The ballots are still being tallied but the electorate has spoken: Barack Obama will become the 44th U.S. President January 20, 2009.
As the GOP licks its wounds, what will they point to in hindsight to indicate why they lost the November 2008 presidential election? Sen. John McCain is a decorated war veteran, experienced leader and moderate Republican known for crossing partisan lines when the maverick in him deems fit. By comparison, President-elect Barack Obama is a political rookie and little-known senator from Chicago whose claim to fame is an eloquence and charisma unmatched since President John F. Kennedy captured the public imagination and the Oval Office.
Republicans, it would appear, have lost credibility to the growing deficit, an economy during which middle class wages have declined, a controversial war effort that failed to locate WMDs and has seemingly allowed 911-orchestrator Osama bin Laden to escape yet another presidential administration intact, a naive push toward market deregulation and the ensuing economic turmoil, trade imbalances that have steadily eroded American competitiveness, a lax attitude toward illegal immigration, and an unprecedented rationalization of Fourth Amendment-defying surveillance technologies that have placed law-abiding Americans in Big Brother’s crosshairs.
Republicans have became well versed at naming what Americans shouldn’t be doing, not so good at moving the nation toward what we should: reigning in deficit-inducing bureaucracy, creating jobs, reducing tax burdens, providing leadership in the face of the skyrocketing cost of healthcare and higher education, repairing Medicare and Social Security, and leading us toward innovation and energy independence befitting of the 21st Century. This is the type of change Americans want, and for better or for worse this is the change Barack Obama symbolizes.
Few of the national ills that have overtaken us in recent decades sound particularly Republican in origin. Republicans, after all, believe in small government, job creation, fiscal responsibility and the restraint of the Nanny state. But that is not what conservatives in power have delivered. Nor is this merely a fluke of the past eight years. Although neoconservative evolution predates the venerated President Reagan who enjoyed high voter approval ratings even as he defied the Republican mantra on lower taxes and reduced deficits, the evidence for just how far Republicans have strayed from their core values was perhaps never so blatantly apparent as when Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul was made into a laughingstock for championing classical conservative principles that hardly would have seemed out of place a generation ago.
Now that we have identified the problems, what are the solutions?
The obvious solution? The Republican party must practice what it preaches or prepare to lose elections. The not-so-obvious solution is for Americans to admit that they have become swept up by the instigators of division, suspicion and hatred, pundits who do not profit when we perceive common ground. Joe the Plumber may fear government intrusion, but the truth is he’s already subject to government systems with the capacity to intercept every email and telephone conversation, and a 2009 mandate to carry a national ID card containing an RFID chip to enable scanners to track his every move. Is this the America we knew and loved — the liberties our soldiers are fighting for? Joe the Plumber may fear increased taxation, but the truth is the U.S. government is headed for financial collapse according to our nation’s former top accountant, David Walker. An insolvent government will tax its citizens into the poor house, irrespective of party! Joe the Plumber may fault social safety nets such as welfare, but the spending on these programs can barely hold a candle to the corporate welfare lobbyists acquire for their Wall Street masters each and every year. If there were any doubt, it has been erased by the $700 billion bailout, taxpayer money that is already being diverted to pay irresponsible bankers multi-million dollar bonuses! Joe the Plumber may fear socialized healthcare, but disagreeing on the means to solve a problem is no justification for walking away from an issue that may cause he or his loved ones personal and financial hardship in the decades to come.
Do you notice a common denominator? Fear. Fear is the paralysis that bars all further discussion. It closes minds and stalls solutions. Fear is the antithesis of progress, the end of rationality. There is more than one way to solve a problem, and contrary to the Chicken Little’s of the world it doesn’t mean we are doomed to become “fascist” or “socialist”. We elect our representatives to give a little and to take a little — the separation of powers our system of government embodies, after all. Ours is an unspoken social contract that American ideals, while imperfectly reflected by either party, will come out ahead.
The reckless notion that reaching across the isle is a weakness is arguably the most damning trend Americans have inflicted upon one another during the Internet era. We do not give up our values because we roll up our sleeves and agree to speak with people with whom we do not always see eye-to-eye; we give up our values when we presume only the worst in everyone and everything. Fanaticism has its place in sports arenas. It has no place between fellow Americans. Career politicians graciously accept their wins and losses because they understand that the sky will not fall and the country will go on. Sen. McCain’s supporters who so uncouthly booed during his concession speech proved, by contrast, that too many Americans have completely lost sight of the reality that consummate politicians know all too well: Politics isn’t personal. And while media personalities on the far Left and Right would have us think otherwise, the Founders have not granted the Office of the President the unchecked powers of a monarch. All is not lost when one’s party of choice suffers a loss.
Our biggest and most pressing problem, contrary to popular notion, is not them, it is us. As a nation we have become insecure, radicalized, misdirected, propagandized and disenchanted by talk radio and Internet commentary sources, among others. It is one thing for radio, television and newspaper commentators to advocate party loyalty, quite another to willfully propagate paranoia. Paranoia does not become our intellects, flatter our educational system, exercise our critical thinking skills, encourage civility or inspire progress. No matter how dire things seem or threaten to become, cooler heads must prevail. If the election of Barack Obama proves anything, it is that Americans are tired of do-nothing politicians and their polemic supporters. The change Americans thirst for most is a return to sanity.
It’s time to put the past behind us and give the future a chance.
One thought on “Election 2008: Looking Back, Moving Forward”
Great piece – I especially enjoyed your emphasis on fear and fanaticism as major hurtles to moving forward.