When I awoke on the morning after the election, I was not completely overjoyed. Instead, I felt battered and exhausted. This was partly because the candidate I supported in a local race lost to a homophobic good ole boy. But it was also because as happy and relieved as I am about the reelection of President Obama, we on the Left simply cannot rest on our laurels. We have elected a center-left president, when what we really need is a left-wing president.

So our work is far from over. We need to really focus on holding Obama’s feet to the fire to prevent him from continuing his first-term strategy of capitulation and collapse. No longer worried about getting him reelected, we need to pressure him – really pressure him – to do the right thing in the face of what will no doubt be unrelenting pressure from the Right.

With this in mind, I was interested to read David Ignatius’s column in this morning’s Washington Post, in which he offers advice for President Obama, based on what he learned from Robert Caro’s depiction of Lyndon Baines Johnson: “Think Big. Find strategies and pressure points that can break the gridlock in Congress.” Ignatius also praised David Plouffe, one of Obama’s top campaign advisors, who “was like a general who concentrates his forces at the points of greatest vulnerability and then prevails through sheer force of will.”

While I did not agree with any of the suggestions Ignatius made about specifics, I was taken by the idea of pressure points. While I do not believe in compromising when it comes to basic values and principles, I do think we need to frame the progressive agenda in a way that is appealing to some of the people who did not support Obama this time around. But instead of charging head-on towards the right-wing triumvirate (i.e., Christian conservatives, pro-corporate neo-liberals, and neo-conservative militarists) — behaving like a left-wing version of George W. Bush circa 2004 — we need to press points that might either break apart that knotted conservative triad or attract populists who are confused about which Party they should be supporting (i.e., the white working class).

Here are some key points upon which we might build support for the progressive agenda:

  1. Undo Citizens United – In the wake of the most expensive and negative campaign in the history of the world, people are feeling disgusted and fed up. Now is the time to push a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
  2. Make It Easier to Vote, not Harder – It was shocking to see such long lines at the polls in a country that claims to be a paragon of democracy, but it was gratifying to know that Republican attempts at voter suppression actually motivated people, especially minorities, to get to the polls. The right to vote is the most fundamental component of democracy (essential but certainly not sufficient), and it must be protected like it’s sacred. Let’s get it settled before 2014.
  3. Govern for the 99% – Thanks to the Occupy Movement, we now have the language of the 1% vs. the 99%, and it seems to really resonate with people. We need to continue to explain to people how the 1% has advanced its position on the backs of the 99% and why that is anti-democratic, as well as unfair. We need to fight the corporate agenda.
  4. Appeal to Working People – The Obama campaign made a lot of headway when it started publicizing the details of how people like Romney make money, including outsourcing, leveraged buy-outs, and tax shelters. It seemed to resonate with working people, including those in the white working class, which has, since 1996, voted Republican. We need to make it clear that the Republican Party does not represent the material interests of the white working class, and someone like Rick Santorum should not be their candidate! The Democrats need to figure out why they lost the support of the white working class and how to get it back. We cannot simply write them all off as racist and homophobic. That is a cop-out.
  5. Embrace the term “Vulture Capitalism” – I believe the term “vulture capitalism” has legs. I was shocked when Republicans started using that term during the primary, but apparently, there are folks on the Right who are also very disturbed by the amoral excesses of finance capitalists and others who baldly exploit people for their own gain, without even an empty gesture towards the common good. Democrats need to lose their lily-livered aversion to calling out capitalism.
  6. Take Women’s Issues Seriously – I believe it is obvious to anyone who actually looks at the data that the Republicans went too far this time with their attacks on women, yet strangely some on the Right are insisting that Romney lost because he wasn’t socially conservative enough! While the Democrats were good this time on women’s issues related to reproductive freedom, that is not enough. Given the well established power of the “gender gap,” how about putting safe, affordable childcare, paid parental leave, workplace flex-time, high quality elder care, and maybe even a family allowance on the agenda?
  7. Stop Demonizing the Undocumented – Romney lost in large part because 70% of Latinos voted for Obama. I guess they didn’t appreciate his comments about self-deportation and other heartless plans. Advancing an agenda of compassionate immigration reform – which involves not only supporting the Dream Act and a path to citizenship but also supporting better conditions below the border and condemning the Obama administration for deporting record numbers of undocumented people – will hopefully keep Latinos in the Democratic camp. They should not be taken for granted.
  8. Sing the Praises of the Affordable Care Act - As the benefits of the Affordable Care Act roll out, I hope Obama and the Democrats will do a much better job of publicizing them. It was surprising that the issue of “Obamacare” seemed to drop from the campaign. I think the agenda of those who want to make sure Americans have no access to healthcare is on the descent.
  9. Advocate Government That Helps – People love to say how much they hate the government, and there is a lot to hate. But people also appreciate the government when it really helps them. It’s clear from the election that people were grateful for the bail-out of the auto industry that saved so many jobs, and they want FEMA to help during natural disasters. We need more social welfare programs and less coercive state apparatus.
  10. Educate People About Keynesian Economics – It’s really quite simple. When there is a recession, the government needs to stimulate the economy with spending and tax cuts. Then when the economy revives, you can pay off the debt. You don’t try to balance the budget during a recession! The federal budget is not a household budget writ large. Why are we not talking about that? Even the President doesn’t seem to understand that. And we need to make him understand before he agrees to some sort of disastrous “grand bargain.”

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