So there it is. Barack Obama has been elected the next president of the United States. Nothing to be done about it, except to perform the obvious and painful task of conducting a political autopsy to discover exactly why this turn of events has occurred.
But first, I must express sincere gratitude to a large number of my fellow students. After the election was over, several people to whom I had never spoken in my life approached me and inquired in tones of earnest concern how I, presumably one of the only McCain supporters of whom they were aware, was doing. If nothing else, this makes me hopeful that some sort of positive change, whether Obama-induced or otherwise, is occurring on this campus.
The grief-choked answers I gave to these kind souls notwithstanding, my response to this election is probably quite similar to the response of the death row inmate who finally finds himself obliged to sit in the electric chair: no matter how long you have expected something unpleasant, it still hurts when it happens.
I did not harbor any deep illusions that John McCain would win this election; I expected a stronger showing, particularly in Ohio and Florida, but the odds of Pennsylvania flipping looked to be minor at best. My head was quite prepared for the almost inevitable defeat, but that didn’t stop my heart from belching a conflagration of rage, frustration and deep disappointment in the country after Barack Obama passed the cursed threshold that made him our next President. This outpouring of hurt was only magnified by the inebriated celebrations of my fellow students, though looking back on this with a cooler head I don’t grudge them for enjoying their victory.
There are silver linings to this electoral cloud—most importantly, the first black president has been elected. The Democrats did not pass the vaunted 60-seat threshold, which would have made opposition all but impossible. John McCain’s endless tired repeats of the same charisma-deprived slogans (“My friends, I will follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, my friends”) will finally end, to say nothing of the utterly embarrassing performance given by Sarah “Barracuda” Palin, whose sole purpose in this campaign appears to have been rallying the hagfish.
And, of course, we conservatives are finally emancipated from the nightmarish prospect of defending a president whose respect for principle and whose popularity are Nixonian at best. Perhaps we can even dare to hope that the GOP has been chastened, and that it will think twice before allowing either the hawkish foreign policy snakes in the grass or the vulgarity-peddling ultra-populists (both fixtures in the last administration) to gain power in this party again. But that may be too optimistic, even in a country whose slogan is (apparently) “Yes, we can!”
And can we? President-elect Obama’s sneers about cynical opposition notwithstanding, that is the crucial question: can we really do whatever we set our minds to? Presumably, at the point where we cannot fly, stop economic scarcity from ravaging our markets or make Britney Spears talented, the answer is either “No” or “Yes, with some exceptions.” Whatever the actual answer, however, there is a more important question: is “Yes, we can” (tacit premise: “And screw anyone who says we can’t”) a good political doctrine? I may be wrong, but speaking for myself, I think this may be the worst political doctrine since “Arbeit macht frei.”
There’s nothing wrong with optimism, but let it become the defining element of your ideology, and the results will not correlate with your expectations. There’s a very simple reason for this: affecting any sort of positive change necessarily has to start with getting rid of the negative elements that stand in the way. This has to be done with a pessimistic eye and an assumption that those negative elements are powerful, entrenched and perhaps more naturally ingrained than the positive ones you want to introduce. This doesn’t mean one should throw up one’s hands, but that one should be aware of how difficult the challenge of changing the world can be.
Ronald Reagan gave the best summation of this vision of the world when he said, “Perhaps there is a simple answer. Not easy, but simple.” I have heard no such moderating element in Barack Obama’s rhetoric, except for a few sinister references by his wife to the fact that we will all have to “sacrifice” to make her husband successful.
Obama faces one of the toughest administrations any entering president will ever face. He has two wars and a recession to fix. These are not problems that can be fixed by pretty slogans like “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” If “we” are the ones we’ve been waiting for, then why aren’t “we” president and not Obama? Obama likes to invoke the American tradition of self-reliance, but how is he going to contribute to keeping that tradition alive as president? Moreover, why is it “Yes, we can?” Why not “Yes, I can” if self-reliance and can-do spirit is necessary, which it is?
This points to a larger problem with the “Yes, we can” doctrine: it is a fine doctrine for the individual or the private corporate group, but if you put it in the hands of a government, it leads to overreach at best and tyranny at worst. Since liberalism has existed, its proponents have been trying to perfect human beings and shape them into neat abstractions that will dutifully follow the road to utopia. Given this, it’s justifiable to argue that God should keep us all safe from a politician with a dream, for it inevitably becomes a national nightmare when reality tersely snaps back: “No, you can’t.”
But with that said, best of luck, President Obama. Your loyal opposition will be ready should you fail. And can we make sure you don’t get the opportunity again? Yes, we can.