By Jonathan London
Congratulations! On Nov. 6, I — along with millions of others in this country and around the world — breathed a sigh of relief. Together, we pushed back against a right-wing insurgent movement that sought to divide us: the mythical makers against the 47 percent takers, the old majority against the new minority-majority.
Although Davis and California were not “in play,” the cheers rang out at the Election Night party at our neighbor’s house when Ohio and the race was called for you. But, while the cheers were loud, they seemed much less joyous than four years ago. Back then, it seemed like the country was on the verge of a brave new beginning.
Sadly, the last four years have tarnished this bright vision. While there is much to celebrate in your first term, there is a yawning gap between the hope you represented and the change you delivered. Part of this gap may be a reflection of the distance between the left’s idealized image of you as a progressive and the reality of your much more centrist political values. Fair enough.
But, this election is not a free pass. This is a challenge for you to step forward to meet the progressive movement that swept you into office. Come out and meet my neighbors who played out your ground game of door-knocking, call-making and getting out the vote.
Stepping out will require you to hear some strong criticism from your base. Please know that this is offered with respect to your greatness, your potential greatness, that is.
As Tavis Smiley recently put it in dialogue with Dr. Cornell West, “Great presidents aren’t born, they’re made. They have to be pushed into their greatness. There is no Abraham Lincoln … if Frederick Douglass isn’t pushing him. FDR isn’t FDR if A. Philip Randolph and Eleanor Roosevelt aren’t pushing him. LBJ isn’t LBJ if MLK isn’t pushing him.” See http://tinyurl.com/azlmw24 for the full interview.
So, here is a modest agenda to push you forward in your second term.
* Get serious about climate change. While some pundits have noted that Hurricane Sandy may have offered you a lifeline as an opportunity to be presidential in a time of crisis, climate change represents an existential threat to our county and our species. As one of the most flood-prone and climate vulnerable regions in the country, the Sacramento area literally is on the edge of this issue. So, stop repeating the lie about “clean coal” (it’s not) the sustainability of fracking (yuck!) and the viability of nuclear energy (really?).
Incentivize energy conservation (check out: http://www.cooldavis.org) and carbon emission caps as first priorities and launch a green Marshall Plan to support solar, wind, micro-hydro and other renewable energy sources.
* Get compassionate on immigration reform. While you have supported the undocumented youth “Dreamers” to avoid deportation, your administration also has stepped up overall deportations and has failed to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Latinos — especially young adults — turned out for you in force this election: Don’t cut them out of the American Dream. Lead us to becoming a more welcoming country with accessible pathways to citizenship and where immigration status does not drive millions of our neighbors (including many in the Davis and UC Davis school system) to live in the shadows.
* Get tough on Wall Street. We are finally emerging from the perfect storm of corporate greed, abetted by weak government regulation that submerged the country in the Great Recession and housing/subprime crisis. Passing the Dodd-Frank reforms were a start, but a much more proactive approach to regulating Wall Street is needed to prevent the next crisis.
Empowering the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, cracking down on payday loan operations, cutting down student debt, rescuing the underwater homeowners are issues awaiting your presidential leadership. Expanding your circle of advisers beyond the Goldman Sachs revolving door wouldn’t hurt.
* Protect the vote. American democracy absorbed two body blows in this last election in the form of massive ($6 billion!) and largely anonymous funding masquerading as “free speech” on the one hand and restrictions on voting through barriers to registration, voter ID laws and voting roll purges on the other. Passing clean and fair election laws, removing barriers to voter registration and making Election Day a national holiday would begin the healing. See http://tinyurl.com/ad2h6l8 for more on young adult voting and civic engagement.
* Invest in America’s future. Public education, from K-12 to higher education, has suffered through a decades-long divestment in what should be any nation’s top priority: the success of its children. The passage of Proposition 30 in California (and Measure E in Davis) has staunched the flow for now, but your leadership in fundamentally revisioning our priorities is needed to redirect the “peace dividend” resulting from the end of our Iraq and Afghanistan wars toward our long-term national interest.
* Get real on race. The joke about Bill Clinton not withstanding, you are our first black president and the country is better for it. I can understand that, given our nation’s deeply troubled racial legacies, you have treaded lightly so far. I am also aware that, as a white man, I must tread lightly here. But, now is the time to have difficult but crucial conversations about race.
For an example of how our community has wrestled with these issues, see http://www.communitytotheclassroom.com. How does race shape who we are and how we interact with each other? How does it shape patterns of opportunity and social equity? How can we become a more perfect union?
Dear President Obama: I don’t expect you to answer these questions alone, but I do hope you can help us ask them together.
— Jonathan London, Ph.D., is a Davis resident and parent. He shares this monthly column with Jann Murray-García. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org