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Hardball’s Chris Matthews: How Obama Won
Everyone knows that Obama would be dealt a stiff hand ~ if he were to become President.
Obama tells people what he thinks and in the direction he thinks we should go in. Look at the convention – when Obama accepted his party’s nomination – I think what many of detractors saw were the Greek columns – I barely noticed – because it was what he said that was important – he said it was not over – the Republican attack machine is going to come after him to try to win this election. Which is one of the reasons I built this blog, that and the appearance of Sarah Palin – who has either reached or is safely on her way back to Alaska:-}. When Obama became President-elect he said that there is a lot of work to do and it is going to take time. Obama’s a guy with some good ideas – and not only America but much of the world is with him – and once he becomes President – it would be difficult to understand why he wouldn’t work to get these things done. If you scroll down and listen to the speech that Obama made when he announced his candidacy for President – it sounds very similar to the speeches he used to end his campaign with — but more in his very first speech – he tells you what he is going to do once he is elected – after telling you the route by which he was going to get elected – and he got elected. The inaugurated is in January – and I am sure – a good day that will be. Most of all we trust him.
President-elect Barack Obama has begun an effort to tamp down what his aides fear are unusually high expectations among his supporters, and will remind Americans regularly throughout the transition that the nation’s challenges are substantial and will take time to address.
Visitors offered wishes to Barack Obama at a wall built Wednesday near the Lincoln Memorial.
Mr. Obama’s advisers said they were startled, if gratified, by the jubilation that greeted the news of Mr. Obama’s victory in much of the United States and abroad. But while the energy of his supporters could be a tremendous political asset as Mr. Obama works to enact his agenda after taking office in January, his aides said they were looking to temper hopes that he would be able to solve the nation’s problems or fully reverse Bush administration policies quickly and easily, especially given the prospect of a deep and long-lasting recession.
“We have talked about this,” said Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama. “It’s important that everybody understands that this is not going to happen overnight. There has to be a realistic expectation of what can happen and how quickly.”
Joel Benenson, Mr. Obama’s campaign pollster, said he thought that the public appreciated the problems that the president-elect was facing and would judge him against that backdrop.
“I don’t think they view him as a miracle worker who in two months is going to solve an economic crisis,” Mr. Benenson said. “It is a matter of being straightforward with people about what we are going to achieve and how fast it’s going to take.”
Mr. Obama will hit that theme at a news conference he is expected to hold over the coming days, and in most of his public appearances from here on out, aides said. They said they would discourage the traditional yardstick for measuring the accomplishments of a new president — the first 100 days. Mr. Obama told an interviewer toward the end of his campaign that it was more appropriate to talk about the first 1,000 days.
Mr. Obama’s advisers said that the tone of his victory speech on Tuesday night — sober and devoid of the arm-pumping that would typically be in an address of that sort — reflected his awareness of these circumstances. Mr. Obama warned that the promises that led Americans to embrace his candidacy — be they as specific as expanding health care or as broad as changing the tone of Washington — might take as long a term to carry out.
The caution reflected the inevitable perils of taking control of the White House at such a difficult time, particularly after a campaign that stirred so much hope among voters. The economic crisis will certainly complicate Mr. Obama’s more ambitious domestic efforts like broadening health care coverage and cutting taxes for most Americans. His call for a change in the tone in Washington would require a sharp shift in history. Even with substantial Democratic majorities in the Senate and the House, passing major legislation could still be time-consuming for Mr. Obama and require compromises.
Mr. Gibbs said one of the main challenges for Mr. Obama was tamping down expectations a bit without making anyone think he was moving away from the promises of his campaign.
“The flip side of this — and I want to make sure this is also clear — we also believe that it is paramount to begin doing everything we said we would do in the campaign,” Mr. Gibbs said. “We know expectations are high. But disappointment if we didn’t try to do the things that we said we were going to do would be far, far greater than anything else. People went to the polls and elected Barack Obama because they believed the fact not only that he could do what he said, but that he would try to do what he said.”
The challenge facing Mr. Obama today is similar to one that faced Bill Clinton in 1992, the last time a president arrived in Washington with anything approaching the level of excitement Mr. Obama’s election set off around the country.
