Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

TOP STORY > >Unexpected blowout as nation veers to left

Leader editor-in-chief

The election of Barack Obama as president is as dramatic as the election of Ronald Reagan a generation ago.

But the shift to the left is much more dramatic than anyone of us expected. With the Democrats taking the White House and holding a clear majority in Congress, expect more spending on the domestic front and cutbacks on national security.

There will be another $700 billion bailout. The first was a warmup act for much more serious spending next year and beyond.

There was jubilation last night in Chicago, Sen. Obama’s home town, where an estimated 1 million turned out to celebrate.

Elsewhere, there was shock and disbelief that an African American had defeated the political establishment: Before the vote Monday, David Gergen, the former presidential adviser, was holding back tears on CNN. He admires Obama, but he had hoped a war hero would have done better and been given a chance to lead the nation.

Now he’s just an also-ran — like much of the Republican Party, he was swept away in a Democratic tide. Even Patrick Buchanan was stunned by Tuesday’s avalanche. (See the editorial page for Buchanan’s and others’ take on the election.)

When the hamlet of Dixville Notch, N.H., the first in the nation to go to the polls after midnight Tuesday, voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, 15-6, it was a sign of things to come.

More red states went blue — and also elected Democrats to the House and Senate — and that became the theme for much of the evening: Even the old Confederacy is no longer solidly Republican. Obama captured enough votes there (but not in Arkansas) to ensure his election, which seemed a 100-1 shot even a year ago, and only somewhat better last summer.

Even Karl Rove, who helped wreck George Bush’s presidency, admitted the obvious a couple of days ago: Obama would take most of the electoral votes, handing the Republicans, who also lost a lot of ground in Congress, their worst defeat in more than 40 years, allowing for one-party rule that could pass legislation at least as sweeping as the Great Society programs of the mid-1960s.

Right up to Election Day, the true believers at Fox News and the Drudge Report found hope in the most obscure polls that showed the tiniest movement toward McCain, while key Republicans, from Colin Powell to Kenneth Duberstein, Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff, endorsed Obama. His association with radical religious and political figures had a negligible effect on the voters.

The electorate punished the party in charge of the White House for its failures — for running up the deficit and the national debt, throwing the nation into a recession while waging war on two fronts in Southwest Asia.

The American public does not like to reward failure and McCain himself parodied his ineffective campaign on “Saturday Night Live” — the grumpy old loser reduced to selling jewelry with his wife on the QVC Network.

A more experienced running mate than Sarah Palin — Mitt Romney or Tom Ridge or even Mike Huckabee — might have helped McCain’s chances, but maybe not enough to make much of a difference in the end.

What should the winner do?

On the domestic front, we must make America prosperous again. Ninety percent of the voters said the economy is their main worry, as it should be.

Obama could show real leadership by inviting the brightest figures from both parties to help rebuild America: Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana is being considered for Secretary of State, and Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, another Republican who has been a rational voice in the war on terror, could also serve in a key national security position.

Obama has said he would even ask John McCain to act as a bridge to the loyal opposition.

No one knows whether an Obama victory is only a temporary setback to Republicans’ fortunes or whether it could be as long-lasting as the Reagan revolution, which, inevitably, was betrayed by his own followers.

We are moving into a new age without a name. It could be a new age of liberalism and the end of conservatism, but then George W. Bush was no conservative, either, a one-man wrecking crew who has destroyed his party and its standard bearer and put his nation in jeopardy.