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November 6, 2008
On Tuesday, American voters emphatically and positively answered this historically significant question: When will the United States elect its first black president?
On Wednesday, other significant questions remain unanswered. Among them:
Can the eloquent, charismatic president-elect’s lack of leadership experience be overcome by intelligence, energy, ambition and the recruiting of a seasoned team to follow his leadership? (More on this later in today’s column.)
Will the enthusiasm and energy which Obama instilled into the Democratic Party this election year prove to have truly transformed the party, shifting the balance of political power towards the Democrats in a way that lasts for years?
In Nebraska, the Democrats tried hard to shift the balance of power in the Omaha-dominated Second Congressional District but failed to win the Second District Congressional seat. In Nebraska’s presidential balloting, the Democrats lagged by more than 120,000 votes. All three House seats and one of two Senate seats remain in Republican hands.
(Interestingly, an election-result map showed John McCain carrying a tier of seven middle-American states stretching from North Dakota to Texas.)
What, then, did Democrats get in return for sending 15 staffers and spending more than half a million dollars in campaign advertising in the Second Congressional District?
It will be a week or more before all the votes are counted, but the most the Democrats can salvage in Nebraska is one electoral vote, far from the decisive tie-breaker which some Democratic campaigners, including Hillary Clinton, promoted as a real possibility.
Incidentally but importantly, if there was any question whether race was an issue in the presidential contest, an answer was clearly indicated in a news story and picture on the front page of Tuesday evening’s World-Herald.
The headline read: “Long lines, much excitement.” The picture showed 40 or more persons, predominantly black, waiting to cast their ballots inside the Urban League of Nebraska building at 30th and Lake Streets.
At the Evans Tower housing unit in North Omaha, a 41-year-old first-time voter stood in line for 45 minutes with her fiancé, a 34-year-old, who said he was equally enthusiastic over the opportunity to vote for Barack Obama. It is a safe assumption, I believe, that this same sort of enthusiasm among black voters, including first-time voters, was in play in Obama’s favor all across the country.
A look at some other Nebraska results:
Democratic Second District Congressional candidate Jim Esch found that Obama’s coattails were too short to pull Esch to victory over incumbent Republican Lee Terry. (Incidentally, I can’t recall an Esch campaign flyer or television ad which made reference to Obama, although Esch clearly hoped to ride the Democratic tide if Obama carried the Second District.)
I don’t think many political observers were surprised by the fact that Nebraska voters believe that the best and only fair route to providing equal opportunities to racial minorities and women avoids “affirmative action” which assures not equal treatment but special treatment. A state constitutional amendment banning such tax-supported affirmative action was approved by a decisive margin. More on this topic later in today’s column.
Now comes a chance to see what’s really inside that vote-attractive political package with the “Barack Obama” label.
Will his service in the White House have justified the nation’s election of an attractive, articulate candidate whose principal pre-presidential experience was running for president?
I believe the great majority of Americans, whether or not they voted for Obama, will wish him well, with a goodly number of those well-wishers hoping that he won’t actually work aggressively for some of the things he has talked about, including his “redistributing the wealth” endorsement a few years ago.
Americans should hope, I believe, that Obama for now will set aside much, if not most, of his liberal-leaning campaign promises and concentrate on the critically-important necessity of improving the economy, along with appropriate attention to addressing health care insurance coverage and energy policy on the domestic side and, of course, foreign policy.
Obama should recognize that a robust economy would make possible the attaining of some of his stated goals—job creation and production of the tax revenues which can help cure our profligate habit of spending money we don’t have.
In foreign policy, Obama should move very quickly, I believe, to find a strong and savvy Secretary of State to help plug the highly dangerous gap in what Obama brings to the presidency. (That eight-day media-oriented dash through the Middle East and Western Europe can be disregarded as foreign policy experience, I believe.)
Some will ask: Wouldn’t Vice President-elect Joe Biden, the talking machine senator from Delaware, help significantly? No. Biden talks too much and his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is a result of the Congressional advance-by-seniority-not-by-ability tradition. Biden has not demonstrated either the stability or the ability to serve capably as a foreign policy advisor or president.
As Obama faces what USA Today described as a “staggering to-do list,” there comes to mind the words of Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock. Leacock wrote of a man who “flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.” There’s a scenario President Obama must studiously avoid.
