President Barack Obama speaks during an election night party, Wednesday, November 7, 2012, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
A country reeling from one disaster has dodged another. While President Obama’s re-election inspires varying degrees of hope among progressives, it has evoked one common sentiment: relief. Democracy may not be reborn, but a living symbol of plutocracy was defeated by the voters on November 6.
It’s worth remembering, before Mitt Romney settles into a comfortable 1 percent retirement from politics, that his victory would have imperiled the security of all but those insulated by extreme wealth from concerns like being able to find safe, warm housing in the wake of a hurricane. A Romney/Ryan win would have been viewed as a validation of a radical individualist worldview that runs counter to every value progressives hold dear. It would have collapsed the space the left needs to gain strength, and it would have empowered social forces—from the religious right to the Tea Party voter-suppression machine to Wall Street and corporate elites—that form an intractable bloc of opposition to progress for all those struggling for equality and opportunity in today’s United States.
This right-wing coalition was defeated at the polls by a “rising American electorate,” a coalition of women, African-Americans, Latinos, the young and unionized blue-collar workers in Midwestern battleground states. These voters not only provided Obama with his margin of victory but carried several stalwart progressives in high-profile Senate races to exhilarating wins: Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law School professor who emerged as a champion in the fight to regulate the financial sector, took Scott Brown’s seat despite a furious effort by Wall Streeters to stop her; Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, who despite a deluge of negative Super PAC ads, costing upward of $31 million, overcame his Republican rival with his populist labor-based campaign; and Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, who prevented a vulnerable Democratic seat from being snatched by former Governor Tommy Thompson and will become the first out gay or lesbian to serve in the Senate, where she will join the ranks of a record number of women senators. Thank you, voters, for that fitting response to the Republican war on women.
As a result of outcomes like these, the new Democratic majority in the Senate is not only slightly larger but decidedly more progressive than the one it will replace. Some of the Democratic victories resulted from the missteps of right-wing Republicans: Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill was surely aided by Republican Todd Akin’s infamous “legitimate rape” comment, as Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly was buoyed (despite his own anti-choice stance) by the outrageous remarks of Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock. But other winners, such as Connecticut’s Chris Murphy and Virginia’s Tim Kaine, simply won hard-fought races against enormously well-funded Republicans.