What does not destroy me makes me stronger. -- Nietzsche.
And so it is to be President Barack Obama.
His seminal victory marks a major moment in the nation's history. It is fundamentally his accomplishment -- for minorities and multi-ethnics, for the meek and humble, for the nation. He merits the highest commendation and praise. Only in the continuing experiment that is America, the great good land, could his victory in such proportion have been even imagined, let alone achieved.
A stream of election-related observations . . .
Many factors contributed to Obama's win: Iraq, President Bush's unpopularity (though at a favorable level well above the pitiful 9 percent of the Democratic Congress), an economy circling the drain; Republican ethical, intellectual, and political failures that left Republicans hard-pressed to present as better than Democrats. Republicans proved unable to offer a credible, coherent strategic message. The campaign of John McCain found itself insufficient and tactically overmatched.
Yet probably no other Republican could have done better -- neither Giuliani nor Romney nor Thompson nor Huckabee. In part, Republican internal division brought the party to this juncture. But given that Hillary Clinton with her high negatives likely could not have prevailed against any of the above, including John McCain, there had to have been another decisive factor.
Partly it was the economic implosion. The record shows that McCain was ahead in mid-September -- helped by the home-run, the political gold, named Sarah Palin. The financial-credit tsunami was the principal non-election event of the ensuing month, and it dramatically hurt McCain.
But clearly the most decisive factor was Barack Obama -- a political phenomenon rarely seen, an orator of the first order, a disciplined man at the head of a disciplined campaign. There was about him -- and is -- a sense of destiny. No matter how much McCain tried to make Obama the issue, a majority of the voters found him likable, appealing, and not a grievance candidate a la Jesse Jackson, but a transitional, crossover candidate.
How else explain his decisive victory in the face of a USA Today poll published just before the election, wherein 48 percent of the electorate found him unqualified to be president? How else explain his strong performance practically across the board -- from new voters and the young and the old, to African-Americans and Hispanics and whites, to women and self-styled moderates/independents? Obama may well have carried the electorate across the threshold to a new post-racial paradigm.
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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