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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Well done, and congratulations!

I didn't vote for him, and I didn't support him, but Obama won, fair and square. There will be plenty of time for analysis and commentary later, but for tonight Obama and his supporters deserve all the spotlights and celebrations.

And, in the months ahead, Obama will deserve the support of all the American people. Not our placid submission, which I will not give him or any politician, but our respect, which I will give. Our loyalty, after all, is to the Constitution and the people of the United States, not to any particular leader.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Election 2008

So, here we are, finally, on Election Eve. In less than 24 hours we'll likely know who won the election, and I think all of us -- black and white, left and right -- can all join together as Americans in one common, universal feeling:

Thank God it's over!

Seriously, think about it: Obama and McCain have been running for President non-stop for 21 and 19 months respectively. And that's just officially, and doesn't even account for the fact that they've both essentially been running since 2004. Good grief.

Before I go any further, in the interest of full disclosure, I'll say up front that I count myself as a conservative Republican (with strong libertarian leanings) and that I'll be voting for John McCain. I offer no arguments or justifications, it's too late in the game for that, but I feel like it's important to know from the beginning what direction someone is coming from.

Despite my preference, barring the biggest political upset since Dewey "defeated" Truman, Obama will win the election and become the next President in January. And, for the most part, I'm ok with that. Not happy, but ok.

Why? Primarily because, as soon as he's sworn in, I expect Obama to focus all his attention and abilities on the goal of all first term Presidents: becoming a second term President. Make no mistake, Obama is easily the most liberal candidate nominated in decades, and I disagree with him on nearly every issue and principle of substance, but I actually think that his natural impulse may very well be to work toward concensus and compromise. I also think that won't matter a whit, but I'll get to that later.

What really worries me is that my gut instinct (and some polling) says many of Obama's supporters aren't voting for him because they agree with (or even know?) his positions, but because they desperately want to vote for change, and, for all of our lifetimes, voting for change has meant voting for the other party. Since the current President is a Republican, that means voting for a Democrat.

The problem is that in this election, that would mean voting for McCain, because he's actually closer to what most people probably think of when they say Democrat.

In a process that started in 1994, and accelerated sharply in 2000, the Democratic Party has moved much further left than most people (who probably have lives that prevent them from following politics like a neverending spectator sport) are likely to realize. They think that Obama is a Democrat in the tradition of Clinton or Kennedy, when he's actually at least as far left as FDR, and likely with ideas that are as dangerous for the times.

If you're a liberal who really earnestly believes in those ideas, that's fine, but if you're a moderate don't fool yourself into thinking that a vote for Obama is a vote for someone who is ideologically moderate. The best you can hope for is that he'll be pragmatically centrist.

Pragmatic centrism wouldn't be bad, though, and I honestly believe he genuinely means to seek compromise, if only because he will want to be reelected in 2012. There are two reasons it won't matter, though: Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. Even if he really wants to govern from the center, I have seen nothing in his temperment or experience to suggest that he will have the backbone or political chutzpah to go against his own party.

I hope he proves me wrong, but I'll be pleasantly surprised if he does.

My fear, though, is that Democrats will misread an Obama victory as a massive ideological shift to the left, just as the GOP misread the 1994 midterm election as a massive shift to the right, and will overreach accordingly. True, that would increase the likelihood of a 1994-style Republican swing in 2010, but likely at the cost of massive, possibly irreparable damage in the meantime.

This is still a slightly right-center country, though, and it's important for the Democrats to realize that probably 20% of their voters this year are likely voting against the Bush administration, and many of those voters are expecting Clintonesque centrism. I'm afraid the lesson they learned from Clintons first two years, though, isn't that they overestimated their mandate but that they didn't move hard enough left when they had the chance.

And that, ultimately, will be Obama's biggest challenge: he can't give everyone (or maybe anyone) what they expect from him. Once in office, he will have to govern to the center to have a shot at reelection, and that will alienate much of his liberal base. He will also find himself constrained by geopolitical realities. When Biden warned about decisions that may not be obviously correct, remember that he was speaking to supporters. What would be seemingly incorrect to supporters? Likely things like keeping troops in Iraq, threatening military strikes against Iran, not invading Pakistan -- basically many of the things they've hated Bush for.

Moderate, independent voters would wake up in February with a massive case of buyers' remorse when they realize they didn't elect a Clinton but a Carter.

And, of course, conservatives will disagree with him on most things on principle regardless.

That's a pretty dismal outlook for 2012, not to mention the intervening four years.

If there's one notion that we need to return to in America, I believe, it is the idea of the Loyal Opposition. Just because we disagree with the other side, that doesn't make them evil.

If Obama wins, he will be the duly-elected, fully-legitimate President of the United States, and despite our ideological differences, I intend to recognize, respect, and support him as such. I will advocate against policies and initiatives that I disagree with, but at the end of the day I will do my best to remember that we are all Americans and that we all want what's best for our nation, even if we disagree about how to achieve it. I hope my party will do the same.

I also hope that Democrats and liberals will do the same. I pray that they will finally let go of the animosity and anger that has poisoned and eaten away at them for the past 8 years. It's over, ok? Let it go, and let's all move forward. We've got too many pressing issues ahead to waste time and energy nursing old wounds.

Now, what if McCain wins?

Don't laugh, this election really does look too close to call in many respects. McCain has been moving up in the polls, and Obama obviously hasn't completely closed the deal. There is also some uncertainty about polling methodology, although I have more confidence in statistical analysis than many of my conservative brethren.

In the event that McCain wins, though, I hope that Democrats and liberals will show him the same respect I'm willing to show Obama. If you lose, it doesn't mean anything was stolen or that the winner is illegitimate.

In the final analysis, I don't expect either candidate to be as bad as his opponents expect or as good as his supporters hope. They will both be inextricably bound by external realities over which they have little control.

So let's cut them both some slack. And win or lose, starting November 4, let's all start acting like grown-up Americans again.