Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Okay, it's the day after

Any morning-after (okay, evening-after) regrets? How many of you are - or should be - thinking "Damn, I could have voted for that third-party candidate I actually favored?"

Herewith, some random thoughts:

1. I have to admit I greeted the outcome with a certain sense of relief. Not excitement, not enthusiasm, but yeah, a certain sense of relief. Make of that what you will; I suspect it's the difference between "won't get better but just maybe won't get much worse" on the one hand versus "would get much worse" on the other.

2. Yes, Obama's victory did have a real symbolic value; it did break a barrier. Nearly two years ago - oh my word, this really has been going on that long, hasn't it - I had "a burst of hope" in the fact that
[j]ust 42 years - and no, that is not a long time in the run of history - just 42 years after blacks were viciously beaten simply for wanting to vote by police [outside Selma, Alabama,] who assumed they still could get away with it - just 42 years later, the leading candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for president are a black man and a woman.
So now people are saying this shows that "anybody can be president." That's quite an overstatement, but at least it shows that a black man can be president. Which is apparently true - provided you're an erudite, eloquent, Harvard-educated lawyer, millionaire, US Senator black man.

I have to add in fairness that likely that's what was required. Breaking any sort of social barrier is difficult and often it is the sterling or at least superior example that's required. Consider the obvious comparison to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in major league baseball: Robinson was not merely a ballplayer, he was a great ballplayer, Rookie of the Year, MVP, 6-time All-Star, .311 lifetime batting average. And he also had enormous self-control, the ability to ignore the racial epithets hurled at him, knowing that if he reacted it would be used as evidence that blacks were "too unstable" to play in the majors.

So it may be that in order to get there, the first black president had to be more eloquent, smarter, tougher, more resilient, more tenacious, than the typical politician. And whatever you think of his politics, I think most would agree that Obama is those things.

3. But I strongly suspect that in a while a lot of people are going to be very disappointed in Barack Obama. While opponents will be surprised to discover he's not nearly as bad as they'd been lead to believe (Louis Farrakhan is not going to be heading up any cabinet department), supporters are going to be dismayed to discover that he's not nearly as good as they had lead themselves to believe, that the soaring rhetoric will not produce soaring policies and that there was far more hope in the words than there will be in the deeds.

Today I saw a Obama bumper sticker with the "O" made into a peace symbol. The local peace vigil has shut down, declaring "mission accomplished." Those people surely are going to be among the disappointed. As I said a couple of weeks ago,
Barack Obama is not a peace candidate. He's just a "I knew Iraq was a dumb idea" candidate. That's why people like Colin Powell and the several neo-cons who have endorsed Obama feel comfortable doing so: He's a reliable, accepts-the-common-wisdom, centrist who can be counted on to strive to continue the Pax Americana.
And I believe that those who insist that on matters such as FISA he will be different as president than he was as a senator are just kidding themselves. In fact, I suspect that the reason he flip-flopped on FISA is that he started contemplating having those powers himself. And you want centrist? He just asked Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff.

4. If John McCain had run his campaign the way he ran his concession, he would have done better.

5. Best moment for me from the coverage of the victory celebrations: the shot of Jesse Jackson crying, overcome with emotion. We tend to forget just how much of a trailblazer Jackson was: In 1988 he made a serious run for the Democratic nomination for president and was openly discussed as a possible veep choice. In August of that year, I wrote to a friend about what I thought was
probably the single most significant statement to come out of the campaign so far. Before the North Carolina Democratic primary, a pollster asked a rural, red-neck farmer who he was supporting. “I’m gonna vote for the nigger,” he answered.

It’s no longer possible to refuse to accept a black (at least a black man - sexism still reigns) as a serious candidate for the presidency. That is quite an accomplishment.
So I can only imagine how much Obama's victory meant to him. I wonder if, like Rep. John Lewis, he thought he wouldn't live to see this.

6. Post-election question with the most obvious answer: Media Matters wonders if in its post-election coverage the media will recall how readily it embraced claims that Bush's victory in 2004 - smaller than Obama's in vote margin, vote percentage, and electoral votes - was a "mandate" for his policies.

But let's be clear here: Obama overwhelmingly won the electoral vote, but he won the popular vote by just 52-46. That's a clear margin, to be sure, but hardly genuine "mandate" territory. We are still a divided nation and the wackos and nutballs populating the right edge of our political discourse are not going to go away. I do not even expect a moderation in their rhetoric; in fact I expect it to escalate. I will for the moment (and only for the moment) accept Obama's victory as a pause in a slide toward political repression and slashing of Constitutional freedoms. But it is not an end to it and we are still on the downside of that hill. The absolute worst thing we can do is assume we can breathe easy.

7. One last thing here: I saw a news item about "reaction from the White House to Barack Obama's victory." And for whatever it's worth to have noticed - I heard a genuine catch, genuine emotion, in the voice of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

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