James Whitmore, 1921-2009. “Although not always politically active, in 2007, Whitmore generated some publicity with his endorsement of Barack Obama for U.S. President. In January 2008, Whitmore appeared in television commercials for the First Freedom First campaign, which advocates preserving ‘the separation of church and state’ and protecting religious liberty.“
It’s a good day for a change.
So, can you guess who TIME’s Person of the Year for 2008 turned out to be?
Not a huge surprise of course. Regardless, in honor of the occasion, and since now seems as good a time as any to fire up the 2008-in-retrospect train, below are some of the longer GitM essays on President-elect Obama over the past year and change. (And if you’re really a glutton for punishment, and want to relive all the debate coverage or somesuch, there’s always the election 2008 archives.)
“‘You could have had an administration with a sprinkling of Clinton people, it would have been fine,’ said Robert Kuttner, co-editor of the American Prospect…’But when so many of the top people are holdovers, and he’s promoting change, you have to say, wait a minute.’” As the official Cabinet appointments file in, some left-minded folk cast a wary eye upon the Clintonian tinge of the Obama cabinet. (If you haven’t been keeping up, among those announced by the transition of late are Eric Holder at Justice, Tim Geithner at Treasury, and Larry Summers(!) as in-house economic guru, and word has leaked of Bill Richardson for Commerce and You-Know-Who for State.)
To be honest, with a few exceptions — After his egregious stint at Harvard and his hand in forging the economic mess we’re in now, I’m not altogether sure Larry Summers deserved to “fail up” — I’m not only fine with so many experienced Clinton-era officials in the Obama cabinet, I expected it. This was the great fallacy of the McCain campaign — For all his talk of maverick independence, there was never any substantial trough of non-Dubya Republicans out there from which McCain could’ve picked a government. A few cosmetic changes in the Cabinet aside, a McCain Washington would by necessity have been run by the same jokers who brought us the last eight years. And, for better or worse, we Dems also don’t have a different farm team of any kind. As Robert Borosage well puts it in the article above, “It hasn’t surprised me that he’s chosen stars from the Clinton bench, because that’s the bench we have.“
All that being said, I’d be lying if I didn’t note that the probable choice of Sen. Clinton for Secretary of State gives me pause. Part of my qualm, I suppose, is just a temperamental defect in my grudge-carrying Irish character — I’d be the first to admit that I lean towards “the Chicago way” in these sorts of things. (If it were up to me, Joe Lieberman would be working the Senate cloakroom after his behavior this election cycle, and, imho, Sen Clinton still has quite a bit to answer for as well.) But even allowing for my own petty vindictiveness, I’m not feeling the pick. Notwithstanding her dubious qualifications for State — don’t we have any career diplomats who would fit the bill? — Sen. Clinton’s record in foreign policy matters thus far is not what you’d call stellar. (See also: the Iraq vote, the Iran vote.) And, to put it delicately, if we learned anything from the Clinton campaign this past cycle, it’s that management skills may not be her forte — Wouldn’t we all be better served with Sen. Clinton replacing Ted Kennedy as the new liberal lion of the Senate?
Mind you, I can see the political merits of the pick, both in terms of its Lincolnian magnanimity (it enhances Obama’s “goodbye to all that” post-partisan prestige, and completes the Seward analogy) and its Johnsonian shrewdness. (As LBJ said of J. Edgar Hoover, ““I would rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.“) And, if the president-elect believes Sen. Clinton to be the woman for the job, despite everything that’s happened over the year, I’m inclined to trust his judgment on the matter. I just hope it works out better than I fear. (Pic via Sullivan.)
Thus was the freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’s happy reaction to Obama’s election Tuesday night. (As you may remember, he publicly backed the senator in June.) For many others, including yours truly, the feeling of the evening might best be summed up by one of Dylan’s esteemed contemporaries, Leonard Cohen: “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Halleloooooojah!“
For the first time since 1994, we have a Democratic president and a safely Democratic Congress. For the first time since 1964, we have a Democratic president entering office with a commanding mandate from the people. For the first time since…well, ever, we’ve reaffirmed our founding principles by choosing an African-American to lead us into the future.