As Election Day approached in 1992, it was apparent from the crowds that Mr. Clinton drew, in their size and their faces, that his supporters expected big things after a campaign in which Mr. Clinton had promised a dramatic revamping in health care coverage and programs for the poor. At the time, a senior adviser who was traveling with him, Paul Begala, warned Mr. Clinton to add some caveats to his speeches, to avoid voter letdown should it take time to accomplish things as president.
“I remember talking about this to him in the closing days of the campaign,” Mr. Begala said. “And he started saying, ‘We didn’t get into this overnight and we’re not going to get out of it overnight.’ ”
“So I remember him talking about it and doing it — and it didn’t have any effect on the citizens,” Mr. Begala said. That was one reason, he said, that Democrats lost control of Congress two years later.
A nearly 500-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Wednesday was a reminder that Mr. Obama’s election did not bring the financial crisis to a close, and that the economic downturn could limit his ability to pursue his full agenda right off the bat by demanding an immediate focus on trying to pull the nation out of recession. And, even if Americans are ready to bear with Mr. Obama as he pursues policy proposals, they may not as readily accept the sort of compromise that legislative accomplishment often requires.
With the Democrats falling short of a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate on Tuesday, his agenda will probably require some modicum of horse trading for Republican support. Further complicating the picture, Mr. Obama’s winning coalition includes new voters who will be watching him closely but may not have patience for the deliberative give and take that accomplishment in Washington often demands.
“He’s got to lower some expectations, indicate the limits he’s confronting,” said Leon Panetta, a former chief of staff to Mr. Clinton. “He’s got a story to tell about how he’s confronting the worst crisis that any president has faced in modern history, and I think he can make clear that he’s going to try to deal with these problems one at a time.”
‘Sarah Palin Didn’t Really Wear Well’
‘They Had a 50-State Strategy’
‘It’s Kind of a Paradox’
Not ‘Enough Strategic Thinking’
‘Really Reach Out to the Other Side’
John McCain’s chaotic operation may well rank among recent history’s least successful efforts.
The GOP presidential campaign of 2008 will certainly be one that historians discuss for years to come. But not in the way that some Republicans had hoped for when they selected an experienced maverick, loved by the media, to face off against an inexperienced African-American who had trouble vanquishing his opponent in the primaries.
To be fair, the odds were stacked against any Republican. The economy has suffered while the incumbent president was phenomenally unpopular. Democrats were well organized and well financed. They found, in Barack Obama, an exceedingly charismatic and dynamic candidate.
But nothing is inevitable in American politics. A strong campaign, combined with the issue of race and fears about Obama’s inexperience, could have produced a different outcome.
History is filled with examples of campaigns marked by bad decisions and poor performances that undermined their chances of victory. In 1964, Republican Barry Goldwater made statements that allowed President Lyndon Johnson to depict him as a candidate too far out of the American mainstream. Eight years later, Richard Nixon returned the favor to Democratic Sen. George McGovern, who had put together a campaign that appealed to the New Left and other activists inspired by 1960s activism but failed to bring in traditional Democratic constituencies such as organized labor. In 1988, Democrat Michael Dukakis was the proverbial deer in the headlights when Republican Vice President George H.W. Bush and his team redefined the technocratic Massachusetts Democrat into an extreme card-carrying ACLU liberal who let out murderers on weekend furloughs. Bush then stumbled in 1992 with his tin ear about the economic recession. In 1996, Republican Robert Dole ran a lethargic campaign that emphasized nostalgia and suspicion while President Bill Clinton ran around the country boasting about peace and prosperity. During the last election, Sen. John Kerry didn’t adequately defend himself against “Swift-Boat” attacks.
But Team McCain ran a campaign that ranks on the bottom of this list. This was an aimless and chaotic operation made worse by poor choices at key moments. Their first mistake was picking Gov. Sarah Palin. Though in the first week following her selection, Palin energized the conservative base of the GOP, she became a serious drag on the ticket. This turned into one of the worst picks since McGovern selected Thomas Eagleton, a Missouri senator who withdrew after revealing that he had gone through electroshock therapy and suffered from “nervous exhaustion.” By picking Palin, McCain simultaneously eliminated his own best argument against Senator Obama—the limited experience of his opponent—while compounding his own most negative image, that of someone who was erratic and out of control. The pick also fueled the feeling that grew throughout September and October that the Republican candidate was willing to take any step necessary to win the campaign. The Palin pick made every decision that followed seem purely political.
