Wednesday, November 05, 2008

First Thoughts on the Election

It's difficult to sum up the various thoughts that pass through the brain while contemplating Obama's historic victory. There are countless stories about African-Americans old enough to remember not being able to vote, casting their vote for the first African-American president in our nation's history. But as I was explaining to my wife last night, even I thought as recently as a couple of years ago that a black president was years down the road. That is has happened so soon, to the delight and surprise of many of us, is a testament to the power of Obama to appeal to ALL Americans, and not simply those who'd be most excited by the thought of his Presidency.

As to Obama's landslide...even though we'd been prepared by the polls for days (if not weeks) in advance, it was still quite a surprise to see the race end so quickly. As Democrats we are naturally suspicious of a commanding lead, and all Americans had grown sadly accustomed to bitterly divided elections thanks to 2000 and 2004. The question now arises, what does this mean? Much will be said about the redrawing of the electoral landscape, but I think it's too early yet to know the true impact of the race. Clearly, something has shifted in American politics; no one wins an election to so great a degree simply be being NOT a Republican (Kerry tried that already.) But to what extent is the shift due to characteristics of this election, and to what extent is it due to fundamental changes in the American electorate? It's hard to say.

Another consideration is that of a "mandate"; if Bush's 51% of the popular vote in 2004 was a "mandate" than Obama's 6% share is a charge to remake the nation from the ground up. Of course, Bush's mandate was just silly spin (spin that the Bush administration nonetheless bought into); there was no real mandate, just an opportunity to govern as if they had won broad approval, thanks to lenient Republicans in Congress and a judiciary that played catch-up to their unconstitutional activities. So what then does difference of seven million voters, out of three hundred million Americans, really mean? Probably both more and less than we make of it. But I think that, regardless of the scale of the victory, Obama is far too canny to govern as if the entire nation were now blue. For one, the lesson of Bush's failings is recent and stark and aptly demonstrated by last night's outcome. For two, I think Obama is a wiser, more thoughtful and contemplative leader than Bush could ever hope to be, and he will attempt to govern as a uniter for practical and pragmatic reasons, both for the future of the Democratic Party and the nation. At least though, the massive success of the Democrats appears to have undermined the talking points of pundits who think that Dems can win only by appealing to the center and the center-right.

As to the other side of the aisle...I thought McCain's concession speech was very gracious. It's unfortunate that his campaign was not. Nonetheless, he did the right thing. There are many right-wing voters who believe that America will now imminently turn socialist, that Barack Obama will fill his cabinet with people "who blow things up" (seriously, that's what one Dallas McCain voter said on the radio this morning) and who are genuinely afraid of the future. Most of them will be dragged into the Twenty-First century kicking and screaming, but McCain's words will soothe the transition for some of them.

There will be more thoughts to follow, as the implications of this election become apparent. For now though, it is truly remarkable to bask in the awe that comes from having lived at a pivotal moment in history and having witnessed historic change first-hand. And frankly, it's just flat out fun to win.

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