What follows is 1100 words on what the future holds for Obama voters, what echoes of the past I see in last night’s vote, the problem with statistics, how little some things change, and how my term “Obamagasm” is taking on new meanings. . .
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Let’s all agree on one thing: a win is a win. In the end, all that counts is who wins, according to the rules of the game. And the electoral college is the important thing here. So Obama, not surprisingly, won last night by a wide electoral vote margin.
There’s something that baffles me, though. This vote was not the mandate many thought it was going to be. At least, it isn’t if you look at the situation for a couple of minutes. For the last few months, coverage of Obama has been something insane like 90% positive. He started a movement that’s swept the nation and inspired Christ-like metaphors. He’s the savior of our great land. All the polls going into the last day showed him winning in a landslide. Voting for McCain was pointless. Obama would take all the swing states, some of the old guard Republican states, and hold all the traditionally Democratic states. He was unbeatable.
But can we look at the results for a second? Roughly 120 million people voted. Only about seven million more voted for Obama than McCain. Hardly a landslide of popular support. And, it would appear, Obama got only one million more votes than John Kerry did four years ago. Was Kerry more popular than we thought? Or is The Cult of Personality surrounding Obama just a tad bit overblown? Did McCain just suck that badly as a candidate?
How did that happen? How can a man who is a “transcendent” political figure barely outpoll a man who was labeled “George W. Bush’s third term” — the least popular president of all time? Oprah can discuss the wonder of “The Color Purple States,” but it still looks pretty divided down the middle to me. And the fact that Obama’s campaign had to be so massive to bring out the numbers to defeat McCain shows you that this really is a Center-Right country.
How is it that Obama didn’t win more electoral votes than Clinton did in 1996? (He came one shy, though he was 8 higher than Clinton’s 1992 campaign.) (Update: I didn’t realize that two states have yet to be declared. Obama could easily beat Clinton by 15 or more electoral college delegates before this is all over.)
How is it that The Great Liberal Hope could take California but not get Prop 8 voted down? Is there any more popular cause amongst the left — not just in California, but across the country — than the defeat of the anti-gay marriage proposition? It’s a proposition that had bloggers banning ads from their sites, and writing long impassioned pleas about civil rights and equality for all, etc. etc. on blogs that have nothing to do with politics, GLBT issues, or anything related. But Prop 8 still passed. So, too, did anti-gay marriage bills in two other states. And that includes — according to not-necessarily-reliable Exit Polls — a 70% vote FOR Prop 8 by African American voters in California.
But, then, remember Biden’s answer to the question of gay marriage in the vice presidential debate? There was no difference between he and Palin, in the end. But, still, that has to tick off those who see the Obama campaign as the faultless white knight.
Does this indicate that Obama’s support crosses party lines enough that his supporters are bound to be disappointed by him as he enacts his vision? This is the dangerous ground Obama walks right now. He’s going to tick off a different part of his constituency with just about every move he makes. That ought to be a tricky minefield to navigate.
How did 19% of Clinton supporters come to vote for McCain? Not that I trust Exit Polls all that much, but I saw that figure reported on CNN last night. How did Obama not get 100% of Clinton’s fans?
Here’s the part that amuses me the most. I’ve followed politics — not just presidential politics, but all the inbetween years, too — for 20 years. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s not much new going on out there. Obama ran Clinton’s 1992 campaign (“hope” and “change” ad infinitum) while McCain ran Dole’s 1996 (he’s due to run, he’s questioned on his age, he runs a bad campaign.)
But the thing I’ve heard in the previous couple of election cycles has always been how THIS election is the one in which the next generation takes control of politics. The 20-something politically active types are going to be the ones to tilt the election one way or the other. And in 2000 and 2004, we saw those voters crying on camera about how disillusioned they were that their vote doesn’t count, because not nearly enough of them bothered to show up.
It looks to me that the Obama campaign rallied those troops successfully, often using strategies and techniques honed by Karl Rove in previous campaigns. (Oh, irony.) Congratulations, Next Generation. You have the power now! And you’re about to learn what an awful and pragmatic place Washington really is. You’re about to learn disappointment and disillusionment. In the next couple of years, you’ll be disappointed by things that you don’t have direct control over. Heck, it’s started already with Prop 8.
Obama’s next great trick will be in bringing those voters back in four years, and not ticking off the rest of the voters so much that they rise up against his policies in two years, a la 1994. If Obama pushes his left wing agenda too hard in the first couple of years (and make no mistake, he’s liberal), he’ll run the risk of losing some of that majority he so badly needs in the Congress right now.
We’re about to see the political education of a generation. Welcome to the roller coaster, Millennials. You’ll soon be as jaded and as cynical as the rest of us. Clever catch phrases, nice typography and design, Hollywood bandwagons, feel good plans, and smooth speeches will soon be trumped by the cold hard slap of reality. Even if Obama turns out to be this wonderfully inclusive cross-platform political wunderkind, the two houses of Congress aren’t so bi-partisan.
The real test now comes in the transition, as Obama begins to name his Cabinet and transition leaders. Will we see more of the same old Washington left-wing political hacks filling those positions? Or will we see new and more moderate blood? Why aren’t those who said Bush needed to put a Democrat on his Cabinet in 2000 AND 2004 demanding a Republican on Obama’s? Because “bi-partisan” is a word heard in elections and not in actual governance. It’s the first thing to go in any administration.
Post Script: I thought I was being all witty and clever when I coined the term “Obamagasm” to describe the euphoric reaction the new President-Elect gets from his followers, the media, etc. Now, there’s a story about “Obama Babies.” There are those expecting a flood of baby births in nine months. All of a sudden, “Obamagasm” is more literal than I thought.
Post-Script 2: Has anyone declared their candidacy for 2012 yet? Or do we wait for February for that?
Post-Script 3: Exit polls this year indicate that the overall voting populace made more money this year than they did four years ago. Don’t expect to see the mainstream media report that one.