Monday, November 10, 2008

The New Guy in Washington

The election of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States has people all over the world fanning themselves and reeling with the vapors. Come January, the man at the helm of the world’s greatest power will be a mixed-race outsider with international roots who clawed his way up the ladder, instead of the anointed son of a moneyed family deeply entrenched in the old power structure. That testifies to the dynamism of our political system, which with all its faults still manages to shake things up from time to time.

That’s not to say, of course, that everything is going to be different now or that Saint Barack is going to solve all our problems by a laying-on of hands. He’s got a passel of them to contend with. Not too many presidents have taken office with more crises in progress. And the entrenched interests and the systemic problems remain the same. We’re going to have a black president, but there are no black solutions to our problems, only pragmatic ones which need intelligence to discern and political skill to implement.

So if you voted for Obama, be prepared for the frustrations and the disappointments, and if you voted against him, relax. He’s not going to turn us into Zimbabwe. There’s too much inertia in our system for that. If Obama proves to be a good president, it won’t be because he’s black—it will be because he has the right vision and administrative skills. And if he proves to be a bad president? That’s right—it won’t be because he’s black. It will be because he shares the flaws of our other bad presidents, who it seems to me were fairly pale of hue. Maybe having a president with a melanin-intensive complexion will help people stop fixating on skin color.

If nothing else, Obama’s win is vindication for my side in a couple of arguments I’ve been having for years. First, I never believed it when people said that the United States was too racist ever to elect a black person president. I’ve been hearing this for a long time, from smug foreigners and guilt-wracked Americans, and I never bought it for a minute. All it took was the right candidate. It’s true that Americans won’t elect a candidate who is primarily seen as a black activist—that’s why Jesse Jackson never got out of the box. But Colin Powell would have been a strong candidate, if he hadn’t had the good sense to put his family first. And Obama proves that even a liberal black can get elected, provided he appeals to more than the Bill Ayerses of the world. Obama, like Bill Clinton, got elected because he understands that the country at large is more conservative than the Democratic party. If he’s as smart as he seems, he’ll keep that in mind as he makes policy, too.

The second argument Obama settles is the one about the role of money in elections. Have you heard any progressives whining about the role of big money in elections since Obama broke his promise about public funding and then broke all the fund-raising records? Me neither. Like it or not, in politics money is free speech, and campaign finance “reform” essentially amounts to incumbent protection. I suspect we won’t be hearing much from the left about this issue for a while, now that the left has learned how to raise truckloads of money.

So sit back, keep your fingers crossed, and see how the New Guy does. It’s going to be interesting, at the very least.

Sam Reaves

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