Reflections on the night before

Some reflections on last night’s result:

  • First and foremost, I’m just glad it produced a clear margin of victory. At the time of writing, the BBC is reporting the electoral college votes as 349-162. I hope this will ensure that the legitimacy of Obama’s victory is universally acknowledged, in contrast to what happened in 2000 and 2004. Certainly I was impressed (and not in the least bit surprised) by the generosity and gracefulness of McCain’s concession speech, and hope that will set the tone among his supporters. (Edit: this Spectator report gives me grounds for optimism, too.)

    (See also Jeffrey Zeldman’s definitive tweet on McCain’s concession.)

  • Those of us who have always been instinctively (though by no means uncritically) pro-American have particular cause to be thankful for Obama’s victory. Being pro-America has not always been easy over the past eight years, not just because of the grievous errors that George W. Bush has made, but because it has put us so out of step with the prevailing mood in western Europe, particularly on the left.

    A McCain victory would have made the forces of anti-Americanism both unassailable and insufferable for the next four years. “They’re so racist! They’re so bigoted! They’re so ignorant!”, people would have crowed – while quietly ignoring the fact that no western European nation has ever given a black person the opportunity even to be defeated in an election for high office, nor is likely to do so any time soon.

  • A point I need to remember for myself: Caesar remains Caesar, even when his name is President Obama.
  • As for those for whom today is a day of dismay and disappointment, or even of anger and bitterness: I know. It’s awful. The British election result in 1992 and the American result in 2000 are seared into my own consciousness. I imagine that the 2008 US election will be the same for you.

    American conservatism will be back, and I hope that its best instincts – “Prudence. A sense of reality. Understanding limits. Respect for tradition – it didn’t happen by accident. The long view. Respect for the individual and his rights. A knowledge that life is worth living, we’re lucky to be here” – will prevail over its worst (“Barack HUSSEIN Obama”). That won’t be easy: sadly, the reality of heavy electoral defeat is often a retreat to the base and its basest instincts (ask the British Conservatives after 1997; ask the early 1980s Labour party).

    So to my conservative friends I say two things. First: be upset, be dismayed, be angry. But then look forward and start rebuilding the best of conservatism. The conservatism in which Peggy Noonan (from whom the quotation above comes) prevails over Rush Limbaugh; William Buckley over Sarah Palin.

    And second: try to forget for a moment what a disaster you think President Obama will be. You’ll have four years to draw people’s attention to that. Try to celebrate for a moment what an American story the rise of Obama is. It really couldn’t have happened anywhere else, and the ability of America to produce stories like that is one of the things that is most worth conserving about it.

Finally, if you don’t like what I’ve said in this post, then at least accept the spirit in which it is written: as words motivated by pro-Americanism, not anti-, from one who has a great deal of love, affection and respect for your nation. If anything in this post comes across any differently, then that’s a failure of my writing, not a sign of any hostility even towards those on the other side of the argument in this election. I’m happy today; you’re maybe not. Please let’s still be friends though.

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12 Responses to Reflections on the night before

  1. CPA says:

    It is important to remember that when the president (or party in a parliamentary system) that you oppose wins, it is actually sinful to wish and hope for that opposing leader to fail. Pray for the good of the city in which you live, says God through Jeremiah; pray for the authorities, says Paul, and the tradition of the church says the same.

    I’m happy today too.

  2. Laura says:

    Thanks for your gracious and winsome response.

  3. John H says:

    CPA: good point. Please remind me of that after the next general election here in the UK!

  4. Rick says:

    Thanks, John. I do appreciate that you wish us well.

    I’m reminded when I read blogs from England or Canada or Australia that I tend to expect those countries to make it no matter who is in power. It’s only with my own country that I can start thinking that everything hangs in the balance. Perhaps some of this is a realistic American exceptionalism. But I know some of it is falling into overblown rhetoric, even when I’m trying to remain immune to it.

    I see this as a series of trade-offs. I’m not sorry to see the Bush administration leave. I would not have felt great had McCain won. Perhaps better—though with more anxiety about upcoming wars in the Middle East—but not good. I voted for Ron Paul. Then I read a blog post by someone who said he cast a write in vote for “No”. I wish I had read his post before going out to vote. I will probably do that next time, unless some magnificent candidate runs.

    Barack will be in our public prayers when I say them. Stranger things have happened. I’ve been in church when we’ve said prayers for Bishop Barbara (back in Massachusetts days in the Episcopal church) and Arnold our governor (I have a temptation to pronounce it Ahh-nuld when I’m the one reading them.).

  5. Tom R says:

    2000, yes, by all means, but how exactly does anyone who’s not a foil-hat-wearing Daily Kos obsessive question the legitimacy of the 2004 election (other than that the “wrong” candidate won)?