The second mistake was going dark. McCain missed the biggest lesson of the Reagan Revolution: conservatives usually do best when they appeal to America’s optimism and develop a positive campaign around a vision for the country. President George W. Bush understood this in 2000, stressing compassionate conservatism, and in 2004 he couched his candidacy in an optimistic argument about how the Bush Doctrine could strengthen America against terrorism and restore the kind of security that seemed lost after 9/11.
McCain and Palin rejected this approach, instead putting together a campaign that was almost entirely negative and focused on attacking their opponents. They sounded much more like Goldwater in 1964 than Reagan in 1980, opening themselves up to Obama’s charge that they were willing to divide the nation for the purpose of winning the election. They called Obama a socialist, an extremist and even linked him to a terrorist. The campaign got so out of control that a man at one Palin rally yelled “Kill him!”. McCain had to restore order at a town meeting when one woman explained how scared she was of having an “Arab” in office. Still, the McCain campaign continued to run advertisements connecting Obama to 1960s radical Bill Ayers.
The third mistake was the “no-state” strategy. In contrast to Obama’s “50-state” strategy whereby Democrats hoped to win support in red states, the Republican ticket moved from one state to the next without any clear rationale. Just as the Republicans lacked a broader vision, they also lacked a clear electoral strategy. From the start, they were playing catch-up and allowing Democrats to drive their decisions. The goal seemed to be courting support only when polls were narrowing rather than deciding in which states to focus their efforts. While Democrats systematically laid out their organizational and financial efforts, Republicans scrambled from one place to the other.
The fourth mistake was the way McCain handled the crisis on Wall Street. McCain’s decision to temporarily stop the campaign and possibly call off the debate at the start of the Wall Street crisis in September looked terrible. McCain often looked a lot like President Bush in 1992: uncertain about what to do about the economy and at many moments not seeming to care. In contrast, Obama’s decisions and performance seemed presidential.
McCain’s final mistake was to leave his most politically powerful argument until it was too late. While there were many problems with Joe the Plumber, the argument could have been used much more effectively against Senator Obama: that the Democratic ticket was too left of center, especially on the issue of taxes. Toward the end of the campaign, McCain picked up some steam in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. But the argument came much too late and at a point when many Americans had become so cynical, and turned off, by the Republican campaign that McCain could not restore his strength.
Now, the McCain-Palin campaign will be added to the list of devastated losers. The odds against the Republican ticket were formidable as any political scientist will tell you. But McCain could have put up a more effective fight. Perhaps the best outcome for Republicans would be if they took the campaign to heart, learned from their mistakes, and figured out for the next time around how to put together a campaign that looks more like 1980 than 1964. At the same time the next GOP candidate needs to look toward the future, realizing that at least when it comes to the economy, the conservative era has finally come to an end.
Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. He is the co-editor of “Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s” and is completing a book on the history of national-secu rity politics since World War II, to be published by Basic Books.
President-elect Barack Obama began moving Wednesday to build his administration and make good on his ambitious promises to point the United States in a different direction, as his commanding victory reordered the American political landscape and transfixed much of the nation and the world.
A day after becoming the first African-American to capture the presidency, Mr. Obama announced a transition team and prepared to name an ally as his White House chief of staff in his first steps toward assuming power. President Bush vowed to work closely with Mr. Obama to ensure a smooth transition in the first handover since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the fourth-ranking House Democrat and a close friend of Mr. Obama’s from Chicago, has been offered the job of chief of staff, and although he was said to be concerned about the effects on his family and giving up his influential role on Capitol Hill, many Democrats said they expected him to accept it. Mr. Obama named John D. Podesta, the former Clinton White House chief of staff, to lead his transition team along with Valerie Jarrett, a longtime adviser, and Pete Rouse, his Senate chief of staff.
In turning to Mr. Emanuel and Mr. Podesta, Mr. Obama sought out two of the hardest-hitting veterans of President Bill Clinton’s administration, known for their deep Washington experience, savvy and no-holds-barred approach to politics. Neither is considered a practitioner of the “new politics” that Mr. Obama promised on the campaign trail to bring Republicans and Democrats together, suggesting that the cool and conciliatory new president is determined to demonstrate toughness from the beginning.
Mr. Obama stayed largely out of sight on Wednesday as Democrats counted their gains and Republicans stewed over what went wrong. The scope of his success underscored the nation’s discontent with Mr. Bush’s presidency. Mr. Obama captured an estimated 52 percent of the popular vote and 349 electoral votes to John McCain’s 46 percent and 162 electoral votes, with Missouri and North Carolina still too close to call.
