The presidential election of 2008 finished nine days ago, and by now most of the emotions have begun to settle. People for whom grace is their natural condition have returned to graceful tone, while those for whom spite and petulance is their preferred environment (sadly present to a significant degree in both major political parties) have continued to attack and defame their enemies and targets. In other words, things are returning to normal.
One thing which occurs to me in this readjustment of mood, is that while this election was important and its effects are significant, we are headed neither for a golden age nor the precipice of gotterdammerung. I am not one of those who believes that the United States shall die as the result of an Obama presidency, and I am certainly no worshipper of this modern Narcissus, nor am I so fooled by any of his dazzling promises, even the ones he has not already tried to wipe from his websites and interviews. What I see here is not so different from many times before, a lot of promises and in performance, ehhh, something less but nothing either of dreams or nightmares.
Since the election, I have been critical of the hype and propaganda from the Obama (‘God, only better’) camp, and for this have been accused of dining on ‘sour grapes’. In the actual case, I consider myself far better balanced emotionally than many, even considering some on the Left who are still inexplicably bitter and foul in their mood and behavior. But there will always be those for whom nothing is ever enough to make them act with courtesy or a gracious tone. In the matter of Obama’s election, though, I congratulate him not only on his victory but on the effectiveness of his organization and his near-total control of the media. If he can maintain that control, President Obama will be the first president since Reagan to able to use the media as a tool to help advance his agenda, rather than yet another obstacle or enemy waiting to trip him up or seek a weakness to exploit. Barack Obama also showed himself an adept student of Nixonian politics, wherein he not only played attacks on him into claims of victimization, but also played hard to his party’s fringe during the primaries, but swung hard towards the center when running his general campaign, to the point of denying statements and promises made during the primaries. Just as Nixon knew few republicans would vote for Humphrey or McGovern, Obama knew few democrats would consider voting for McCain. And just as Nixon’s campaign worked hard to get grassroots support and turnout, so too did Obama’s team sweat out the details to get all likely supporters to the polls. In many respects, this year’s election was one where democrats were energized, coordinated, and showed up to vote, while republicans were disorganized and allowed themselves to become demoralized and sat out the election.
In many ways this election is interesting, not least because of the myths which were disproven. The first myth shattered, obviously, was the ‘Bradley Effect’ – while some morons may vote for or against someone solely because of their race, it is not true to imagine that it is a major effect. The second myth, and one still floating around, is that the public really wanted democrats in control. The reason this is clearly a myth, is that despite the economic climate and the scale of Obama’s victory, the congressional and senate races did not produce the overwhelming numbers predicted. The democrats made modest gains in both chambers, so it’s not as if the republicans have rebounded in public approval (the third debunked myth). It would appear that President Obama will begin his term with fairly high public approval, but the democrats and republicans in Congress and as political parties will see little public support.
I have no doubt that President Obama will make some mistakes early in 2009, mistakes which some will claim prove him unfit for the job. But every president runs into some of that, and it’s a poor student of history who believes that when it happens again, it’s somehow the first time or proof of inadequacy. In some respects, it will be interesting to see if President Obama learns from the lessons of Presidents Bush and Clinton before him; not only that if a president does not consider his importance in relation to a policy or bill that his credibility with Congress could fail and make later work much more difficult, but also that if a president obsesses about his ‘legacy’ he may accomplish little work of substance.