As comedian Yakov Smirnov used to say, “What a country!” Americans witnessed history Tuesday night. Too bad nobody noticed.
Oh sure, the media took note -- over and over -- of the fact that Barack Obama will be the country’s first black president. That’s a first, but isn’t really as ground-shaking as we’re being led to believe. Obama’s election merely confirms what many have been saying for years: White-against-black racism is largely a relic of our country’s past.
After all, the country’s most admired woman (Oprah) is black. Our most respected athletes (Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan) are as well. Now our leader will be, too. That’s impressive since, within living memory, segregation was common. But in the end, Obama’s election merely caps off a process that’s been underway, if under-reported, for decades.
It could have some positive effects, though.
Word is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will convene a lame-duck congress in the coming days. Who can doubt that its first order of business will be to immediately repeal all federal affirmative-action laws? After all, if a man of Obama’s admittedly limited experience can rise to the most difficult job in the nation, it’s impossible to believe anyone, anywhere needs a handout or a hand up. We can all -- as Obama has -- fail or succeed on our merits alone.
But let’s get back to the unnoticed accomplishment from Tuesday night. It’s a two-parter, really. America won the Iraq war. And Americans didn’t particularly care.
As a local television station reported in September, 125 people were shot to death in Chicago over the summer. That’s almost twice as many Americans as were killed in Iraq during the same time period.
Perhaps the new president will call for a surge to Lower Wacker Drive to quell the growing violence in his hometown. In any event, by early next year the number of troops in Iraq will have dropped to roughly “pre-surge” levels, meaning we’ll have about the same number of boots on the ground as we had in the fall of 2006, when it seemed Iraq would end in disaster for the United States.
In these two years, though, the surge has allowed our troops to crush insurgent violence and given the elected Iraqi government enough breathing room that it’s been able to meet benchmark after benchmark. We’ve effectively won.
You may recall that some, including President-elect Obama, were calling just two years ago for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, even if that meant leaving in defeat.
Obama’s erstwhile rival, Sen. John McCain, was pilloried when he told voters in New Hampshire that we should keep troops in Iraq “as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. It’s fine with me, and I hope it would be fine with you if we maintained a presence in a very volatile part of the world where al Qaeda is training, recruiting and equipping and motivating people every single day.”
And that’s undoubtedly what will happen in the years ahead. American troops will remain in Iraq, just as they remain in Germany and Japan, decades after our victories there.
Here’s why this really matters. According to 2004 exit polls, the number-one issue in that election was the war in Iraq. With that in mind, suppose that in November of 2004 you’d been told that on Election Day four years later, the war in Iraq would be effectively over, and that the American side had won that war. You’d have assumed President Bush would be at least moderately popular in 2008, and that the Republican candidate, whomever that might be, would enjoy some coattails.
It didn’t happen.
This year, Americans told pollsters the economy was their biggest concern. That too will benefit Obama, since the economy is almost certain to improve over these next four years, whatever he may do.
There’s a more important lesson for conservatives here: We need to stay the course. Why? Well, consider that Obama’s supposedly historic election is actually beginning to look like nothing more than a third Bill Clinton term.
He’s already hired former Clinton hands John Podesta (to run his transition team) and Rahm Emanuel (as White House Chief of Staff). And as The New York Times reported, “Podesta put together an extensive team to plan for a possible Obama transition; not counting Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s representatives, all 10 members of the advisory board served in the Clinton administration.” Everything old is, apparently, new again.
Conservatives were right about the war in Iraq, right on taxes, right in saying the country needs to move to the right to prosper. If we find the correct spokesman for our popular ideas, conservatives will be the ones winning elections and making history again.