Much of the opposition to the anti-affirmative action constitutional amendment came from University of Nebraska spokesmen. Rarely if ever was there any acknowledgement of the fact that although most of the money to pay petition circulators came from two anti-affirmative action organizations based outside Nebraska, the organizations were invited to help by faculty members at Nebraska educational institutions, including some members of the College of Business Administration faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The truth was available to any journalist who took the trouble to ask: Outsiders did not send the constitutional amendment campaign crashing into the state out of the blue, as one critical source suggested.
Oponents of the proposed constitutional amendment were not, in my opinion, helped at all by some near hysterical criticism and by a number of comments made in defense of affirmative action programs. For example:
The Dean of the College of Law at UNL defended giving affirmative action preference to a variety of applicants—including blacks—who had law-school aptitude test scores substantially below those of white applicants who were turned down for admission.
One opponent of the proposed amendment said that it would threaten—now I’m not kidding—a program of scanning women’s breasts to detect possible cancer. Salvaging the breast-screening program is ridiculously simple: Open it to men as well as women.
Fortunately, more sensible leadership views on acceptable affirmative action policies are being heard—and I believe more will be heard—in the wake of the vote to terminate race-based and gender-based programs. Just two examples:
Programs which have concentrated on disadvantaged black students can be broadened to include disadvantaged white students. A University of Nebraska at Omaha program of pairing young disadvantaged black students with role model black males in business and professional leadership positions can—and should—be broadened to include pairing disadvantaged white UNO students with role model adults, either black or white.
A whole range of worthwhile programs can be saved with acceptable modification designed to eliminate now-illegal discriminatory features.
* * *
Some election campaign leftovers:
By consensus, Obama is an eloquent speaker (although he sometimes seemed so self-confident as to be almost glib). But he can also be a careless speaker, as in his repeated calls for ending “decades” of what has been going on at the leadership level in Washington.
George Bush is serving his eighth year. A decade is 10 years, so “decades” of White House incompetence would have to include eight years of occupancy by Bill and Hillary Clinton. Is this any way to describe the leadership of the husband of the woman who purports to be so passionately converted to your cause?
Or perhaps it’s just that Obama isn’t very good at numbers or precise use of language once he gets wound up in front of a crowd of unquestioning supporters.
Another indication that Obama may be numbers-skill-deficient:
On the campaign trail he talked of policies which would have added millions of Americans to the ranks of those who pay no federal income tax at all, reducing or eliminating income taxes for anyone with earnings of less than $250,000 a year, and in the same speech talking of adding new tax-subsidized welfare programs and balancing the federal budget.
He suggested more than once that he would bring off this fiscal miracle by, among other things, going through the federal budget “line by line” to eliminate waste and unnecessary expenditures. The image of the President of the United States going through the massive federal budget line by line is somewhere between laughable and ludicrous.
Some political pundits are saying that after the initial burst of favorable attention, John McCain’s selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, hurt the GOP ticket. Perhaps so. General (Ret.) Colin Powell, in his unsurprising endorsement of Barack Obama, gave among his reasons the fact that he felt Palin is unprepared to be president.
The announcement was made under carefully controlled circumstances in the friendly atmosphere of Tom Brokaw’s weekly NBC show. A more aggressive journalist than Brokaw would have asked Powell something like this:
Do you feel that Barack Obama’s choice of a vice presidential running mate, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, has the stability and the ability to be considered fully qualified to serve as president of the United States?
It’s ironic that some Americans believe we reach our goal of a colorblind society by giving color-based preferential treatment to blacks and other minorities in so-called “affirmative action” programs.
Ironic, too, that those believers in a colorblind society were chief among the advocates of electing Obama partly because or mostly because or entirely because he is black.
* * *
To close today’s proceedings, let’s turn to the world of sports:
That 62-28 whipping which the Oklahoma Sooners laid on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Norman, Oklahoma last Saturday brought to mind—I suppose it was sort of a self-defensive reaction—these statistics from the past:
In 1996, the Tom Osborne-coached Nebraska Cornhuskers defeated Oklahoma, 73-21, on the Sooners home field. The next year, in Lincoln, the national champion Cornhuskers beat Oklahoma 69-7.
A recent news story told of a Professional Bowlers Tour championship won at Thunder Alley in Elkhorn by a 38-year-old bowler from Lockport, New York. The story said the victory ended “a lifelong wait” for the bowler. One might say that a bowler who started at least thinking about a national title while still in his crib—remember, it was a “lifelong wait”—is entitled to some significant degree of success after 38 years of waiting.
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