Thursday, November 06, 2008

Event: Election Post-Mortem.

I couldn't post yesterday; I was just too exhausted. I won't post tomorrow either; I need at least a brief break. On election night we hosted a breakfast-at-dinnertime party while the results came in, drank orange juice and ate sausage and potatoes. A loud sound went up at Pennsylvania, then Ohio, and then, when Obama passed 270, everyone freaked out. It was like crowds at the Super Bowl or Lollapalooza, only bigger and better. The champagne flowed and we all went out into the streets, and the news was all about people running into the streets.

* * * * *

Yesterday I was nursing a hangover all day long, but by evening I felt better. I met up with some friends at Metropolis, and we all took a walk. Just to take a walk. To enjoy the unexpected late fine weather and to muse on just how big and momentous this week has been.

So this, then, is my election post-mortem.

It is good that Obama won the election so decisively. Already, this one move has served to bolster our status in the world. The breadth of Obama's support has opened up states that have not been in play to Democrats in decades. The Great Lakes region was united behind a presidential candidate for the first time since 1972. The press has been quick to point out the significance of this election as a civil rights victory; they are right to do so. We should not forget that it is also a victory for Democrats, who have been resurgent since 2006, for the Left, which will (presumably) be better represented by Obama than by it would have been by Hillary Clinton, and most importantly, as an emphatic refutation of Bush-era policies of division and marginalization.
And yet... concessions are already being made and it would seem that there is little time to rest on our laurels.

It is also good that the Democrats picked up seats in congress; it would have been better if they had picked up a supermajority. I've commented to a few people in the last several days that whenever one party achieves dominance, things start to go south for them pretty quickly, and I suspect it's because interal rigor and discipline become a liability in a rush to fast action. I believe this argument, and yet it is meant to be a qualification of, not a dissent from, victory as a unilateral Democratic majority.
In the first place, the U.S. is too sheltered from the effects we have on our neighbors and the world at large. There is a pendulum in U.S. politics, but it's motion is strictly determined by a relative understanding of what is "liberal" and what is "conservative." It is fine to consider these differences meaningful, but we needn't consider them objective. While I don't believe the U.S. is definitionally a center-right nation, it functionally is at this time. Our policy needs to move to the left in general to accomodate crises that can only be addressed through action that is both democratically and collectively determined.
In the second place, the horrific damage rendered under the Bush administration, propogated by Republicans and sometime abetted by Democrats in congress over the last 14 years, and often upheld by an inconsistent judiciary, are huge in magnitude and can must be addressed by broad and sweeping executive and legislative action. Given the abysmal performance of our congressional Democratic leaders (we're all thinking of Reid and Pelosi), we need a sufficient "vote cusion" to make action possible. In our current crises, action is necessary, and therefore, Democrats and Independents should hope to see more Democrats in office.
In the third place: The Republican Party of the 2000s is much like the Democratic Party of the 1850s: it is broken. While it still stands upright, it only wreaks damage on itself and those it represents. Today's Republican Party represents not a free market but a fanged market; it represents not American patriotism but American nationalism. The riven Democratic party of the 1800s recovered, and I believe that the Republicans will as well. But first they have to be broken. They have to reconstitute themselves along their original premise of individual liberties upheld at the expense of collective prerogative, of a correspondent expectation of individual sacrifice, and of a government that tries to excise unnecessary intervention. That Republican party, a party recognizeable to Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Barry Goldwater, can contribute to our political landscape. But this Republican party, hateful, angry, alienating, divisive, invasive, unscrupulous, and increasingly regional: it is walking around broken. It is wounded and wounding, and as such, this broken party needs to be further broken. It needs to be crushed. Only then can it recover.
Now the Democrats didn't get a supermajority, but they picked up enough support to pursue an agressive progressive agenda with executive support. I do hope they use that strength with rigor and discipline. But make no mistakes: I hope that they sustain and increase it, and above all else, use it.

Finally, it is good that some good ballot amendments passed: I'm thinking most fondly on Michigan's Proposal 2, which allows research on embryonic stem cells, and California approved a bullet train, which is pretty cool, and which may in the long run offset the two other environmental proposals the state rejected. Sadly, the success of Proposition 8 in Califoria would seem to trump many progresses made around the country, as it revoked marriage rights in one of only two states where gays and lesbians can truly enjoy marriage equality. Beneath the hubbub over California, similar amendments passed in Arizona, Arkansas, and Florida. And yet... amid all this... the challenges have begun, and they are built upon firm constitutional ground.

* * * * *

It is deceptive of the graveness of our times to pretend that this election was an unmitigated vitory; in fact there is more to worry about now than ever. It is equally deceptive to underestimate the genuine power, the profound importance of what was declared last Tuesday; as Tom Brokaw said on election night, "just over 150 years ago, Mr. Obama could have been owned, as a black man." The emphasis is mine, but the emphasis is what gives this often unspoken statement its force. I think that Clay Bennett said it even better.

To fall back on a common declaration these days, yes, we can. Yes, we did. Yes, we will.

Be delirious.

Be deliriously happy.

Take a day, a week, a month to feel this happiness, and as you do, use that energy to infect and infest your labor and your conversation.

We just lived through a big thing and it was good ...

and ...

... it has foreshadowed some of the hardest work our nation will ever have to do.


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