Barack Obama prevailed over an unworthy opponent. If you’ve followed these posts, you know I never had any doubt about the outcome this time or, for that matter, four years ago. Still it was a great relief to see the Electoral College tally cross the 270 threshold and to know we dodged a potentially lethal bullet. Yes, I called Mr. Romney unworthy but, hey, that’s an indulgence afforded a blogger. You aren’t running for anything and consequently don’t have to be disingenuously magnanimous. Mitt Romney assuredly has some deep felt personal values, or one would hope that to be the case, but his campaigns — primary and general election — bespoke nothing more than opportunism. From his all-to-easily changed and contradicting positions on issues to the astounding and mystifying late day lie about outsourcing Jeep manufacture to China, he showed himself to be less than honorable. It’s revealing that the only two moments that rang absolutely true were Eric Fehrnstrom’s etch a sketch comment and Romney’s own 47% tirade. The first confirmed who he has shown himself to be and the second how he feels about the rest of us.
Obama was subjected to ugly (excuse the pun) Trumped-up Birther talk along with a succession of not so subtle innuendos, all aimed at painting him as “the other”. Ironically, that description actually fits Romney much more and may have cost him race more than anything else. Romney and people like him live in a different universe than the average American. Few of us, even the well off, have as many houses, much less garages to lift our cars to higher ground. Almost none of us have offshore bank accounts. When the candidate looked straight into the camera during the second debate and told the middle class that they would benefit from the elimination of capital gains taxes and interest income, or told young people to look toward their parents to borrow tuition money, he reminded us how clueless he really is about how ordinary people, even those with reasonably good incomes, live. For sure, the former governor got a huge number of votes, but one can’t help but wonder how many of them were cast against Obama rather than for him. He will now go into the sunset. Not to worry, Mitt will continue to be and do very well.
The President won decisively in the Electoral College, but the much closer popular vote reminds us that this still a nation deeply divided. That’s been the story in most of our recent presidential votes. Obama can boast many legislative and other accomplishments, but uniting the country is not one of them. Perhaps that was asking too much, but it certainly is part of why some of both his supporters and adversaries felt disappointed. Of course, those who read too much into that disappointment among Democrats relative to his reelection prospects were wrong. That said, we dare not sugarcoat the division or his inability to bridge it.
In the final days of the campaign, the President incorporated a new phrase into his stump speech: “you know me”. He was contrasting himself from Mr. Romney of course, but I think there was a more momentous message here, one we should keep in mind as he moves into a second term. That we know him gives Obama an advantage he lacked in January of 2009. When he took his oath then the new president was burdened by a euphoric myth, one that gave us outsized expectations. To be sure he helped construct thate myth though he did caution us about a tough road ahead repeatedly saying change “won’t be easy”. It was the Obama that we conjured up in our own needy minds, not the flesh and blood man he was, that resulted in those great expectations. Again, as suggested in others posts, I don’t think he ever hid his intentions. We just failed to listen. After eight dreary and frustrating years of Bush, we wanted a kind of magic that in reality is far beyond the reach of any mortal president, past, present or future. When the President raises his hand this coming January there will undoubtedly be smaller crowds on the mall, but he will be a man we know and expectations will definitely be more realistic. That should be both to his and to our advantage.
The Democrats have retained control of the Senate. Don’t underestimate the importance of that victory. It is the Senate that confirms presidential appointments, most importantly members of the Supreme Court. So, taking the long view, retaining the White House and Senate is probably of more consequential than anything else that happened yesterday. George Bush was a non-person in this campaign season, much as he has been for the last four years. Nonetheless, we will be feeling his Court legacy for decades to come. Indeed, the obscene amount of money poured into yesterday’s vote and the fact that Roe is even remotely under threat can be attributed to his appointments. Obama may have the opportunity to shape the Court for the future and, in doing so, our future as well. At the very least, he will be able to stem the conservative tide.
If Barack Obama was dealt an almost impossible hand four years ago, the challenges that lie ahead are no less daunting. The systemic problems that make it so difficult to put any meaningful dent in unemployment still stand and with them the chances for a robust recovery any time soon. The deficit looms large, even if portrayed as a larger near term problem than it is. Some austerity is inevitable and may drive us back into recession. Those dedicated to seeing the President fail are still very much in place and it’s hard to see an easy path toward even a modest bargain, much less the grand one that’s needed. So last night was a time to celebrate, but the Champaign glasses may not see much use in the immediate days to come.
I call them Transcenders. To brand them nonbelievers is to assume religion and its particular belief system the human default. Worse it suggests that those who have left religion behind lack beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth. For more read my book.