bush’s precipice with a $100 billion stimulus that has begun to revive our infrastructure and transportation system and which contained tax incentives for clean energy and $60 billion for energy development, engineered passage of revolutionary health reform, and is about to get a hefty financial reform bill.

He succeeded in urging Congress to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which insures equal pay for equal work. He did the same with the “Matthew Sheppard Act,” adding extra penalties for hate crimes.

He stopped banks from profiting from student loans which the government provided. He has urged Congress to repeal George Bush’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and has made great progress in removing discrimination against gays and lesbians by Executive Orders. Despite having inherited the burden of two wars, one a war of choice, he kept to his promise to begin drawing down troop levels in Iraq and faced down an impertinent general in Afghanistan.

He negotiated a nuclear pact with Russia, which calls for a dramatic decrease in nuclear weapons, increasing world security. He created an initiative that would help keep nuclear weapons away from terrorists.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize!

Some senators considering whether to confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court said, “Elections matter.” The election that chose Obama certainly mattered. But it will matter less if the mid-term elections this November result in a Congress—as opposed to a minority—that just says no.

If you sit on your hands and don’t pull that voting lever down, you’re letting others who may be hostile to your interests decide what your future will be. I resent that—because it is my future, too.

(Julian Bond is a distinguished scholar at American University, Washington, DC, and a professor in the Department History at the University of Virginia.)

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