  6. Theresa K. says:

    Thanks for the good words, John. You surely aren’t too young to remember Bill Clinton, America’s last liberal president. The world loved him and most Americans squirmed with his antics at home (not just the juicy stuff, either). I think his presidency, on a nearly daily basis, soured many conservatives on the idea of another shot at it for the liberals. Now Obama is busy tapping former Clinton aides for his staff. Is that really the best he can do? My one doubt is that his moderate rhetoric would be just that…rhetoric.

    Will Obama be different? Probably. He does have my prayers; I am commanded to do so. I struggle a bit with fear as he sets out to refashion America. Yesterday was a very weird day; liberals were crying with joy and ultra-conservatives struggled with anger and doubt. I tried to keep a middle road for my own sake and for the three teens who observe me daily. Part of me wants to shout out, when hearing news reports of how excited the world is, “It’s none of your business!” Honestly, if we’ve got budget problems now I KNOW where he’ll have to get funds to help out Kenya – from my meager paycheck. That’s what the moderate conservatives I know are thinking. Our next president needs to take care of things at home and not be some rock star for the world. Where is that in the job description? (Yeah, I realize it’s probably in there somewhere.) Something about American Exceptionalism.

  7. John H says:

    Tom: just google “ohio voting machines 2004”, if you really want to get depressed. My point was that a similar victory for Obama – one in which a couple of narrowly-decided states changing column could have flipped the whole result – would have been a disaster, leading to months or years of ranting about ACORN and park benches and stolen elections, with attendant litigation.

    Theresa: I expect that (like Clinton) Obama will be less liberal in government than his supporters want or his opponents fear. But we’ll see. I agree that liberal presidents tend to play better abroad than conservative ones.

  8. Ryan says:

    Thoughtful, personal, and insightful, like all your posts. Count me as one American who has really enjoyed following this blog over the past couple months since I found it. Keep up the good work.

  9. Josh S says:

    You kinda forgot something:

    The voice of Limbaugh played a big part in bringing about Republican control of Congress for the first time in 40 years, which in turn bequeathed free trade and welfare reform on the nation. Sarah Palin turned the McCain campaign from a disaster into a close race. The thing you don’t understand is that prudence, individual rights, tradition, personal morality, limited government, and fiscal responsibility define the conservative base.

    Republicans never win elections by appealing to the center and working outward. Abandoning the base is a surefire way to maintain Democratic majorities in both houses and keep them in control of the White House. The Bush administration and the Congress under him did a bang-up job of that.

  10. John H says:

    The thing you don’t understand is that prudence, individual rights, tradition, personal morality, limited government, and fiscal responsibility define the conservative base.

    No, I think get that – I did quote Peggy Noonan’s words with approval, after all – though I’m not going to deny that US conservatism is quite an alien beast in some respects; very different from Conservatism in the UK in many ways, not least in tone.

    But there are negative aspects to some elements of the conservative base too: an oafish anti-intellectualism and intellectual incuriosity, a hatred of “difference” (that seems to see the middle name “Hussein” as a bar to office, for example), a stigmatising of their opponents as “un-American”, a nostalgic and debilitating fetishation of white, rural, small-town life as the “real America” in contrast to the cities which actually house more Americans; and so on. And a suffocating pride, too. Not “proud to be an American” pride, but “seven deadly sins” pride.

    Of course, similar lists could be compiled for the evils of the Democrat base, and probably ending with the same item. Bases are like that. All I’m saying is that there will be a strong temptation to pander to those negatives – to retreat to the base rather than building from it.

    And I’m not offering this as a political strategy for the GOP. It may well be that the base is big enough for a “core vote” strategy to work for them. And I recognise that it is American conservatives they need to appeal to, not European liberals…

    Ryan: you’re very kind. Thank you. 🙂

  11. CPA says:

    Actually John H, a slim majority of Americans live in the suburbs. And I think much of American politics can be summed up as a Democratic base which sees its ideal as the vibrant city, and a Republican base which sees its ideal as the nostalgic small town both competing for the vote of Americans who live in the suburbs, which despite being un-“vibrant” and un-“nostalgic” is where they’re making a living.

  12. Jenna says:

    Surely you can’t know the truths about Obama and still say the things you have above. The reality is that his election will usher in an era in which the last meager legal restraints against the culture of death in the USA will be swept away. One of the first things Obama will certainly do is to enact the Freedom of Choice act, a law that will nullify bans on abortion across all 50 state–thus imposing his will on the will of the citizens who have voted in the majority to enact the laws against abortion in those states. He has supported partial birth abortion; he has opposed the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, which mandates medical care for babies who survive abortion, in the Illinois legislature. The abortion holocaust will increase unimaginable proportions under his administration.

    But, hey! You can feel happy about being pro-American now, thanks to Obama! And so can thousands of Europeans like you! Now THAT’s a priority to celebrate, rather than mourning the millions of pre-born lives about to be lost.

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