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Three Good Things About Yesterday’s Result

[Randy Barnett, November 5, 2008 at 6:12pm]

I was not a supporter of Barack Obama. I did not hope he would win yesterday's election, and I am not looking forward to the short of "change" I believe he has in mind. I hope I am wrong, but I think some really bad stuff is going to happen as a result of Democratic control of the Presidency and Congress. But regardless of how much bad stuff happens in the future, three really good things happened yesterday that deserve note.

The first and by far the most important is the election of the first African-American as President. I won't spend as much time as my co-bloggers David and Ilya did in their posts last night, but I whole-heartedly endorse their analysis. It is only because we have made so much progress on the issue of race in this country that we can afford to glide over the enormous significance of the event that this progress made possible. African Americans were kept as slaves for over 150 years, followed by a brief period of liberty that was snuffed out by an organized campaign of rampant and cruel terrorism that culminated in 100 years of racial apartheid. I am old enough to remember what pervasive social prejudice against blacks looked and felt like. It matters more how Barack Obama was elected than the fact he was elected. Barack Obama's election in a campaign in which his race worked in his favor, and no palpable racial opposition emerged, is amazing to behold just 50 years or so after the formal end of Jim Crow. Until yesterday, there were millions of good hearted Americans who felt like marginal citizens in the land of their and their ancestors' birth. Barack Obama was not nominated to high office by a benign President, as were Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. He was elected President by a majority of the American electorate. No matter what racism survives and racial politics continue–and continue it will–the felt relationship of African-Americans to the United States irrevocably changed yesterday. The same would be true with the election of a Jewish president, but to a much lesser extent because–despite the virulent antisemitism that has existed here–many American Jews consider the U.S. to be their Promised Land; an attitude that the history of African Americans makes all but impossible for them. I urge those readers who believe that the forthcoming Obama administration poses a genuine danger to liberty, as I do, to pause for a moment and savor the importance to the American story of what took place yesterday. This gain cannot be gainsaid.

Second, Barack Obama's election yesterday represents the end of the Bush-Clinton lock on the Republican and Democratic parties, which is a very good thing for both parties. Whatever his accomplishments–and I credit him for policies that kept American soil free of terrorist attack since 9/11–George W. Bush's Presidency was bad for the cause of liberty and for the Republican party. I won't enumerate all the reasons why since they are legion and obvious. I want to focus instead on the end of Clintonism in the Democratic Party. Without Obama, there would be Hillary and Bill for years to come, and it is good riddance to both. Family dynasties–including the Adams father and son–are not befitting a Republic, except the banana kind. True, President Obama's policies as President will likely be far worse than Bill Clinton's, though the good parts of the Clinton Administration happened after the Republicans took control of Congress. Regardless of whether that happens again, or whether Obama is a worse President than Hillary would have been (which is likely), finally ridding us of the 20-year Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton cage match was a second good thing that happened yesterday.

Third, John McCain will not be President of the United States. Denying the ultimate political reward to a politician who was so principally responsible for gutting the freedom of political speech, and continuing the assault on the electoral process that was begun after Watergate, is justice. Even many of those who preferred McCain to Obama would acknowledge that McCain would have done many of the same bad things as President they fear Obama will do. When this happened, Republican opposition would be divided and muted, and responsibility for the bad effects of these policies would necessarily have been shared by both parties. The election of a Democratic President, Senate and House will place responsibility for the coming "change" squarely where it belongs. A whole generation of Americans have yet to experience the joys of one-party Democratic rule. I sincerely hope that this experience will be better than I expect it to be. I want only the best for this country. But if it doesn't, then Americans will know who to blame in a way they would not if John McCain were President. Now is not the time to discuss all the ways that this responsibility will be deflected or denied. The point is that this will be much more difficult than it would have been with John McCain as President. (Of course, I would have made the opposite claim has McCain been elected: At least Barack Obama will not be President of the United States.)

One final thought. In the discussion that has already begun about how the Republican Party needs to change to adjust to this election result, one consideration is overlooked. Much will depend on exactly what the Democrats attempt, accomplish, and the results thereof. These cannot be reliably foretold in advance and are less clear today than they ever will be again. If the Democratic Party forthrightly assumes the mantle of the Party of Government, this will present an obvious political opportunity for the creation of a Party of Liberty in opposition. Not that I am predicting this. I am just saying that it would be in the political interest of Republicans to become that party, which makes it somewhat more likely that they might do so if a critical mass of Republican activists and leaders can point the way.

I do not believe in historical inevitability. Whatever opportunities may be created for Republicans will not automatically be recognized and seized by them. My only point is that we cannot know today the exact nature of these opportunities because we do not know exactly what the Democrats will do next and how. The point of this post, however, is that no matter what may happen in the future, three good things happened last night.

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