Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Election 2008 Post-Mortem

When it finally ended, it ended quickly. I knew once Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia had been called that it was over for all practical intents and purposes. When the West Coast results came in shortly after their polls closed, that clinched it. When the dust settled, Barack Obama has passed the 270-vote threshold, and will become the 44th President of the United States.

There's an extent to which this changes nothing, of course. The economy's still in deep trouble. We're still involved in two simultaneous wars over in the Middle East. The easy part's over for President-Elect Obama: now, he has to govern. He may come to envy McCain ... or maybe not. Some people thrive on that kind of pressure.

A few day-after musings follow:

1) There are still a few states that haven't been called yet. But when it's all done, it sure looks like Intrade's electoral vote prediction will be absolutely spot-on. Polls be damned: if you want to track how a race is going, look at how the guys are betting on Intrade. This is going to be very, very useful going into the 2010 elections. The really interesting thing is that it settled on the final number 19 days prior to the election. You could have called this one almost three weeks out. Amazing, really. This "wisdom of crowds" stuff really does work, after all...

2) The new regionalism appears to be taking shape. The Republican Party is, for the most part, a party of the old Confederacy plus the rural West. The Democratic Party is the old Union plus the West Coast and the urban West. It's completely flipped from where it was fifty-odd years ago, when the South was solid Democrat, and the Northeast was old-line Republican. I'm not sure what this means yet, if it even means anything at all. I just find it curious.

3) John McCain made a wonderful concession speech. He took all the blame for the defeat, and accepted the will of the electorate. Concession speeches are really important. Government by majority rule works if and only if the minority consents to be governed. Conceding defeat when you've lost an election is how we establish that consent, here. John McCain took the high road in defeat. At the end of the day, he's still an honorable man, and a deeply patriotic American. If only he'd chosen his running mate more carefully ... but we'll never know, will we?

4) In a related point, even though some people think it makes no sense at all, I believe the Electoral College to be vitally important. It wasn't important yesterday, because the vote wasn't particularly close. It only matters when the vote is close, and then it's vital. As I just said above, government by majority vote only works if the minority goes along. They go along, because they know there are things in place to guarantee their rights, keeping the majority from running roughshod over them. If the election were strictly by national plebiscite, to all intents and purposes the election would take place in the twenty or so largest metropolitan areas. If you lived in a big city, your vote would count; if you lived out in the sticks, well, you're just out of luck. The Electoral College gives the residents of small, rural states a little more heft on the scales. Most of the time, that doesn't matter much. But when the election was close, as it was in 2000 and 2004, the Electoral College tends to make a "tie" go in favor of the smaller states. This safeguards the rights of the citizens who live away from the larger cities, especially since the demographics are changing such that most of us live in cities and/or suburbs of cities these days. Strictly speaking, it's not "one man one vote" democratic, but it offers some protection against the tyranny of the majority.

5) Are we a center-right nation, or are we a center-left nation? Depends on what period of our history you're talking about, if you ask me. I think we alternate between them on a 35-40 year cycle. If you look at the period between 1932 and 1968, Democrats occupied the White House all of those years except for Eisenhower's two terms in the 1950s. And if you look at the period between 1968 and 2008, Republicans occupied the White House all of those years except for Carter's term, and Clinton's two terms. And Carter's term was a post-Watergate aberration. As I've said earlier, the time is ripe for another turn of the wheel. It's far too early to say if we've turned that crank or not. We'll know more in 2012, and we'll probably be able to say for sure in 2016. But probably not before then.

6) Are the Republicans going to double-down on the crazy now that they've been turfed from the White House? Their last ouster was good for them in some ways. They were able to bounce back from their 1992 defeat to a 1994 victory in Congress. They were able to refine who they were, and what they stood for. If that's the route they choose, their time out of power can serve to hone and improve them. I really hope that's what happens, since the Democrats are going to need a real, vigorous, and intellectually honest opposition to keep them honest. But if the Republicans double-down on the crazy, and give the party to their most vocal extremists, their opposition will be neither principled nor intellectually honest. This does no one any good, least of all the Republicans. If they do that, they will continue their death spiral until they regain their senses.

7) Speaking of regaining your senses, tattoo this on the insides of your eyelids in fluorescent ink: primaries may be decided on the fringes, BUT GENERAL ELECTIONS ARE ALWAYS DECIDED IN THE CENTER! You appear to have forgotten that this time. Do try to remember this in the future.

8) There's also an extent to which our new President-Elect changes everything. For example: a lot of Al-Qaeda's propaganda keys off of our "strangeness" to them, how our leaders look like outsiders. Well, now, there's at least a quarter of the world that can look at our President and see someone that doesn't look that strange to them. That's powerful propaganda ju-jitsu, if Obama is clever enough to use it that way. Further, we have a President who's a walking billboard for the American Dream. People the world over can look at America, and know that if they come here, obey the laws and work hard, there's nothing their sons can't aspire to. Nothing's beyond reach. Race and country of origin don't matter so much, America's opportunities are open to all.

9) And finally, this election has made me proud to be an American. Not that I wasn't proud before. There are things we've done that swell my heart with pride every time I think about them. The bravery of our soldiers at Bastogne, and our sailors at Leyte Gulf, almost always move me to tears. The dogged determination of our airmen to keep Berlin supplied during the Berlin Airlift. The stubborn valor of our Marines as they fought that long, bitter withdrawal from Frozen Chosin. Six flags planted in the lunar dust, a quarter-million miles from the nearest human, not as tokens of conquest but as markers that man's most powerful machines had been put in service not of destruction, but of exploration. To those wonderful memories I can add the sight, forty years after an assassin had shot down an Atlanta preacher for the crime of acting as if he really did believe that all men were created equal, of a black man accepting his nation's call to become the leader of the free world. There's nowhere else on Earth that this could ever happen. I am proud -- proud! -- to be an American, a citizen of the greatest country on Earth. We really don't believe anything's impossible. And that, my friends, is why our best days are always ahead of us.

And with that, I'm done for a while. There's the long, slow death march that is the remainder of the Cowboys' season to watch, and Wrath of the Lich King comes out on November 13th. Between those two, and other odds and sods of Real Life, I expect to be socked in for a while. I'll check in if something piques my interest. See y'all then!

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