Another America spoke up this past fall. Barack Obama’s victory over the Reagan Revolution’s latest surrogates opens new possibilities.
It is a moment for hope, but not for messianic expectations. “Lead us into the Promised Land,” someone cried out a century ago at a rally for Eugene V. Debs, Socialist candidate for president. He replied that he wouldn’t if he could because then “someone else could lead you out.” We need robust reform today. It won’t be easy. The United States is in difficult straits after a quarter-century of Ayn Rand fictions taken for reality. Obama won thanks to a fresh coalition of liberals and the famously fluid “center.” Spurred on by the financial crisis, it overcame racism. That is something to savor. The new administration must now hold its coalition together, extract us from Bush’s mess, and tug toward a more attractive America.
“He’s a socialist!” So Obama was accused during the campaign. We at Dissent wish he were (we have some authority in this regard). Alas, we must report that he is not even a subscriber. Should anyone wish to send a gift subscription….Think about it, especially if you are a Republican. You can use it against him in 2012.
In the meantime, thanks go to Sarah Palin for giving the word “socialist” so much publicity. We hope she will explain its meaning soon on Saturday Night Live. In case the “liberal media” distort her: socialists think that political liberty must be grounded in social and economic citizenship. They were Bolshevism’s first foes. They think that vast discrepancies of wealth wound democracy; that markets are means, not ends; and, as one of those terrible “liberals” once said, that sick people should be treated according to their illnesses, not according to wages on a labor market. We (call us socialists, leftists, social democrats, whatever) think America should cast aside right-wing bromides, not just bail out Wall Street.
Eighteen years ago Irving Howe and Michael Walzer invited me to join them as Dissent’s co-editor. With this issue, I step down so I can spend more time writing (including for Dissent) and on scholarship. It was a privilege to serve this journal and, more broadly, the left, and I will remain active on the editorial board. I am grateful to our readers, staff, and contributors for all their support. I hope to continue to make my own small contribution to our effort to provide a vibrant voice for an intelligent left.