Sure, Barack Obama won an impressive electoral victory, but the popular vote in many states was quite narrow, the margin overall was decisive but not overwhelming and, moreover, the House and Senate losses were modest by historical standards. It wasn’t 1980 or 1984, to be sure. Considering the incumbent president’s unpopularity and the economy, one might have expected far bigger margins.
On the downticket races, there are two theories. First, people got nervous about giving Obama all the marbles and ticket-split. Like crazy. In Minnesota, Norm Coleman essentially made up a 10% deficit at the top of the ticket. Second, the combined effect of gerrymandering and the big Democratic win in 2006 didn’t leave many easy House seats left for the Democrats to scoop up this time.
On the Presidential level, Obama expanded the map but didn’t obliterate it. Conservative strongholds remain in the deep South for the GOP and John McCain fought to hold on in some, but not all, Red States in the Rust Belt.
It is no consolation to Republicans who lost to say it could have been worse. But it really could have. This suggests that if the Republicans manage to get their act together, by recruiting better candidates and coming up with a competitive and distinctive message, they can get back in the game. That’s what Republicans did between 1976 and 1980 and between 1964 and 1968. And in each of those cases they were even further in the hole than they are now.
The Wall Street Journal editors note the two race preference measures on state ballots in Colorado and Nebraska (it looks like a split decision). They then implore Barack Obama to reconsider the use of race-based preferences:
As President, Mr. Obama will have to meet the expectations of millions of voters, including minorities. Symbolism can only go so far. He could make a major contribution to American society — and help his own popularity — if he used his bully pulpit to facilitate minority advancement without resorting to discriminating against others.
If we could recommend a single policy as an example, it would be education choice, including school vouchers. Today’s economy places a higher premium on education than ever before. And choice would help black students escape from the worst public schools and attend private institutions like the one to which the Obamas send their own children.
This would certainly endear Obama to Republicans. But more than that, it would be the natural fufilment of his own rhetoric, which has counseled against pitting one group of Americans against another. Is it possible? If you view Obama as a timid politician who has rarely challenged party orthodoxy, you think the chances are slight that he will venture into this trecherous territory.
But his supporters insist we underestimate his capacity for reconciliation and his brilliant mind. He must, then, realize the futility and destructive impact of perpetuating state discrimination, right? Put this on the list of mysteries we hope to see addressed in the Obama administration. In the spirit of his great victory, I hold out some hope. It would be the change I’ve been waiting for.