Obamania the Day After November 6, 2008Posted by Adam Nowland in Election 2008, Politics, President Bush, President Obama, Republican Party, U.S. Government.
Tags: Democratic Party, economic crisis, Election 2008, Ginsburg, GOP, Great Society, John Paul Stevens, President Bush, President Obama, President-elect Obama, Republican Party, Scalia, Supreme Court, War on Terror
Congratulations, Democrats. After eight years, you and your party have seized control of the White House with Senator Barack Obama’s victory over Republican Senator John McCain on Tuesday. Throw this in with your increased majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and you must feel like you are flying on top of the world. In fact, with all the outpouring of love for America expressed since the election, you may very well be doing just that. Just think of the circumstances. The first black American President? Check. A sweeping endorsement of liberal control of the country? Check. Your biggest opponent, the hated GOP, reeling and searching for answers? Check.
So break out the glasses and pop open the bubbly – after all, nothing can stand in your way now, right? Now is the time to push for social equality, increase taxes on the rich and give generously to the poor. Pack the Supreme Court with liberal-minded judges who will uphold Roe v. Wade and stop pesky Justices like Scalia and Roberts in their tracks. Now that Bush is gone, we can bring home the soldiers to well-earned confetti and parades, ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in one fell swoop. After all, if we’re not over there, the problem should take care of itself, right? Now is the time for Obama to start implementing all those wonderful promises he made while crisscrossing the nation over the last few months, correct?
There are a number of reasons why Democrats and other liberals will be disappointed during Obama’s initial work in the Oval Office.
At the height of triumph, such as in the wake of Obama’s landslide victory over McCain, it is easy to lose sight of reality, that bright sun which breaks into dreamland every morning. Unfortunately, that very reality will strike Obama’s supporters as they begin to realize that he cannot possibly fulfill all his campaign promises, let along pursue a particularly liberal agenda. Even if the country were in excellent shape, the divisiveness in the American political arena would prohibit such action, but the United States is struggling economically, militarily, and globally on a variety of levels, and it is clear that Obama will have to dance a very delicate ballet if he wants to effectively solve the many problems that will sit on his desk after being sworn in when January rolls around. Let’s examine some of the dreams of Obama’s supporters and compare them to the likely reality of his first term in office.
President Obama will be able to stack the Supreme Court with liberal justices who can break the deadlock that has stalled decisions on important issues. Almost certainly untrue, at least until Obama starts his second term, if he is re-elected. This Yahoo! News article explains why. The two justices most likely to retire, John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, are both considered liberal members of the court, so even if Obama replaced them with more liberal justices (and history shows that just because a member of a certain party appoints a particular justice doesn’t necessarily mean that justice always thinks in a similar way) the court’s balance will likely remain the same. The conservative justice most likely to retire any time soon, Justice Scalia, a watchdog for private liberty and strict interpretation of the Constitution, is stubborn enough that he is likely to hang around long enough to see if the next president is a Republican. Barring a surprise death, it is unlikely that there will be any significant change in the ideological balance of the Supreme Court. At most, we will see younger, progressive justices replacing the older wave of liberal judges in the federal court system.
President Obama’s economic plan will help enable an equalizing of social-economic classes across the country. Again, almost certainly impossible. Since his election, Obama has often been compared to former President Lyndon B. Johnson, a fellow Democrat who, like Obama, took the election in a landslide that also saw large Democratic majorities grow in the Senate and House of Representatives. Johnson’s Great Society, an economic plan that purported to serve many of the same goals as Obama’s plan, was eventually a mixed success, primarily because it was too expensive in light of a tightening economy in a nation that was involved in a never-ending war in Vietnam. Sound familiar? It should. With no end to the ongoing economic crisis in sight, two very expensive wars on the other side of the globe, and consumers gripping tightly to their ever-thinning wallets, Obama’s expansive promises to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and help low-income families at the expense of the rich is probably too costly to be a developable idea. If the country were in better shape financially and didn’t have to worry about the ongoing financial and human costs of the “War on Terror,” Obama might be able to pull off his economic promises. However, if the country were in such a great position after eight years of President Bush, then John McCain probably would have been elected. The bottom line is that voters swept Obama into office for his position as the “anti-Bush” and his promises of “change” and a better tomorrow, but he won’t be able to single-handedly deliver. The critical distinction is that no single person – not President Bush, not former President Clinton – can be blamed for any economic crisis or boom. Obviously the markets are beyond the reach of any single mortal. However, most voters don’t consider this when they go to the polls, and, much like President Bush was blamed for the economic crisis, Obama will be expected to fix the crisis. Similarly, if the economy continues to struggle, Obama’s expensive social plans must be put on hold until the economy recovers, or he risks putting the country into even greater debt.
President Obama’s election heralds a sweeping endorsement of liberal ideas and a sound rejection of the Republican platform. The election did indeed sweep the Republicans from office with great fanfare, but I would caution against coming to such a conclusion. Instead of a rejection of the ideology of the GOP, it is more likely that the voters were rejecting the way the GOP has run the country over the last few years. Some of this can be squarely placed on the shoulders of President Bush and the Republican members of Congress, who failed to effectively prosecute the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, at least until recently. Other issues, like the collapsing economy, are beyond the control of the Republicans and can be blamed on the mismanagement of both parties and the administrations of both Presidents Bush and Clinton. Even then, significant portions of the economic crisis were beyond the government’s control. Regardless, it was clear that the majority of the country disapproved of the direction the GOP had taken the country in. But keep in mind a few other factors as well. This was indeed a historic election, with record numbers of voters turning out at the polls. Not all of these votes can be attributed to the hatred of President Bush, as some liberal analysts would have you believe, but were in fact citizens vying for the chance to help create history – that is, elect the first black President (or, on the Republican side, elect the first female Vice President). Additionally, if voters were indeed “swinging liberal,” it is hard to explain why certain measures, such as bans on gay marriage in Florida, Arizona, and California, were passed. The most shocking example of this was in California, a traditionally liberal state which passed the ban after huge amounts of money were spent both supporting and decrying the measure. Rather than a rejection of ideology, the country was rejecting the way a party was leading the United States, similar to what happened with the Democrats towards the end of President Clinton’s second term.
President Obama’s election was indeed a historic one, signaling a major step towards racial equality in a nation that has historically struggled with racism. However, liberals must be cautious as they approach Obama’s inauguration. Those who believe that Obama can single-handedly and quickly turn the nation in a different direction are sure to be disappointed. Barack Obama is no fool. He wants a second term as much as any other President has. However, he knows that the only way to obtain another four years in office is to remain in the good graces of voters and to do that will require a very delicate dance through the dangers already piling up on his office. Expect him to tiptoe around divisive issues, at least until he gets to his second term. Only then will he be able to move freely towards whatever agenda he chooses.