By Bob Steinberg
After 21 months, the longest presidential campaign in this nation’s history has mercifully drawn to a close. On January 20, President- elect Barack Obama will be sworn in as our 44th president. Obama’s nearly flawless campaign managed to overcome swirls of controversy surrounding many of his past associations with a cast of characters right off the pages of a modern day conspiracy novel.
How did a candidate this far to the left ever get elected to the presidency in a nation that most would agree is center-right? A friend shared a story about an experience he witnessed while working at the polls last Tuesday. A black woman, accompanied by her husband, entered a polling precinct here appearing to be in severe pain. She was pregnant and obviously near term. When my friend inquired if there was anything wrong, she told him her doctor instructed her to remain in bed for the final days leading up to her delivery. Her husband, she said, insisted that she vote. She did – and gave birth less than 24 hours later.
The above story illustrates just how committed African-Americans were to elect Obama. Traditionally, 90 percent of blacks vote Democrat. This year’s after election survey analysis indicates it was at least 95 percent. Of the 14 million registered black voters, 13.3 million voted for Obama. That represents a whopping 20 percent of the 64 million votes he garnered.
Increased turnout among black voters made the difference in traditional Republican strongholds in the South, including Florida, Virginia and North Carolina; and in the Midwestern states of Ohio, Indiana and Missouri. Obama has been declared the winner in five of them. Missouri has McCain holding a slim lead and that state has yet to be called. In North Carolina, Obama won by only 14,000 votes. These six states have a total of 97 electoral votes. Even if McCain had won them all he’d still have been 11 votes shy of the presidency.
The burgeoning Hispanic population within the traditionally red states of Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado voted for Obama by more than two to one, cementing Obama’s victories there and in the Electoral College.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said after the election that he viewed the results as more of a referendum for change than a mandate. And Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) echoed that sentiment when she said there would be no hard push toward any leftist agenda. While some may question the sincerity of those words, Pelosi and Reid know there must be bi-partisan legislative progress soon. With the approval ratings in Congress barely above single digits, there will be little tolerance from the folks for more of the same.
In 1994, after the second year of Bill Clinton’s presidency, Democrats also controlled both the House and Senate. After the “Hillary Healthcare” debacle and their reckless spending habits, Democrats in Congress became victims of Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. Republicans seized control of both houses of Congress. With the 2010 mid-term elections just around the corner it would be prudent for Democrats to keep history in mind.
Obama and his Democratic majority obviously will be scrutinized carefully – not only by the minority party, but by a frustrated electorate seeking and demanding results. Clinton’s greatest successes came after the Republicans took over Congress and nudged him toward the center.
In the House, Democrats will pick up 20-plus seats, far less than anticipated. They also have made gains in the Senate but short of the filibuster-proof majority they sought. The Republicans will unlikely be obstructionists to every legislative initiative of the majority. They will help insure that we as a nation remain militarily strong while encouraging, proposing and supporting legislation that is socially sound and fiscally responsible.
Republicans will not be alone in attempting to keep any leftist agenda from being enacted. Many Democrats in Congress are conservatives; they are referred to as Blue Dog Democrats. While the Democrats will continue to hold the majority, their numbers belie the ideological divide that often stymies their leadership’s legislative initiatives. The Blue Dogs generally vote like moderate Republicans. It is hard to envision them supporting any sudden tilt to the left.
Exit polls revealed 22 percent of voters were “terrified” of an Obama presidency. Terrified may be a bit extreme. Much of this fear is felt by conservative Republicans, Democrats and Independents who believe this nation is in a state of continuing moral and fiscal decline and in danger of losing its very soul. They see Obama as typifying a liberal extremist who will continue to be an advocate for a leftist liberal agenda.
In spite of Obama’s victory, I believe the majority of Americans would not be very supportive of that. Last Tuesday three states had ballot initiatives that sought to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Even in ultra liberal California, a state Obama won handily, it passed. It also was approved in Florida and Arizona. This is apparently not the kind of change most Americans seek.
Conservative’s hope that Obama understands that to govern effectively he will need to govern from the center. Yet his first two appointees indicate he may not. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-ILL) has been chosen as Obama’s new chief of staff. John Podesta, a member of the Clinton team will serve as his transition chief. Both men are well known for being into brass-knuckled politics and are tough partisan infighters-hardly the type of individuals prone to compromise.
We’ve been told how intelligent this first term relatively inexperienced senator from Illinois is. And Obama and his surrogates also told us that he can be trusted and we have nothing to fear. Most folks want to believe that. But deeds, not rhetoric will be the measure of the man. America and indeed the world will be watching.