An ocean of ink, India and printer’s and virtual, has been spilled in celebration of a black man’s ascension to the presidency of the United States. We have read, and read again, about the historic nature of Barack Obama’s triumph, the new voters he helped bring to the polls, the young people he has inspired, and the participation on November 4 of the largest number of voters in American history. We have been told that, owing to the decisive nature of Obama’s victory and the enhanced power of his party in both houses of Congress, a new political era has dawned. What happened was more than an election: it was, to quote the Democratic lawyer Lanny Davis in the Wall Street Journal, “the Obama realignment,” only the sixth such moment in American history (the others being the elections of 1800, 1828, 1860, 1932, and 1980).
That November 4 marked the emphatic end to one period in American political history and the no less emphatic beginning of another is a proposition no one seems to doubt. Obama is indeed the first Democrat to win an outright majority since Jimmy Carter in 1976, and will be working with a Democratic Congress that has only grown in strength thanks in part to the size of his victory. Given the emotions generated by election day and the understandable exhilaration of the winning side, it might seem churlish to doubt that a wholesale partisan and ideological shift has occurred. And yet one cannot but note that the mighty ocean of celebratory ink evaporates into a puddle when it comes to describing just what this new era might actually be.
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