I don’t want to overplay the “first black president” thing, because that’s not at all why we chose Sen. Obama. Still it must be said: With this election, we have shown the world — and ourselves — anew that the American ideal isn’t just a convenient myth, but a vision of the good that many of us still aspire to create every day. In the words of Cornel West, “To understand your country, you must love it. To love it, you must, in a sense, accept it. To accept it as how it is, however is to betray it. To accept your country without betraying it, you must love it for that in it which shows what it might become. America – this monument to the genius of ordinary men and women, this place where hope becomes capacity, this long, halting turn of the no into the yes, needs citizens who love it enough to reimagine and remake it.” And so we have, in a way the founders of our American experiment 221 years ago could barely have imagined.
Meanwhile, even with crooks like Ted Stevens and Norm Coleman still floating for the moment, our old friends the Republicans are now not only in full rout, but appear to be set to tear each other’s throats out in assigning blame for their repudiation at the polls. (Expect several further symposia of conservative hand-wringing, and a lot more intraparty shivving, along the lines of “Palin thinks Africa is a country,” in the weeks to come.) This gang will regroup — they always do — but for now the GOP has enough problems of their own to keep them busy. And, whatever ever they manage to accomplish as the loyal(?) opposition, it seems a safe bet that the Conservative Era that began with the defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964 has now officially coughed up its last in 2008, with the defeat of fellow Arizonan John McCain.
By the way, also joining the Republicans on the road to oblivion Tuesday night, alas, was my old laptop, a victim of post-return celebratory spillage. (Jamesons: Good for Jimmy McNulty and jubliant Dems, Bad for computer hardware in and around the television area.) Normally, inadvertently frying my growing-ancient-but-generally-reliable PC would’ve completely ruined my day. As it was, I took the news about like Baxter eating the whole wheel of cheese: “How’d you do that? Heck, I’m not even mad; that’s amazing.” (And, fortunately, the hard drive, and the dissertoral files therein, were salvageable regardless.)
One much more depressing skeleton at the feast Tuesday night, about which Ted at Gideonse Bible, Chris at DYFL, and others have written eloquently: the passage of the idiotic Proposition 8 in California, which seemingly won with quite a bit of help from first-time Obama voters. It’s irredeemably sad not only that a day that saw so much progress was marred by Prop 8 and its like around the country, but that so many of the voters who helped strike a fatal blow against enduring racial prejudice at the national level seemingly had no qualms about encoding anti-gay bigotry into the California constitution.
Perhaps I’m dense, but I fail to understand how the institution of marriage could somehow be threatened by the state recognizing the unions of same-sex couples, particularly in a day and age when so many straight folk (myself included) have already had marriages that failed. (As my old boss used to say of the thrice-married Bob Barr back when he supported the Defense of Marriage Act: “Which marriage is he defending?”) By the way, particularly galling on the Prop 8 front, I think, is the strong imposition of the Mormon church into the battle on the side of the anti-gay zealots. One would think, of all people, the Mormons might have some sense of the damage that can be wrought by the state involving itself in stringent definitions of marriage. But, no, apparently what was good for two ganders in the eyes of the Mormons isn’t good for the goose. For shame.
Still, the Prop 8 debacle notwithstanding (I have every faith that within a decade, that law will seem as knee-jerk, narrow-minded, and embarrassing as it in fact is), Tuesday was otherwise a great night for America. What it now befalls us to remember is that, while we should savor them while we can, the path of progress before us will likely offer few such moments of jubilation in the months and years ahead. When it comes to change, it really is “uphill all the way.”
Given the economic and diplomatic travails already before President-elect Obama, he’ll have his work cut out for him from jump street. And those out there old enough to remember President Clinton’s first days in office, and how quickly things seemed to go south then (the sanity-restoring ’93 budget bill notwithstanding) will know that a Dem president and Dem Congress is no guarantee of progressive legislation in the offing. We won’t see the change we want — and voted for — without maintaining steady and unyielding pressure on all the machinery of government in the months and years to come. Now is not the time to sit back and let our new president try to do all the heavy lifting, but to stay involved as citizens and keep the progressive ball moving forward. (And, hey, keeping one’s head in the game may help to mitigate those postpartum existential crises The Onion warned us about.)
