As tears of joy streamed down the faces of Blacks, whites and Hispanics of all ages when the world shifted with the weight of history as Americans of all walks of life, creed, religious orientation and sexual preferences defied the pundits and elected a Black man to the most powerful job in the world was and is a moment so pregnant with symbolism and power as to defy comment or commentary. And this forced repositioning and re-alignment of American and world forces is scary proposition laced with many as yet unanswered “what ifs?”
But the central crux of any argument relative to the rapid ascendency of a 47-year old Black man who was a baby during the awful days of segregation and hatred for the Black race and who will on January 20, 2009 take the oath of office that will make him the 44th president of the United States is how will he fashion a culture of progressive change in Washington and across the world. Of course, everything in politics starts with attitude and symbolism. If the truth were told the massive support that Americans gave Barack Obama is an investment in the future and perhaps a coming together of a people tired of old social divisions and the back-breaking yoke of a bygone era that nonetheless clings doggedly to the status quo of today.
The fact is that Barack Obama’s victory and the accompanying rout of the Republican Party is an object lesson and an indictment of just how America has clung to the old bugaboos of the past. It also clearly demonstrated the fact that our young people aren’t having any of this and will not be carrying old, outmoded, heavy, 19th century baggage into the exciting realm of possibilities of the 21st century. Yes, we’ve finally replaced the jukebox with the IPod.
And while Barack Obama’s naysayers, opponents and sour grapes types will find many things to bray about, his victory ends a long run of white entitlement to the body politic and the highest office in the land. It is a ringing indictment of the Republican Party that for all its touted organizational and political savviness remains trapped in a time warp of 19th century thinking. The Democratic Party has done a far better job of adjusting to the shifts in social alignments. They have embraced America’s racial and gender diversity and it has paid off in the election of America’s first ever Black president.
Obama’s victory was also an indictment on the use and value of rabid conservatism that has carried the political day for Republicans for over 25 years. As the poster boy for the GOP, badly flogged Senator John McCain stood for all the things that today are wrong with the Republican Party: old, outmoded ideas, backward sexist thinking, insensitivity to America’s changing demographics and sticking with old, tired and worn out values and systems. The party failed to recognize that this text-messaging generation has little interest in what Ronald Reagan did or did not do a quarter of a century ago.
As the Democrats gained more ground in terms of their numbers in both houses of Congress President Obama will arguably enter the White House with more influence and power than any US president before him. This will make his life far easier than, for example, President Bill Clinton who had to dance to nasty Republican music and harassment. He must not squander this goodwill as bumbling George Bush did after September 11, 2001. And too, the Democratic Party machine has to act as a facilitator rather than a fetter to his actions. In short, both the Obama Administration and the Democratic Party must be on the same page and work as a team if America is to get out of the Republican mess of the past 8 years.
For now there is unprecedented goodwill for Barack Obama but this novelty will soon wear off as America and the world settles down to the mundane day-to-day challenges of job loss, rising food prices, poverty, wars and other issues. This coming four years will not be easy and there are those who will deliberately place obstacles in his way in efforts to make him fail. But the fact of the matter is that he is also in a defining moment: how he handles and changes this world order will be the measure of if he goes down in history as one of America’s greatest presidents or simply its first Black one. One thing is certain – Barack Hussein Obama will write his own history – good, bad or indifferent.
This moment in time is also important for another reason: with new thinking comes the challenge to do things differently. Change for many people, especially the Washington Establishment, is something always construed as an act of treason. So President Obama’s first challenge will be how to sell his philosophy of change and inclusiveness to a cabal of old conservative fogeys who balk at the very sound of the word. He’s going to have to look out for the long knives and the closing of this ultra-conservative circle that can behave and act in the most backward and reactionary of ways.
But he goes to Washington with two important weapons. The first is that the old conservative machine is badly weakened, wounded, vulnerable and unpopular. Second, as the ideology of the Republican Party the rejection of the GOP at the polls suggests that it is in retreat. It will be some years before this conservative momentum will re-captivate Americans. For the GOP it was a great 30-year run and it has given them five presidents and a strangle hold on the US Congress for about 12 years in the process. The problem is that ideas that appealed to the masses 30 years ago when the personal computer was in its raw infancy do not work in today’s interconnected and hard-wired world.
Barack Obama’s victory has demoralized and plunged the Republican Party into disarray. Angered by the antics of an imperial presidency and the arrogance of the Bush-Chaney clique ordinary Americans became alienated from the Republican Party that became the face of present day American problems. A whopping 89 percent of voters believed in Barack Obama’s message of change and voted for him as opposed to 9 percent who voted for the GOP. Clearly, the Republican Party was not only alienated from the people but hideously out of touch.
The final irony is that a party that has always depended on sticking the tag of tax and spend on Democrats could not make this argument stick this time around – the public and voters just was not buying it. That is why it was unclear to me why McCain and company kept repeating it over and over again. And for all of John McCain’s talk about his war hero status and national security credentials a plurality of American voters did not believe him. That is the point: the American voter did not believe the Republican Party and the nauseatingly silly sound-bite mouthings of both McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin only helped to strengthen and confirm the GOP’s floundering disarray.
This translated into across the board support for the Democratic Party as the Republicans lost traditional “safe” states and came close to losing others that now suggests that the era of the dominance of the red states is at an end. Even the once staunch and dependable rural voting blocs are suspect today as the Obama message of change we can believe in finds new converts every day.
The old Republican Party political play book is now destined for the dump heap of history where it belongs. The attacks against Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 by Republican-funded 527 organizations like the “Swift Boat Veterans for Change” has at long last lost its effectiveness and in this campaign was all splutter and fizz and nothing else. McCain and Palin’s “throw the mud and hope some stick” barely slowed down Obama as every piece of rotting political garbage, putrid innuendo and “guilt by association” just never developed traction.
If anything these tactics backfired hitting the GOP in its face and contributed to Republican losses in some states. McCain could not lead the GOP even as its presidential candidate and many of his former colleagues simply deserted him or kept their distance as his campaign became more and more strident and shrill. As he gave his concession speech – the best of his entire campaign – I got the distinct feeling that here was a party that is now rudderless, without a leader, without a national agenda and with a shattered and dispersed base that is “all over the place.” The once great GOP machine is decisively broken.
However, broken does not mean dead. In order to decapitate the GOP Washington Machine Obama and his team must move very quickly to dismantle it. This will be essential if he is to succeed in his first term as president. The Bush-Chaney Administration survived and grew strong by its systematic and careful control of all of the agencies of government. This network of bureaucrats has to be purged because it was the support structure for Bush’s neo-conservative agenda. He must go about this task with brutal efficiency and as thorough as possible.
Then there is the near infinite number of possibilities that Obama brings with his presidency. He has already changed the national debate from World War II and Vietnam era politics to the here and now. He’s not made terrorism the be all and end all of his policy in the way that George Bush did and John McCain tried unsuccessfully to do. After effects of 9-11 wore off the American public was a little annoyed with Bush and Chaney’s unrelenting and constant terrorism argument that applied to everything from the broken kitchen sink to a people he did not like.