This past election night was a contradiction in terms.
On the one hand it saw the election of America's first African-American president who sailed to victory on a mandate of 'hope' and 'change.' But on the same night 3 states actually stripped away the right of their citizens to wed same-sex partners.
Looking more closely at these turn of events, however, it's apparent that there's not really much of a contradiction at all. The United States is not nearly as progressive as it thinks it is and its selection of Barack Obama hardly represents a radical step in that direction.
We're dealing with a citizenry, after all, who for the most part still thinks that the term "socialism" is a pejorative, as something that equates to Stalinism. The accusations during the campaign that Obama is a socialist was a sad but telling joke.
And even if he is, so what?
Some of the world's most prosperous and livable countries are solidly left-of-center, while here in Canada our socialist party, the New Democratic Party, recently gained 37 seats in Parliament and acquired nearly 20% of the popular vote (a vote that was undercut by the success of the Green Party who earned 7% of the popular vote; and don't even get me started on the fact that we actually have a Green party -- the U.S. is so far removed from this possibility that's it's not even worth talking about).
Okay, I'm digressing a bit here. But with all the excitement that has come to surround the election of Barack Obama, is it truly indicative of a new progressive wave?
Yes and no.
The election of Obama certainly bodes well for left-leaning and reformist interests -- there's no question about that. And the important thing right now is that the gang of thugs who hijacked the White House for the past 8 years are on their way out.
That said, however, it's worth noting that the incoming Democratic administration looks like it's going to be positioned just a little to the right of center. Much of this stems from political necessity, but some of it emerges directly from Obama's own views.
For example, Obama is opposed to same-sex marriages. Both he and McCain were quite vocal about this during their campaigns. Obama recently went on the record saying that marriage should only be "between a man and a woman."
This shouldn't come as a complete surprise. Obama was baptized as a Christian in the late 1980s. It's not unreasonable to think that many of his political stances are influenced by his metaphysical views. But I don't want to overstate this point. He appears to be a man who will work to ensure the separation of church and state. His position on abortion and stem cell research attests to this.
Obama also supports the death penalty in certain circumstances. He has said that in extreme cases "the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage." Obama concedes that the death penalty makes for a poor deterrent, making capital punishment a catharctic outlet and as a way to punish offenders.
In terms of foreign policy, Obama has made it clear that he will continue the 'war on terror,' increase troop strength in Afghanistan and continue making military strikes in Pakistan. Some of this is genuinely debatable; the situation in Afghanistan is quickly deteriorating and Pakistan continues to be unable to contain its insurgent elements. But still, Obama is not the peacenik that some have made him out to be.
On the home front, Obama recently changed his mind about warrantless domestic wiretaps and now supports it. In 2006 he voted in favor of the revised USA PATRIOT Act.
Again, the Obama administration will undoubtedly be a far cry from the soon to be ended neo-con nightmare. But the United States is a stubbornly conservative country. Those of us who observe it from the outside need to acknowledge that the recent election is a step in the right direction -- even if they are baby steps.
And for those progressives who live in the United States, now is not the time to sit back. As showcased by the recent setbacks with same sex marriage it's important that the new administration not be allowed to get comfortable with its sense of progressivism.
Keep pushing the envelope and agitate! We're rooting for you.