Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Don't disappoint Obama

What a wonderful night! I'm still recovering really but thought I'd better get my final election post done and dusted. It may well be slightly unstructured because I want to move on to other things blogwise, but there are still a few bits and bobs that I really want to say and I thought I'd pack them all into one super post.

The Presidential result is historic. Even at the beginning of this year who would have thought we'd see the highest electoral turnout since 1908? Although Bill Clinton received a higher level of electoral college votes in '92 and '96 (with Perot carving off a big slice of the Republican vote) the Democrats received their highest proportion of the popular vote at this election since 1964.

I mean this doesn't fit the media message that people are becoming less engaged with electoral politics. It's almost as if when people stay away from the polls it's because they are uninspired, and the reverse is true if it feels like they make a difference. If you have identical grey choices less people will feel politically motivated - but if you have an inspiring message, then something can happen.

What if it had been Clinton?

I've been thinking about what would have happened if Hillary Clinton been the Democratic candidate, but the election would have been so different it's just impossible to tell. No historical grass roots mobilisations, no plausible message of change, a completely different approach to Iraq, no Sarah Palin gosh darn it, quite different lines of attack from the McCain camp, a dirtier Democrat campaign (to substitute for lack of new political direction), and would he have laid out as bold a political prgram - well it seems unlikely.

I believe she might have have been able to win, I think the time was right for the Democrats, which would have created twenty plus years of US rule by just two families Bush Snr x1, Bill Clinton x2, Bush Jnr x2, then back to the Clintons. Shudder. In fact this was the first election since 1952 when neither a serving President nor Vice President had been on the ticket (and the first time in history that both main contenders were serving senators) instead we had a maverick and a new kid on the block.

Hillary's arguments about how Obama "couldn't win" have rumbled through the whole campaign and turned out to be, well, rather stupid in hindsight. Not that I ever believed them, but you still had people banging the bullshit out on election day itself.

He'd be too divisive? Yet the Clintons have allowed their bitterness at defeat to create a sour taste for the Democrats in way that it's extremely unlikely that Obama would have allowed. Add to this that the defining feature of the Republican campaign has been personalised and polarising attacks Obama has become a figure of unity, healing and coming together - far from the divisive figure he was made out to be.

Would Hillary have won as many endorsements from the highest level of the Republican Party? Would she have won the enthusiastic support of the left? No, no one could pull that trick off surely - except of course they just did.

Women would desert him, we were told, because they were too disgusted by Clinton's defeat, well, it turns out women don't just want someone in the Presidential office who can wear a fancy dress, they actually think when they cast their vote - who would have believed it? 56% of women voted Obama in the end, which I guess means that that was pretty much a fallacy that took women for a bunch of knuckleheads who'd just vote for any woman - in much the same way that some Republicans have been touting the rubbish that black people voted for Obama just because he's black. Well they can try it next time and see how far it gets them.

Also we were constantly being told that white workers wouldn't vote for him - as if somehow white workers are more important than black workers - at least in the voting booth we're all equal. Whilst I've never been certain about the subtext to that, as I suspect it was partly geek style wonkery, it was certainly taken as coded racism in some quarters - that Obama was too black for a white electorate. Turns out he wasn't.

Despite his inexperience, a key plank of the Clinton/McCain argument, at least until Palin came along, Obama's judgement has proved to be exceptional and well above and beyond both of his more seasoned opponents. This was shown in two key places. Firstly, alone of all the major campaign teams he has retained the same personnel from the very beginning. McCain and Clinton had fractious, over paid, overly cynical ego-staff on their campaign teams and so at least they developed a theme of change among their people never settling on one core set - Obama had absolute continuity.

Secondly there was the economic crisis. McCain tried to call off the debates and started rushing about like a headless chicken. Obama told him to pull himself together and get back on the campaign bus - which he meekly did. Isn't it the newby that's meant to make idiotic and impetuous errors like that? Turns out experience without judgement ain't that great.

What about the other elections?

I was disappointed at how little time the election coverage I saw gave to the other elections and referenda. In both the House of Representatives and in the Senate there have been important, if modest, advances. The House of Reps is now 252/173 Democrat (that's 17 up) and there have been, I think, six gains in the Senate.

