I almost made some phone calls last night. My common sense got the better of me; I went home and- my resolutions to the contrary- watched a little TV.
I'd intended to limit myself to stations I could count on not to mention the election. But inevitably, given my status as a confirmed and life-long political junkie, I gave in to temptation and turned to the networks. When Fox News called Ohio for Obama, I realized that it was over and went to bed. And now, as the cobwebs of sleep and depression begin to clear, I have some reflections on what happened yesterday, and some conclusions.
First, congratulations to both President-elect Obama and Sen. McCain for two of the classiest election night statements I can recall.
And while I do not deny that in defeat McCain's supporters showed somewhat less equanimity than did their candidate, let it be recorded that, while the day is still young, I have yet to hear of a single Republican trying to cast aspersions on Mr. Obama's victory by maliciously claiming that the election was stolen.
As much as I welcome Mr. Obama's emphasis on the importance of renewed civility and an end to the petulant, childishness partisanship which has characterized our politics for the last sixteen years, the cynic in me isn't convinced that most Democrats are ready to stop hating just because they finally won, or just because their leader tells them to. And there can be a danger hiding even in an emphasis on unity. Last night's victory statement seems to have been an genuinely outstretched hand to those of us who disagree profoundly with the president-elect on important issues. But one hopes that the tendency Mr. Obama occasionally displayed during this campaign to use the appeal to unity itself as a partisan weapon, equating criticism of him or of his record or policies with the fostering of disunity, does not manifest itself once he is in the White House.
At the same time, I cannot pretend that this campaign has been exactly free of the same side of garbage on my own side of the aisle. Even while hoping that Mr. Obama will continue to recognize the distinction between even pointed and emotional dissent on one hand and incivility on the other, a particular burden falls on we who are on the other side of the aisle to be more civil in opposition than most of the members of Mr. Obama's party were.
Even from the purely partisan point of view, the excessive rhetoric on the Right during this campaign was nothing but bad news. It should be recalled that the ugliness of the Bush-hatred which charcterized the Democrats' 2004 campaign played a major role in turning the electorate against them. This cannot be said too loudly: the idiocy of the lunatic Right and the haters at the other side of the spectrum had the same effect this time around. Many legitimate criticisms of Sen. Obama and his record and his positions simply were not heard because the absurd cries of morons that Mr. Obama is a Muslim, or that attended a madressa, or that his middle name somehow betrays an affinity for terrorists. Barack Obama's voting record and ideology were legitimate issues, and the partisan media utterly failed to do their job in examining these legitimate concerns. But as Jimmy Carter found out in 2000, holding a likable extremist for whom the electorate really wants to treat as a moderate accountable for his extremism is hard even when one's criticisms are reasonable- and even when one doesn't have the mass media thoroughly in the tank for your opponent. The haters' constant barrage of nonsense clinched the deal by making it impossible for the average voter to sort out the slander on one hand, and the legitimate concerns on the other. Any chance of Barack Obama being held accountable for his own record vanished in a thick cloud of over-the-top nonsense that made it easy for voters to conclude that all criticism of Obama's record and history was equally bogus.
For America's sake, the temperature of our rhetoric needs to be taken down by several degrees on both sides. The burden falls equally on the reasonable people in both parties to stigmatize and isolate the haters. At the same time, not only Mr. Obama but future Republican candidates share the burden of not using the existence of a hate-filled lunatic fringe on the other side as an excuse to avoid reasonable accountability.
McCain lost Iowa by 54%-45%, which is a great deal better than things looked when I went to bed last night. It was certainly better than I expected. While it was a close call, the people of Minnesota have apparently avoided the embarassment of sending professional bile-spewer Al Franken to the U.S. Senate. A five-seat loss in the Senate and a twenty-seat loss in the House is a far better outcome than I thought we Republicans would experience, and the danger of an Obama presidency being augmented by a Democratic steamroller in Congress was averted.
