And yet… And here we come to the third and biggest reason for optimism. Popular protests could exert countervailing pressures. The Occupy movement raised the issue of corporate power. Future protesters will be effective to the extent they understand that the terrain of conflict in the next four years will be over the promulgation of rules to regulate banks, health care companies, and above all to limit CO2 emissions. For social movements to have impact, they will need to match lobbyists in tracking regulatory decisions and deadlines and bring protesters into the streets at key moments. The protests in front of the White House in late 2011 against the Keystone Pipeline are a model. The skids had been greased for final approval of the pipeline. The protests ensured the postponement of the decision and the pipeline at least until 2013. Obama will take a progressive path in his second term only if protesters can repeat that feat again and again. Those same protests can force members of Congress, and even Republicans, to stand aside as Obama uses his executive power or to pass legislation that responds to rising demands.
The stalemate in U.S. politics will not be broken in the 2014 and 2016 elections. It can end if there is sustained, significant, and, above all, strategically smart popular mobilization. We can wait and watch, or we can work to bring a new politics into existence.