It’s over. It’s finally over. Fourteen months ago, I posted my first Election 2008 related article—Premature Electioneering—lamenting the ludicrously early start to this campaign. At that time, John McCain (R) seemed like an also-ran who had no chance of winning his party’s nomination, let alone the Presidency. McCain has an uncanny way of surprising people who write him off, and—indeed—his popular vote loss was not nearly as wide as most polls projected.
But McCain did not win. Instead, this coming January we will swear Barack Obama (D) into the office of President of the United States of America. I have been asked if I am sad about this. I am not.
I endorsed and voted for McCain, but I am not prone to weeping and gnashing of teeth because I was on the losing side of this race. Mature political observers and activists can accept defeat just as easily as they can accept victory. Obama won fair and square, and come January he will be my president just as much as he will be yours—whether you supported his campaign or not.
I, and by extension Off on a Tangent, am independent. I characterize myself as a conservative and, more often than not, I vote Republican. I am not, however, a member of the Republican Party and I do not hesitate to endorse and vote for Democrats that I feel are worthy of my support. I am at-times critical and at-other times supportive of President George W. Bush (R), who received my endorsement in 2004. I will likewise be both critical and supportive of President Obama depending on each individual issue and policy regardless of the fact that I did not endorse him. I have no double-standard.
With the Democratic Party now poised to control both houses of Congress by significant margin and the Presidency as well, it’s worth doing a little analysis of what happened and why. The numbers are all still very preliminary, and pollsters and political scientists will be studying this one for years to come, but I have some pretty strong instincts about why the election went the way it did.
First, do not characterize this Democratic blowout as a stinging rebuke of conservative principles. This was primarily a rebuke of the Bush presidency, and secondarily a rebuke of the Republican Party and McCain. Neither George W. Bush, John McCain, nor the modern Republican Party can be accurately said to adhere to conservative principles anymore. While those of us who call themselves ‘conservatives’ tend to support Republican stances on national security and foreign policy, we also value small government and fiscal conservatism. 25 billion dollar loan guarantees for U.S. auto manufacturers, 1 trillion dollars for various Wall St. bailout programs, and eight years of ballooning budgets and big government do not endear us to any cause. Social conservatives who vote based on traditional values were also faced with a ‘moderate’ candidate and a party that has done little in the last eight years to protect unborn life or stem left-wing judicial activism.
All-in-all, there was no ‘conservative’ on the ballot for us to support. The values of fiscal and social conservatism were not put to a vote this year, and I would kindly recommend that President Obama refrain from interpreting his comfortable win as a mandate for big-government spending programs or liberal social principles.
I can pinpoint the moment that John McCain lost this election: September 24. That was the day that McCain suspended his campaign to return to Washington and contribute to the passing of the 700 billion dollars financial bailout package. It was at that moment that conservatives in America realized, more clearly than ever, that McCain was not one of them. The pundits will attribute McCain’s loss to his selection of Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) as his running mate, or to an ongoing ‘economic calamity’ for which Bush (and by extension all Republicans) gets erroneously blamed, but the sad fact is that McCain failed to differentiate himself from Obama in any meaningful way on fiscal issues. Conservatives were left to choose between a self-proclaimed wolf (Obama) and a wolf in sheep’s clothing (McCain). They’re both wolves. Obama supported walking our government down the road to socialism, and McCain was right there with him cheering it along.
Indeed, McCain lost primarily because the core of his own party—conservatives—saw him as being little better than the alternatives. Some of them didn’t bother to show up at the polls, but those who did cast their ballots for him held their noses while doing so. Folks like me maybe endorsed him, or sheepishly admitted to supporting him when asked, but did little to support his campaign. We didn’t send him money, we didn’t put up signs, we didn’t proactively tell our friends and acquaintances. We supported McCain, but we did so tepidly. He was not a candidate we could stand up for, but simply the lesser of two evils.
When you combine this lack of passion with the ‘fired-up’ supporters on Obama’s side, McCain simply didn’t stand a chance.
Ultimately, the Republican Party has nobody to blame but themselves for this electoral bloodbath. They sold out their principles, and thus their core base of support and the trust of the American people. I am hopeful that the party will take this stinging defeat, return to their strategy sessions, and emerge with renewed vigor for their conservative principles. It is these conservative principles that put Ronald Reagan in the White House in a 1980 landslide. It is these principles that brought forth the Contract With America in 1994, which led to a massive 54-seat swing in the House of Representatives and gave Republicans their first majority there since 1954. It is only a return to these principles that can swing Congress back toward the Republicans in 2010 or put Republicans back in the White House in 2012.
Any analysis of this election would not be complete, however, without duly acknowledging the political prowess and historic nature of Senator Obama and his campaign. A lesser candidate (like, say, Senator Hillary Clinton [D-NY]) would likely have been defeated by even a mediocre Republican candidate, primarily on issues of national security and taxes and, to a lesser extent, likability.
Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961 to a Kenyan father and a European-American mother. Their marriage, while legal in Hawaii, would have been prohibited in many states (including my home state of Virginia) under anti-miscegenation laws that banned interracial marriages. Seventeen states still enforced anti-miscegenation laws when they were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1967. The integration of public schools under the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling had been kicked-off in 1954, and would still have been a recent memory when Obama was born.
At that time, the very idea that a biracial man could become President of the United States would have been laughable. Even a mere twenty years ago, the idea would still have seemed far-fetched. If nothing else, Obama’s election tells us one thing: racism is effectively dead in America. It can no longer be claimed with a straight face that there is widespread discrimination in this country against racial minorities. A man named Barack Obama, son of a Kenyan father, has reached the highest political office in the land. He has done so with a solid majority vote, and without the benefit of ‘affirmative action’ giving him extra electors or ‘quotas’ ensuring he receives a certain percentage. I have said for some time that these preferential practices are now wholly unnecessary (and, in fact, counterproductive). Now there can be no argument. Every American has equal opportunity, and every American can become a success with appropriate drive and effort.
Obama has clearly shown drive and effort, rising in a single decade from the Illinois Senate to the U.S. Senate to President-elect of the United States. Opponents can blather on about his lack of experience, but you do not rise that quickly without some merit.
I recall distinctly the first time I heard of Barack Obama. In 2004, following the Democratic and Republican conventions, iTunes made audio of every convention speech available for free download. I downloaded them all, and listened to them all one-by-one. I remember that I double-clicked on Obama’s speech, having never heard of the man before, expecting just another standard partisan load of bull.
Within a few minutes, I remember exactly what thought went through my head: “This guy’s good.”
I didn’t agree with a lot of what he was saying from a policy standpoint, but he left a distinct impression of optimism and sincerity. That, I think, is what people like about Obama. We live in a country that is center-right, politically speaking, but Obama was able to win despite his policies being out-of-step with the beliefs of a majority of Americans. But, darn it, he just seems like such a nice guy. He seems like he’s level-headed and in-control. We like those qualities in our Presidents.
All-in-all, I’m a little disappointed in the outcome of this election. Having said that, it is my fervent hope that Obama will be a good president. I pray for his safety, and I pray for prudence in his decision making. I am hopeful that Obama will unify this country and refrain from pursuing (with a Democratic-controlled Congress) a radical liberal agenda. When he walks down the wrong paths, I will call him out. When he walks down the right ones, I will support him.
And, as always, if the party in control goes hog-wild we will have an opportunity to shift congressional power again in two years, and the Presidency in four. That’s the wonder of American politics; power is never permanent.