Monday, November 10, 2008

3 thoughts on Election Day 2008 (with photos of the Obama family watching the results)

(All these photos are from Obama's election night Flickr set.)

1. Considering that I've been supporting Obama since he announced his campaign in early 2007, I was surprised that my own reaction on the night of Election Day was muted. I had to tell myself, "You should be really excited." 

Maybe this is because I assumed he'd win, so I'd already gradually absorbed the news. 

Maybe it felt wrong to be gleeful about how America is transcending its history of prejudice on a night when California, of all states, deprived people of their right to marry who they want regardless of gender.

Maybe it's that Obama has such a facility at making you feel like you really know him personally that seeing him win was like seeing your friend become president. Sure you'd be happy for them, but you'd also be nervous about all the things that might go wrong.

Barack Obama and Michelle Obama watching election returns

Obama family - Barack, Michelle, Sasha, and Malia - watching election returns

2. Naturally, conservatives are debating what caused McCain to lose. This conversation between Jonah Goldberg and Ross Douthat -- taped a few days before Election Day under the assumption that Obama would win -- is a particularly thoughtful example.

How can they possibly figure this out? Wouldn't you need to run numerous experiments to determine what really caused the outcome? But since the circumstances of this election are unique, there's no way to perform even an approximation of a controlled experiment.

If you want the GOP to stay tethered to the right, you'll say McCain lost because of his history as a centrist maverick, which cast a shadow over any of his attempts to position himself as more traditionally conservative. If you'd like the GOP to become more moderate, you'll say he lost because he played too much to the Republican base; he should have just been his old self. You can avoid critiquing McCain in either direction by blaming it on all sorts of other factors -- the Bush administration's incompetence, the financial crisis, Obama's dastardly scheme to get young people excited about participating in democracy...

How can you choose between these theories in an intellectually honest way? Exit polls? But even those are flawed and offer only hints about how voters actually made up their minds.

People love to feel like they know why things happen. But can you really assume this when minds are involved?

Barack Obama and Michelle Obama watching election returns

3. No one again will be able to seriously doubt that America is ready for a black president -- or a female president.

Oh, people will make the same old, tired complaints. They'll say it doesn't count because he's not a "real" black person, whatever that means. And they'll play up Hillary Clinton's defeat as a crushing blow for women.

So let's remember that Obama won a decisive victory including would-be deep-red states like Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana. This happened despite massive race- and religion-based attacks on Obama that make the Willie Horton ad against Michael Dukakis in 1988 seem dignified by comparison. (I'm including not just the official McCain campaign but also outsiders' campaigning that McCain tolerated.)

Obama family watching McCain concession speech on TV

As for Hillary Clinton -- if you believe in treating women as adults who are the equals of men, then please give her enough respect to say she failed. She wasn't a passive, helpless victim. Out of the whole field of 20+ presidential candidates, who were mostly white men, she came in 2nd or 3rd overall. That's no injustice -- that's just the rough, adult world, where you try really hard and risk failure if you make too many mistakes. 

There are still groups that probably can't expect to have a fair shot at the presidency for a while -- gays, atheists, etc. But in the future, when a woman or a black person runs for president, we can fairly assume (without knowing to an absolute certainty) that the candidate himself or herself is the one who's responsible for the outcome, whether it's bad or good.

And this one's pretty good.

Happy Barack and Malia Obama hugging on election night before victory speech


rcocean said...

Actually McCain's loss had nothing to do with Conservatism. He's always despised Conservatives & they've returned the favor. (see Ann Coulter, Dobson, Rush, Glenn Beck, etc.)

Given that Bush is the most unpopular President since Nixon, McCain had only two routes to victory. Either (a) run as a Republican "anti-Bush" - which was impossible given his record and who he is, or (b) make Obama an unacceptable choice.

But McCain couldn't do that for several reasons. First, he refused to run ads on Wright or attack Obama as "Anti-American". Second, he also was unable to attack Obama on a whole host of issues since he agreed with him.
Immigration, Free Trade, the Environment, Iran, Georgia, the Bailout, etc. Third, social issues were off the table since McCain doesn't care.

And how could McCain argue that Obama was an out-of-touch Harvard elitist when he's been a DC insider for 20 years? How could he argue Obama was a dangerous "card carrying member of the ACLU" when he wanted Joe Liebermann as his VP. Or a "big spender" when he voted for all the Bush budgets?

The problem with Ford, Dole, Bush I, and McCain is they had no vision for the USA. All four were DC insiders who had no reason to be president except personal ambition and a vague desire to do good on the international stage.