Mr. Obama also ushered in a wave of Democrats who strengthened his party’s hold over Congress, picking up at least five seats in the Senate and 19 in the House. Republican senators in Alaska, Minnesota and Oregon were still clinging to razor-thin leads, including Ted Stevens of Alaska, fresh from his conviction on seven felony counts of failing to disclose $250,000 in gifts and services he received.
But the crowds had barely drifted out of Grant Park in Chicago after an exuberant late-night celebration of Mr. Obama’s triumph before the rising sun brought fresh signs of the daunting burdens to come.
In Russia, President Dmitri A. Medvedev warned that he would deploy missiles if Mr. Obama built Mr. Bush’s planned missile defense system in Eastern Europe. In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai pleaded with Mr. Obama to halt air strikes that have been killing civilians. And in the United States, stock markets plunged again amid more dark economic news.
Still, the phenomenon of a black president of the world’s most powerful nation captured public imagination in many quarters of the globe. Supporters in many cities in the United States chanted in the street and large crowds gathered at the headquarters of newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post seeking sold-out copies of historic front pages.
The Congressional committee that puts together the inauguration ceremonies announced that the theme would be “A New Birth of Freedom,” to mark the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, symbolically linking one president from Illinois who freed the slaves to another who broke the ultimate racial barrier in politics.
Even the departing Bush team recognized the power of the moment. “It will be a stirring sight to watch President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their beautiful girls step through the doors of the White House,” Mr. Bush told reporters in the Rose Garden. “I know millions of Americans will be overcome with pride at this inspiring moment that so many have awaited for so long.”
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise appearance at her department’s daily briefing to congratulate Mr. Obama.
“As an African-American, I am especially proud because this is a country that’s been through a long journey in terms of overcoming wounds and making race not the factor in our lives,” Ms. Rice said. “That work is not done, but yesterday was obviously an extraordinary step forward.”
The election proved so invigorating to the American public that turnout climbed to its highest rate in 44 years. Although experts differed in their projections as provisional and absentee ballots are counted, Michael McDonald, a voting expert at George Mason University, estimated that 133.3 million people had voted, eclipsing the 123 million who participated four years ago. That amounted to 62.6 percent of all eligible voters, just shy of the 62.8 percent in 1964.
With the election now behind them, the Bush and Obama teams began the delicate 77-day transition until inauguration. The General Services Administration turned over 120,000 square feet of office space in downtown Washington to the Obama transition team and select Obama advisers were due to be given interim security clearances.
Mr. Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will receive briefings Thursday from Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, and thereafter each morning by a pair of Central Intelligence Agency officials. Mr. Obama was given brief updates during the campaign, but aides said the sessions now would resemble the presidential daily briefing presented to Mr. Bush each morning.
Beyond choosing staff members, Mr. Obama must decide how active he intends to be in asserting leadership during the transition. Mr. Obama has conferred with Congressional leaders about passing a $100 billion economic stimulus package in a lame-duck session the week of Nov. 17 to pay for public works projects, aid to cities and states, and unemployment, food stamp and heating benefits.
But Congressional aides said that if Mr. Obama could not win agreement from Mr. Bush and Senate Republicans, they might scale the package back to about $60 billion, then come back in January with a broader plan.
Mr. Obama talked regularly with Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. about the financial crisis during the campaign, but it remained unclear how closely he wants to coordinate action during the transition. The situation is so dire, it may demand immediate action from a newly elected president, but Obama advisers are wary of taking ownership over decisions made by Mr. Bush.
On his first morning as president-elect, Mr. Obama did something he rarely did the last 22 months: he woke up at home in Chicago and had breakfast with his wife, Michelle, and his two young daughters, Malia and Sasha. He spent the day out of view, making thank you calls and meeting with transition advisers, a decision aides said was intended to draw a line between the campaign and the coming task of governing. They said he canceled fireworks at the Tuesday night celebration to underscore the seriousness of the moment.
As he began to assemble his White House, Mr. Obama sought to persuade Mr. Emanuel to be his right hand. Mr. Emanuel, a top aide in the Clinton White House, did not accept immediately, with close associates saying he was torn between helping the new administration and staying in the House, where he aspires to become speaker. His wife and three children, who live in Chicago, are reluctant to move to Washington, friends said.
