I was pretty confident that Obama would win, but seeing it actually happen was pretty amazing. Moving, even. Most of my political life has involved seeing George W. Bush be elected and then reelected, during which Democrats either failed to gain ground in Congress or actually lost a bunch of seats, as in 2004. Both those elections lasted long into the night as the “swing states” were agonizingly pontificated over by guys like Wolf Blitzer. And they both ended with me and everyone around me being pretty miserable. I was at Wesleyan in 2004, and the morning after the election, the campus felt like a funeral.
In 2004, our candidate was John Kerry. He was a terrible, terrible candidate. Okay guy, probably. He came off as a classic stodgy New England over-educated elitist. As one such person myself, that was fine with me, but I totally understood why so many people found him unbearable. Bush won because despite a very, very similar upbringing, he projected normalcy, empathy, and likability despite being one of the most abusive, criminal presidents in the history of the country. Unfortunately, winning elections isn't always about policy and concrete facts. Anyone could tell Kerry was both boring and alienating to a lot of people. The fact that he got as close as he did is a testament to how desperate a great many people were to be rid of President Bush, but even that wasn't enough to make up for his lack of appeal and nonsensical campaign rhetoric.
The same, to some degree, could be said of Al Gore in 2000. He became far more confident and assertive without the burden of presidential aspirations hanging over him (Kerry did too, actually), but while running he was overly cautious. He, and Kerry, both seemed like they were always reading from the card someone had handed them five minutes before the rally. It was obvious, and it was painful. Conservatives are always trying to trash progressives by saying we only complain and have no good, substantive ideas. We do though, we've just nominated candidates for the past few elections who felt they needed to be all things to all people.
Obama won because he is cool. He talked like he knew and meant what he was saying, and like he wasn't going to say something different tomorrow when talking to a different crowd. He also ran a very smart campaign. He didn't try to explain all the details of his policy plans because he knew he didn't need to. He didn't take fallacious slander about Bill Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, or Khalid Rashidi sitting down. He has a gift for oratory that is far beyond that of the vast majority of politicians. His speeches are like a mixture of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy. In 2000 and 2004, the Democrats came very close despite their very subpar nominees. With a nominee like Obama, none of the swing states were even close. It was an electoral college blowout. The problem was never with progressive ideas, it was with the candidates who were the public face of those ideas.
In other news, the Jewish vote was 78% Obama, 22% McCain. I'm pleasantly surprised by this, as it exceeds John Kerry's performance in 2004. I was fully expecting a significant dip in Jewish support for Obama vs. the 2004 numbers because of the volume of spurious rumors passed around in the right-wing Israeli media and Jewish blogosphere (and ultimately via email forwards among middle aged people). Most of this involved the tired “Obama = secret Muslim = secretly anti-Israel” line.
Other than the racist assertion that Muslims are somehow incapable of diplomatic reasoning regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I have no clue how anyone could assume Obama would sell Israel up the river where McCain would not — they are both non-Jews and career legislators who were rarely asked to concern themselves with the issue. It seems quite likely to me that Obama will be as bound by U.S. foreign policy precedent regarding Israel as any president would be. Ayers and Wright have nothing to do with it, either. And the fact that Obama, as a state senator, talked to prominent leaders of the Palestinian community in his constituency is…well, pretty normal for someone in that situation. I'm glad 78% of Jews agree with me.
We also picked up a bunch of seats in the senate. This means that Joe Lieberman (I-CT) will no longer be required to be the tie-breaking vote in giving the Democrats control. If I were Harry Reid, I would call Joe into my office and inform him that his days of undermining the Democratic caucus from the inside are over, and that he should plan to caucus with the minority and forfeit his committee chairmanship.
There is no politician I loathe more than Joe Lieberman. I lived in Connecticut in 2006 when he lost his own party's Senate primary (which takes some serious effort when you're a multi-term incumbent) and subsequently exploited a loophole in Connecticut election law to run anyway as an independent. He went on to narrowly defeat progressive Ned Lamont, who was the legitimate Democratic nominee. It was one of the most brazen slaps in the face I believe a politician has ever given his own party and constituents. Of course, this year he also went on to endorse the opposing party's presidential nominee and speak at this convention. Unthinkable for a sitting senator. My guess is, he knew he wouldn't make it through another election in Connecticut and was hoping to secure a cabinet position in a McCain administration. Well, he gambled and lost. He is a thorn in our side and he should be removed.