America Is Not on the Brink of Fascism, It’s at the Dawn of a Progressive Era
Yesterday, Sara Robinson of the campaign for America’s Future posted an unfortunate column which misunderstands the moment America is in, and engages in the same kind of fear mongering as Sarah Palin. Rest assured that this country is not on the brink of fascism. Instead, we’re at the dawn of a new progressive era, and the outbursts we’re seeing on the right are a reaction to the end of their ability to dictate the debate in America by shouting the loudest. The only way the right will continue to dictate the debate is if we respond in kind to their hyperbolic outbursts.
Voters under 30 voted for Barack Obama by a 66-32 margin, while voters over 40 voted for John McCain by a 52-48 margin. Barack Obama is President of the United States today because of a generational shift in American politics, brought on by social change, economic change, and a general frustration with a political system where two factions have yelled at each other for 40 years.
Younger voters are the first generation to have grown up in dual-worker households. Their childhoods tended to be very communitarian efforts. The day care center, the sports teams, the school plays, the band, etc, etc, all had something in common: people working together for a common cause. Younger voters therefore reject the Reaganite notion that everybody is just in it for themselves.
Barack Obama personally and professionally appealed to younger voters. The story in Dreams from My Father is the story of a communitarian childhood with absentee parents, and others who help bring structure to an exceptionally talented person’s life. The media obsesses over how the President transcends race, but that is largely irrelevant to younger voters who attended integrated schools and are likely to have integrated friendships.
What Barack Obama promised to transcend, and still is transcending, are the stale culture wars which are a relic of the 1968 election. Way back in the primary, Obama’s moderate tone on social issues like abortion won him few friends on the activist left of the Democratic Party. The doldrums of the summer of 2007 can basically be explained by the fact that Obama’s message didn’t appeal to the Washington-insiders that have been nominating Presidents for a generation.
But once he got outside of Washington, and to the fields of Iowa, Obama found a more receptive audience. He found a crowd of young people who were tired of our politics being defined by who could shout the loudest. He found a group of young people who knew somebody who went to Iraq and came back injured. He found a receptive audience in a group of young people who were unemployed, or had a friend who was unemployed. He found a group of young people who have traveled abroad, and wanted America’s image in the world to be restored. And he found a group of young people who were ashamed by the failures of our government–whether it is the failure to provide quality, affordable health care to all Americans, or the failure to protect residents of a city from a predictable storm.
Obama’s message wasn’t one of big government. It was one of a government which cares–a government that does what it can, but doesn’t go too far. It was a message that was, and still is, extraordinarily appealing to younger voters.
But to the soldiers of the culture war, Obama’s message is extraordinarily threatening. The political system as they knew it–a system where the shouts of extremists could drown out legitimate debate and keep the government paralyzed for 40 years–is gone. For the people, both on the right and the left, who have made a career out of dividing the country, President Obama threatens their livelihoods. We’ve seen leftist groups like Greenpeace attack Obama because he’s not following the 40 year old model of politics by division.
Now we’re seeing a full-fledged temper-tantrum on the right. Groups that were once able to control what happens by shouting are finding that it isn’t working, so they shout louder because they only know how to shout. Industry groups who found that the same old television ads featuring scare tactics weren’t effective turned to the shouters in a last-ditched effort to stop health care reform. And it is turning into a massive failure. The result is that the shouters are left bewildered by the change. In one of the many videos of the protests, a woman in her 50s got up and said something to the effect of,
"I can’t believe this would happen in my America. I want my America back."
While the undertones of what she was saying were noxious, she has a point. The younger generation has had enough of the shouting. They took the keys away from a generation which spent 40 years screaming at each other and gave it to a man who promised to tone down the political debate in America. We, and she, have nothing to fear. We are at the dawn of a new progressive era where the debate will become civilized, and where people will disagree without being disagreeable. It is a time for hope.