In an election held eighty years ago (i.e. in the living memory of one Ann Nixon Cooper), Herbert Hoover, the longstanding Secretary of Commerce widely revered as “the Great Engineer” and “the Great Humanitarian,” decisively defeated Al Smith, the Catholic Governor of New York. “Given a chance to go forward with the policies of the last eight years,” Hoover had promised in his nomination speech, “we shall soon with the help of God be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this nation.” And, while he obviously had his detractors, many across the country viewed Hoover as a miracle-worker who could singlehandedly steer the country to these new great heights. “We were in a mood for magic,” journalist Anne O’Hare McCormick wrote of the Hoover inauguration. “We summoned a great engineer to solve our problems for us; now we sat back comfortably and confidently to watch the problems being solved.“
For his part, Hoover was less sanguine about his prospects. “They have a conviction that I am some sort of superman, he fretted. “If some unprecedented calamity should come upon the nation…I would be sacrificed to the unreasoning disappointment of a people who expected too much.“
Who among us think Hoover a superman now? History doesn’t stop with a war or an election or the collapse of a governing ideology, be it Communism or Conservatism. It grinds inexorably on, always uncertain, always equal parts danger and opportunity, and all too often deeply laced with irony — Time and time again in our American story, nothing succeeds like abject failure, and nothing fails like a great success. So let’s not rest on our laurels by any means: The election of 2008 was a campaign hard-fought and hard-won, but the battle continues, and in many ways the real work before us is only now just beginning.
Let us look to navigate the turbulent waters ahead with a deep and abiding faith in our new captain, but also with our own eyes to the sea.
More soon. For now, woot! Goodbye to all that, and welcome to the new. 🙂
So, here we are at last. After the interminable Democratic primary, the mile-high heights of Denver, the RNC’s sputtering lows, all the ignominious Palin follies, and the ugly throes of conservative crack-up we’ve witnessed over the past month or so, it’s at long last decision time.
Not that it’s going to be any big surprise to you, but I myself will be voting for Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, for the reasons I listed back in January and for many others, and I strongly encourage you to do the same.
Of course, voting for Obama tomorrow is a much easier call than choosing among the Democratic field a year ago. If any undecided voters actually swing by GitM (a proposition I highly doubt), well, all you really need to know right now is this:
That’s it. End of story. If you think Dubya was right 90% of the time, that everything from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina to the sub-prime mortgage meltdown to national embarrassments such as Gitmo and Abu Ghraib were handled smoothly — heck, even competently — by this administration, then John McCain is your man. If you don’t, then you should vote Obama.
Similarly, if you think Congress should spend more time pursuing the interests of immensely wealthy corporations and K-street lobbyists rather than representing the American people, that criminals like Duke Cunningham, Boss DeLay, and “Casino Jack” Abramoff should be allowed to plunder the nation’s coffers for personal gain, and that the House and Senate should really be devoting their time to such all-consuming issues as flag burning and the fate of poor Terri Schiavo, then you should vote Republican. If, on the other hand, you want to finally move past all that, and help see real change enacted in this country under a President Obama, then you should vote for your Democratic House and Senate candidates, as I plan to.
Now, of course, I myself would take it farther than that. Y’see, I personally don’t believe that conservatism works as a governing philosophy — it never has, and it never will. You wouldn’t ask a vegetarian to prepare you a steak, and you don’t hire someone who despises government and/or sees it only as his personal bankroll to run a country for you. Unlike the faith-based arguments of all too many Republicans out there, I’d submit that we’ve got almost two decades of data now to back this assertion up. But, you don’t have to take it that far, if you don’t want to — Just look at the record of the last eight years, and that should help clarify who to vote for tomorrow.
