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November 13, 2008
Some political commentators were, predictably, quick to suggest that Barack Obama’s victory meant a sharp turn in the road for American politics—a turn to the liberal or left side of the road, of course. They may be right, but I don’t think so.
While Americans were electing their first black president, with the support of other black Americans a decisive factor, presumably color-blind voting on issues, not personalities, produced a quite different picture across the nation.
Bans on “marriage” between lesbians or between homosexuals was supported by 52% of voters in California, by 57% in Arizona and by 62% in Florida. Arkansas voters approved a measure that bars unmarried couples from serving as adoptive or foster parents.
In Arizona voters buried (65% to 35%) a proposal that would have raised state legislator’s annual salary from $24,000 to $30,000. A clean energy proposal—requiring utilities to generate 20% of power from renewable energy by 2010—was turned down, 65%/35% in California. Also in California, a proposal to reduce penalties for non-violent drug crimes was rejected, 60% to 40%.
Colorado voters declined to lower the age of eligibility for serving in the Legislature from 25 to 21 and voted nearly 2 to 1 to reject a two-year increase of one-tenth of a percent in the state sales tax.
In South Dakota, a 76% majority voted to continue legislative term limits. South Dakotans voted also against repeal of the five-cents per mile limit on reimbursement of legislator’s traveling to and from a legislative session. The rate was set in 1891.
On the non-conservative side, proposals to ban or limit abortions were rejected in California, Colorado and South Dakota and Colorado voters narrowly defeated a proposed ban on race-based or gender-based “affirmative action” programs. Nebraska voters decisively approved such a ban. Maryland voters approved allowing 15,000 slot machines to be operated, Arkansas voters approved state lotteries. But Maine voters said no to casino gambling, Missouri increased gambling taxes and froze the number of casinos. Massachusetts voters banned betting on dog races, which will have the effect of closing this state’s two dog tracks.
Thus, the pattern of special issue voting across the country was predominantly conservative.
* * *
It’s human nature. When a significant event has just happened, whether the general reaction is positive or negative, rationality is mixed with—or dominated by—emotion. We lose historical perspective and talk about the closest-to-hand event results—talk which often doesn’t stand the test of unemotional consideration.
I’m talking, of course, about Obama’s truly historic election as the first black to serve as President of the United States. But much of the emotional reaction to his election and an increase in the Democratic majority in Congress deserves more rational analysis than the American news media have provided. For example:
One projection based on interviews with voters who had left the polls Tuesday included these estimates: 95% to 96% of blacks voted for Obama and blacks made up 12% of the electorate. This would indicate some 14 million votes for Obama from blacks. Obama’s margin of victory over John McCain was some eight million votes.
(Other exit interview projections had higher estimates of the black vote for Obama.)
One exit poll projection produced an estimate that 41% of white men and 46% of white women voted for Obama.
Surely, like John McCain himself, the great majority of the more 52 million Americans who voted for McCain recognize the historic nature of Obama’s victory and wish him well. But the facts are that Obama’s victory, understandably, had decisive support from other blacks, raising again the question which I asked a couple of times during the campaign: Did Obama’s margin of victory come from people who considered him an eminently qualified candidate who happened to be black or did the margin of victory, finally, come from people who voted for him primarily because he is black?
Some other quick reactions which seemed based more on emotion than rationality, including reactions which simply don’t stand up compared with the actual election results and in comparison with past presidential elections:
There was a USA Today headline which read: “Democratic advances put Republicans on the ropes.” The facts are that Democrats last Tuesday took control of Congress with majorities smaller than was the case in six elections in the past 50 years.
So Republicans have “come off the ropes” before, just as have the Democrats. (Remember that in 1972, the Democratic presidential nominee, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, carried exactly one state—Massachusetts—and that certainly didn’t knock the Democrats out of the national political ring.)
* * *
Additional perspective on last week’s election results:
One news story said that voters across the nation surged to the polls in historic numbers. While the total numbers of voters set a record, it should be remembered that the potential voters pool has increased every year as the nation’s population increases.
