Lost in the hubbub about last night’s historic win for Barack Obama is the fact that
First, 2008 will hopefully be looked at as the election that broke the back of the religious right.
Few people realize this, but religious fundamentalism as a political force in
Everyone (hopefully) knows about the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” election of 1948. What they tend not to realize is that Truman was a weak candidate, the Republicans really thought Dewey would win, and, the Eisenhower years notwithstanding, that election signaled the beginning of the Republican Party’s capitulation to radical religious influence. Nixon didn’t help, especially as religious operators like Chuck Colson, Pat Robertson, Tim LaHaye, and Jerry Falwell rose to national prominence. More importantly, the Republican Party developed the “Southern Strategy,” which carried Reagan, H.W. Bush, and Bush the Younger in to office on calls for a religious, socially conservative
The only time from Nixon until now that the Southern Strategy didn’t work was with Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign. Both were able to split (or take) the south, probably because they had at least their home states to fall back on.
Second, the election of 2008 will finally be the night the ‘60s died.
We have a long and not particularly useful history in the
We have now heard about a million times that John McCain was a Prisoner of War as if this was all we needed to know. It was the story told over and over and over and over again during the primaries and the general election. We should not diminish his service to this country, but that service does not entitle him to become President. We have too long fought the War in
But the truly weird thing is this:
Barack Obama was too young to be attacked for anything he did in the Vietnam War, but he was still attacked over things that happened before he hit puberty. It’s why we heard so much about Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright. It’s why the Communist wolf-criers did everything short of exhume the corpse of Joseph McCarthy (and by everything short, I mean that pretty literally. I don’t think there was any coincidence in the timing of the various books and programs placing McCarthy as a tragically misunderstood American hero over the last year. This isn’t tinfoil hat conspiracy stuff, either. Obama’s coming out as a major player was 2004 and everyone was speculating on a 2008 Presidential run almost before Kerry lost. The McCarthy stuff I’m thinking of came out last winter at the same time as the run-up to Super Tuesday. And from beginning to end the first salvo launched against Barack Obama involved the word socialism).
The socialism cry was an attempt to extend the Cold War. Ayers and Wright were an extension of the counter to the Civil Rights Movement and the idea of the scary black man that’s so pervasive in much interracial rhetoric. Wright himself seemed to have a harder time than most moving out of the ‘60s, but even his most inflammatory rhetoric was taken out of context. Ayers has become a respected educator and community organizer. Obama’s calls for “socialism,” meanwhile, seem to be a return to the top tax bracket under noted Communist Bill Clinton (actually, I shouldn’t joke. I still know of plenty of people who think Clinton was a Commie and the Antichrist) and a wider distribution of health care coverage that falls far, far short of a universalized, government run health care system.
It’s important to note that the hyperventilation from the right about the dastardly deeds of Wright and Ayers was met with yawns. Every time Palin or McCain said something about them it was met with blank stares or derisive laughter from most of the country.
Third, the election of 2008 will mark a sea change in the understanding of American populism.
We have an image of populism in
This is the image of populism the Republican campaign attempted to use all throughout the race. It was in McCain’s, “My friends,” Sarah Palin’s, “You betchas,” and all the Joe the Plumbers, Tito the Builders, and hockey moms we’ve been forced to endure. It was the plain-spoken, just folks regular guys sneering at the elitist, pointy-headed, big city liberals.
In 2008, though, we may well have been looking at a brand new populism. It wasn’t the American self-image of the noble farmer any longer. It’s undeniable, however, that 80,000 gathered at Mile High Stadium on the final night of the DNC was absolutely nothing but populism. The quarter million gathered in Grant Park last night was the (so far) high point of the new American populism.
The Obama campaign caught fire at colleges and spread across Facebook and Myspace before exploding out in to Grant Park. This is the new American populism, the dissatisfied Gen X- and Gen Yers who finally felt the strength to cry out as one, “Yes We Can!”
Fourth, the 2008 election will be seen as the death knell of Reaganomics.
Barack Obama is not the old “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” story of American rags to riches success. We’ve always had that story, and dragging behind it is always the baggage of the idea that asking for help is somehow un-American. Reagan dominated the American financial thought space for 28 years with “trickle-down” economics and stories of undeserving welfare cases who rode home at night in Cadillacs.
Obama filled the promise of
It’s somehow un-American to spend $20,000 in taxpayer money to send a poor black man to college. Yet it’s somehow very American to spend millions of dollars to incarcerate that same black man when his lack of education translates in to lack of opportunity, lack of employment, and a life on the wrong side of the law. It’s somehow un-American to teach a poor girl about contraceptives or allow her to terminate an unexpected, unaffordable pregnancy. Yet it’s somehow very American to call that same poor girl a welfare queen and only begrudgingly offer her a few dollars a week to feed a child who will end up in that same cycle of poverty and insult.
Fifth, the 2008 election will set the scene for the next American Civil Rights movement.
It looks like
Fifty years from now we might be looking back on this election the same way we stand now and look back at the
And that’s the great thing about Civil Rights. For all of the play that “I have a dream” gets, there’s as much, if not more, power in the image of George Wallace standing on the schoolhouse steps, of hoses and dogs turned on protesters.
Now, to borrow a thought from John Scalzi, we have the enduring image of 18,000 marriages ended in a stroke. It’s an outrage, a focal point. It’s a setback that will hopefully move the machinery of progress and human equality forward.
But for the moment we have something we have not possessed since the tanks rumbled in to
Yet hope is not something to be taken for granted. It is, to borrow from Vaclav Havel, that thing with wings, that thing in diapers. It is fragile and fleeting, yet resilient.
John McCain probably would not have been a bad President (although Sarah Palin would be horrible). The thing that no one on the Republican side seemed to be willing to acknowledge, though, is that this is not the time for mediocrity, not the time for complacent ponderances of
Who knows? The nattering nabobs of negativity may yet be right. Obama might not be prepared for the job, he might be a socialist whack job, he might be a scary black man.
I think he’ll prove the critics wrong. He won’t be the Second Coming, but that’s far from a hindrance. We don’t need Jesus. We need hope. More than that we need the power and mandate to change.
So in 76 days we’ll start to see if our hope is borne out.
But until then, and for all the years after, let’s remember the cautionary words of Thomas Jefferson: the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
We need great men, great women, great people, to take the reigns of the nation and guide it through the tough times. But we need to remember, too, that its our job to watch the great ones, to be ever vigilant, and to remind them gently that the highest praise for those upon whom greatness is thrust is that they knew when to hand the power back.