While some have seen the re-election of president Obama as a sign that America is heading towards a more “moderate” disposition, the election season has highlighted a more conflicted image of the nation which is arguably more conservative and insular
“I’m voting for the nigger, because I couldn’t stand to vote for that liar,” a man in line tells “Obama for America” volunteers. He is dressed in warm flannel, slacks and has a gun-rack on his truck. This is not only Election Day here in Virginia, but the first frost. Perfect hunting weather.
Coming back together after the election, my colleagues on the campaign and I discuss how electing and re-electing an African-American president has hardly moved the country as a whole further down the supposed “post-racial” road. Instead it has made many parts of the country more overtly racist and increased ethnic tensions as well as Islamophobia.
This November 7th, 2012, President Barack Obama is re-elected for a second term, an accomplishment which his predecessor had called a “mandate” affirming the direction he has guided the country. The Obama campaign used similar logic when formulating their slogan for the 2012 campaign: “Forward.”
Lacking the same ideological flourish that “Change,” “Hope” and “Yes We Can” afforded him in the 2008 campaign, “Forward,” “I’ve Got his Back,” and “Fired Up and Ready to Go” bring with them military associations of a leader rallying his troops for a final push. No longer able to claim the grassroots outsider’s mantle, Obama plays the role which his opponents cannot claim in this presidential election: he is already president.
Being the president of the United States at this time is not likely to make one popular. The national and international economies are still struggling; joblessness, lack of healthcare, and poverty are still dangerously high. The country is embroiled in numerous military campaigns abroad, with even more conflicts and drone attacks on the horizon. Gender, sexuality, racial, religious, disability, and immigrant minorities, among others, are still under attack and the president has at best shown a more moderate position towards their interests.
Working on the Obama for America as a fellow for the last several months of the president’s re-election campaign, I became well schooled in all the accomplishments of President Obama during his first term. It is an impressive list, all things considered, and evidence that much of the promises made during the first campaign were tried and many accomplished, with a few surprises including the retraction of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage.
Nonetheless, the general mood around our local campaign headquarters is more somber and measured than I remember the 2008 campaign being. This is not only because we know with even more certainty that Obama is not going to totally transform how US politics function, but we have witnessed over four years a frightening shift in Congress and in the country as a whole.
Contrary to the “Forward” narrative that we are trying to instate and despite some “leftist” accomplishments, this country is more conservative than ever. The country is more liberal than before, but increasingly more “neo-liberal,” which shares more ideologically, if not rhetorically, with the Tea-Party than the Democrats of old. Some have tried to term the direction of the country as “Moderate,” but if the country could be grouped together under any one identity then the candidates should have had an easier time in courting votes. No, what this neo-liberal conservatism amounts to is a kind of siege mentality.
The population feels under attack, not only by foreign and terrorist groups, but by America. Mistrust, apathy, fear and anger are incredibly high among voters that I spoke to throughout the election season. People don’t like the government right now. People don’t like big businesses, either. People aren’t very keen on people in general. If the electorate could have had their own slogan this election, it would have been something like “Protect me, pay me, and then leave me alone”.
As the debates made clear, the United States has become less and less interested in presenting itself as the knight in shining armour, going out and doing good at home and abroad, but is more comfortable at revealing its collective interest having high-walls, scared enemies, and a pulled-up draw-bridge. It’s a picture we saw presented by the country as a whole and by individual families and workers that just want to survive “the danger”, however long it lasts.
While I am encouraged in some respects by the jump in states that either legalised same-sex marriage or voted down its ban, as well as by the number of states loosening their drug policies (ones that disproportionately see queers and people of colour jailed at troubling rates), the “progress” of these ballot measures remains towards the sentiment that we don’t care what you do in your own homes, just so long as we are free and safe in the protective walls of our own house.
One might be inclined to read the reelection of President Obama as an affirmation of the “Forward” movement of recent Healthcare Reform, and while at a federal level it has been protected, in three states its jurisdiction has been curtailed with a fourth offering a ballot measure to curtail its affects on their state healthcare by voting it down. Here we can see the uneasy assemblage that is the United States displaying its powers and tendency of working in cross directions, despite increased Federal powers over the last decades, the states can continue to forge divergent paths both from other states and from the country as a whole.
Thinking back on the Virginian hunter that voted for Barack Obama, while continuing to hate him as a person and a political figure, I wonder at the President’s slogan: “Forward.” In some ways, the country is forging ahead, but in so many conflicting directions that to many of us, depending on where we are looking, it might as well be called a “Backward” movement. On the whole, as a member of the Obama for America Campaign, I feel like we have won a battle, but in a war of contrition. We won by moving to the middle, by using the terminology of conservatives and siege-warfare. From this crossroad and war-zone, “Forward” may lead nowhere or anywhere.
Photo Credits: Bill Tiernan/Virginian-Pilot/AP
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