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From the Summer, 2012 issue of Jewish Currents
FROM “HOPE” TO “MOPE” TO “NOPE” seems to be the arc of the Obama presidency: A visionary campaigner has proved to be a politically moderate, less-than-effective executive who may soon be voted out of office. As the campaign gets underway, Mitt Romney is pushing the anti-government economic argument of his Republican Party (cut spending, lower taxes, deregulate and privatize) — and America is listening intently, since the President himself, for the past two years, amid plummeting working-class wealth, stopped talking about government spending and instead played the austerity game. Has Obama even once invoked the legacy of FDR’s New Deal, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, or other achievements of liberalism? Alas, he ceded the debate, and a Republican Party that has betrayed our country with non-cooperation and lies throughout this Great Recession has now bullied its way to credibility.
The Republicans are not only about austerity, however. The many progressives who are finding it a challenge to get their mojo working on behalf of the Obama campaign would be well-advised to contemplate the entourage that will accompany Romney into the White House: the Tea Party ideologues, evangelical fundamentalists, climate-change deniers, neo-con war hawks, racist “birthers,” “Drill, baby, drill” cowboys, anti-immigration nativists, Catholic pro-lifers, Christian Zionists, education privateers, hateful pundits — not to mention the billionaire backers of right-wing super PACs and think tanks. Mitt Romney can turn his Etch-a-Sketch upside down and shake it all he likes; his party will remain a collection of far right activists.
Women, in particular, should not lose sight of the rhetoric of the Republican primary campaign and the reactionary laws that Republican state legislatures have recently attempted to pass: efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides essential healthcare to millions of poor women; to ban all abortions after twenty weeks of pregnancy; to fire public workers (65 percent of whom are women) and destroy their unions; to eliminate federal funding for contraception; to cut $1 billion from Head Start; to water down the Violence Against Women Act; to require voters to show birth certificates (fewer than half of all women have birth certificates that bear their current legal name, according to Mother Jones); to make wage-discrimination lawsuits harder to pursue; to grant “personhood” to fertilized human eggs — the list goes on.
None other than Jeb Bush complained in June of “an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement” among the Republicans, which would cause, he said, even the darling of conservatives, Ronald Reagan, to feel ill at ease. If further empowered in the November elections, the enforcers of that “orthodoxy” will turn the above-listed misogynistic goals into legislation (and appoint the judges to back it). We will then have only the Democratic majority in the Senate to count on — if it survives the election — the same majority that failed to end the Bush tax cuts, to pass a cap-and-trade energy bill, to prevent housing foreclosures en masse, or to force any other equitable responses to the Great Recession.
It’s a two-party system, folks.
A Gallup poll in April showed Obama leading Romney by eighteen points among women voters in twelve swing states. A Pew poll in May indicated a significant gender gap of twelve points. These figures are volatile — and there are few women leaders today who have enough stature to bind women together in an understanding of their common interests. Would Hillary Clinton be willing to risk her carefully wrought reputation for bipartisanship in order to step out as a feminist rabble-rouser for the 21st century? Not likely.
It therefore falls to Obama to focus on the context of Romney’s candidacy. Among today’s Republicans, Romney has a relatively moderate record and will no doubt tack to the center while peddling his economic patent medicine. He must not be allowed to disguise the realities of his political party, or the policies he has endorsed to get the nomination. Obama’s capacity, too long dormant, to make liberal sanity, rather than Republican insanity, seem normative in America will be a crucial factor of this election.