Nov 6, 2012 : “Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?”

Nov 7th, 2012 | By | Category: In Brief

TORONTO, CANADA. NOVEMBER 7, 2012. 2 AM ET. I woke this morning to cp24 TV (well, strictly speaking, now it’s yesterday morning I guess). And I heard that nothing we think up here in the Canadian attic about the US election will make it through the bubble of the American consciousness. (Which is no doubt hardly surprising, and probably a good thing. The important point for us is that we will think what we do anyway, of course.)

Running across the bottom of the TV screen, in generously sized letters, was the message “FINAL POLL: OBAMA 50%, ROMNEY 47%.”  Later that morning I saw a similar message at the bottom of the page on the Washington Post website : “Who’s Ahead? … Obama — 50% … Romney — 47% .” It reminded me of Governor Romney’s self-confessed great mistake, about the 47% of the American people who don’t count, and all that.

Anyway, the popular vote has proved even closer. As I write, the latest results on the CNN website (the best place for numbers, it seems?) show Obama with 50% of the national popular vote (54,703,058 votes) and Romney with 49% (53,691,903 votes). These numbers are changing virtually every few seconds. But it seems clear enough that the final popular vote will be quite close in percentage terms. (Even though President Obama already has more than a million more votes than Governor Romney, and the trend has been for this number to rise.)

As far as the electoral college that really counts goes, the exact numbers right now depend on just what TV network you are watching. The CNN site is currently reporting 303 electoral votes for President Obama, and 206 for Governor Romney. MSNBC, on the other hand, has Obama at 297 and Romney at 206. Other networks may be giving still other results. Some sources are apparently bolder about projecting a winner in states where the vote is still very close. In any case, you need 270 electoral votes to win, and it has been clear for some time that President Obama has been re-elected, by whatever exact margin. And, as widely predicted, his ultimate victory in a very close Ohio contest proved a key to his re-election.

* * * *

For some time earlier in the evening Governor Romney was actually leading in the national popular vote — even after President Obama’s victory in the state-by-state electoral college that counts seemed assured (following most of the final predictions by most well-informed students of the election). And already TV commentators with known right-wing tilts were talking about how divided the country is, and how the newly re-elected president would have to take account of and even cater to the strength of his defeated opponents.

President Obama’s ultimate lead in even the popular vote at least ought to take some of the wind out of the most patently absurd of these sails. But it is also true enough that while the Democrats have kept and perhaps slightly improved their bare majority in the Senate, the Republicans have kept their majority in the House of Representatives.

President Obama has received a fresh majority mandate from the national electorate. (And, objectively, he is certainly in a stronger position from this angle than George W. Bush was, after the 2000 US election.) But the 2012 US general election has shown — as have so many other events over the past number of years — that there is nowadays an especially great divide between the traditional two sides of the American political spectrum.

Governor Romney did finally give a gracious short concession speech, with some generous allusions to the re-elected president and the need for all sides to work together, to resolve the serious challenges that currently face the US body politic (and economic too of course). President Obama, in his subsequent rather inspirational speech even raised the prospect of meeting with Governor Romney, to discuss what is to be done.

Yet this has been an unusually bitter US election campaign. Up here in the attic, it is hard not to wonder and even worry somewhat about what lies ahead. Personally, I feel bound to confess, I am pleased with President Obama’s re-election. I think the American people have done their country and its future a great favour. And the re-election of Barack Obama makes me more hopeful about the prospects of life in the global village in our time.

At the same time, what has happened in the USA today on Tuesday, November 6, 2012 in some ways reminds me of something I read recently in the London Review of Books. The memoirist Thomas Powers was writing about a new book called The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac, by Joyce Johnson (who apparently slept with Jack Keouac for a time in his younger days).

Towards the end of his piece Powers alludes to a passage in Kerouac’s 1950s masterpiece, On the Road.  The character called Carlo Marx (apparently based on the real-life poet Allen Ginsberg) says to the character called Dean Moriarty (based on Kerouac’s real-life hero Neal Cassady) : “Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?”

I’d like to ask President Obama and Joe Biden and the new Republican-majority US House of Representatives this same question — along with virtually everyone on Wall Street (say) and Hollywood (maybe?), and Washington, DC.

PS : By the time I have finished these notes, about 3:30 AM ET, President Obama’s lead over Governor Romney in the national popular vote has increased to more than 1.7 million votes — or 50% to 48%. So maybe the last poll I heard about when I woke up Tuesday morning wasn’t all that wrong after all!

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