Mutts like me … can even historic President-elect conquer age of disappointment?

Nov 9th, 2008 | By | Category: USA Today

“Who among us is not at a loss for words?” That’s how Michael Moore began his reflections on the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States last Tuesday. That has been our first reaction too. And it may explain why it’s taken us five days to say anything at all.

Mr. Moore seems to have two crucial initial reactions. To start with: “if I could sum up our collective first thought of this new era, it is this: Anything Is Possible.” And then more simply: “Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th President of the United States. Wow. Seriously, wow.”

Meanwhile on Bill Moyers Journal, the lapsed Republican student of Wealth and Democracy, Kevin Phillips, has no doubt sensibly urged that: “We are in an age of disappointment. And I don’t think that’s going to be eradicated easily. I’m not sure it will be at all … Americans always have a sense that the election of a president … will get rid of the things we didn’t like. We tend to overstate it … I think the Democrats have to figure on trouble.”

On the other hand again, if you watched Barack Obama’s first press conference as President-elect, and heard him casually refer to “mutts like me,” in response to a question about the new puppy he has promised his daughters, you had to remind yourself, as Alan Fram of the Associated Press has put it, “how thoroughly different his administration – and inevitably, this country – will be.” And even in the age of disappointment that does seem a comforting thought.

Obama 2008 in historical perspective …

You can’t exactly say that Barack Obama won by a landslide on November 4, 2008. But he won a considerably more solid victory than, e.g., George W. Bush in either of 2000 or 2004.

The US system being what it is, altogether official results (whatever exactly that may mean in the American case, since there is no federal electoral agency exactly analogous to Elections Canada) are still not available. It would appear that ultimately the Clerk of the US House of Representatives will publish the official results. (“Since 1920, the Clerk of the House has collected and published the official vote counts for federal elections from the official sources among the various states and territories.”)

Meanwhile, as reported by CNN on the evening of November 9, Obama took 53% of the popular vote and 364 electoral votes, to McCain’s 46% of the popular vote and 163 electoral votes. MSNBC at the same time was reporting the same numbers, except that it had McCain with 173 electoral votes.

It would seem the difference here is probably that MSNBC has finally assigned Missouri to McCain – although if this were entirely true, it would also seem that McCain ought to have 11 not just 10 more electoral votes on the MSNBC calculation. (Yahoo at this same time, e.g., is reporting 162 electoral votes for McCain – and this would correspond with 173 electoral votes if you finally give McCain Missouri, which has 11 electoral votes. BBC News is also reporting only 162 electoral votes for McCain, and showing Missouri still undecided. The most likely conclusion would appear to be that someone at the CNN website has made a clerical error. Does Wolf Blitzer know about this?)

In any case, everyone seems to agree that President-elect Obama has 364 electoral votes – and that is what is important. (You need 270 to win.) So how does this compare with other presidents in other elections?

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica: George W. Bush won 286 electoral votes in 2004 and 271 in 200; Bill Clinton won 379 in 1996 and 370 in 1992; George H.W. Bush won 426 electoral votes in 1988; Ronald Reagan won 525 in 1984 and 489 in 1980; Jimmy Carter won 297 electoral votes in 1976; Richard Nixon won 520 in 1972 and 301 in 1968; Lyndon Johnson won 486 electoral votes in 1964; John F. Kennedy won 303 in 1960; and if you want to go back any further than this, you can look up the results yourself.

You might say of course that the US electoral college system is not strictly democratic, in the sense of one adult person one vote – and that in terms of mandates and landslides nation-wide popular vote numbers are more compelling.

So the recent numbers here are: George W. Bush – 51% in 2004, 48% in 2000; Bill Clinton – 49% in 1996, 43% in 1992; Goerge H.W. Bush – 53% in 1988; Ronald Reagan – 59% in 1984, 51% in 1980; Jimmy Carter – 51% in 1976; Richard Nixon – 61% in 1972, 43% in 1968; Lyndon Johnson – 61% in 1964; John F. Kennedy – 50% in 1960. (And again, if you want to go back further, look it up yourself!)

On a final note here, there was some enthusiastic reporting on election night that the 2008 voter turnout might have been higher than in any other US presidential election since 1908.

Again, official numbers are not yet available (and again from the Clerk of the House, it would seem?) According to a November 7 report in the New York Times, however: “A study by the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University suggests that even with record lines and the increasing popularity of casting ballots early, the overall rate of voter turnout for the 2008 election will not reach record levels …The study projects that a total of 126.million up to 128.5 million, or somewhere in the neighborhood of 60.7 percent to 61.7 percent of those eligible to vote will have cast ballots this year. If that rises to more than 61 percent, the report says, that would be the highest voter turnout rate since 1964.”

A few further odds and ends …

As far as the significance of it all goes, we still feel at something of a loss for words, even on the evening of Sunday, November 9. Except to echo Michael Moore’s “Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th President of the United States. Wow. Seriously, wow.”

As Kevin Phillips has said, there are no doubt many vast difficulties ahead for President-elect Obama, especially in the new age of disappointment, that crystallized with the financial panic which punctuated the later days of the 2008 presidential campaign. (And which some say is what finally gave the Democrat Obama the decisive edge over his Republican rival McCain. Now that it has finally happened, we still think Obama would have won anyway, although perhaps not by quite so wide a margin, even allowing that is wasn’t a landslide in any case.)

Yet what has happened with the election of the first African American president of the United States is so remarkable – and for everyone of our persuasion, so welcome – that it seems reasonable enough to just sit back and enjoy all the good feelings for a while longer.

Given the crazy institutional lame-duck period built into the American system, President-elect Obama will not assume office until January 20, 2009 (in the year that also marks the bicentennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, whose words the president-elect has already told us he consults from time to time). There will be time enough to worry about all the things that so need worrying about then.

Meanwhile, in the age of disappointment that is still also the age of 247, it does seem that the president-elect has hit the ground running hard, as he should.

He has already called Nancy Reagan, to apologize for some light-hearted remarks about her that slipped out during his first press conference as president-elect. And it seems she too was charmed, like everyone else. (Well, almost everyone. There are the 46% of voters who opted for McCain, though the president-elect made a high-minded bow to them during his subdued and sober victory speech too.)

Then Business Week has already reported on “The Changes Business Wants from Obama.” We read in the local morning paper that “Iran slams Obama’s tough talk on nuclear arms.” And then there is the good news that: “Obama to Reverse Over 200 Bush Actions and Executive Orders.” Even so, tomorrow Barack and Michelle will be meeting with George and Laura at the White House, just to get the transition started off on the right foot, and all that. President Bush himself has said some generous words about the new president-elect who will replace him on January 20. Even he seems to feel good, somehow, about what has happened.

And the best news today has come from Frank Rich’s column in the New York Times. It began with: “ON the morning after a black man won the White House, America’s tears of catharsis gave way to unadulterated joy.” And it ended with: “even as we celebrated our first black president, we looked around and rediscovered the nation that had elected him. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,’ Obama said in February … millions of such Americans were here all along … This was the week that they reclaimed their country.” Of course, all this wild elation won’t last. It never does. And that’s all the more reason to enjoy the brief moments, when it seems that the world here on the fallen planet of earth actually does make sense.

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