Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008|As I go through the numbers from Tuesday’s election, this stands out: With his 63.7 million votes, Barack Obama won 5 million more than any other Democrat has ever won. Despite the issues about his name, his color, his origins, his inexperience, he did better among every voting group (but one) than John Kerry, who faced none of those issues, in 2004.
Obama did better than Kerry among white men (plus 4 percent), white women (plus 2 percent), white Catholics (plus 4 percent) white evangelicals (plus 3 percent), Hispanics (plus 14 percent), conservatives (plus 5 percent) and over 60s (plus 1 percent). He even did better among people with incomes over $200,000 (plus 6 percent), which is the group whose taxes he has promised to increase.
Only among small towns did he do worse than Kerry (minus 3 percent).
Sen. John McCain’s performance on the other hand was extremely ho-hum. With 56.2 million votes, he won only 1.7 million more votes than Ronald Reagan in 1984. In a generation, McCain increased the Republican vote over 1984 by a grand total of 1.7 million. Meanwhile, Obama increased the Democratic total by 26 million votes.
Republicans face a major political problem, and they better come to terms with it. Healthy democracies require strong oppositions and changes of power.
This was in every sense an historic election, something I write with reluctance because three of our historic presidents, Lincoln, Kennedy and Reagan, were shot. Lincoln and Kennedy were killed, and only Reagan survived — miraculously because Oswald killed Kennedy at 200 yards, while Hinckley only wounded Reagan at 5 yards.
But when a black Democrat wins Virginia and North Carolina, states no Northern white Democrat had won since the South went Republican over civil rights legislation 40 years ago — that’s history.
Republicans were both bloodied and bowed in this election, and it will be interesting to see what happens to a party repudiated everywhere but in the deepest South. McCain never was conservative enough for the diehards. The talk show extremists who set the GOP tone these days never liked him and never helped him, though they warmed to unripe Sarah Palin as one of their own.
The past two elections have seen the eviction of any moderate or progressive element left in the GOP. This includes Sen. Lincoln Chafee in 2006; and Sens. Gordon Smith and John Sununu and Rep. Christopher Shays this week, defeats likely to push the GOP even further right.
Trouble is, you can’t win a majority there anymore. If Republicans turn inward again, reprising the Bush 2004 strategy of 50 percent plus one by raising all those “moral” issues conservatives love so much — guns, abortion, religion, stem cells, gay marriage, immigration, war, patriotism, etc. — and they’ll never win either the White House or Congress again.
Three months ago I wrote a voiceofsandiego.org column called “The Year of the Latino.” I pointed out that while only 7.5 million Latinos voted in 2004, they aimed to increase their vote by 50 percent this time around, targeting particularly four key states with large Latino populations — New Mexico, Florida, Nevada and Colorado — all states carried by Bush in 2004.
So how did the Latino vote go this time?
Obama won it 67 to 31 percent, winning each of the four targeted states. As America each year becomes a little more a nation of color (about 25 percent today, with the percentage rising because of birth rates and immigration), any party tying its future to talk-show hot-button issues will remain in permanent opposition, not a healthy situation.
McCain found himself trapped this time, and one hopes the self-styled “frank talker” will deal with it at some point. He could have won the election in 2000 over Al Gore. Moderates, independents, even Democrats liked the McCain of 2000 because he put issues ahead of ideology. On subjects such as immigration, taxes, budgets, lobbying, pork, defense spending, judicial appointments and campaign finance, he broke with his party’s extremists and worked to put together broad coalitions.
But on the way to the 2000 general election against Gore, McCain was waylaid by Bush and his dirty-tricks brigade and never made it past Michigan. Instead of McCain’s coalition centrism, we got eight years of Bush-Rove “50-plus-1” strategy, dividing the nation as it has not been since the Civil War.
Trailing this time, McCain decided to open that same bag of dirty tricks, and it didn’t work. Palin was his cat’s paw, endearing herself to conservatives by playing with Obama’s name and accusing him of “palling around with terrorists” even as polls showed the nation clearly rejected her as a serious candidate. The dirty tricks didn’t work. The last polls showed that 60 percent of voters disapproved of the McCain-Palin negative ads.
The first time I ever mentioned Obama in a voiceofsandiego.org column was in March, 2007. Though he was trailing Hillary Clinton by a dozen points, I called him a “phenomenon” and said the nomination was his to lose. He almost did lose it, and were it not for the Florida and Michigan primary snafus would have lost it (Clinton has a right — almost as much as Al Gore — to feel she was robbed of the presidency).
But he didn’t lose it. He needed a little luck along the way, but most of it was done on talent. He is now an historic figure, and knowing what we know about past historic figures, we’re going to need a little luck ourselves.
James O. Goldsborough has written on foreign affairs for four decades, both from the United States and abroad, where he worked as a foreign correspondent for The New York Herald Tribune, International Herald Tribune and Newsweek magazine for 14 years, reporting from more than 40 countries. Visit his website here. Submit a letter to the editor here.