I was not worried about yesterday’s election outcome. When the economy tanked in mid September, it became abundantly clear to me than no Republican presidential candidate could beat this political headwind. The only question was the magnitude of Barack Obama’s win and how many other Democrats would be pulled in his wake. Given the circumstances, the Republicans in general did pretty well.
President Bush, a deeply unpopular president whose approval ratings were in the twenties, clearly dragged down the Republican brand. Republicans also carried an enormous set of baggage into this election. They were instrumental and wholly complicit in creating the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression. It was somewhat karmic that it untimely reached the severely acute phase just six weeks before the election. Republicans had also embroiled the country in two foreign wars and dug us more than ten trillion dollars into debt. Because of their policies, most Americans have seen their real wages decrease. Virtually everyone who put money aside has watched the value of their portfolios drop precipitously. All of these stupid actions were entirely preventable had we elected pragmatic men and women instead of ideologues.
Yet, in spite of all these things, McCain lost by only six percentage points, which suggests his campaign was reasonably effective. Moreover, while Democrats made broad gains in the House and Senate, their gains were not as sweeping as pundits like me anticipated. There are five Democratic Senate pickups for sure, with four races still in dispute. At best only one of the four in dispute will tip toward the Democrats. Democrats will not have a filibuster proof majority in the Senate. Democratic House gains were relatively modest under the circumstances too. Democrats picked up 19 seats so far while eight other races remain in dispute.
Viewed over the last two years, the magnitude of our political change has been remarkable. Before the 2006 election, we had one party Republican government. In January 2009, we will have one party Democratic government. Republicans will still be able to block legislation in the Senate via filibuster but they do not control the agenda.
Still, thinking Republicans should feel shell-shocked. This election showed that the solid red South is crumbling. In an election or two, it might disappear altogether. Florida has always been somewhat iffy, but was decidedly peeled away. My state of Virginia, which has not voted for a Democrat for president since 1964, voted for Obama over McCain by five percent. North Carolina still has not been called, but if the current results stands, Obama should carry that state too. McCain is likely to hold on to Missouri, but just barely. While the current electoral count is now 349-163 for Obama, the final count is likely to be 364-174, a trouncing of nearly 200 electoral votes. Moreover, Republicans have no clear path back into power. New younger voters preferred Democrats by nearly a factor of two to one. Their best hope for returning to power is simply to hope that Democrats governed like buffoons too. When the Republican Party eventually is voted back into power, it should look substantially different from the current party.
While for me the outcome was never in doubt, I felt euphoric nonetheless when it arrived. I felt happiest for my African American brethren, most of whom assumed they would never live to see an African American elected President of the United States. The scenes on TV of so many African Americans crying in joy after the networks called the election for Obama were poignant, heartfelt, wondrously joyful and oh so heartfelt, as was Obama’s masterful victory speech. As a metaphor, the election of Barack Obama works well on so many levels. For the last eight years, America has projected itself as an insular, unreasonable, mean and dogmatic nation. Last night I saw reemerge the America I knew growing up. With Obama’s election, racism in our country was dealt a fatal blow and African Americans realized they too were fully enfranchised citizen not just in law, but in fact. A new and better America has emerged that is more tolerant, generous and inclusive than the America of the 20th century. In the 21st century, real America is not rural American, but is colorfully multi-hued, as reflect by its new president elect.
It remains to be seen whether through sheer force of personality President Obama can truly unite us. Unquestionably, he inherits problems of a magnitude not seen in more than a generation. Yet, since we must move through these times anyhow, we are blessed with one of the few leaders up to the job of leading us safely through this treacherous minefield.
For many of us older Americans, the end of the Bush Administration feels like the moments after Watergate’s sad denouement. We remember a sense of relief and a feeling of national shame as we watched the presidential helicopter carry away a disgraced President Nixon. When President Ford told us that our long national nightmare was over, we cried in relief (but not in joy) and wondered if our nation would really remain true to its ideals.
The sad truth for those of us who lived through the Nixon years is that these last eight years have been far worse. Back then we were not numb to the implications of Nixon’s unconstitutional and unlawful actions. Yet President Nixon was at least held accountable by Congress. This congress has given this administration a pass for its crimes. Just to make sure no one is held accountable, President Bush is likely to offer pardons to all the usual suspects. Over these last eight years, we have repeatedly witnessed egregious and previously unthinkable crimes by our government, executed in a premeditated and matter of fact manner by our insular and headstrong leaders. We have seen our nation engage in torture. We have watched our president blithely ignore laws he found it inconvenient by issuing signing statements that he embodied with the force of law. Our armies have inflicted mass suffering on Iraqis by the millions. In doing so, we inherited a staggering karmic debt that will take generations of good deeds to repay. We have spent like a drunken sailor, mortgaged our future and nearly kicked off another Great Depression, bringing the whole world with us. We have witnessed ideology wholly divorced from reality and suffered its disastrous consequences.
My euphoria last night, like that of many Americans, came from the realization that our constitution still works in a creaky sort of way. Sadly, due to our spineless Congress, it did not work through our system of checks and balances, but in a delayed manner through our electoral system. Yet we finally did emerge from our fear-induced stupor and by electing Barack Obama took the critical step necessary to put the nation aright again. In seventy-six days, for the first time in eight years we will have a president that actually puts the rule of law and our constitution first. Imagine that! In seventy-six days, the lunatics will be formally kicked out of the asylum and the grownups will be back in charge.