A (white) friend in Chicago, who was raised in Alabama, says Election Night was one of the greatest of her life, and she was ecstatic to be in Grant Park for the victory speech. I am fascinated (as always, every election) by the nitty-gritty breakdown of who voted for whom. And why. (In Manhattan, it was half a million votes for Obama to fifty thousand for McCain. Who let those people in?)
Race turned out not to be a major issue (except to black voters, bless 'em, and some Republican whites) - largely due to the intelligence with which Obama tamped down the issue. This is also a major difference between him and such candidates as Jesse Jackson. Jackson was the blacks' candidate; Obama always headed the coalition of the young, the intelligent, the ever-so-slightly left of center. (He's a very moderate liberal and I do not expect - alas - terribly liberal policies from his government.)
There were inroads into the ancient bastion of the white racist South. My southern friends have always said to me: "You think it's exotic - we came up here to New York to escape, and we know it's all true." But they grew up there, and more like them who do not leave. And many other friends of mine have moved there, following jobs or something. The place has been changing. When I've been there, the few times I have, it has been a pleasure to see that integration of commerce greases all wheels - whites and blacks mingle easily and politely, whatever may get said at home. People's minds do change, however slowly. If you know people, went to school with them, work with them, fought with them (I mean served in the military), your horror of the unknown must fade. Virginia, North Carolina, Florida went for a black man. The vote was close in other states. It was predictable, but one is amazed and delighted to see it. The South had to change; it had to forget its past to enjoy the delights of the present and future. A lesson the Republicans have so far refused to learn: the young want to live, and their social programs are the liberal ones. Your policies might appeal to older, more close-minded voters, but their children will look askance. They watch too much TV (even bad TV) not to be influenced by its casual freedom from old boundaries.
It would have been a bad year for Republicans in any case, yes, but they have tied themselves repeatedly to moribund, fading, hateful issues: they were anti-Civil Rights (and blacks have not forgotten that - nor have racist whites), they are anti-women's rights, they are anti-gay rights, they are anti-immigrants. They have set themselves in opposition to teaching science in science classrooms. These casual choices for unworthy reasons (I can't believe most Republicans really believe in creationism) have produced an image, a "branding," that they are the backward, hateful party. Word was bound to get around. It hasn't helped that their president was also the master of failed diplomacy, failed war, ruined New Orleans, and ruined economy. They can and do blame Democrats for their every idiotic mistake, but what positive accomplishments has their 12 years' control of Congress and 8 of the presidency brought us? We're a whole lot closer to fascism, but that's not a platform easy to run on. (Whether the Democrats will undo the fascist tilt of the last seven years of "Homeland Security" government remains to be seen.)
In 1964, when I were but a kid, my father solemnly said, "I think the Republican Party may be dead," after LBJ's victory. He used the voice one might have for a worthy if incompetent tennis partner. I said, "Don't be ridiculous; they'll bounce back," and thanks to LBJ's misbegotten Vietnam policy they sure did. In 1974, the day after Nixon quit, I said, "Well, I've seen the last of the worst president I'll ever have to live with," and that was the dumbest thing (politically) that I've ever said. I expect to be disappointed by many things Obama does, as I was with Carter and Clinton, but there is a matter of degree - I won't be shuddering with disgust and horror every time I glance at the headlines, as under Bush. (Or so I hope.)
For the next few weeks - maybe months - I will remember the nervousness of the last two. I will have a magic word whenever I am in the dumps: "McCain!" It automatically brings a smile to my lips and relief to my heart.
We all know NOW that McCain didn't have a chance; for the last couple of months I have been on tenterhooks (left over from a pre-Industrial Revolution loom) that he did. Obama's victory is that of a young, brainy guy who is unafraid of the new things in the world; McCain's defeat is the defeat of the people who feared the new world, who resented it, who wanted it beaten down, with weapons if necessary. Obama will embrace the world, which is eager to return the hug.
I would like to believe the Bush years were an aberration - but I don't. This counterrevolution has been building for some time, since the social revolutions of my youth certainly. Can any government bridge that gap? The Right isn't even interested in any such thing. Can the Left do it? Is there a Left in U.S. politics?
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