The fact of the matter is that, in terms of the percentage of eligible voters actually going to the polls, last week’s turnout of approximately 62.5% is slightly less than the percentages of eligible voters who turned out for the John Kennedy/Richard Nixon presidential election in 1960 and the Lyndon Johnson/Barry Goldwater election in 1964.
Interestingly, while blacks turned out in record numbers and voted 95 to 96% for Obama, one exit interview survey indicated that young voters didn’t show up in anticipated numbers. Others disagreed with this appraisal.
* * *
Perhaps the greatest irony of the Democratic victory last week was the fact that Democrats, including particularly Obama, were helped by an economic crisis for which, the record is clear but too little recognized, Democratic leaders bear a heavy responsibility.
The consensus of so-called expert opinion, I believe, is clear that the bad economic news hurt John McCain. After all, it happened while a Republican, the unpopular George W. Bush, was in the White House (which enabled Obama to continue hammering McCain with the argument that McCain’s election would constitute four more years of Bush policies).
The truth, never conceded by the Democrats or widely recognized by the news media: Democrats from President Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton to Congressional leaders like Representative Barney Frank and Senator Chris Dodd, were largely responsible for pushing federal agencies to encourage the loaning of bargain-rate mortgage money to prospective homeowners with weak credit ratings.
To their credit, President Bush and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska attempted to do something about it, urging tighter regulation over federally-subsidized mortgage-guarantee agencies. But Democrats in Congress successfully blocked reform efforts, in which John McCain had joined by signing on as a co-sponsor of a bill which had been introduced by Senator Hagel.
The Democrats’ opposition to curbing of the high-risk mortgage lending spree included a statement by Senator Dodd, then ranking minority member of the Senate Banking Committee, that the high-risk (my words, not his) mortgage lending program was “one of the great success stories of all time.”
* * *
There were, predictably, numerous examples of emotional rather than rational reaction to what was a truly historic event but, I believe, not all that it has been represented to be. One such example:
One newspaper account described Obama’s election as an event which “says any child, no matter how humble his birth, could one day grow up to be president.”
I doubt that “any child” born in America can, or will in the future, be able to follow the path to the White House so successfully traveled by a bright, eloquent, good-looking ambitious black named Barack Obama.
* * *
I’ve been writing about politics since 1946 (I’ll save you the calculating; that’s 62 years) but I’ve been going to Nebraska Cornhusker footballs games since 1933 (75 years). So enough about politics today. Let’s talk briefly about the Cornhuskers.
After last Saturday’s 45-35 win over Kansas had added that longed-for sixth victory to Nebraska’s season record, my thoughts went back to a pre-season conversation with a rabid (is there any other kind?) Husker fan.
This fan/friend said that as the new Husker head coach, Bo Pelini, deserved some time to bring his aggressive coaching style to bear on the Husker program. A six-win first season would be a reasonable start, this rabid fan said. I agreed.
Any second thoughts about a fan-happy (and team-happy and Bo-happy) season now that the Huskers have built a six-four record with two regular-season games and a bowl game left to play? You bet. Let’s make it at least an 8-5 and better yet a 9-4 season. That surely is the goal of Coach Bo and his team.
But whatever the final won-lost tally, Pelini and his first Husker team will have, I believe, started the Huskers on a road that could make “Nebraska” a name to be respected again whenever the subject is college football.
Another thought prompted by my attendance at last Saturday’s NU/KU game:
Why don’t marching bands concentrate on playing stirring march music instead of the kind of musical shows which both the NU and visiting Kansas “marching” bands presented last Saturday.
The Cornhusker band played a medley of non-familiar (to me and, I’d wager, a lot of other fans) tunes, including something called “Birdland.” The KU band offered a medley of tunes announced as a tribute to Michael Jackson. Is there something about Michael Jackson’s non-musical performances that the KU band director is unfamiliar with?
As the Cornhusker “marching” band left the field, the public address announcer described the band as “the pride of all Nebraska.”
When it comes to pride in the Cornhusker band—at least as it performed last Saturday—“include me out,” as the master of malaprops, the late moviemaker Sam Goldwyn, is said to have said.
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