And that’s it. It’s all over. Its 4:30 am in the freezing cold Fitz TV room;, channel flipping, happily surveying the crest- fallen faces on Fox News. Obama has roared past 270 , won by a nice healthy margin in the popular vote (about 7%), and Democrats are sweeping the board in the House and Senate across the country. This morning’s newspapers and news websites had the usual and predictable healines: “History in the making”, “A New Dawn”, “America votes for change”, and so on.
I want Obama to fulfill his promise as much as everyone else, but I can’t help thinking that we’re getting a long way ahead of ourselves. For starters, Obama lost the white vote, and it wasn’t even especially close; with 55% going for McCain and only 43% for Obama, up only two percent on Kerry’s record in 2004. With virtually everyone here supporting Obama, it’s very easy to think he has been swept into office in on a national tidal wave of unanimous support. He’s won big, but he has nothing like the cross-national coalition behind him that the media portray.
The big gains in Congress (up to 57 in the Senate and more than 250 in the House) will make passing reforms easier for Obama, but it will by no means be a walk in the park. The weakness of party loyalty means that, even if the Democrats do have 57 seats, he might not always get 57 votes. And, despite hopes of achieving the 60-seat fillibusterproof majority, it looks like they will fall short, thus leaving reform legislation still potentually vulnerable to Republican fillibuster.
Clinton, another young, attractive, refomer was swept into office with a majority in both Houses, but failed to pass much needed legislation on healthcare reform. Special interests are notoriously well-entrenched in Washington DC. The immense financial power they have over elected representatives means that the wishes of the people will not be the only things wieghing on Congressmen and Senators’ minds when they cast their votes next year. ‘The Obama effect’ will be influential at first, but I wonder how long it is before business as usual returns in Washington.
Contrary to popular belief, the US Constitution was at its heart a conservative document, born more of a representative republican spirit than a nationally democratic one. It was designed to make radical change more difficult. The unlimited debate rules of the Senate allowed small groups to block progressive legislation for decades. It will be a test of Obama and his supporters whether they can overcome hundreds of years of conservatism. History provides some pause for thought. In the 1960s, America was in love with John F Kennedy in much the same way many seem to be with Obama today. Yet, throughout his 3 years in office he was legislatively something of a disappointment.
As erratic and misguided as the as the Clinton and McCain campaigns were, they were right in pointing out Obama’s inexperience. The US has taken a significant gamble in electing him, and we can only hope that the public goodwilll and the experienced team he has behind him will help him through. and that the maturity, skill and organization of his campaign is carried into the Oval office.
The 44th President will come to office facing greater challenges than most of his recent predecessors. An ailing economy, two wars, and a still divided country. There’s no doubt in my mind that America (finally) has made the right choice. But Obama will face the same pressures that all politicians will face. Building a popular movement based on fuzzy notions of ‘change’ and ‘hope’ is a great campaign strategy but cannot be carried into government.
After campaigning in poetry, he more likely than not will end up governing in prose. With an Obama victory, the future is looking much brighter, but it is important to keep things in perspective, and be realistic about the months and years ahead, lest we’re left with a nasty taste in our mouths when things don’t turn out quite as well as we hoped.