Accused of being an optimist once again last year, I was sure that Barack Obama would be re-elected and that this potentially had great importance. As the election contest unfolded, it seemed to me that Romney and the other Republican candidates made little sense and that a broad part of the American electorate understood this. A major societal transformation was ongoing and Obama gave it political voice: on the role of government, American identity, immigration, social justice and a broad array of human rights issues. Thus, I think the re-election has broad and deep significance, and I conclude the year, therefore, thinking that we are seeing the end of the Reagan Revolution and the continuation of Obama’s.
But, of course, I realize that my reading is a specific one, and partisan at that. My friends on the left are not as sure as I am that Obama really presents an alternative. From their point of view, he just puts a pretty face on the domination of global capitalism and American hegemonic military power. I have to admit that I view such criticism with amusement. It takes two forms. The criticism is either so far a field, so marginal, that it is irrelevant, leftist sectarianism, which is cut off from the population at large, confined to small enclaves in lower Manhattan (where I work and have most of my intellectual discussions) and the upper west side, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Austin, Texas, Berkley, California, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Brooklyn and the like. Or there is the happy possibility that the critiques of Obama and the Democrats engage popular concerns and push responsible political leaders to be true to their professed ideals. I have seen signs of both of these tendencies, significantly in the Occupy movement. I hope the leftist critics of Obama pressure him to do the right thing. Marriage equality is an important case study.
I think the criticism of Obama from the right is much more threatening. If conservative critics of Obama don’t take seriously the significance of the election results, they are not only . . .