Monday, November 03, 2008
The election is tomorrow.
This long campaign is finally at an end.
I'm helpless not to think Obama doesn't already have it sewn up. McCain's position has moved not a whit in the polls, and Obama hasn't made a mistake in months. I believe Barack Obama will be our nation's 44th President, and I believe we'll know it before working stiffs on the East Coast trudge to bed tomorrow night. I believe he will win big, and he will enter his first term with a mandate.
So I'll get a jump on the pundits who will plow this fertile ground into dust on Wednesday, and say what I think an Obama presidency might look like.
I think some of us liberals will be disappointed in some of his decisions. He's never teetered too far over to the left in the general election, and he was cautious about doing so in the primaries. He's a pragmatist above all else. When gas prices were at historic highs and the public was clamoring for off-shore oil drilling, Obama put aside his long-held opposition to it and supported a bill that contained a provision lifting the federal ban on some off-shore oil drilling in exchange for some forward-looking legislation that went some way towards easing our dependence on foreign oil. Republicans killed it, of course, but Obama's realpolitik shifting is, for me, a clear sign that there are few liberal sacred cows that will truly be sacred in an Obama White House. To me, this just means there's no issue under the sun that Obama doesn't consider worthy of reconsideration, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
Will he get us out of Iraq? I believe he will begin to draw down combat forces very soon, but I don't think Obama will have all US military personnel out of Iraq before the end of his first term, and probably not after the end of two. I think we're consigned to have a long-term, empire-expanding military base in Iraq, and that would have been so had Hillary won the nomination. But we will draw down. Under McCain, we would not. Clear delineation. I think Obama will have "won" the Iraq occupation if he can manage our drawdown without an explosion of internecine fighting, and get us to a point where Iraq is just another place where we happen to have soldiers stationed. Like Kosovo is now. I question the wisdom of having a far-reaching network of military bases all over the world, but that doesn't seem to be a conversation the people want to have right now, and Obama isn't the kind to force a discussion on any but the most pressing issues. Another reason I like him. But the only reason I think he has true credibility on Iraq, no matter what he decides to do there, is that he was against going in in the first place. We know he has no secret desire to re-shape the Middle East because he's one of the sane people who, back in 2002-03, thought it was an unbelievably stupid idea to go into Iraq, but, like the rest of us, finds himself trying to make the best of a bad situation.
I think Obama will have a steady hand in steering our way through the developing financial crisis. My main worry is that this crisis, which is likely immune to most Executive tinkering, will endure, and the stink of deep recession will attach itself to this new president, and consign him unfairly to a single term. My hope is that he can FDR his way out of this by attempting smart and inventive solutions that will impress voters. Even if none of the solutions are particularly successful, people will be grateful he tried as best he could.
One thing I believe may define this presidency more than any other single component, is its caution. When Clinton got in, he was like a gifted poly sci professor suddenly given the keys to the kingdom. He was idealistic and, to my mind, never more admirable than in those first few months in the White House. But on the flipside, he and his administration were messy, sacrificing political expediency for lofty ideals. If the 2-year Obama campaign has been any guide, there will be no messiness in an Obama administration. I imagine Axelrod and Plouffe and the other Obama gurus are keen to guide their candidate, soon President, through a first 100 days as flawless as the last 100 days of the campaign. But I think they might do well to remember, the last candidate to run a near-perfect campaign was George W. Bush. But then again, I think they know that too, and are eager to steer their guy around the shoals the Bush administration crashed into and broke apart on.
I'm excited about tomorrow. I think the results will show that the country has repudiated Rove-style politics, Bush-style foreign policy, and is ready to embrace the possibility that we deserve a politics that isn't defined by fear. But, more historically, it will show the world we've come a long way since the end of the Jim Crow South. I'm not so naive I think an Obama presidency will in any way end racism, or even seriously diminish it in this country, but I think it will change the discussion in a positive way and give people a new way of thinking about race. That's a big step.
The last eight years, a true dark night of the soul for this country, will finally, irrevocably be finished tomorrow. We're going to get something very new, and to some extent, I owe the White House's current occupant a debt of gratitude. Only by doing the job he was selected to do so badly, could an Obama presidency even be possible. Had he just been ordinarily bad at his job, we might have gotten more of the same, slightly improved, just with a different letter in front of his name. But because the current president was so extraordinarily bad at his job, Americans were willing to be a bit more imaginative when thinking about who might be the best successor. If we had spectacularly bad, we thought, maybe we should try for spectacularly good?
That may be overstating things a bit, but tonight, it doesn't feel like overstatement. Right now the future years of President Barack Obama are limitless potentiality. Though he might turn out to be a Carter, he might also turn out to be an FDR, or a Kennedy. I'm fine to let the hyperbole stand for now and enjoy the moment; it comes around seldom enough, I think I'm entitled.
I'm excited and hopeful, and looking forward to watching the returns tomorrow night. I think we're going to have a good night.