The historic election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States calls for reflections far beyond these provisional thoughts, but here are ten:
1. The original thesis of the Obama candidacy was that, in a multiparty field, he could stake a claim as the Ivory Soap candidate on the issue of Iraq. His opposition to the war was purer than the rest of the Democratic field’s. Having been an Illinois state legislator at the time the roll was called in the United States Senate, he had not cast a vote to authorize it. Free of the encumbrance of responsibility at the time of the Senate vote, he could present himself to Democrats as a visionary opponent of a misguided war.
2. The secondary thesis of the Obama campaign was that there was a substantial desire among Democrats to move on from the Clinton era. After Obama’s Iowa breakthrough and his New Hampshire loss, this theme had legs.
3. In the course of the Democratic caucuses and primaries Obama emerged as a messianc figure come to redeem the time. He is a quasi-religious figure for non-believers, playing to the same market that made films such as “Ghost” and “The Sixth Sense” such enormous successes. It is an element of the Obama campaign that many observers noted and that I explored in “The return of Sister Flute.”
4. Obama’s claim to represent a new poltics ending partisanship and division is as pure a product of the Bush era as Jimmy Carter’s “I will never lie to you” was of the Nixon era. That the products both have a lot of buyers does not mean they have any substance, but they built or build on genuine insight into the will to believe among a significant part of the electorate.
5. Obama’s race was an asset to his candidacy at every step of the way. Americans want to prove their racial good will. A black candidate whose race is incidental to his campaign and whose political skills are manifest is able to take advantage of a great moral yearning that lies deep within the American psyche. Shelby Steele, who has eloquently explored this theme in reference to Obama, refers to it as “the idealism that race is but a negligible human difference.”
6. Making use of his ample financial resources, Obama developed an impressive field organization to crush Hillary Clinton in the caucus states in the contest for the Democratic nomination and to turn formerly red states such as Virginia blue in the presidential election. There is no substitute for organization in a competitive race. This is a particularly old-fashioned thesis to derive from a campaign predicated on a theme of new politcs.
7. The campaign gave new meaing to the term “hoist on his own petard.” Obama’s incredible fundrasing prowess outside the system of public financing should kill McCain-Feingold on practical grounds after it should have been killed on constitutional grounds.
8. Despite his thoroughgoing liberalism, Obama did not run as a liberal. LIberals can run successfully for president under camouflage donned for the occasion. The camouflage will be accorded respect and deference by the press like that accorded the Emperor’s new clothes.
9. Senator McCain ran a flawed, weirdly constrained but honorable campaign against Barack Obama under circumstances that were aggravated from the difficult to the impossible. No other Republican candidate could have overcome them or run a more successful campaign.
10. The substantially enhanced Democratic majorities in Congress stand poised to pass a raft of legislation that ranges from the destructive to the abominable and the tyrannical. It will serve as an early challenge to the judgment of President Obama, and to the efficacy of the loyal opposition.
Tonight let us salute and congratulate Senator Obama as the author of a brilliant campaign and pray that he achieves greatness in office. To adapt the imprecation of Stephen Decatur: May he always be in the right; but our president, right or wrong.
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