First, an election is not a social movement. Although many diverse people united to support Obama and to oppose the GOP, this does not mean that they shared a leftist political ideology. The invalidation of same-sex marriage in California — where Obama won by more than 20% of the vote — demonstrates this patently obvious point.
Second, progressives were so unnerved by Bush and the Clintons that many of them projected radicalism upon a moderate (or undefined) Obama in order to frame voting for him as a dramatic break from the past. Although “change” supports many meanings, for progressives, it symbolized liberal transformation of U.S. political life and policy.
Third, many liberals wanted so desperately to believe in the myth of a post-racial America that they treated Obama’s electoral success as the ultimate triumph of progressive race politics. Despite the fact that strong racial cleavages shaped the vote for both Obama and McCain, many commentators, nevertheless, argued that Obama’s victory would allow the country to move beyond race altogether.
Fourth, many self-described liberals are actually political moderates. They passionately support a set of symbolic liberal causes, but they do not favor more substantive societal transformation. Beating up Don Imus or Republicans who sing about a “Magic Negro” is a lot easier to do than creating good public schools that do not deprive poor children and children of color of a quality education. And passing the much-needed Ledbetter legislation does not resolve the substantive legal difficulties that civil rights plaintiffs encounter if they manage to overcome tough procedural hurdles. Yet, liberals cheered loudly for Ledbetter without even discussing (minus a few exceptions) the need for more progressive measures.
Progressives cannot blame Obama for his effort to straddle the ideological center. Instead, they must look inward and discover why they chose to treat a politician (as skillful in that role as he might be) as someone who is mythological or larger than life.
They should also canvass history, as [John] Judis has done* to learn about the critical role of passionate collective activism in the evolution of U.S. politics and policy. Moderate presidents have presided over great changes in the U.S., but they did so with the backing and agitation of engaged social movements. True social change does not result from effusive adoration and acquiescence; instead, it arises from criticism, collective activism, strategic compromise and political opportunity.
Read the whole thing (From the ‘Duh’ Files: Effusive Political Adoration Does Not Lead to Social Change) at Dissenting Justice