Good people went down to defeat last night. Liddy Dole in particular comes to mind. But while Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was reputed to be in serious danger, he survived.
Looking to the future, there can be no doubt that four years of an Obama presidency will make both fundraising and everything that flows from it much easier for the GOP. There is real hope of a motivated attempt to recapture the dominance of the "ground game" and of the Web we enjoyed in 2004, and lost so disasterously this time out.
The Obama "smear control" page- a misnomer, since it engaged in as much mud-slinging as it defended against, and really was more of a "spin-control" effort than anything else- was a shrewd concept, which our side ought to emulate next time out.
I do not see Sarah Palin as a viable candidate in 2012, not that she won't be quite formidable in the primaries. True, the Obama-besotted media had their hatchets out for Gov. Palin. But she utterly failed to demonstrate the kind of comfort with national and expecially foreign policy issues a candidate for national office needs. I do not rule out the possibility that, perhaps after a term or two in the Senate, Palin might be a formidable candidate indeed. But she needs time and experience- and above all to wipe out the impression of cluelessness she often gave this time around.
Neither, I think, can there be any question of any of John McCain's defeated rivals for this year's nomination being viable options in 2012. Mitt Romney, whose serial violation of Ronald Reagan's "Eleventh Commandment" this time out not only made him the Republican candidate most disliked by supporters of other Republicans, but crippled any ambitions he might have for 2012, would stand no chance against Mr. Obama in November even in the unlikely event he managed to get the nomination. Mike Huckabee, whose understanding of the proper relationship between church and state (or, in Lutheran terms, between God's kingdom of the Right Hand and His kingdom of the Left) needs serious work he's not likely to be assigned in the theological circles in which he travels, shares Palin's need for national experience- perhaps in the Senate. Huckabee's future, like Palin's, is bright. But as is the case with Palin, 2012 just isn't his year.
Fred Thompson- my first choice this time around, and other than Colin Powell the public figure who disappointed me most this cycle- probably isn't going to develop that necessary fire in his belly with the passage of another four years. Nor do I expect him to evolve a clear sense of the moral difference between not pursuing heroic treatment or even pulling the plug on a dying patient (thus allowing nature to take its course) on one hand, and intervening to actually cause a non-dying patient's death by starving and dehydrating her on the other. As I once told him to his face, I do not question Fred Thompson's committment to the sanctity of human life. But I do question the degree to which he's thought the issue of passive euthanasia through.
Perhaps I'm overlooking somebody (maybe even somebody obvious), but as I look to the Republicans in Congress, I don't see any promising new presidential timber. But I do see one example in the ranks of our nation's governors. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has the intellect and charisma of a Barack Obama, and the pragmatism of a Bill Clinton. He is the phenominally popular governor of a state brutally mismanaged by his Democratic predecessor. An effective executive, he has four years in which to develop the kind of comprehensive and detailed understanding of national and international issues which Sarah Palin lacked this time around, and of which Barack Obama at least managed- most of the time- to create the impression of having. True, Jindal will have to contend with an openly partisan media, as will any Republican. But as of now, he's my choice for 2012. While I continue to believe that 2008 (like 1976 and 1988) was a "poison pill" election in which the insolubility of the nation's problems probably dooms the winning candidate's chances at re-election in any event, Jindal is the only candidate I can see on the horizon who can go toe-to-toe with Obama on a personal level.
Finally, one last thing. This blog had its earliest origins as a partisan advocate of the election of George W. Bush in 2000. It reached perhaps the height of its influence (and certainly of its capacity for being fun) in the 2004 campaign. I do not regret my support of President Bush either in 2000 or in 2004, given the options. But at the risk of kicking the guy when he's down, there's something I need to say at this point, especially because I've been so willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and to steadfastly support him even when, in retrospect, he was in the wrong.
