History was made last night, and don’t you think that the supporters of Barack Obama are going to let anyone forget that for quite some time. From Washington DC all the way to the town of Obama, Japan, celebrations have broken out across the globe, hailing the first black man to become President of the United States (no. Bill does not count, no matter how much he billed himself as “the first black president.”). That in itself is an amazing, epochal, foundation-shaking event. Only 50 years ago, within a human lifetime, blacks were refused seating in restaurants across the south, were told to sit at the back of buses — they even were forced to use separate drinking fountains from whites. Less than 150 years ago, blacks could still be legally kept as property. And now, a black man is president. In an election won in a majority white nation. I do not agree with President-elect Obama on the issues, and did not vote for him, but I salute, congratulate and celebrate him and his achievement. He’s earned his place in the history books.
A few things to remember though:
For the Democrats, remember that “all glory is fleeting.” Obama has won the presidency. The Democrats have also consolidated their hold on both houses of Congress (as of this writing, they still have, if four razor-thin-margin races go their way, a shot at a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate). They essentially rolled back the clock to the pre-Newt Gingrich status quo, where the Democrats had held a majority in the Senate and House, and had even wrested the presidency away from the Republicans — in effect this was the delayed Democratic answer to the Reagan landslide of 1980, when it seemed that were were on the cusp of a perpetual Republican ascendancy through Ronald Reagan. Before Bush the Elder, Clinton and Bush the Younger.
Now, it’s Obama’s turn, and he has a job that nobody should envy. Iraq is improving, but both we and the Iraqis see a need to stick around, at least in the short term and it can still get messy. However, with anti-war groups seeing him as the last best hope for a full withdrawal immediately, he is going to be pulled in two directions at once, especially once the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) between Iraq and the US is finally settled. The economy is still in shambles from the sub-prime mortgage fiasco (if I were advising Obama, I would suggest he order criminal investigations of Lehman Brothers, AIG, Bear-Stearns, Countrywide, and the other subprime lenders, and then introduce bills in Congress geared towards making sure this disgrace never happens again), and it will fall to Obama to start picking up the pieces — Lord knows Bush hasn’t had a run of particularly good luck or competence in repairing it — the $600 stimulus giveaways were a joke, and the bailout only seemed to reinforce the perception that the Bush Administration was only interested in helping out well-heeled donors and corporate grandees (it didn’t help that AIG turned around and sent its top execs some of the same people who got us into this misshive in the first placeto a spa resort for pampering). The bailout did nothing to fix the problems with selling mortgage-backed securities, particularly from those at risk of default, that was the powderkeg that exploded the crisis.
Obama undeniably benefited from this groundswell of anger at a Bush administration now widely seen as incompetent, and it showed. Here, in California, for instance, numerous counties that had gone for Bush in 2004 (while the president was still riding the post-Iraq high) flipped to Obama, including San Bernardino County, which has seen a drastic increase in foreclosures since the crisis hit. People were not voting for the Democrats. They were voting for change, as represented by Obama. He could have worn a ferret or a marmoset or a Thompson’s Gazelle on his lapel instead of a donkey — so long as it wasn’t an elephant, he was golden.
Since much of the vote is coming down to the pocketbook, we still have to see which Obama is going to be the one in office — the financially secure if governmental expansionist Obama who will lay on a new New Deal or the “marxist,” “redistributionist” Obama who will raise taxes on the rich (whatever his definition really is) to try and float all boats equally. If we get the latter, whether from a desire to be that or through his being goaded by radicals who want to see implicit promises carried through, it could end up backfiring if the economy suffers.
And to that, remember that the electorate is fickle. They want to see a quick turnaround (even though such may be impossible, and even Obama acknowledged that in his victory speech, pleading for patience by saying that solutions may not take effect in one year or one term) and if the situation does not improve to their satisfaction, 2010 is right around the corner, hanging like the sword of Damocles ready to drop on the Democrats.
For Republicans and conservatives who may be on suicide watch right now, the message should be “don’t panic.” The sun rose in the sky this morning, even if it be over a America that elected Obama. The world is not going to tilt off its axis. This is not a sign of the apocalypse. It’s just an election. Take a deep breath and realize that Pennsylvania Avenue is NOT about to be renamed Red Square or Arafat Boulevard or some such nonsense like that. And, let’s call a spade a spade — John McCain was about as electrifying a candidate as a soggy paper towel, which is a let-down because the man showed cojones of brass while a guest of the NVA in Hanoi. He chose not to forcefully fight Obama, carrying on a bizarre campaign that would play things close to the vest and then suddenly lunge out and mention Bill Ayres or Jeremiah Wright, while not attacking Obama’s use of private contribution funds after publicly stating that he would eschew them to qualify public money. His plans were often non-existent and poorly articulated, and his attempts to suspend the campaign and get back to Washington, in the hopes that it would make him look like a statesman still on the nation’s clock while Obama blithely continued on with business as usual, backfired hugely, as it both tied him with the pork-laden abomination as well as make him look panicky by going when there ended up being little to do.
So, suck up, buck up and come back with a new plan if you seriously want to retake either Congress or the White House.
And stop with the sour grapes nonsense. On the radio today, I heard some callers talk of how Obama’s not “my president.” It doesn’t work that way. Whether or not you agree with him (and I don’t), Barack Obama won the election of 2008 fair and square. He earned it. He is our president, or at least he will be on January 20, 2009. To say otherwise is to strip him of his rightly-deserved laurels and to strip the office of President of the respect it deserves. I dislike George W. Bush for a great many things. But he is my president. I distrusted Bill Clinton. But he was my president. I will likely disagree with Barack Obama on a great many things. But he will be my president. We do not have the luxury in this country of setting up a “government-in-exile” every time an election goes awry (or when the candidate, as here, just seems to say “screw it”). There will always be another election. But for now, it’s time to deal with President Obama.