Just about two years ago, on October 31, 2006, I wrote my first post about Barack Obama. Then on January 29, 2008, Grave Error officially endorsed Barack Obama for the presidency. In 2008 alone, I have written about Obama’s candidacy some +170 times. It has been a long, long road until today. In looking back, here is what sticks out:
The Democratic Primaries:
- Obama’s Iowa victory: a decisive win, and the beginning of the shift of African American support from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama.
- New Hampshire tears: Hillary’s “spontaneous” tears and the media’s bogus claim at a comeback — unlike Obama’s tears last night. His tears were about his grandmother, Hillary’s were about herself.
- South Carolina: Obama’s big victory and even bigger victory speech, and the definitive moment when African Americans decided that Obama was in fact black enough. While Iowa may have shown African Americans that Obama could win, Bill Clinton’s comments showed African Americans that Barack Obama should win.
- Only big states and not caucuses should count was Hillary’s argument. Remember the importance of Michigan and Florida?
- Obama as Hillary’s renaissance man. Long before McCain and Palin decided to accuse Barack Obama of “palling around with terrorists” and not being like the rest of us, Hillary desperately tried putting every label in the book on Obama. He went from being not black enough to too black, to too much of a Republican (for having said Reagan had ideas) and then too liberal, and finally he became both a radical and an elitist. To Hillary’s knowledge, Obama was not a Muslim, but for Bill Clinton a race between McCain and Hillary was between two patriotic Americans who loved their country. It took a long time for McCain Palin to come up with the only political slander left in the pages of American history: the socialist.
- Rev. Jeremiah Wright. With Rev. Wright we learned a couple of things about America. First, we learned that Sundays in church are the most segregated day in American week. Second we learned about the great American double standard: when a black preacher criticizes the U.S. government, he is a radical and a racist. When a white preacher says similar things (ie, Hagee or Pat Robertson), he is an honorable Republican. We also saw the first glimpse of Obama’s calm under fire when instead of hiding, he confronted the controversy with a moving speech on race in America.
- It’s 3:00am and Hillary, the Tanya Harding of politics — can’t remember what happened in Bosnia.
- Crying to the press. Although Hillary cried about the unfair treatment of the press throughout the primaries, the press was extremely generous to her. They never said it was over until the very last minute, even though by Super Tuesday there was no mathematical path to a comeback. She was kept alive because the press needed to keep the primary election alive.
- The top candidates — Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, and Rudy Giuliani — all imploded.
- Talk about uninteresting, McCain’s closest rival was a former Christian preacher from Bill Clinton’s hometown of Hope, Arkansas, Mike Huckabee who traveled around the country with Chuck Norris.
The general elections are still warm enough that we don’t need to review them. Nevertheless, here are the major factors that I think have defined the success and failures of each candidate:
Defining Moments for McCain:
- The Surge. McCain’s support of the surge and its success was critical to his comeback after last summer. As a moderate Republican he was also seen as the most electable Republican in an election cycle that was apriori bad for Republicans.
- No competition. Unfortunately for McCain, not having any real competition in the primary elections did not prepare him well for the general election. He looked like Al Gore in 2000, constantly changing and relabeling his core messages. He also didn’t need to build all of the grassroots and local infrastructures to run a more competitive national campaign.
- Sarah Palin. McCain needed a game changer and a way to rally the Republican base, a base he didn’t really belong to. Sarah Palin seemed to fit perfectly. While she did rally some of the base, she also turned off the independent voters. More importantly, she was a press disaster and distraction. But what do you expect when you select someone with no experience who refuses to speak with the press, but talks a big talk.
- Erratic in the line of fire and losing the press. McCain’s second Hail Mary (the first being Palin) failed miserably. Thinking he would come off as a leader by suspending his campaign and rushing ever so slowly to Washington to solve the financial crisis, McCain’s plan, like those Of Mice and Men, backfired. He looked erratic, and the combination of dissing Letterman and Palin’s sequestration, McCain began his falling out with the press.
Defining Moments for Obama:
- The Iowa victory. As mentioned, it helped him with African American voters by being electible to white voters.
- The “Yes We Can” video and the South Carolina speech. Emotional support for a candidate goes a long way.
- The aforementioned speech on race in reaction to the Rev. Wright controversy.
- Important endorsements at important times from across the political spectrum from Ted Kennedy, Clinton appointee-turned Judas Bill Richardson to Colin Powell. Notice that only one semi-relevant Democrat has endorsed McCain (Sen. Lieberman), whereas as the cross over endorsements of Obama are in the double digits. Elder statesmen like Colin Powell, President Carter and Ted Kennedy also demonstrated how the older generation was being moved to endorse the candidate that best represented their grandchildren.
- Web 2.0 financing. The record of $150 million in September alone is a historic juggernaut. For better or worse, Obama will have spent more than Kerry and Bush combined in 2004. Much of this was possible because of Obama’s online platform, needed for raising money against the Clinton political establishment. Obama’s emailing list will serve a generation of Democrat politicians.
- The ground war was won in the primaries. Because he had to fight a 50 state long primary ground war, Obama had built a fine-tuned organization throughout the country that McCain simply could not compete with.
- Obama’s calm in all three presidential debates, never losing his temper even when being accused of some absurd things. Overall, after 20 primary debates and three national debates, it was hard to argue that Obama really was an unknown quantity. Americans have been watching him for the past year, almost to the point of fatigue.
Now we have finally reached Election Day. This long year reminds me of a movie title I would always see this year when traveling to Paris, Il y a longtemps que je t’aime. Although I haven’t seen the movie (so maybe the analogy is off), it is about a family coming to terms with estrangement and rebuilding their familiar bond. Maybe what I liked most about the title was that I actually understood what it meant, “I have loved you for a long time”. That’s kind of how I feel about this long election season and about how I feel about its ultimate outcome.
We are set to learn important things about ourselves. Of course, we will learn a lot about Hillary’s original arguments: Obama is unelectable, he won’t be able to carry the states she won in the primaries, women won’t vote for him, and neither will white men. So far it sure doesn’t look like that. But more importantly, by the end of the day, inshallah/Godwilling, we will show the world and ourselves how we really see ourselves, how “we see America”. Are we just about small towns or are we more than that? What is most interesting is how today America is already a different place. As Richard Cohen writes,
America is a changed country. Blacks have been the mayors of majority-white cities and the governors of majority-white states (Massachusetts, for instance). The governor of Louisiana is Bobby Jindal, an Indian American, the senatorial contest in Minnesota is between two Jews — one a former comedian, for crying out loud — and the governor of California cannot even pronounce the name of the state.
Even if John McCain somehow prevails, that won’t change the fact that Obama won all those primaries, or that he won the Democratic Party nomination, or that he raised more money than any candidate in history, or that he rewrote the book on how to run a presidential campaign. Nothing can change the fact that so many white Americans entrusted a black American with their hopes and dreams.
So forget about racism. Of course, we are still plagued by discrimination and xenophobia, but think about it. Win or lose, Barack Hussein Obama — the African American candidate with the Arab sounding name in the post 9/11 Islamophobic America — will receive more votes today than any other previous presidential candidate in the history of our country. That doesn’t mean per se that he should win, is the better candidate, or will best govern. It only means that today is a new day.