This year’s election was a critical choice between two starkly different philosophies of government. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent (which will be a whole blog article in itself) and Americans were inundated with thousands of hours of advertising and opinions. In the end, despite poor expectations, corporate investment, hardship, and obstacles, the people stood up and said that they want a government that works for everyone, not just the chosen few.
Most pundits believed that the grass-roots coalition of voters built by the Obama campaign in 2008 was a fluke. Minorities, the poor, and the young are less likely to vote in general, so their turnout was supposed to go way down. What the naysayers didn’t realize is that the mobilization and empowerment weren’t just a one-time effort but an ongoing strategy. While all turnout in 2012 was down a bit from 2008 and the full data aren’t available, it’s clear that Latinos, African Americans, and young voters showed up at the polls, stood up for their rights, and helped Democrats and fairness take the day. Never underestimate progressive social movements and grass-roots activists.
SuperPACs and corporate donations were also supposed to help Republicans this year. Hundreds of millions were filtered into shadowy groups who supported Mitt Romney and a host of Teahadists. Fortunately, all that Citizens United energy did little to change the election results. Obscene amounts of money were wasted, but voters made up their own minds and tuned out the ghastly shrieking from the right.
Many states launched voter suppression efforts, usually sponsored by Republican legislatures that expressly wanted to ensure a Romney win. Voter ID laws, voter registration purges, and changes to early and absentee voting were the typical strategies. Despite this, voters stood up and demanded their rights, paying attention to the changes and demanding their votes. The courts were also very helpful, striking down the vast majority of the odious new laws as unconstitutional.
American voters supported marriage equality for the first time in FOUR states. They handed President Obama a clear mandate for his second term. They kept Democrats in charge of the Senate and sent more women to that body than ever before. They shrank the Republican advantage in the house while electing the most diverse Congressional delegation ever. Despite the screaming and spending, voters showed up — even in the states ravaged by hurricane Sandy — and used their most powerful right. What a wonderful thing to see.
Honorable mention today goes to Oregon’s own junior Senator, Jeff Merkley. Since taking office in 2009, Merkley has been a champion of progressive values and functional government. He stood up for filibuster reform before he was even sworn in and is pushing hard for it now (with the help of Sen. Tom Udall (D, NM). His efforts won him recognition in The Nation‘s 2012 progressive honor roll as “Most Valuable Senator.” Congratulations and thank you, Sen. Merkley!