Whilst the Senate figures have improved with a tight gap between Dems and Reps becoming something more comfortable for the Dems, Al Franken is still unaware of whether he is a Senator in Minnesota yet, which would be excellent. When I was quickly checking the result I noticed that, unusually, there was a well polling independent in the race gaining 15% of the race, making the tiny gap between the big two more interesting to geeks like me.

Independent candidate Dean Barkley seems like a really interesting chap and from the looks of it mainly appeals to those of a progressive bent. My favourite quotes from his website... "I got into politics 16 years ago because I was mad" and "I don't need two guys from New York to tell me why the middle class is angry" although the bit on his TV ad where he pushes over a small pillar and storms away is a classic frankly.

All credit to him on a substantial vote, the best any independent received for a post in the Senate. I think that credit is particularly well earned when you glance through his manifesto and see that there are polices like open the border between the US and Mexico, a shared position with Obama on war where he's for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq and reinforcing Afghanistan, he's also for lowering the age limit on buying alcohol to 18. Nice.

Another independent candidate, this time for Governor of Vermont, Anthony Pollina, may not have won but he did beat the Dems into second place, with both on 21% of the vote, making him the only candidate outside of the main two parties to break that deadlock. His policies seem pretty progressive too (jobs, renewable energy, spits on big wall street banks) and he has impressive union backing as well as local legend Bill "Spaceman" Lee, man I'd kill to be endorsed by someone with "Spaceman" as a nickname. Pollina has an interesting radio ad you might like to listen to. I liked the phrase "please vote and bring a friend"!

The other great bit of news was Republican Senator Liddy Dole who was given the boot as a reward for a set of crass attacks on her Democrat opponent for being "godless". Far from being the pitchfork waving boobs she took them for, Dole's main demographic, in what had been strong Bush territory, took this as a sign that she needed to get some rest and elected the other candidate. Good work North Carolina.

What happens now?

Well, The Onion probably summed it up best with its headline Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job. Stuck in seemingly endless military conflicts, facing catastrophic climate change and all in a time of economic meltdown, it looks like there's quite a bit of work to be done. However, it's not up to him is it - and he's never claimed it is.

One of the interesting things about the whole tone that has encapsulated Obama's rise to the Presidency is the idea of social responsibility rather than individualist isolation. When McCain supporters chanted their man on election night they chanted his name. When the crowd rose up in support of Obama they shouted out "Yes we can". There's been an ideological shift there which is why when all the moaners that say that Obama is going to disappoint his supporters miss the point entirely.

Obama has never claimed he's going to do everything for everyone else and they can just sit back and do nothing. His demands are for an active movement, not passive support. The grassroots were responsible for this victory and if things don't go the right way in the future, that responsibility will be partly theirs too.

If there's no strong social justice movement or anti-war movement; If the unions don't mobilise, or if community activists don't get stuck in then, well, don't expect everything to be gravy. Obama can't make that happen, and sometimes wont even want to, but it's the one essential ingredient - and this Presidency is encouraging that social engagement. Yes it is.

Keeping the Democrat coalition together, with all its various elements and factions, will be a monumental task. The President will have pressure on him coming from all sides. If progressives aren't part of that pressure he'll inevitably be pushed to the right and backwards into the old way of doing things. If those movements can build their momentum he can be pushed further than he thought he might be going to go.

It's not a question of whether Obama let's us down, but whether we let the hopes of this election down. He's already describing the government as "of the people, by the people" - that's a tall order in a capitalist democracy - but it's an expectation that's worth fostering and striving for. Only time will tell how hard a grip the dead hand of the past has on the living but the people showed this week they are not just passive observers of events when they mobilise and that's lesson we need to take into the future.

But before we get down to work - let's dance!

p.s. congrats to Ralph Nader who managed to increase his share of the vote to 0.5%


scott redding said...

The Franken result: it should be automatic, across all 50 states, to have a recount if the result is within 1%.

The "banging the bullshit fellow" ... to be fair, he's a long term Republican (aide to mayor of San Diego, aide to Republican governor of S Carolina, Bush appointee) and not a Clinton Democrat.

