By Keyanna Wigglesworth
Around 11 p.m. on Tuesday, November 6, President Barack Obama won reelection against GOP opponent Mitt Romney. For about four hours, I had sat on the carpeted steps of the IOP with my eyes glued to the gigantic television screen awaiting CNN’s projected winner of each state. Shortly after a series of northeastern states, such as New York and New Jersey, and the battleground state of Ohio were called for President Obama, the words “OBAMA WINS REELECTION” appeared on the screen. At first, I could not believe what I saw. I checked the time on my cell phone because I thought that, surely, the winner could not have been predicted this early. As soon as I overcame my state of shock, I joined everybody else in the overwhelming feelings of joy and relief. Tears began to roll down my cheeks and cheers from fellow Obama supporters could be heard all the way down JFK Street.
Unfortunately, I did not retain the euphoria of election night. When I woke up the following morning, I began to consider the grave implications of Obama’s win. If it took just two years of an Obama administration to light the conservative wildfire that was the Tea Party takeover of Congress, then I could only imagine the backlash that eight years of this administration might bring.
Modern American political history shows that a conservative backlash after prominent periods of liberalism is a common trend. During the1960s, President Johnson’s lack of transparency regarding the Vietnam War caused many Americans to yearn for not just a change of president, but also a change of political party. With Richard Nixon as their candidate, the Republicans won the White House with a campaign centered on purging America of radicalism, neglecting ever-intensifying racial tensions, and maintaining a nationwide sense of tradition. America endured eight years of Nixon and two years of his second vice president and successor, Gerald Ford, as a result of conservative backlash against the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
During the 1980s, a similar Republican usurpation occurred, starting with the election of 1980, when Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter. Reagan proved to be a terrible and corrupt president in many ways. In domestic politics, he did not address the AIDS epidemic until the end of his second term in 1987, despite the fact that thousands of Americans had died of the disease since the first five cases were reported in 1981. Indeed, even though the Center for Disease Control had affirmed, “casual person-to-person contact…appears to pose no risk” of contagion, when asked if he would allow his children to attend the same school as children who have AIDS, Reagan said he would not. His policy of supply-side, trickle-down “Reaganomics” led to soaring interest rates, a national debt that skyrocketed to over $3 trillion, and ultimately to higher taxes in order to pay for these negative consequences. In foreign policy, Reagan maintained a close alliance with the apartheid government of South Africa, and his National Security Council illegally funded the Nicaraguan contra rebels by selling military supplies to Iran.
Despite these failures, through his impeccable oratory skills, Reagan created a benevolent image of himself that made Americans feel comfortable with him and trust him to take on problems such as the budget deficit. Not only was Reagan overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term, but the conservative backlash that first helped him win the Presidency continued with the election of George H.W. Bush in 1988 and later on the victory of his son, George W. Bush, in 2000 and 2004.
With Democrats in control of the White House and the Senate, a conservative backlash in response to President Obama’s second term could have monumental implications. The GOP favorites for 2016, such as Rick Santorum and Paul Ryan, are super-conservatives who would strive to undo many of the policies that Progressives have fought so hard to establish. So, how can liberals prevent another conservative backlash? In other words, how can we remove the Tea Party from existence?
We could start by taking some of their strategies. Members of the Tea Party capitalize on the religious convictions and fear of the American electorate. Tea Partiers use Christianity to legitimize hate speech about gays and lesbians. They equate gaining much-needed universal health care with losing basic freedom. There is no doubt that the immense success of the Tea Party results largely from its dishonesty and animosity. However, in their messaging, Progressives ought to combine the Tea Partiers’ level of aggression and passion with the Democratic ideals that will help move this country forward.
Democrats cannot continue to allow the religious right to label Christianity as an exclusively conservative entity. The hallmarks of liberalism, such as a fair tax code and universal health care, reflect principles of compassion and equality. These values coincide perfectly with one of the most important tenets of Christianity, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Therefore, Democrats should try harder to use this correlation to appeal to more religious Americans, who form a large portion of the electorate. Furthermore, liberals in elected office must be more vocal about the advantages of progressive legislation, and even more vocal about the genuinely fearful consequences that are sure to devastate the country if we continue to elect right-wing extremists. Lastly, Democrats must remember that the Republicans are not the only political party with a substantial number of committed individuals who will stop at nothing to see their political views transformed into law. Take, for instance, the Occupy movement.
Starting in September 2011, the Occupy protesters presented a strong affront to income inequality. They marched in and around New York City’s financial district shouting chants that denounced America’s oligarchs, known as the 1%, and empowered the low- and middle-income Americans who make up the 99%. The demonstrations soon spread around the country. Although the Occupy Movement lasted only a little over a year, those involved with this movement were and are a promising group of Progressives that successfully characterized the American struggle of our time: rising income inequality and the political and economic dis-empowerment of most Americans. As they endured arrests and pepper spraying by belligerent police officers, they exemplified a great deal of resolve, courage, and potential.
So, why did Occupiers not get elected as Democrats, whereas Tea Partiers were elected to office as Republicans? The Occupy Movement is, essentially, a movement to change America’s political system, so becoming a part of the American political system by running for elected office could be contradictory to the initial purpose of an Occupy protester. What’s more, establishment/moderate Democrats do not feel that they need to embrace the “radical left,” because they realize that America’s rapidly changing demographics are causing it to inevitably become a more liberal nation. In contrast, establishment Republicans accommodate Tea Partiers not because they necessarily agree with all of their ideas, but rather because they do not have any other option if they want to produce an electoral majority. Democrats would do well to learn from Republicans on this matter. Despite some differences, they ought to embrace the Occupiers’ passionate call for social justice and consider Occupiers partners in passing liberal legislation and preventing another conservative backlash.