In California, Proposition 8 will pass. What to make of the fact that America elected as president the most liberal member of the Senate, while one of the most liberal states of the union simultaneously voted to strip gays of the right to marriage? If Obama’s election really was a referendum for change and general warmth-and-fuzziness, wouldn’t Californians have jumped at the chance to affirm such sentiments by ensuring that homosexual love be recognized by the state? This is the country, let’s not forget, that was terrified of the supposed Pentecostal intolerance of Sarah Palin.
If, however, Obama’s election was really about the charisma of one leader, who was able to convince a majority of Americans that he himself embodied all the change they’d ever need, then the Proposition 8 vote makes all the sense in the world. Obama didn’t win because Americans wanted to punish the Republican Party for becoming some coven of hatred and divisiveness. The stories about racism at rallies and book-banning in Alaska were fabricated in order to justify support for a magnetic personage with no record. (And the much-speculated Bradley Effect never came to pass.) But the racism of Jeremiah Wright and the censorship of the fairness doctrine supported by Obama are real. As is Californians’ opposition to gay marriage – and Obama’s.
The GOP shouldn’t get too distracted with questions about how they need to rebuild or reinvent. They just came up against a truly extraordinary politician. Faced with a force of nature, Republicans had nothing better to offer up than a great man, a self-sacrificing war hero determined to run an honorable campaign. In the age of Youtube debates, CNN holograms, and instant change, substance can be more trouble than it’s worth.