Wednesday, November 5, 2008
A Quick Thought
Despair and discouragement are inappropriate. So is disinterest.
A Barack Obama victory is not the outcome I hoped for, but I cannot call it a surprise, either. It was not a landslide, certainly not a Reaganesque landslide; that, at least, is good news. Let's give the numbers there and in some Senate races (where there is reasonably good news) a day or so to firm up, then we'll look at them. Maybe some of the near-religious ecstasies among Obama supporters nationwide, and to some degree worldwide, will cool off a just a tad in the meantime -- at least until near the inauguration, when they will peak again.
We'll also talk soon about the American Fork bond issues, all of which failed by large margins, and some interesting results in Utah races.
Meanwhile, defeat does not have to lead to discouragement. Don't despair, and don't switch off politics for the next four years, either -- or even for four months. We have work to do, and we'll need to be paying attention.
I have snow to shovel . . .
David Laraway comments (11/5/08):
You are as articulate and thoughtful as ever, and I think your brand of conservatism is a welcome antidote to the kind of off-the-wall stuff I tend to see far too often these days (I'm convinced the quickest path to melancholy and depression lies through the readers' comments at either the Deseret News or the Salt Lake Trib. Pick your poison).
But I have to say that you didn't meet your generally high bar for insight in your comments on the election itself. Whatever one thinks of Obama's policies and potential as a commander in chief, it strikes me as uncontroversial that the election was historic by any measure, regardless of whether or not one sympathizes with his views. We elect our first African-American president when the memories of Jim Crow haven't altogether faded and all we get is a dismissive reference to the "near-religious ecstasies" of his supporters? Dave, you can do better than that! Oddly enough, I think the most prescient and graceful remarks I heard all evening were uttered by Senator McCain, whose beautiful concession speech acknowledged the significance of what had just happened (and I'd like to think that he wasn't just being polite and that he really believed it. I know, I know. Color me naive). I can't help but imagine that any of the conservatives I most admire -- Ronald Reagan comes to mind -- would have readily recognized how truly monumental the evening was: millions of Americans who had believed themselves politically disenfranchised (whether they were correct in believing so is of course another question) suddenly came to believe that they have a stake in the political process too and that this country is as much theirs as it is mine or yours. I can think of virtually nothing positive to say about a figure like Jesse Jackson, and I could come up with a long list of reasons not to like him. But I couldn't help but be profoundly moved to see the tears stream down his face and to think that I had just witnessed something truly historic as well. There will be time enough for Obama's supporters (full disclosure: I am one, minus the "religious ecstasy" and some specific policy positions) and his detractors to get back to the rough and tumble of political gamesmanship. But there was something truly significant about last night, regardless of what an Obama presidency may bring.
David Rodeback comments (11/6/08):
Apart from the fact that my intent in this brief post was to defer comment on the election, not to dismiss the election's significance, there is for me another consideration.
All presidential elections are historic to a degree. I cannot deny that many people consider this moment in our politics to be of special historical significance precisely because of Barack Obama's racial identity, even if the party line from him and his campaign for two years has been that it's not about race. Tuesday does seem to be at least a noteworthy milestone for a race that was once, in some states of the Union, regarded as as property, not humanity.
That said, I'm not sure I had a single thought about race on Tuesday evening as the returns came in, or on Wednesday morning as I wrote this post. It may sound facile or, perhaps, too politically pious by half, but for me this election really was not at all about race. I genuinely do not care about a person's race. Nor do I think that the United States was, up until Tuesday, still a fundamentally racist country. My instinct, therefore, is to think that in the long run, the racial aspect of this election will prove to be an historical footnote, not a watershed. For my part, I don't feel the least bit threatened by Obama's racial identity. I do feel threatened by his politics.
I understand that others feel differently about race. I have been told that my indifference to race is actually a form of racism, but I find that lexical contortion too Orwellian to merit serious scrutiny. The same people have told me that I am inevitably racist because I am white, an accusation which itself seems like racism to me.
I'm with Martin Luther King, Jr., on this one: We ought to care about the content of the character, not the color of the skin. Predictably, the same critics have claimed that I, as a white man, have no right to quote Dr. King. But the same argument has been applied to the likes of Justice Clarence Thomas, so maybe it's not about skin color, after all.
I'm not even certain how much of the present euphoria is race-based. Over the last several years, the Democrats, including the Big Media Acronyms, have managed to persuade many Americans that President Bush hates everything about ordinary people and is a malevolent arch-conservative who actively pursues evil against the American people -- more or less the national, nonfictional Charles Montgomery Burns, except that I may be slandering Burns by saying so. (There has been very little by way of effective protest against this caricature from the White House or Republicans generally, a foolish omission for which I blame them more than a little.) President Bush does not strike me as an evil man, and I seriously question his conservative credentials, but in politics perception is its own reality; hence the caricature's . . . reality. Small wonder that many are ecstatic at the dawning of a bright, sunny, liberal, benevolent day -- no matter what the skin color of the victorious candidate and ostensible savior (small "S") -- after what they suppose to have been an eight-year, uncommonly dark, borderline-fascist night.
In any case, if the masses you mention, who have felt disenfranchised but now feel they have a stake in our politics, can manage to keep feeling that way for years after January's inauguration, that will be a happy development. It will fundamentally change both parties and our politics, and I will welcome that change in all three cases. Among other things, dramatically broader involvement will reduce our growing susceptibility to self-imposed domestic tyranny.
Conservatives have been feeling progressively more disenfranchised over the past several years, especially with the nomination of John McCain. (His choice of running mate helped, I admit.) Maybe we can work on them next.
Copyright 2008 by David Rodeback.