Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama wins historic election by capturing center

As this blog is launched, Barack Obama has just won the Presidency, a remarkable achievement for him and an history-making moment for America. He has been judged by tens of millions of Americans of every race and background on "the content of his character," in Dr. King's words, and found to be worthy of leading the nation at a time of crisis at home and multiple challenges abroad.

In his Grant Park speech, Obama struck the right note by saying he planned to be the President of all the people and by reaching out to those who did not give him their votes.

We all hope he will succeed in unifying the nation, but sadly, there are many reasons to wonder whether this will happen, given the fierce partisan brawling in Washington over many years and the increasingly ideological tone of media reportage and commentary of both the right and the left. As if to set the stage for the next round in this ongoing brawl, states where the two candidates were separated by a few percent -- or less -- are deemed "red" or "blue."

What this election has demonstrated once again, however, is that Americans continue to defy all efforts to stamp them with one or the other color. They prefer to blend the two, now tilting a bit toward the red end of the spectrum, now tilting back a bit toward the blue.

Obama's victory margin at this writing is about 51-47, not much different from George W. Bush's in 2004. A switch of 1% or so of the votes in a handful of the "purple" swing states would have made John McCain our next President. Obama campaigned mainly as a moderate, someone who would transcend the "old politics," "reach across the aisle," and attack such problems as the cost of energy, the financial collapse and the emerging recession pragmatically. It worked; he won the center; and he'll be moving into the White House in January.

We are largely a centrist nation, albeit we have a very vocal and well organized left and right. The center is not a place filled with drama or excitement, but it's the place where most Americans find the most comfort. George W. Bush's greatest failure was his unwillingness to recognize this fundamental fact about our politics and govern accordingly. We should hope that President Obama understands and remembers that his victory was not one of left over right or "blue" over "red" but a bet by this mostly "purple" nation that we can trust him to lead us for the next four years.

The pressures on him to do otherwise from the left of his own party will be enormous. If he makes the same mistake as President Bush, we're in for another four or eight years of incessant partisan combat. Let's hope he's wiser.

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