Each of us has two countries: our own and America. When America has an election, it is as much the whole world’s, or nearly so, for America is our laboratory, the place where all our hopes and ideals about democracy are put on trial, and as such we all have a direct stake in the outcome — not just because of what it might mean for American foreign policy or Canada-US relations, but because we are all invested in the United States: intellectually, emotionally, spiritually.
I spent election night — the American one I mean — in the company of about a thousand conservatives, or I imagine they were: it was the Albany Club, after all. And yet the applause was sincere, if not deafening, when it was announced that Barack Obama — the Most Liberal Senator Ever — was the victor. Such is the historic nature of his candidacy, but also the transcendent appeal of his personality. We will see if he is truly post-partisan, but he is certainly cross-partisan.
Still, it can’t have been a happy night for Republicans, or conservatives, all in all. So, to cheer up my right-wing friends, here are a few straws they can clutch at:
1) It was closer than it looked. There was a reason McCain stumped till the end, notwithstanding all those national polls showing Obama with a 6 or 8 or 10 point lead: because national polls don’t mean squat. It’s the electoral college that counts, and had a couple more pieces fallen into place, McCain might have squeaked out a win.
The race essentially turned on a handful of states: Florida, Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado and Iowa. All were Bush states in 04, all went Obama this time. But not by much: the average margin of victory in those states was about four percentage points, meaning a two percentage point swing would have given them, and their 102 electoral college votes, to McCain — enough to put him in the White House.
Well, not quite. The average margin in the first four of those states was actually just two percentage points. But it would have taken a miracle for McCain to close the gap in Virginia (five points), Colorado (eight points) or Iowa (nine points). Still, it could as easily have been a narrow win for Obama as the blowout it appears. It wouldn’t take much to make the Republicans competitive again in those states in ’12, especially because…
2) This economy blows. If ever a president inherited a mess, Obama has: a massive financial crisis, a bone-crunching recession, a deficit heading north of $1-trillion, you name it. People will cut him some slack at first, but the longer it goes on, the greater the likelihood that he will end up wearing it. At the very least, it is going to put some severe restrictions on his ambitious spending plans. On the other hand…
3) The Democrats in Congress are not nearly as sensible as Obama. In a more evenly divided Congress, Obama would have the whip hand, insisting that his fellow Democrats stick to the centre or risk alienating the broader public and handing Congress back to the Republicans again, as they did in the early 1990s. But with strong majorities in both houses, the Dems will be tempted to overplay their hand. That may be even more of a nightmare for Obama than the recession.
4) Sarah Palin will not be the nominee in 2012. Or not if McCain’s people can help it. Exit poll data shows she was a major drag on McCain’s hopes, but nothing like the drag McCain’s aides clearly plan to be on Palin’s: the anonymous interviews dishing the dirt on her are absolutely scorching (sample: she allegedly thought Africa was a country). Palin is a talented politician, but if the GOP has any future, as my friend David Frum argued recently, it will not come from going back to the same old NASCAR-dad well. Maybe this defeat can be the start of a new strategic vision for the party.