McCain (a) sought to show that Obama's history -- his judgment as measured by his associations and his voting record -- belies his rhetoric. (b) Pointed out that Obama is the Senate's most liberal member (as designated by the non-partisan National Journal) who ran hard to the center. (c) Noted the disconnect between Obama as the Senate's fourth most partisan member mouthing platitudes about vaunted bipartisanship and reaching across the aisle.
Still, little of it resonated with the majority of an electorate that -- attracted to Obama's idealism -- overlooked his past and concluded his history didn't matter. Viewing him not as the liberal divider of his record but the uniter of his rhetoric, vast numbers of voters now have elevated to the presidency perhaps the most unknown and untested nominee in our history, giving him a larger percentage of votes than any Democrat since Lyndon Johnson -- indeed the largest percentage of any non-incumbent since Dwight Eisenhower.
Maybe Obama will move to the middle, counterintuitive as that would be, particularly with a Congress less Republican and more Democratic -- and emphatically more leftist -- than the departing one. It is difficult to imagine a President Obama acting as a blocker rather than an enabler of the ambitions of Democrats Pelosi, Frank, Reid, Dodd, & Co.
Does Obama's very big win mean a seismic shift in the nation's ideological alignment -- from center/right to center/left? Probably not. This election verified the long-standing breakdown: Self-described conservatives outnumber self-described liberals 2-1. In addition, both Obama and McCain ran as tax-cutters -- tax cuts hardly ranking high on the liberal agenda.
What's more, McCain's 158 electoral-vote tally matched Bob Dole's four years before the incumbent Bush swept into office -- and well more than Fritz Mondale's 13 and Michael Dukakis' 111. Possibly in national politics, so as in the stock market: We are arrived at a moment of vastly more volatile swings. McCain's and Dole's electoral-vote numbers may connote an irreducible Republican base.
Going forward, the fundamental fears are two: (1) that Obama will prove the redistributionist of his rhetoric, further destabilizing the economy, and (2) that he will not match President Bush's resolve in combating an islamofascist terrorism with the United States in its crosshairs.
If reality vindicates those fears, then President Obama and his new Congress may well lead America into its twilight years -- and the end of the American experiment. If reality proves those fears unfounded and we are not destroyed (Nietzsche's word), then the election of Barack Obama may in fact make us stronger.
That must be our abiding hope.
Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.
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