Mr. Emanuel would bring extensive legislative experience and instincts for how to run a White House, but his brash partisan past could undercut Mr. Obama’s promise to bridge the divide in Washington. His unquestioned loyalty to Mr. Obama is a powerful asset to the president-elect.
While waiting to settle the matter with Mr. Emanuel, Mr. Obama went ahead and announced his transition team, to be led by Mr. Podesta, Ms. Jarrett and Mr. Rouse. They will be helped by a 12-member board, including Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, former Commerce Secretary William Daley, former Energy Secretary Federico F. Peña and former Environmental Protection Agency director Carol Browner.
Washington was abuzz with speculation over who would join the new administration, some of it informed, much of it guesswork. Democrats close to the Obama team said they believed the likeliest choices for Treasury secretary would be Lawrence H. Summers, who held the post in the Clinton administration, and Timothy F. Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
In the national security arena, much depends on whether Mr. Obama decides to ask Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to stay to demonstrate bipartisanship. If Mr. Obama decides against it, or Mr. Gates turns him down, Democrats see former Deputy Defense Secretary John J. Hamre and former Navy Secretary Richard J. Danzig as two candidates for the Pentagon.
Without Mr. Gates, Mr. Obama might want to tap a Republican for the State Department, perhaps including Senators Richard G. Lugar of Indiana or Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, advisers said. If Mr. Gates stays, some Democrats said, Senator John F. Kerry, the Democratic nominee who gave Mr. Obama the platform at the 2004 convention that vaulted him to national fame, is a leading choice to be secretary of state.
For national security adviser, Mr. Obama might pick between James B. Steinberg, a former deputy national security adviser, and Gregory B. Craig, a former State Department official. Mr. Danzig and Dennis Ross, a longtime Middle East envoy, are also mentioned. Susan E. Rice, a former assistant secretary of state and early Obama adviser, is often described as a possible deputy national security adviser or ambassador to the United Nations.
Democrats said they had heard that Howard Dean, the Democratic National Committee chairman, who is a doctor, might be a candidate for secretary of health and human services; Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina may be considered for secretary of housing and urban development; and Penny S. Pritzker, a Chicago business tycoon and Mr. Obama’s national finance chairwoman, could be tapped for commerce secretary.
While Mr. Bush invited his successor-to-be to visit him at the White House, Mr. Obama’s advisers said that he had no immediate plans to travel to Washington and that he planned to chart out his new administration largely from Chicago. He does not plan to attend the global economic summit in Washington called by Mr. Bush for Nov. 15. But advisers did not rule out the possibility that he would meet with some visiting leaders, perhaps over dinner or at a reception.
“The one thing he is not going to do is let anyone think he’s undermining the president,” said Mr. Craig, who has advised Mr. Obama on foreign policy. “There’s only one president, and he’ll take pains to make sure nothing he does is taken as undermining President Bush.”
It is interesting how Rove is not drawn into Bill O’Reilly’s dog fight with the Democrat leadership. And more he directs the Republicans to have a look at what their party stands for – and how best to convey that message. Which I am pretty sure, he is also clear on – that this is how they were beaten in this election.
During election night I went over to Fox News – I got the sense they were a little depressed over there – seem dismayed at the direction of the results coming in. They didn’t actually believe all that stuff they were saying about Barack – did they?
More than 60 million viewers watched prime-time, election-night coverage on ABC, NBC, CBS and the three main cable news networks, an increase of nearly 10 percent over 2004, according to early estimates provided Wednesday by Nielsen Media Research.
When adding in the viewership of eight other channels — including Black Entertainment Televison and the Spanish-language networks Univision and Telemundo — Tuesday night’s combined viewership ballooned to 71.5 million, more than in either 2004 or 2000.
The most-watched network, with an estimated 13.1 million viewers, was ABC. It had stationed Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos in Times Square, which was soon playing host to a raucous, impromptu celebration of Barack Obama’s victory that felt more like Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve party than election night. The network’s audience was about the same as in 2004.
On cable, the big winner was CNN, which drew an estimated 12.3 million viewers in prime time, nearly double its audience four years earlier. The CNN audience was so large that it eclipsed that of two broadcast networks, NBC (12 million) and CBS (7.8 million), for the first time. (The audiences for the NBC and CBS broadcasts, which were led by Brian Williams and Katie Couric, each fell by more than 15 percent, when compared with election night of 2004.)
