Wednesday, November 05, 2008

How 'bout that?

So, as you may have heard, Barack Obama won the election. Pretty remarkable. I, and a lot of other people, never really thought I'd see a black President. But there he is. And it's not just that he's black --- he's young, relatively inexperienced, the son of a foreigner and a single mom, he's got a funny name, said funny name involves the word "Hussein," he was born in Hawai'i and lived in Indonesia, and he ran as a straight-up liberal, not a centrist. So he had a whole slew of electability negatives, and he was running against a well-known, well-liked long-term Senator and war hero with a reputation for independence and bipartisanship.

And yet, from about midway through the primary contest, I began to become fairly confident that Obama could actually win. Why? Because the more people saw of him, the more they liked him. The Clinton campaign tested him, and he didn't succumb to it. He got people excited, and that excitement translated into activism and, finally, votes.

Meanwhile, John McCain won his party's nomination mainly because of his opponents' negatives more than his own positives, and that party had the albatross around its neck of an extremely disliked incumbent President. But that's not to say the election was a foregone conclusion. Obama had to worry about whether his primary opponent's supporters would "come home" to him. And if McCain had run like he did in 2000, with a refreshing, independent spirit, he might have won. But while McCain tried to distance himself from George W. Bush the person, he tacked hard to the right to win the primaries and ran on George W. Bush's policies. As the campaign wore on, and especially during the debates, Obama seemed cool and confident while McCain seemed irritated and erratic.

The selection of Sarah Palin as his VP nominee briefly injected a lot of excitement into his campaign, and I was afraid that they might be able to carry that over into the election. But after a few weeks it became clear that Palin had a lot of problems and that picking her reflected poorly on McCain's judgement. My gut feeling was that it was a couple weeks after the Palin pick that the media's coverage changed, too. While they consistently reflected the excitement that Obama's campaign was generating, until September they were far too willing to run with any of the stories generated by the McCain campaign or his surrogates about Obama, no matter how irrelevant or sleazy.

But it soon became clear that Palin was entirely unfit for office and that McCain's weak response to the failing economy meant that his talk of the country needing a "steady hand on the tiller" was an argument for his opponent, not him. The public and the media stopped buying the cracked narrative being sold by the Republicans, whose bounce in the polls quickly subsided. Obama took a statistically significant lead early in October and ran down the clock the rest of the way, and on election day his ground game carried him to the win. Good job. ADDED (11/6/08): Giving credit where it's due, McCain's concession speech was quite moving.

As for the rest of the races... Democrats seem to have made strong gains in both houses of Congress, though not quite as many as they might have hoped. Al Franken is trailing slightly in a recount for a Senate seat in Minnesota... it would tickle me pink if he were elected. UPDATE (11/6/08): Watch Swing State Project for updates on undecided races.

Here in California, the passage of Proposition 8, banning gay marriage 52-48, is certainly a bummer, but considering that a similar measure passed eight years ago by a 61-39 margin gives hope that this particular fight isn't over.

But after Obama's victory, my most pleasant surprise was the passage of the two rail transportation propositions here in California, both of which I thought voters would be scared away from by their price tags. The statewide Prop 1A, to float a $10 billion bond for high-speed rail across the state, passed by a 52-48 margin. Even more surprising, considering that it needed a 2/3 majority to pass, L.A. County Measure R, authorizing a sales tax increase to build mass transit and other transportation improvements, won 67.4% of the vote. These are all long-term projects, but they'll both do a lot of good toward increasing transportation options.

ALSO (11/6/08): Message to Obama and Congress: Don't govern from the center. Or, more precisely, don't make governing from the center your strategy. Voters won't reject you in 2010 because you're left-of-center, they'll reject you if you fail. With solid control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress, the Democrats have no excuses for note executing their plans. If those plans work, you'll win again. If they fail, you will be voted out of office --- and deservedly so.

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