The work is never done

Crossposted from The Obama Diary.

The world heaved a huge sigh of relief on November 6, 2012, when the results came in and Barack Obama was confirmed in re-election.

Many people worked long hours, gave money they may not have really had, and ensured that President Obama secured a second term. The alternative was too ghastly to comprehend.

And many of those same people, after the election, assumed that, well, that was done, and we could just coast into four years of amity and progress. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As we have seen since the polls closed in November, this version of the Republican Party, dying as it is, is not going to go down without inflicting more damage. From immediately abusing the filibuster “reform” agreed to between Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, to vowing to hold the country hostage come the next debt ceiling vote, the GOP is making it patently clear that it didn’t learn a single thing from the election. Because the Republicans were returned to the House in the majority, they think that at least part of the country agrees with their policy. Of course, the thing is that the GOP lost the House popular vote, and held on by the skin of their teeth only due to aggressive gerrymandering resulting from its local victories in 2010.

Ah, yes, 2010. The year that the Democratic voters who turned out in record numbers in 2008 decided to sit on their hands. Because that’s what Democrats do. They show up for the big dance, for the most part, but not for the tune up events.

Here’s the thing: there are no tune up events. Every election matters, from President down to school board member. And, as important as the big elections are, those small elections matter more in people’s day to day lives. Textbooks around the country are being written to Texas school board standards, due to the state’s purchasing power, and the content of those books is not pretty. Laws are being passed in statehouses mandating that women seeking abortions pay for ultrasounds of their fetuses—a mandate if ever there was one. And, of course, GOP controlled legislatures in states which went for Obama are now trying to rejigger the Electoral College to make their votes be apportioned by congressional district—districts gerrymandered in Republicans’ favor by those very legislatures.

To be a citizen of this country, nothing should be beneath your notice. Every election should merit your attention. Every issue should be debated. I know: we all have busy lives, many of us just scraping by. It’s tough. But, here’s the thing: it will remain difficult if people don’t take power for themselves. The rich will astroturf “mass movements” by frightening groups in this country faced with demographic decline; they’ll pour money into their favored candidates, the ones who will do their bidding; and they will eke out victories which they will act upon as mandates, solely because we abdicated our responsibilities as citizens.

What Obama has been trying to do—among many other things—is to painstakingly reawaken the nation to the responsibilities of citizenship. Yes, as citizens we have rights; but for too long we’ve neglected the corollary to that: responsibility comes with the title of “citizen of the United States”. Self-governance works only if we govern ourselves; if we abdicate that work to an elite political class, then we get the policies we deserve. Nothing short of full engagement with the issues of the day will make our lives easier. It will be more work in the beginning, but will give a reward of a society which is more equitable and more just.

When is the work done? It never is, or never should be. If it ever is, then we’ve reached a point of sheer apathy. That’s not the kind of world any of us should want to live in.

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