Posted by: The Poli Sci Guy | November 8, 2008

Election Reflection

As I sit here four days after the historic election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States I can only wonder what the future holds.  President-elect Obama is America’s first African-American president, our first bi-racial president, and our first president to have lived in at least one Islamic country for a few years, though he was a child at the time.  How will his life experiences shape his presidency?  What constraints will the American system of separated institutions sharing power do to his ambitions?  Will Barack Hussein Obama be a transcendent figure in American history the way John Brown, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King Jr. were?  Or will he be just another president in a long line of mediocrity?  Only time will tell but for now it is as the old adage says, “Hope springs eternal.”

This election was hard fought and the losing side deserves credit for making a valiant effort and a gracious concession.  No contesting the votes in key battleground states, no late nights waiting to find out who won and who lost. The choice of the American people was clear.  America voted for a change in direction from the policies of the last 8 years.  Some on the Republican side see this as a temporary setback that can be remedied by a vigorous slate of candidates in 2010 and fresh blood in 2012.  I’m not so sure.  It is true that American politics is like a football game that plays out between the 40 yard lines with neither side ever moving the ball too far before being pushed backwards.  But here’s the thing:  The Democratic Party has won the popular vote for president in four of the past five presidential elections.  Not since George H.W. Bush in 1988 has the Republican Party won a convincing Electoral College and popular vote victory.  The current President Bush squeaked to victory in 2000 by a margin of 5 electoral votes while losing the popular vote by more than half a million.  In 2004, in the midst of a war that had not yet become unpopular, he was reelected by the smallest margin for an incumbent in over 70 years. His Electoral College margin was only about 30 votes over a Democratic candidate who was slandered and attacked mercilessly by 527 groups like the Swift Boat Veterans.  Even so, the election came down to 100,000 votes in the state of Ohio, which easily went to Barack Obama this time.  So, does that indicate a fundamental change in America or not?  It is hard to say right now.

It seems as though it would be easy to say America has moved away from the GOP and into the waiting arms of the Democrats.  Not so fast, bubba!  This election was nowhere near the landslides Ronald Reagan won in 1980 and 1984.  The results may simply be a referendum on what the electorate sees as a lousy last four years.  A war of choice that turned into a nightmare, a debate on torturing enemy combatants, revelations of spying on Americans by the CIA and FBI, and an economic crisis unseen in 80 years.  All these factors could have led to the election of Senator Obama, in addition to his charisma, his ethnic and racial background, and his eloquence.

While it is uncertain at this point what an Obama presidency will accomplish, the world outside of our door is hopeful and a little anxious.  In some quarters, it is like a new day has begun for our relations in the middle east.  Others are not so hopeful.  Put me down in the hopeful column. It is well past time for America to stop acting like the big bully on the block and recognize that our future success and safety are intricately tied to the prosperity of many in the middle east.  If they prosper we will prosper and be safe.  If they continue to suffer and blame America for their misery, we will continue to have troubles and threats to our security.  If there is one solid hope from the election of Barack Obama it is that America may pursue a more benevolent and benign foreign policy.  Do not take that to mean we should allow ourselves to become vulnerable for that is not my intent.  But it does mean that for the first time in 8 years we should give a damn about what the rest of the world thinks and take that under thoughtful consideration before we act.

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