I was relieved that Romney and the Republicans lost, although not particularly excited about the policies or priorities of Obama and the Democrats.
If Obama would like to cast himself into the history books as a great president, here are eight things he could do.
1. Clearly state that climate change is the planet’s number one issue and thus needs to be the basis of all US policies. Curbing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting sustainability must not only be the heart of energy policies, but must be the bottom line for a US economic recovery, job-creation programs, international relations, industrial regulation, tax policies, land-use, food security, etc. etc. Obama needs to invest heavily in clean alternatives and conservation, in public transportation and trains both for passengers and freight. And (alas, least likely to happen) he must challenge the destructive notion that ongoing growth and ever-increasing consumption is the pathway to prosperity.
2. Drastically scale back the US military. Even if you’re a believer in US military power, to think it needs to spend more on its military than the next fourteen countries combined (think China plus Russia plus United Kingdom plus France, etc. etc.) is absurd. Transfer some of the hundreds of billions in savings into UN peacekeeping and disaster relief. Want to have friends around the world? Start saving people.
3. Rein in big business. Roll back obscene levels of executive pay through aggressive tax policies. Turn back the deregulation tide and increase government regulation of big business and make corporate owners, senior executives, and board members personally responsible for corporate losses, workers’ safety, and environmental impacts. Support small family businesses and put resources into coops. Bring in measures (taxes, regulations, support for workers’ rights, anti-poverty initiatives, etc.) that reverse the demise of the middle class and the widening divide of rich and poor. Stop the privatization of all aspects of social and economic life.
4. End the idiotic criminalization of drug use which creates vast criminal networks, fills jails, requires billions in police budgets, and leads to massive health and public safety problems. Yes, drug abuse is a major problem, but let’s treat it as a medical and economic problem, just like we think of alcohol abuse.
5. Tackle the idiocy of gun ownership. Possession of any non-hunting or non-antique firearms should be against the law.
6. Work nationally and push the states to reform electoral laws and voting procedures. Make it easier, not harder, to cast a vote. Take big money out of campaigns by requiring all candidates to use a modest amount of government funding and nothing more. End the Super PACs.
7. Push for further health care reform so insurance companies and private hospitals aren’t skimming billions of dollars of scarce medical dollars. And how about, in partnership with other countries, starting a publically owned, not-for-profit, pharmaceutical company. Change patent laws so no one can patent genes of any species.
8. Support full access to birth control, positive sex education, and the availability of safe abortion rights. Continue to vocally resist the anti-woman right wing (which was one of the few positive things done by Democrats in this election.) Meanwhile, bring in a federal parental leave program for women and men – the US is one of the few countries without a national parental leave program.
Sadly, I wouldn’t put my money on Obama doing any of this, except in a modest way some points of number 8.
But that’s what social movements are for, isn’t it? So we don’t sit around and wait for good things to get done.
Nothing in this list is utopian, although most of these points will be very hard to achieve. But achieve such things we must.
Just as right-wing social movements pushed not only the Republican Party but the Democrats and all political discourse far to the right over the past three decades, it will take grassroots movements and local and national organizing to push the mainstream in the direction of supporting people’s needs and not simply pushing a corporate agenda that is leading our planet to the abyss.