Now that the election is over and President Barack Obama is firmly in charge for another four years, many people believe that the best is yet to come. For many liberals and progressives, the election of a Democratic president often seems to be the best possible result for the country. Modern history, though, shows a somewhat different outcome.
Once a Democrat is in the White House, the "left" in America basically presses its collective snooze alarm, rolls over, and goes back to sleep. It is when a Republican is in office that Democrats are at their best.
Despite the belief that a Democratic president is the key to a successful progressive agenda, this is often not the case. It did not happen in the 1990s under Clinton, and it has not happened in the last four years under Obama. In fact, both of these men represent the best Republican presidents the country could possibly have, as the GOP makes its greatest gains under Democratic presidents.
Some City Paper readers are too young to remember the 1990s, or how the Democratic Party felt following the election of Bill Clinton. Here was a charismatic, young Southerner who spoke simultaneously as a member of the people, yet with the mind of a policy wizard. In short, the Democrats had found their new Kennedy.
Sadly, Clinton's actual politics were bogged down in a broken mixture of leftover hippie idealism and concessions to modern conservatism. Clinton slashed welfare, shipped jobs overseas thanks to NAFTA, and deregulated the telecommunications industry to the point where a virtual monopoly over radio, print, and television stations became a possibility.
Flash forward to 2008, when the Democratic Party celebrated the election of another young history maker, this time in the form of a young African American whose life story seemed to be based on a work of fiction, as many right-wing lunatics claim it is. With Barack Obama, the Democrats once again had a powerful orator. The campaign of 2008 was remarkable for all the claims about a return to "liberalism" for American politics, but it was equally remarkable because there was very little liberalism in what Obama was actually saying. Obama's "hope and change" mantra disguised a number of disturbing facts about him. Although he had opposed the war in Iraq in 2002, Obama was quoted in a Chicago paper as stating that missile strikes on Iran would be fine. He even repeatedly said during the 2008 campaign that unilateral strikes in sovereign nations were perfectly legal if they served to take out Al-Qaeda targets.
Like Clinton before him, Obama acted as an agent of center-right economic policy at home and borderline neo-conservative foreign policy abroad, albeit as Jello Biafra warned years ago "with a happy face."
Today, the happy face of the so-called liberal/progressive/socialist Democratic Party completely masks the fact that it is often under Republican presidents that the greatest gains are made, or at least the slide into madness is slowed down a little bit. Just as the right wing rails against the president, it was an active progressive movement in the 1980s under Reagan and George Bush that drew attention to nuclear disarmament, gender discrimination in workplaces and on college campuses, the horrors of U.S. backed dictators in Latin America, and the danger of AIDS to both the gay and heterosexual communities.
On the other hand, under the men who are supposedly the embodiment of Communist Evil in America — Democrats like Obama and Clinton — the machine runs virtually uninterrupted. Clinton oversaw the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act deregulating banks (his claim of signing it only because a veto was inevitable is laughable). Slick Willie also continued the harsh sanctions of Iraq which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis; about the matter Clinton's Sec. of State, Madeline Albright once said, "We think the price is worth it."
Meanwhile, President Obama enacted healthcare reform legislation writing by a Republican, then pretended it was a progressive victory, all the while maintaining the Bush wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and expanding drone strikes. If this is a socialist or even a progressive agenda, it is probably the worst one in history.
In short, the best times for progressives seem to be when they have a president to fight against, rather than one that they feel is on their side. Four more years of an Obama presidency is just four more years in which nothing will get done.