November 06, 2008

Optimism - the Deciding Factor in Obama's Historic Win

The concept that people only vote these days 'against' something rather than 'for' has become rather cliché. The three most recent Canadian federal elections were apparently all won by those who weren't what voters were running from. The same argument has been applied to several of the more recent provincial elections. This isn't to say that there isn't merit in these claims as I've even been known to toss it out there. However, I have my serious doubts that it has become the norm as so many bloggers, pundits and other politicos would make it appear to seem.

For me, the first evidence of this is Obama's historic win this past Tuesday. While so many have talked about this being a win based on the anti-Bush vote, I believe it was a win based on the change and optimism that Obama represents.

Why did I emphasize 'optimism'? Because that is what really separated Obama from McCain. Both of these candidates represented change. Obama represented greater change but McCain really is the Republican maverick who often did things his own way and without the blessing of his party. McCain would have surely run the government differently from Bush Jr.

With Obama's focus on optimism, unity and hope, American's were provided with a message that has been lacking for almost a decade and they voted for that as much as they voted for change and/or voting against the legacy of the Bush/Cheney Republicans. Though it does go beyond this as well. As Obama had to overcome the racial barriers that still exist in America.

Leading up to election day, Obama was touted as having anywhere from an 8-15 point lead in the polls and yet, he only won by 4 points in the popular vote. This in part can be attributed to those Americans that will pledge support for an ethnic candidate in public but in private do the opposite. As well, identity politics is alive and well in the US and this wouldn't be possible or it wouldn't matter if those barriers didn't exist.

I am always blown away by how many 'groups' the campaigns focus on in the US. During election night I heard about Hispanics and sub-groups such non-Cuban Hispanics and Cuban Hispanics within Florida or elsewhere, working-class whites, middle-class whites, middle-class females, African Americans and all of its sub-groups, etc. Canadian political analysis usually focuses on males, females, French, Anglophone, urban, rural, etc. Race is hardly at hand whereas race seemingly makes up the majority of groups identified within the US. And this is because the barriers between races are still ever-present.

Let's not also forget that Obama had to win the support with those that don't share his views. Obama supports civil unions for LGBTs, a partial firearm ban, stem-cell research, etc. These and other positions that he holds aren't very popular with many of the groups that supported him. However, Obama was able to overcome these differences of opinion and still gain support of the people.

For Obama to be able to achieve his historic win he had to be much more than just a candidate for change. As McCain himself represented change as well. If it wasn't for McCain's selection of Palin as his running mate, this race would likely have been much closer (though I still think Obama could have pulled it off). With the economy in bad shape, Iraq going poorly, and so forth, things were up for grabs and change was what people were after and both candidates offered. However, McCain makes this difficult for Obama because he has credibility that crosses party lines.

However, Obama also offers hope and unity. He offers optimism. His campaign focuses on these themes just as much as he does change. McCain on the other hand, knowing he needs all the support he can get, chooses the socially conservative Palin to guarantee he gets the far-right votes of the republican base. Palin also serves as another potentially historic (first female vice-president) and generational-shift candidate, the things that Obama himself represent. Instead, McCain's selection of Palin was really a cynical, political move and takes some of his 'change' credibility away. Worse than that, Palin's views are intricately woven with the type of positions that Bush Jr. and Co. have been championing for the last eight years. The type of views that is now synonymous with fear, division and distrust. And thus, Americans were left with a choice between change (McCain) or change-plus (Obama). We now know the outcome.

Obama's win wasn't won simply by not being Bush Jr., there was too much for him to overcome if that were the case. If it were only change that American's were looking, McCain offered that as well. American's wanted something to look forward to. For too long they have been told to be afraid of everything and everyone around them. They have their own concerns these days, they shouldn't have to worry that their government is adding to that pressure. While McCain offered a change in approach to almost all facets of America, Obama went further. And so Americans voted for optimism - the premise of Obama's campaign - and what allowed him to overcome so much, whether it be race, difference of social view, age, party, and achieve his historic win.

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Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)