NBC’s sister cable network, MSNBC, posted large gains, with an audience of 5.9 million, more than double its viewership in 2004, according to the Nielsen estimates. (During the campaign, MSNBC and The New York Times shared some political newsgathering.) Fox News also gained Tuesday night, with an estimated 9 million viewers, an increase of about 12 percent over 2004.
For viewers of the broadcast network coverage, this election night represented a moment of transition. Since the last election, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw have left their anchor posts on CBS and NBC — Mr. Brokaw returned as an NBC analyst Tuesday night, Mr. Rather was on HDNet, a cable channel — and Peter Jennings died.
For the cable news channels, too, new trends emerged. CNN, which was seen by fewer viewers than Fox News on election night 2004, this year outdrew Fox News. In addition, the Fox broadcast network drew 5.1 million viewers.
According to Carl Cameron of Fox News – insiders at the Mccain camp stated that Palin wasn’t aware that Africa was a continent, as she believed Africa was a country. Itappears Palin did not know anything about the NAFTA trade agreement – that she would not prepare for interviews like the now famous Katie Couric –
If Palin thought that Africa was a country – then it would make sense that one could get foreign policy experience – by merely being close to – or as she put it being able to see Russia from her state –
There were some who said that – it wasn’t that Palin simply made mistakes during he interviews – that what was worst is that she didn’t understand the question.
Powell, endorses, Obama, Iraq, transformational, figure, security, Campaign, McCain, victory, win, president, Attacks, Colin, inclusive
The ascent of an African-American to the presidency is a moment so powerful and so obvious that its symbolism needs no commentary.
Nov. 4, 2008, was the day when American politics shifted on its axis.
The ascent of an African-American to the presidency — a victory by a 47-year-old man who was born when segregation was still the law of the land across much of this nation — is a moment so powerful and so obvious that its symbolism needs no commentary.
But it was the reality of power, not the symbolism, that changed Tuesday night in ways more profound than meet the eye.
The rout of the Republican Party, and the accompanying gains by Democrats in Congress, mean that Barack Obama will assume office with vastly more influence in the nation’s capital than most of his recent predecessors have wielded.
The only exceptions suggest the magnitude of the moment. Power flowed in unprecedented ways to George W. Bush in the year after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It flowed likewise to Lyndon B. Johnson after his landslide in 1964.
Beyond those fleeting moments, every president for more than two generations has confronted divided government or hobbling internal divisions within his own party.
The Democrats’ moment with Obama, as a brilliant campaigner confronts the challenges of governance, could also prove fleeting. For now, the results — in their breadth across a continent — suggest seismic change that goes far beyond Obama’s 4 percent margin in the popular vote.
The evening recalled what activist Eldridge Cleaver observed of the instant when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus and a movement followed: “Somewhere in the universe a gear in the machinery shifted.”
Here are five big things about the machinery of national politics and Washington that will be different once Obama takes office on Jan. 20, 2009:
The crash of the conservative wave
For most of the past 30 years, since the dawn of the Reagan Era, conservatives have held the momentum in American politics. Even the Clinton years were shaped — and constrained — by conservative ideas (work requirements for welfare, the Defense of Marriage Act) and conservative rhetoric (“the era of Big Government is over”). Republicans rode this wave to win the presidency five of seven times since 1980, and to dominate Congress for a dozen years after 1994.
Now the wave has crashed, breaking the back of the modern Republican Party in the process.
Obama’s victory and the second straight election to award big gains to congressional Democrats showed that the 2006 election was not, as Karl Rove and others argued at the time, a flukish result that reflected isolated scandals in the headlines at the time.
Republicans lost their reform mantle. Voters who wanted change voted for Obama 89 percent to 9 percent. They lost their decisive edge on national security. They even lost the battle over taxes.
Republicans lost support in every area of the country. Virginia went Democratic, and North Carolina at midnight hung in the balance. Republicans still hold a significant, if smaller, chunk of the South and a smattering of western states. The cities were lost long ago. The suburbs fell last night — and even the exurbs are shaky.
Republicans lost one of their most effective political tactics. Portraying Al Gore or John F. Kerry as exotic and untrustworthy characters with culturally elitist values proved brutally effective for the GOP in 2000 and 2004, as it had in numerous other races for years. In 2008, such tactics barely dented Obama — who because of his race and background looked at first like a more vulnerable target — and they backfired against such candidates as Sen. Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina, who was routed badly after trying to paint Democrat Kay Hagan as an atheist.
