Small change is better than none
"Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half." – Gore Vidal
November 11, 2008
by Rob Lafferty
You can't engage in the grand American tradition of stealing elections unless it's a close election to begin with – as evidence, consider the 2000 and 2004 presidential contests, both stolen by Republican party operatives just as blatantly as John Kennedy's Democratic crew did in their win over Richard Nixon in 1960.
When Barack Obama won last week by some eight million votes along with a large electoral margin, he made a theft of the presidency impossible – but Republican vote-stealing mechanisms weren't as strongly in place this year as they have been in the past, either.
About 12 million more people voted in 2008 than in 2004, and voter registration numbers increased even more than that, but once again nearly 100 million eligible voters didn't bother to cast a ballot at all. Some of those folks were ineligible for one valid reason or another, like being in jail at the time, but the rest stayed away from the ballot box for reasons all their own. So the Obama presidency will begin in 2009 thanks to the direct support of 65 million voters, which equals about one-fourth of the total American electorate.
But that relatively small percentage is still a stronger mandate than any president has enjoyed since Ronald Reagan rolled over Walter Mondale in 1984. That level of support should stay with Obama through his first full year in office before the People's patience begins to fade. He'll have a great deal of work to do in that first year if he's going to convince most folks that government can solve some of the critical problems we face today.
It won't be helpful when insiders of the Bush administration start cashing their last ticket by writing memoirs that detail the criminal behavior of White House operatives during the past eight years. A lot of people will be stunned; the evil behavior of Nixon and his henchmen will seem mild when compared to some of the neocon fanatics who ran wild under the guidance of Dick Cheney and under the nose of our soon-to-be ex-President.
That news will only raise the level of mistrust towards government that most Americans harbor already. But there's still reason for hope, as Obama will be joined in Washington by quite a few new faces in both the Senate and House of Representatives. It doesn't matter if they are Republican, Democrat or Independent – or at least it shouldn't; they were hired to do a job, not to promote any partisan set of policies.
Past reality suggests that only few will set aside party loyalty to work in the best interests of the People who hired them. That may start to change over the next two election cycles as politicians come to understand that most voters no longer give a damn which party any politician belongs to, as long as they're effective as legislators and representatives. People may disagree with an incumbent's political philosophy but most folks care more about ability than ideology these days, and they'll vote for an incumbent regardless of party if they think they're being represented well.
There's a new attitude emerging that believes ideology is for idiots, and only about one-fourth of the American voters are as foolish as they appear to be. We all know who those fools are, too – they're the people who think Obama is a socialist, a secret Muslim or the AntiChrist. They're the same people who thought that Sarah Palin's weirdly articulated comments were a "breath of fresh air" instead of proof of her ignorance of national and international affairs. And they're the same folks who believed that John McCain could become an agent of change after spending his entire long lifetime either nurtured within the comfortable arms of our government – first as a military brat, then as a career military officer and finally a US Senator – or tortured in the hostile arms of a different government in Vietnam.
A lot of those fools voted this year like they usually do, and a lot of fairly smart folks didn't. The American government has been able to ignore the average citizen for decades because those average citizens won't stand up exercise their share of ownership in government. Business interests, however, remained highly active politically; they've been well represented over those same years and they'll be well represented in the next Congress, too.
A change in the political tide isn't the same as a landslide victory, and this election was closer in popular vote totals than it was in Electoral College votes. We've also seen much larger swings in the political climate during our recent past. In 1964, Democrat Lyndon Johnson beat Republican Barry Goldwater by 22% of the popular vote; four years later, the Republican Nixon nipped Democrat Hubert Humphrey by less than 1%; four years after that the voters brought Nixon back to the White House by 23% over George McGovern. That's a 45% vote swing over two elections during an eight-year period.
So celebrating this election as a "Landmark For Change" after a 6% victory for Obama is a bit premature. If Congress decides to move into the political 21st Century, then there's hope that the People will achieve a better balance of representation than we've known in our lifetimes. But that won't happen unless we keep the pressure on those elected officials to represent the average American instead of representing the moneyed elite, who they spend more time with.
Here's a test you can use to decide where your Congressional representative's interests truly lie: count how often they use the words "leader" and "leadership" when talking about themselves in public. Compare that to the number of times they use the phrase "public servant" in public. If the leadership count outnumbers the public servant count, you've probably got yourself an elitist. Self-proclaimed "leaders" tend to forget that they are actually employees hired to provide services for the public. They may hold an important title of Representative or Senator or President, but their job description is still that of a public servant.
Here's another valuable test: are these new members of Congress a war-like bunch who see combat as some romantic act of self-defense? America has developed a bad habit of dropping bombs onto innocent people in residential areas while fighting our undeclared wars; we picked up the habit during WWII and we've been doing it for sixty years now in various places around the world. It's long past time that we quit doing so, because it's the primary reason we have enemies willing to fight to the death on behalf of their cause.
For US troops stationed in Iraq, the pending Obama presidency has already paid a dividend – their chances of leaving just improved and they won't need to come back for a third or fourth tour of duty.
"Obama's idea to withdraw from Iraq coincides with our point of view on scheduling the troops' withdrawal," said Hadi al-Ameri, head of the Badr organization and part of Iraq's ruling Shi'ite coalition on Monday. "Iraqi politicians would not have felt reassured that the Americans would withdraw within a specified time if McCain had won."
So our troops can start saying goodbye to the sands of Mesopotamia, although it might be a full year before any significant withdrawals start to happen. Instead of coming home, however, some of those soldiers will end up in the mountains of Afghanistan. What they'll find is a graveyard of history where invading armies throughout the ages have been worn down by stubborn resistance until they give up and go away.
It's America's turn for that national exercise in military futility, but there's always hope that we can find a smarter way to win the hearts and minds of the Afghani people who don't like the Pashtun and the Taliban and Al-Queda. Firing rockets from unmanned drone aircraft into wedding parties won't help us there – and we've developed a nasty habit of doing exactly that throughout the region. Like all bad habits it's a very expensive one, too. We could pay off a lot of our national debt if we cut back heavily on our military spending, which accounts for more than half of the federal budget.
And here's one final test of anyone's fitness as a public servant or elected official: do they understand that the Constitution does not grant freedom to American citizens but simply recognizes that, as human beings, our personal freedom has always existed under Natural Law? Because once they fully grasp that concept, they'll tend towards doing the right thing on behalf of the People every time.