Wish List

What Liberals Want in Second Obama Term

Michelle Cottle on progressives’ top priorities for Obama’s next term—like immigration and climate change.

Carolyn Kaster / AP Photo

Remember how, when you were a kid, each year around this time you’d start making a big, long list of all the stuff you wanted Santa to bring you? (Or maybe the Hannukah fairy, or your overindulgent Bubbe?) We’re talking a long-as-your-arm list of not merely the season’s hottest toys—like Furbys or GameBoys or G.I. Joe with the Kung Fu Grip—but also of what-the-hey-can’t-hurt-to-ask fantasy items like a real pony or a jet pack or a full-size fully operational replica of the Batmobile.

Now translate that wish list into a political agenda, and you have some idea of how progressives are thinking about President Obama’s second term.

Among the Festivus-worthy feats of strength that progressives would like Obama to achieve: reform immigration, fix the tax code, pass a climate-change bill, beef up infrastructure, rein in Wall Street, repeal DOMA, toughen ENDA, overturn Citizens United … Hell, Rep. Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, thinks the time has come for POTUS to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Do it now!” urges the Minnesota lawmaker. “Go to Tel Aviv tomorrow!”

Is there anything quite so full of promise as a not-yet-begun presidential term?

As Obama prepares for his Tuesday meeting with reps from labor and various progressive groups, he should keep in mind just how pumped the left is in the wake of the election—and not really even because of his win. Oh, sure, thumping Romney-Ryan was great and all that, but it’s down ballot where progressives feel their cause won a full-throated mandate to charge head-first toward a more liberal America.

“Progressives in particular had a huge year!” says Arshad Hasan, executive director of Democracy for America. (You know, the grassroots group Howard Dean founded.)

Hasan points to the Senate wins of liberals Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, and Sherrod Brown as proof that the secret to Democratic victories is not going all wishy-washy. “Instead of equivocating or running to the center, they stood strong on progressive values.”

In the House, too, observes Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, not only did Dems pick up seven seats, the caucus itself became more progressive. Three years ago, there were 54 conservative blue dogs, says Green. “At the start of the next Congress, that will be down to 14.”

Then there were the ballot measures. Ellison points to the defeat of two anti-progressive measures in his state: one that would have barred gay marriage and one that called for a photo ID for voting. “Back when both were introduced last winter, the polls said they would pass,” recalls the congressman. “We defeated them!”

As for LGBT rights: “Oh my God, it was historic! As a 44-year-old gay man who grew up in the suburbs of a small town, I never thought I’d see this day come,” says an almost speechless Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign. Pointing to multiple pro-gay-rights ballot wins and an uptick in the number of out members elected to Congress, Sainz enthuses, “For us, it was a landslide. We call it the equality landslide!”

Taken all together, Election Day has progressives “basking in the glow,” as Ellison puts it.

It also has them talking tough as the new term looms. No more cutting “backroom deals,” says Green; this time around, Obama needs to take his message to the people and “mobilize the public” to pressure Congress to act.

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First up, everyone agrees, is the battle over the fiscal cliff.

“We’re for a deal,” says Ellison, amiably. “But it must have four features. Not three. Not two. Four.”

He ticks briskly through them: 1. “No benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.” 2. “The military must share the cuts.” 3. “The well-to-do have to help.” 4. “Probably the most important feature of the whole thing is that we’ve got to invest in jobs. We need to do something to spark job growth.”

Green has two immediate suggestions to this end: rehire the 1 million teachers who have been cut from the workforce in recent years, and commit to a “massive investment in infrastructure,” including the “wiring” of rural America.

Then there are the issues left hanging during the election. Two executive orders that Hill Democrats pushed for last year and want dealt with a.s.a.p.: strengthening ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) so that federal contractors cannot discriminate against LGBT Americans; and requiring federal contractors to disclose political donations.

And on and on and on it goes.

Of course, with great hope comes the potential for bitter heartbreak. (Don’t Obama know it?) And, Washington being Washington, the president is all but certain to make compromises and cut deals and ultimately disappoint almost everyone at some point.

No matter, says Hasan. “We will continue to push. And we have the wind at our backs.”

So maybe progressives won’t wind up getting that real live pony. But a remote-controlled Batmobile and a couple of Furbys would be pretty great too.

So long as they come with jet packs.