The movement that brought so many conservatives to great power over the past 20 years — Gingrich, DeLay, Bush, Cheney and Rove — is left without a clear leader, without a clear agenda and without a clear route back.
The crash of the conservative wave does not necessarily mean the rise of a liberal one. By stressing middle-class tax cuts and the rights of gun owners Obama showed he is sensitive to hot buttons. But he will take power with the opposition party diminished, demoralized and divided by a draining internal argument about the future.
A Democratic headlock
Many people find Obama’s post-partisan rhetoric soothing. But it’s doubtful that these sentiments, even if sincere, reflect the reality of the new Washington.
This is a city that defines itself by partisanship. Politicians and the operatives they support play for the shirts or the skins and believe that one side’s gain is the other’s loss.
In this environment, Democrats have the capital in a headlock, holding more power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue than they have had for at least 32 years (Jimmy Carter) and, more realistically, 44 years (Johnson). Obama seems ready to press this advantage. The best early clue of his ambitions: He wants sharp-elbowed Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) to run his White House.
Democrats are positioned to do more than move legislation. They will flush Republicans out of key positions in the federal government and lobbying firms. They will install their people in the federal courts. They will be positioned to raise money for those who usually give to Republicans and easily recruit the most desirable candidates in 2010, as other Democrats look to join what looks like a winning team.
While Obama’s race hovered over this campaign, what was most striking was that it was not the all-consuming subject that it would have been in the past. Exit polls showed Obama pulling support from 43 percent of white voters, 2 percentage point higher than Kerry.
And look around elsewhere in American politics. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s gender was a novelty when she first took the gavel but now draws little notice. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) is a top member of the House Democratic leadership.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party’s inability to offer more diversity in its top ranks — Sarah Palin notwithstanding — threatens to become a crippling liability. Hispanics broke for Obama 67 percent to 31 percent.
The party inexplicably failed to field a single minority candidate with a plausible chance to win a House or Senate seat or a governorship. It will enter the next Congress just as it did the past two: without a single black member.
A party dominated by white males is poorly positioned to prosper among an increasingly diverse electorate. Somehow, the GOP needs to find new ways to appeal to minorities — or risk a long life in the wilderness as a percentage of the overall population continues to shrink.
For a couple of generations, conservatives had the more effective political infrastructure. They used direct mail and talk radio to run circles around liberals in raising money and communicating their message around the filter of the establishment media. Some of that money flowed into think tanks that helped nurture ideas and operatives.
This year was striking because the technology/communications advantage was decisively with the Democrats. Obama and other Democrats used this to raise vastly more money than McCain and to mobilize legions of people who had not previously been engaged with politics. Liberal think tanks such as the Center for American Progress have served as a Democratic government in waiting.
Important to remember: This Democratic infrastructure advantage is not disappearing. Obama, regarded as a heroic figure among party activists, can use it to help raise even more money, and to mobilize support for his agenda. This is a potent force that will inspire fear, and give him clout, over legislators of both parties.
Obama is the Google of politics: He has technological expertise and an audience his political competitors simply cannot match. Looking ahead to 2010, House and Senate Democrats will be jealously eyeing Obama’s e-mail lists and technology secrets — giving him even greater leverage over them. Republicans will be forced to invest serious money and time to narrow the technology gap.
The 1960s are over — finally
For two generations, American politics has been dominated by issues and personalities that were shaped by the ideological and cultural conflicts of the Vietnam era.
The rest of the population may have been bored stiff, but the baby boomers continued their remorseless argument, as evidenced by Bush and Kerry partisans quarreling over Swift Boats and National Guard service in 2004.
Obama had not yet reached adolescence in the 1960s. He seems little interested in the cultural conflicts that preoccupy baby boomers. The fact that he admitted to using cocaine was hardly a factor in this election.
And this young president-elect exerted powerful appeal over even younger voters. They favored Obama by 34 percentage points, 66 percent to 32 percent — a trend with huge potential to echo for years to come.
Guns, God and gays will not disappear from our politics. But they are diminished as electoral weapons as the country confronts a new generation of disputes: global warming, mortgage meltdowns and the detention of terrorism suspects, to name a few.