By David Keene - 11/24/08 04:29 PM EST
As the final votes were still being tabulated on Nov. 5, I found myself on National Public Radio as liberals celebrated what they saw as the transformational election to end all transformational elections. Pundits were suggesting that Obama’s “landslide” was the result of voter turnout so high as to exceed the turnout record set in 1908 and that these voters tromped to the polls to endorse an ideological agenda that would keep liberals cheering for a generation.
As the sun came up that morning, liberals assumed that anything was possible. Indeed, one caller expressed such “elation” and faith in the future that he said he was sure we would now cure cancer in short order. I suggested that it was at least possible that his expectations and those of his friends on the left were perhaps a tad high.
It turned out, of course, that voter participation hadn’t increased by that much, so the 1908 record stands. In fact, the Obama “landslide” resembled the 1992 Clinton victory more than any other. Clinton won that year by five points; Obama this time by six. More new senators rode in on Obama’s coattails than on Clinton’s, but Democrats didn’t do as well as they’d hoped at the state legislative level.
Still, regardless of his margin, no one should minimize the importance of the Obama victory or doubt that our 44th president is perhaps the most personally liberal president in modern times, but there are signs that our president-elect is also a realist. This makes him a far more formidable adversary to those of us who are apt to disagree with much of what he will want to accomplish in office, but could disillusion a huge number of those who cast Obama in the role of some sort of ideological soul-mate.
Barack Obama hasn’t even been sworn in yet and Democratic leftists are already spitting mad at the political messiah who was destined to fight doggedly for their agenda once elected while at the same time driving their enemies from the political temple.
Their growing outrage stems from an uncomfortable feeling that, in thwarting what they saw as a third Bush term, they may have laid the groundwork for a return of the Clintonites. The prospect of Hillary at State and a surrender of the commanding heights of political power to people they privately and sometimes publicly despise has more than one Obama-worshipping leftist wondering what’s going on.
What’s going on, of course, is that Obama and his team seem to recognize what the Internet activists missed.
Voters on Nov. 4 repudiated the performance of Republicans in office, punished them for the economic crisis in which we find ourselves and rewarded a candidate who ran a virtually flawless campaign during which he promised, a la Nixon and others since, “to bring us together.”
Exit polls and post-election polls alike suggest that most voters continue to oppose higher taxes and bigger government, and that many actually believed Obama, rather than McCain, was more likely to cut their taxes and constrain spending. They bought the argument linking McCain to Bush — and even those who didn’t weren’t sure that the GOP candidate was up to dealing with an economic crisis he acted as if he didn’t quite understand.
Obama’s people have to have read those polls and seem to be trying to put together a team that will be dominated by realistic liberals rather than ideological dreamers. Whether they succeed remains to be seen.
It won’t be easy. The left is upset at Obama because of the reports that only his intervention convinced Senate Democrats to grant the iconoclastic Joe Lieberman a stay of political execution last week, as well as for the lists of potential appointees being leaked on a daily basis by Obama aides testing the political waters before Jan. 20.
Elected politicians generally manage to upset their most fervent supporters as they grapple with the realities of governing, but the consequences for Obama could be serious given the fire-breathing and dominant power these folks hold within his party. Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos (and a fellow columnist for The Hill), has already declared that Democrats in the Senate have betrayed “the American people’s vote for change” and he knows, of course, that Obama was involved in the betrayal.
Moulitsas and his buddies believe they elected the new Congress and president and are preparing to go into opposition if they don’t toe the ideological line on everything from Iraq to hunting down and punishing those who served the hated Bush.
Team Obama is working to wire and unify his grassroots army so it can be mobilized on behalf of the Obama agenda. It will be interesting if they find themselves at the head of an army of leftists determined to march off in a far different direction than ordered by the new president and his deputies.
Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, can be reached at Keeneacu@aol.com