As for McCain himself, well, I confess, I’m disappointed in the man. If we’d seen the candidate who ran in 2000, the one who deplored all the right-wing pettiness, racism, and wingnuttery he’s now wallowing in, we might’ve had the first win-win choice for president since…I dunno, Woodrow Wilson and Charles Evans Hughes in 1916? (Update: Upon more reflection, I’ll say since Ike and Adlai in ’56.) But, the Saruman analogy holds here too. In pursuit of power, McCain turned from that path a long time ago — he enabled the Dubya administration in its idiocies, he began to coddle the hardcore right-wing fundies rather than stand up to them, he sold out his own campaign finance reform stance, and he even started to traffick in the same lowest-common-denominator, Rovian filth that was used to bring him low in South Carolina eight years ago. His choice of Sarah Palin for veep, so pathetically craven in its attempt to appease the stark raving fundies and grab disgruntled Clinton voters, was merely the cherry on top.
In short, when the worst impulses of right-wing gutter politics came a-knockin’ at his door, John McCain — for whatever reason — blinked, and completely caved to their onslaught. In this election campaign, he has put His Own Ambition First, and in so doing, he has sold his soul. For the choices he’s made during this election season alone, John McCain has lost any credibility he might’ve had to serve as our nation’s commander-in-chief.
Fortunately, I firmly believe that, after tomorrow, John McCain and the sad, tired remnants of his cause will be old news. We have an exemplary, once-in-a-generation-type candidate in Barack Obama, and I refuse to believe I live in a country that would squander the amazing opportunity before us to elect him our president.
But, you never know… So, yes, the polls look great, but they looked good in 2004 as well (even the exit polls did, in fact), and we all know how that story turned out. So, let’s handle our business tomorrow, get out to vote, and get to work on rebuilding this country. We have so much work to do.
Vote Obama, 2008.
“With optimism, you look upon the sunny side of things. People say, ‘Studs, you’re an optimist.’ I never said I was an optimist. I have hope because what’s the alternative to hope? Despair? If you have despair, you might as well put your head in the oven.”
Popular historian, talk show host, and chronicler of the American story Studs Terkel, 1912-2008. “I’ve always felt, in all my books, that there’s a deep decency in the American people and a native intelligence — providing they have the facts, providing they have the information.“
Update: “She was the cornerstone of our family, and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength, and humility. She was the person who encouraged and allowed us to take chances. She was proud of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and left this world with the knowledge that her impact on all of us was meaningful and enduring. Our debt to her is beyond measure.” This evening brings sad news of the passing of a lady with whom Terkel could’ve spent many joyous hours, I’m sure: Madelyn Dunham, grandmother to Barack Obama, 1922-2008.
“When T.R. spoke of ‘swollen fortunes’ and ‘malefactors of great wealth,’ socialism was a genuine force in American politics, perceived by many to pose a serious threat to the social order. When T.R. first called for a ‘graduated income tax’ in his 1907 State of the Union, he was proposing a measure that the Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional. Indeed, the federal income tax struck down by the Court wasn’t even ‘graduated,’ or progressive; it was a flat-rate tax.” One from a few days ago that Ted at The Late Adopter just reminded me of: As Slate‘s Tim Noah aptly points out, John McCain can either continue to decry Obama’s purported “socialist” tendencies, or he can continue to claim Teddy Roosevelt is his hero, but he cannot plausibly continue to do both.
At the very least, it would seem McCain, what with his coterie of lobbyist attendants, has either never read — or is flagrantly ignoring — TR’s “New Nationalism” speech: “There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done” (See also one of my favorites: “The prime problem of our nation is to get the right type of good citizenship, and, to get it, we must have progress, and our public men must be genuinely progressive.)”
“Briefcase-to-briefcase, wingtip-to-wingtip, the legal emissaries of both Barack Obama and John McCain seem to be taking their cues from the 2000 election, which — according to some accounts — was either decided in a Florida skirmish known as the ‘Brooks Brothers Riot’ that ended the manual recount in Miami-Dade County, or — according to more mainstream accounts — in the august halls of the U.S. Supreme Court along crassly partisan lines. Ready or not, here they come.”
How can you tell when Election Day in America is right around the corner? Sadly, it’s when both the Dems and the GOP feel compelled to ready their respective battalions of lawyers. With that in mind, Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick surveys the massing legal armies. “One can’t help but wonder what it says about public confidence in our voting systems, then, that despite our almost complete lack of faith in them, we will rely almost exclusively on lawyers to protect the integrity of this election.“