Relief We Can Believe In

Many years ago, legendary psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky used experiments to demonstrate the power of "loss aversion," the fact that losing something you have is more emotionally powerful than gaining something you don't. In other words, the misery of losing $100 is far larger than the pleasure of gaining $100. Which means that Democrats ought to feel even better today than they did in 2008.

They probably don't, though. The election of 2008 was certainly the most extraordinary of my lifetime, and probably of yours as well. There were a few prescient voices at the time saying, "Don't get too excited, or you'll just be disappointed" (Paul Krugman was the most notable), but it was almost impossible not to get swept up in the moment, particularly because it came after eight years of the George W. Bush presidency. The emotion most Democrats are experiencing right now is not so much hope, or inspiration, but relief. It doesn't seem quite as likely to produce tears of joy.

But don't sell relief short. There's a lot to be relieved about. You can be relieved that if the 79-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg or the 74-year-old Stephen Breyer (or both) decide to retire in the next four years, they will be replaced by justices more like themselves than like Samuel Alito or Clarence Thomas. You can be relieved that the war on collective bargaining that conservatives have prosecuted so effectively in the last few years will not, at least for the moment, have the power of the federal government behind it. You can be relieved that for all the weaknesses of Obama's record on civil liberties, if nothing else America won't resume torturing prisoners as Romney had promised. You can be relieved about all the Republican appointees who will have to wait a while before trooping back into positions of power and authority in government, the neocons with dreams of empire, the religious fundamentalists hoping to restrict reproductive rights, the Randians and Tea Partiers and plutocrats and all the others who were so eager to resume their work.

Think of how relieved so many of your fellow citizens are—or ought to be. Consider the relief of a cancer survivor, who knows that a year from now no insurance company will be allowed to turn her away. Or the relief of a poor person who will be able to qualify for Medicaid. Or the relief of the student who knows that his Pell grant isn't in danger. Or the relief of people who live near power plants, knowing that the Environmental Protection Agency will for the next four years concern itself with protecting the environment.

It's still worthwhile for progressives to remind themselves that just as he did in his first term, at times in his second Barack Obama will disappoint them. But it's a good time to feel relieved.


Progressives had such a good run from the New Deal through the Civil Rights acts that we had forgotten that politics is the art of the possible, inspired by the vision of the not yet possible. That is how we blew it in 1968, almost shutting down the DNC and making the party a laughing stock, not supporting the most progressive candidate POSSIBLE and letting Nixon's Southern strategy win the day. And that is how the radical right, after the loss by Goldwater, began a "long march" (the comparison to Mao is deliberate) that led to the Congress that forced Carter to make the first concessions to the right by deregulating transportation, then to Reagan, Iran-Contra, H.W. Bush, Gingrich's Contract With (actually, ON) America, impeachment, W Bush and the Iraq phony war. And so forth and so on.

Enjoy the relief, but remember it is the beginning of our own long march. Or, using another analogy, the aircraft carrier fleet just escaped Pearl Harbor and we begin the long slog to Japan. Or, Frodo realized he holds the last Ring, and it will be a long ordeal to get it to Mordor and destroy it (WITHOUT being tempted to use its power).

Keep the OFA network active and defeat the TP in 2014 to start. And if you are a disillusioned former Christian, Jew, Muslim, etc. who has become a "secular" American, find a PROGRESSIVE church, synagogue, mosque, Buddhist or Hindu temple, etc. and SUPPORT its community outreach! The Unitarian-Universalists, Unity, Christian Science, Metropolitan (gay friendly) churches, Reform and Reconstructionist (and some Conservative) temples, are among many under-reported spiritual groups; even some churches that are THEOLOGICALLY conservative support progressive SOCIAL and ECONOMIC policy, on Biblical grounds. Even if you are an avowed atheist, find a progressive spiritual community that is not TOO offensive in its theology, join and support it; shared values and ideals help people WORK together toward a common goal. Take religion back from the right; they never owned it in the first place!

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