WHAT MANY HAD FEARED HAS NOW HAPPENED: A SCARILY inexperienced senator with a wafer-thin resume has been elected president of the United States. That says something. It says something about the mood of the country. It certainly says something about the still simmering racial tensions in this country. It probably says something about the ignorance of the American voter. And it says something about the way the 21st-century media work in our society.
This is a historic moment. America has elected her first black president. That alone is something to be relieved about. The previous failed attempts of black candidates to gain any traction among average voters, though due almost entirely to their extremist positions and their paramount unfitness for office, nevertheless left a foul taste in the mouths of many Americans. This is a huge moment: about as big as the civil rights laws of the 1960s. For that aspect I am grateful. And I am not just saying this because at 1:45am the city of Washington DC, where I was privileged to experience the evening as a guest of Dutch public radio and TV, has exploded in a massive outdoor party.
Yes, Washington DC, which is overwhelmingly Democrat (nearly 100%) and which has slightly more than half African-Americans, is celebrating the election of Barack Obama. As a conservative I did think it wiser to travel by taxi from the studio back to my hotel rather than saunter back past the White House (directly on the route).
Are Republicans now lost forever? Certainly not. The world did not end because the wrong black candidate got to be the first black president. First of all, Sen. Obama has shown himself to be intelligent and who knows how to play the political game. That means there is, to use the man’s own words, hope. Confronted with the realities of office he may yet reign in the most radical parts of his agenda.
But I am also not convinced by arguments that Republicans brought this on themselves by “overreaching,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Surrounded by liberal talking heads at the studio, I kept hearing this theory that Karl Rove’s evil strategy to cement a permanent Republican majority was the main culprit of this kick up the party’s backside. In the words of another famous American: It’s the economy stupid. Well, and that other albatross around every Republican’s neck, the Current Occupant, as liberal looney author and commentator Garrison Keilor likes to call him.
McCain ran an abominable campaign in the homestretch, though this was partly due to the vastly smaller war chest available to him. Sen. Obama’s campaign alone raised over 600 million dollars, while McCain’s net income was under 300 million, a decided disadvantage. But McCain did not have the clear message and he did not have the presentation. McCain killed his own campaign by using his gut instead of his brain. He selected an outside candidate for running mate and he went berserk when Wall Street crashed. One may forgive him for the former mistake because he had no viable alternatives. And do not forget that Palin did rally the base in a way Republicans have not seen in a long time. That was and will remain a valuable asset to this campaign.
But McCain’s second mistake—raving and ranting against this and that person he deemed responsible for the financial crisis—revealed something eerie about his judgment. It is, in my view, what clinched this race. I have spoken to a few of the liberals who attended the election broadcast and more than one said something along the lines of, “Let’s keep our fingers crossed.” They are not sure about Obama. All they know is that McCain was not an option. He was ruled out.
So, whither now the conservative movement? I do not think much will need to change in politics, but a lot will need to change in tactics. Democrats benefited from a much better grassroots organization. Republicans will need to develop a parallel structure.
As for Sarah Palin? I doubt we will hear much from her again on the national stage. Applying the Peter Principle, she seems to have risen above the level where she can perform adequately. She seems to be functioning fairly well as governor of Alaska and has a serious argument on her side now that a counter-report has cleared her of wrongdoing in Troopergate.
But that leaves the conservative movement in the Republican party without a real leader. Leadership is not going to come from the Palins and Huckabees who have been weighed and found wanting. But the likes of McCain and Thompson, while honorable men (said the former Fredhead in me), clearly belong to a previous generation. In four years, we will not see them. Romney will not win anything national until he gets a real human soul transplanted into his android body. Who will lead the way?