George W. Bush was a lousy president. To say that he was the worst we've ever had, as the Democratic catechism insists, is stretching it; we've had some pretty bad ones, after all. And I still do not buy the cynical, malicious notion that he knew that Saddam Hussein did not have new weapons of mass destruction at the time of our invasion of Iraq- not that, in the last analysis, that's really all that important; nobody who knows what he or she is talking about doubts for a moment that Saddam had both the capacity and the intention of re-assembling his stockpile once the international pressure was off. And to the considerable degree that the threat of an American invasion increased that pressure, President Bush himself even deserves credit for forcing Saddam to get rid of them.
But we should not have invaded Iraq. In retrospect, I'm angry at myself for not having seen that the trap his father avoided- with good reason, amply set forth for Dubyah and for us all in by those in Poppy's administration who had made the deliberate decision not to take Saddam down in 1991. It was a trap which Dubyah stumbled into with six-guns blazing and his testosterone levels too high for his own good- or ours. I should have known better. So should he.
It was Colin Powell, his secretary of state, who- in warning him of the responsibilities he would incur by toppling Saddam- first said, "If you break it, you own it." Ironically, the very first entry in this blog after I moved it to Blogger from Blog Studio cited that quotation, as I recall, misattributing it to Nancy Pelosi and wondering what she meant by it.
Powell was right- and it's because he was right that I do not apologize for my continuing support of the war to date, despite my acknowledgement that we should not have begun it. Once we toppled Saddam, we assumed a moral duty to give the Iraqis at least a fighting chance to replace him with a stable government and avoid becoming the Darfur of the Middle East. In fact, the thing that disappoints me most about Sec. Powell's decision to endorse Barack Obama was his willingness to risk pulling the rug out from under our fulfillment of that commitment (to say nothing of the troops in Iraq) by supporting a man whose entire candidacy had been built around a promise to cop out on that commitment, and whose present commitment to it remains ambivalent, to say the least.
But I digress. It was not, finally, Barack Obama himself who is responsible for yesterday's result. Nor is it the media who loves him so much, or his formidable advantage in fund-raising, nor his juggernaut of a "ground game."
George W. Bush lost yesterday's election by a record of uncanny incompetence in no way ameliorated by the irresponsibility and the personal inadequacies of the alternatives. If I had the 2000 and 2004 elections to do over again, I would still vote for Dubyah. But I would also work my tail off for John McCain in 2000, and- like a lot of us- make as much noise as I could about the self-defeating character of our invasion of Iraq when it still might have done some good.
One point of comfort is that the Bush era is over not only for the nation, but for the party. He is one albatross Republicans will no longer have around our necks. For better or for worse, Barack Obama will be the issue from here on out; Dubyah is ancient history. Of course, the Democrats will continue to run against him for years, just as the Republicans ran against Jimmy Carter. But it will be Barack Obama's record, and not George W. Bush's, that will matter in 2010 and beyond.
We as a nation will doubtless return to the pattern of partnership and international cooperation that prevailed under the first President Bush, and has been the pattern American presidents have customarily followed since World War II. And who knows? Perhaps the Obama administration's accomplishments may include the use of its influence with the international community (and the United Nations in particular) to transform it from the gaggle of ineffectual hand-ringers that allowed genocide in Rwarnda and Darfur and Kosovo (lest we forget, it was an American-led intervention every bit as "unilateral" and "illegal" as the invasion of Iraq that ended that tragedy), and which allowed Saddam Hussein to thumb his nose at the international community for more than a decade, at one point actually throwing UN inspectors out of the country, into something capable of actually acting once in a while in furtherance of the objectives to which it gives such eloquent and hypocritical lip-service.
In this, as in so much at the onset of the Obama presidency, we can only hope.
ADDENDUM, written in the wake of Obama's re-election four years later: Perhaps it's CNN is wrong about so much that I failed to catch this back in 2008, but the caption on the video of Obama's victory statement is mislabled as his "inaugural sppech." Hard to see how a national news agency could make a mistake like that.
Oh, wait. It's CNN!