I used to think I liked politics. And maybe I did from afar before talk radio and cable television revealed the raw nerve that’s always hanging out when it comes to getting elected. Maybe it’s always been this way, but we just didn’t know it. That why the word “political” has such a negative connotation anyway.
I’ve figured out it’s not politics that’s interesting to me but rather the result of the political process. In a word, leadership. And that’s where Barak Obama and the Democrats find themselves following the election.
It’s much different to be the party of dissent versus the party of leadership. To be a counter-puncher always reacting to what the other guy does is sometimes a comfortable place to be. At this point though, the Democrats have had plenty of pent up anger that they’ve directed at President Bush over the last eight years. But for those who wanted change, the question is, “Now what?”
Do they have a true socialist leaning agenda or will Obama force them to govern more from the center? If he truly wants to be a consensus builder as he said in his speech Tuesday night, he’ll have to be willing to compromise to get things done. The Republicans can play defense, having weathered the onslaught of seats in the Senate, holding onto just enough to avoid a veto-proof, filibuster-proof majority. While he was coy on some of his relationships and his “big-picture” thinking during the campaign, Obama will now have to reveal what he actually believes in and bring ideas to the table and sell them to the American people.
In 1960, America elected a young, telegenic leader who energized an entire generation with ideas like the Peace Corps and the space program. That’s the challenge for the new President. He called for a “new spirit of service” telling Americans that it’s work and sacrifice that will get the job done. “I hear your voices and I need your help,” is what he told the crowd at Grant Park.
It might be the same message he was promoting as a candidate but it’s not the message his followers were hearing. Many Obama supporters believe he’s going to fix everything and they won’t have to participate. That’s why he’s spent the last week or so lowering expectations, trying to get people to have a realistic idea of what is going to happen.
“It might not happen in a month, a year or even in one term,” is how he phrased it in Chicago on Tuesday night. But with control of the White House the House and the Senate, he can push his agenda forward without any delay. But only if he can get the people to buy into it. Democrats are already talking about re-implimenting the Fairness Doctrine that would essentially silence critics, especially on the radio. Even if they voted for Obama, will his followers absolutely support that?
Obama was a fantastic candidate: telegenic, lucid in his thoughts and tight with his message. He stayed on course during the campaign hammering on the economy and the action in Iraq and Afghanistan. He stayed away from abortion, immigration and other issues that are “no-win” strategies for any candidate. And he won. In a way, it reminds me of the ending of the Robert Redford movie “The Candidate” where he runs against the establishment and wins as a long shot. In the final scene he mouths to his campaign director the words “now what?” And that’s what American’s are now thinking: “Now what?”
As a candidate, Obama was able to talk in generalities about policy but as President, he’ll need to have specifics. I’m not worried about his lack of experience simply because there’s a whole Democrat machine standing at the ready, poised to take their places in Washington. And he’s smart and motivated. The important thing to look for will be whom he chooses as his top advisers. Who’s close to him? Who will he take his advice from?
He’s a smart and resilient politician, proven through a tough primary campaign against the Clintons and followed by a winning run for the Presidency against the Republicans and John McCain. Now he is the President for all Americans, a very different role than being the candidate for one party. If he wants to be that, he’s up to that challenge, but that’s the big question: Does he want to be that or is his view much more narrow? We don’t know because we don’t know much about the man or where he’ll take us. He talked about the “humility and determination to heal our divides,” which is just what it’ll take to get a lot of people with different ideas to get moving in the same direction.
Obama quoted Lincoln a lot on election night, noting that Lincoln was from Illinois and was elected President in a country during a far more divided time. “We have the enduring power of our ideals,” he said, calling on all Americans to unite behind our common goals instead of focusing on our differences.
“America can change,” he said. And he’s right. The encouraging thing is it doesn’t have to change much. It just needs the right leadership.
Here are some other random thoughts about the election (since this is a sports site and I don’t expect to be writing about politics very often).
Now that we’ve elected a black man as President (I know he’s half white, half black) does that signal the end of racism in America? With Blacks being only 12% of the total population, Barak Obama needed an awful lot of white voters to cast their ballot for him in order to get elected. Does it mean racism is dead or has it been overblown by those who have made a living on the “politics of race?” Has the media given so much credence to those who have used race as a leverage to get what they want that it became part of the landscape that we accepted even though it wasn’t there at the purported level?
With so many blacks voting for the first time (even though first time voters comprised 11% of the total the same as in 2004) will they return to the process in the future if a black man is not a candidate? In my role as the “interactive reporter” during Channel 4’s coverage I heard from a lot of people on both sides of that issue. Many were happy that people had joined in the process and an equal number were angry saying, “where ya’ been?” I hope that those who sought change see that becoming part of the process is the thing that brings about that change.
And finally, I though John McCain’s concession speech was the most gracious and finest exit from a campaign I’ve ever seen. And that’s a double-edged sword. It was almost as if that’s the speech he expected to give all along. That would be disappointing, except that he certainly did his part to try to put the two sides together.