That election

Posted by Helen Sunday, November 09, 2008

All American presidential elections are historic and some turn out to be far more important than anyone had expected. While I find the hype around the newly elected 44th President somewhat ridiculous (he is not the Messiah but another politician with very dubious connections and next to no experience) it is undoubtedly of historic importance. Barack Obama is not black but of mixed race and is not the descendant of slaves though, possibly, through his East African Arab ancestry of slave-traders. But it is, undoubtedly, of great historic importance that the people of the United States elected a President whose father was black. I am, therefore, very pleased to have this analysis of the event from Mark Coalter, a frequent contributor to the Conservative History Journal, who is based in New York at the moment.

The people of America have spoken and they have elected a relative newcomer as their 44th President. A politician who four years ago was sitting in the Illinois legislature, basking in the adulation of election to the US Senate and for being one of the few highlights of the 2004 Democratic Convention, is now the leader of the ‘free world.’ On Tuesday, Barack Obama, with his mantra of Yes We Can!, won a comfortable victory over his Republican opponent. With increased majorities in the House and Senate he has been presented with a tremendous opportunity to facilitate the ‘change we can believe in’, a chance to deliver something durable, which could alter the economic and political landscape, as we know it. Alternatively we may just get another four (or maybe eight) years of much the same, albeit under the auspices of someone more telegenic and aloof than some of his predecessors.

Obama’s election is undoubtedly of historical significance. He is the first African-American to become President (if one discounts the unsubstantiated rumours concerning Warren Harding), although this probably played only a small part in his margin of victory. It is clear that his natural abilities and message of change made him presidential in the eyes of a majority of voters. In the short term, what is perhaps more important for Obama’s presidency, is that unlike Clinton and Bush 43, there are no questions of illegitimacy. Republicans wonder(ed) if Clinton would have won had it not been for Perot’s somewhat eccentric but decisive intervention in a number of traditionally Republican states, such as Colorado, Louisiana, Missouri, and Montana. If Bush had convincingly carried Florida and the popular vote in 2000, instead of the prolonged legal debacle that followed, then would Democrats have been so bitter?

Obama has crossed the 50% threshold and while he did not win a landslide nobody can claim that the election was stolen, at least not at the ballot box. Conservatives can quite correctly object to the heavily slanted media coverage doled out to John McCain (if he even merited a mention) verses the fawning attention provided to Obama. The Democratic candidate’s dramatic u-turn on public financing for his campaign gave Obama a huge financial advantage over McCain allowing him to out-spend the GOP on all fronts. McCain’s principled decision not to feature Rev. Wright in any of his attack ads meant that the most legitimate of Obama’s past association did not become a mainstream campaign issue outside of conservative talk radio and Fox News. The mishandling of the Bill Ayres issue – ‘palling around with terrorists’ instead of focusing on what Ayres and Obama were working towards, i.e. funding programmes designed to promote radical political activity to Chicago high school students – further highlighted the McCain campaign’s inability to land a substantive blow on their opponent. And what of Obama’s connection to the Chicago Democratic machine, a movement that is far from a paragon of ethical activity or political virtue? The Democrat success in imitating and improving upon the much-maligned Karl Rove’s get out the vote operation, so crucial to Bush’s re-election in 2004, also proved key.

Obama has an undeniable mandate for change. How he chooses to use it will be another matter and time will tell in that regard. The economy will be his first major challenge while Iraq and Afghanistan will certainly test commitments made before supporters on the stump. Will Obama reach across the aisle when formulating policy or instead will he take the view that with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, Republican input is unnecessary? The selection of the combative and (very) partisan Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff would suggest that he has chosen a party loyalist and enforcer as the presidential aide-de-camp as opposed to a conciliator. A sign of things to come?

Nevertheless, let’s see how Obama does. If he acts independently of his base and makes courageous and difficult decisions in the interests of the country as opposed to interest groups and his core supporters, then the new President will have the trappings of greatness. But, if Obama adopts a partisan and leftist agenda and becomes a captive of Congressional Democrats then disappointment will be more widespread than just within conservative circles.


  1. 1Trader Says:
  2. There are very real questions as to the legitimacy of this election.

    1. The possibility that up to half the money Obama raised was from illegal sources.

    2. The possibility that hundreds of thousands if not millions of registered voters where in fact illegal.

    No doubt these will never be properly investigated or challenged.

  3. There are historical patterns in American elections. Parties of unpopular presidents often loose presidential elections - for example the Federalists whose leader President John Adams was unpopular with many of the electorate, and the Republican party whose 1976 loss reflected a residual voter unhappiness with Richard Nixon. Parties that launch over unpopular or unsuccessful wars - consider the Democratic Party after the Mexican and Korean Wars. Patties that preside over economic down turns are also vunerable, take the case of the Republican Party in 1932. The Republican party in 2008, had not one of these liabilities but all three. Pontification about the 2008 election is idiotic. This was not an election that had anything to do with liberal or conservative ideas. George W, Bush, had after all in the last year adopted a socialist approach to the economic crisis by nationalizings banks, brokerages, and other financial institutions in a way that would have satisfied Karl Marx.

    The Voters were going to vote for the Democratic Candidate, even if the Democrats had run Jack D. Ripper. Given the circumstances, John McCain's performance as Republican candidate was credible. And was a notable effort in a predictably loosing cause.

  4. Helen Says:
  5. I wouldn't despair Baqua. The media is supporting Obama, as they now admit too late, so the parallel is not exact but Watergate came out eventually. Mind you, if the story about those donations is anywhere near the truth it's a bigger scandal. The illegal voters seems to be a smaller story than people at first thought but that may be wrong. Yes, there were some but it is unlikely to have been in the millions.

    On the whole, I agree with Charles Barton - it was going to be the Dems's year and, in the circumstances, the results across the country were not that overwhelming. Some states have gone Republican and the various conservative amendments were passed (sometimes by the Obama supporters, which proves that people do not just tick boxes). I disagree that it was McCain who did it. He would have done a lot worse without Palin.

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