November 5, 2008
As most people expected, Barack Obama defeated John McCain by a clear if not decisive margin yesterday. Barring any recounts, the Electoral College margin was 364 to 174, exactly what U.Va.'s Larry Sabato had projected, and the popular vote margin was 53%-46%. Nine states that voted for President Bush four years ago chose Barack Obama this year; see map and list below.
But enough numbers, already -- this is about emotion! Multitudes of people in America and around the world are exulting in a way that is both winsome and perhaps just a little unsettling. While I don't share in the joy, I can understand why people would feel so deeply about Obama's big victory, and I feel happy for them in a way. Something like this was bound to happen some day, breaking through one of the last big barriers in our society, and I just hope that the elation does not turn sour if it turns out that Obama can't deliver on the millenarian hopes that he raised.
The reasons for Obama's win are not hard to understand, at least not for sympathetic critics of the Republican Party like me. It may take a while for others to absorb the meaning of all this, and that's OK. NBC's Chuck Todd adapted his predecessor Tim Russert's 2004 mantra ("Florida, Florida, Florida") to this year's race: "Bush, Bush, Bush." That pretty much says it all.
Before the election, some pundits joked that Obama was measuring the draperies with which the White House will be decorated, but he refrained from seeming presumptuous as Election Day approached. Likewise, any speculation about his cabinet choices was kept under wraps, lest he offend any voters by exposing his super-human ego. And indeed, his administration has its work cut out for them, with multiple crises and challenges in domestic and foreign policy: As CNN's Christiane Amanpour said last night, Obama will begin work in the Oval Office on January 20 with the "in-box from hell." Thank you, George W. Bush!
Just as I hope that Republicans show more grace in defeat than the Democrats did in 2000, I hope that the outgoing Bush administration staffers refrain from the petty spite of the sort the outgoing Clinton administration staffers did in January 2001, when they removed the W keys from computer keyboards.
Here are the states that switched sides from 2004 to 2008, all from Republican to Democrat:
Reaction from countries around the world is almost unanimous: People just love Barack Obama, and they heartily approve of the American voters' choice. Does that mean the rest of the world is going to love us from now on? That's what many Americans seem to think, and we will find out soon enough.
I shouldn't be too scornful of such naïve hopes, I suppose, and the United States can indeed expect to get a big diplomatic payoff from Obama's election in Africa, if not the Middle East. When he makes his first big tour of Africa as U.S. President, presumably next year, it will be a memorable occasion.
How soon people forget! Perhaps the biggest irony of the 2008 election is that Barack Obama surged to the lead in the Democratic primary race late last year by touting his early opposition to the war in Iraq, even as it was becoming clear that the "Surge" policy in Iraq was succeeding. It may not be a "victory," as some boast, but Iraq is being steadily pacified, and the Iraqi government and local security forces are taking greater and greater control of their own country all the time. The problem is that peace (or relative peace) is boring, and to put a twist on an old adage, good news is no news. The American people being relatively inattentive to events in faraway places, the natural advantage that John McCain should have had with his hawkish foreign policy was largely neutralized. In that sense, Obama really does owe President Bush a big "Thank you!"
One bad omen for John McCain was the [23-6] defeat of the Washington Redskins by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football. From 1944 through 2000, every time the Redskins won their last home game before the election, the party of the incumbent president won the presidential election, and vice versa. This strange pattern was interrupted in 2004, but this year it resumed. See snopes.com
The Democrats picked up at least five seats in the U.S. Senate, with four more races in which incumbent Republicans are being challenged yet undecided. (Two states held two senatorial elections, because of vacated seats, while in Delaware, Sen. Joe Biden was simultaneously reelected to the Senate and elected as Vice President; a replacement will be needed.) In Oregon, Sen. Gordon Smith is ahead by about 12,000 votes, in Georgia, Sen. Saxby Chambliss fell just short of a majority in a three-man race which will force a run-off election, in Alaska, Sen. Ted Stevens (recently convicted on corruption charges) is ahead by about 3,000 votes, and in Minnesota, Sen. Norm Coleman is ahead of comedian/talk-show host Al Franken by about 600 votes.
In Virginia, Democrats went a long way toward "painting the Old Dominion blue," winning the presidential election for the first time since 1964 and capturing a second U.S. Senate seat for the first time since 1970. Millionaire businessman and former Governor Mark Warner beat his predecessor as Governor Jim Gilmore by nearly two-to-one, a stinging blow. Now we'll find out if the high-handed, ostentatious style of the new Senator Warner fits in with the collegial, deferential upper chamber of the U.S. Congress. In the House races, I was pleased that Rep. Frank Wolf won by such a big margin over Judy Feder, and I was disappointed that moderate Republican Thelma Drake lost her seat. In the Fifth District, social conservative (and former Democrat) Virgil Goode is clinging to a very narrow lead over his challenger, Tom Periello. In the Sixth District, our own Rep. Bob Goodlatte handily turned back the challenge from Sam Rasoul.
Many Staunton-area Republicans gathered at the Elks Lodge to watch the election returns last night; see the News Leader. Meanwhile, I was among the "outcast" faction of veteran Republican activists that got together in downtown Staunton. We reminisced about all our struggles to keep the party on an even keel over the past couple years, most notably the 2007 Hanger vs. Sayre primary race and the mass meetings in Staunton and Augusta County. (Oh, the follies of youth...) Us "old-timers" look forward to the day when the Grand Old Party returns to its traditional virtues of common sense and pragmatism.
In South Dakota, a referendum that would have outlawed all abortions (except in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother's life is in danger) failed. I think that measure went too far, so I am pleased with that outcome. To my surprise, one of the anti-abortion groups declared its opposition to that measure because they thought it didn't go far enough. Incumbent Senator Tim Johnson was reelected by a large margin, benefiting from a large sympathy vote. He suffered a stroke December 2006, and although he has made great progress in his recovery, his speech is still quite impaired.
The state's lone member of the House of Representatives, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, was re-elected by a wide margin. She is a young, bright, and articulate member of the moderate "Blue Dog" faction of the Democratic Party, and her ads clearly appealed to gun owners and social conservatives. Since the 2006 election, she married Texas Congressman Max Sandlin (D-1st District), but continues to maintain permanent residency in South Dakota.
I was disappointed that the Republican candidate for State Senate in District 17, Jerad Higman, was defeated by the incumbent. I met him before the University of South Dakota football game on Dakota Day (homecoming), and I was very impressed both with his knowledge of issues, and by the big success of his company, MASABA, which manufactures heavy-duty mining equipment.
Not surprisingly, Andrew Sullivan took the opportunity of Obama's triumph to promote his book, The Conservative Soul, which does make some good points. To me, yesterday's enormous setback was entirely predictable, and I have written dozens of blog pieces on what is wrong with the Republican Party and the Conservative Movement, so I won't belabor the point right now. I happen to agree with what Karl Rove said (on FOX News?), that we should all wait a while and reflect on things before we start blaming each other for the defeat. I will try to hold off until December...
NOTE: I had to abruptly cease blogging last night before I had properly edited my words. My apologies for the typographical errors and incomplete sentences.
NOTE: Corrections, indicated by [brackets] were made on Oct. 7.