What we can count on is that unanticipated things will happen over the next four to eight years.

For example, Obama may prove more of a social conservative than people expect.

- The Republicans, in their running-around-with-heads-cut-off campaign style, focused for two days on his "sex ed for 5 year olds" in Illinois. It's more interesting to look at him talking about how sexuality is sacred.

- He talks about "gay friends in the red states" but not gay rights or gay marriage, hence, he can win California and Prop 8 can also pass.

- He frames (exaggerates?) his college-age drug use as something he gave up to work out who he was. Has he said anything about "the war on drugs" and his policy towards Latin America in that regard? Columbia only came up in the debates in the contest of murders of trade unionists.

- He wants to retain, and expand, faith-based social programmes delivery.

- And, finally, it's small thing but an interesting tell, he wants the brothers to pull up their pants.

Jim Jay said...

Al Franken: yes it's a recount - it may actually be weeks (!) before we know.

I think we shouldn't discount the fact that both Obama and much of his support is religious, I agree, so although I don't think we'll see them move against gay marriage or whatever I also suspect we'll have to rely on others to push some aspects of the progressive agenda.

He's said little about latin america (and nothing about africa which was probably wise) so we'll have to see. Certainly Morales and Chavez thinks this is an opportunity to reestablishs relations with the US so let's hope there's good will on both sides.

Pants: he might be a young president but it doesn't stop him talking like an old man sometimes :)

Jim Jay said...

Update: it turns out that Obama won more actual votes than any President in history. Oooooh.

Plus: There was some discussion on Nader's Uncle Tom comment you can now view it in more context here, and you can make up your own minds on that.

There an interesting Huff Post piece on his appointments here.

James said...

Hi Jim,
We're all electoral pedants now, or at least I am. Barkley got a high score, but not the highest ever for an independent. Just look at Bernie Sanders or Joe Lieberman last time..

Jim Jay said...

James, I can see where you're coming from.

However, when I said "All credit to him on a substantial vote, the best any independent received for a post in the Senate." I was refering to this election not ever. As you say people like the excellent Bernie Saunders have received much better votes, just not in this election.

I don't know - I kind of think it's clear so I'm tempted not to edit the post to clear that up... what do you think - should I make it clearer?

Jim Jay said...

Update: Just noticed that Cindy Sheehan got a respectable 17% of the vote against Nancy Pelosi in San Fransisco.

BenSix said...

He's said little about latin america (and nothing about africa which was probably wise) so we'll have to see.

He's a supporter of the "War on Drugs", and thus the efforts of Uribe.

Some good background from Chris Floyd...

Rayyan said...

Ben, did you actually support Nader or is this another of your cunning sarcastic jabs, so witty they continue to elude me??

BenSix said...

Just call me a Nader raider...

Rayyan said...

First off, the snivelling selfish attention-seeking Nader has no respect: it is President-Elect Obama to him, not Senator. Then again, Nader has never held any public office so I would expect him to have as little knowledge of actual politics as I would Palin.

Secondly, "Obama should've visited a mosque" - this reminds me of how he essentially said Obama wasnt "being black" enough during the campaign, and was talking like a white guy. I can't imagine any mosque wanting Nader to visit them. Oh yeah, and the Uncle Tom thing.

I'm all for a good third party, but Nader is an offensive joke.

Jim Jay said...

In the next door Obama thread I linked to Nader on Fox News trying to justify his uncle tom comments - it's not a very pretty sight to be honest.

Having said that Nader has contributed to the national debate over the last few decades and, in fact, Obama's first organising job was in a Nader outlet in Harlem promoting recycling so I'm not prepared to describe him as a joke.

However, it's clear that the third party candidacies this time round were not well thought out and did little to shift either of the main candidates nor did they promote campaigns lower down the scale.

ModernityBlog said...

Nader's comments were offensive and stupid, his inability to say "sorry" just shows what a shabby character he's turned into

I supported Nader's efforts years back, but I wouldn't touch him with a barge pole now

Nader lacks introspection, the ability to take valid criticism, and so much more

shame really but ego and power do that to the best people.