History says, Don’t hope
on this side of the grave
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme. – Seamus Heaney
In the end, it was over sooner than I had expected, but just as I had hoped. Once Ohio was won and Pennsylvania hadn’t fallen into McCain’s hands, the battle was over. McCain conceded around 8:00 PM or so our time. He gave what is widely acknowledged as a gracious speech, a speech befitting the man who people knew before this election began, a man lost in the battle for the White House, a speech marred slighltly by his emphatic praise of Palin. People who had firmly stated their opposition to Obama because he was black, ended up voting for him in the end. Bradley effect proved to be a non-factor.
NYT ran a story about such a group of people in a small town in Pennsylvania, looking to seek the reasons why they changed. One of them, a heating and air-conditioning technician said: “For a long time, I couldn’t ignore the fact that he was black, if you know what I mean. I’m not proud of that, but I was raised to think that there aren’t good black people out there.” He said that what turned his vote was McCain’s selection of Palin. I was touched that many Americans shared a similar view, that they didn’t see Palin as being good for the country. Another chief reason, according to a council official, was self-interest. She says, “They had to ask themselves if they wanted a really smart young black guy, or a stodgy old white guy from the same crowd who put us in this hole.”
This seems to run counter to psychological studies that have been published in the past that suggest that people vote more in line with their feelings about a candidate than factual information. So the studies predicted that people would vote for McCain because of the latent racism (and strongly triggered xenophobia by Palin) against Obama. But in the end, the economic disaster and Obama’s success in making McCain seem more like Bush helped push him to victory, it seems. A friend told me that had it not been for the economic disaster, the unpopularity of the Iraq war and his significantly larger funding, Obama would not have won. In the end, it was “Its the economy, stupid” all over again.
Obama’s victory has been greeted the world over with euphoria and hope. Many warmed up to America as they had in the past, saying that by electing a black to the highest post in the country, America was showing itself again to be a beacon of democracy. I heard a program on NPR, the public radio station, in which leaders and people from outside the US spoke with words and tone that were richly pregnant with hope at the possibility of a new dawn in the history of the US and the possibility of its beneficial impact on the world. “Can you imagine the burden Obama must be feeling at this outpouring of hope and goodwill ?” asked the host of the show. Even the Iranian president sent a letter congratulating Obama, the first since the revolution that deposed the Shah. Obama greeted it coolly, saying that reciprocating the good wishes of an enemy required some thought as to what was said and what was meant.
The honeymoon was over even before the shouting was. Markets tanked the day after the election. Obama decided to put a man widely considered to be partisan as his chief of staff. He’s considering Lawrence Summers for the post of Treasury Secretary, the same man who once said: “Just between you and me, shouldn’t the world bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs (less developed countries) ? … I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waster in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that…I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted…Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electricity generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.” More recently, he was forced to resign from Harvard University for commenting that the reason there were fewer women in science and math was because men was genetically better endowed to excel in those fields. Many of the potential candidates were part of the Clinton presidency. After an election based on the promise of change seemed to indicate only a change from Bush’s policies, not the dawn of a new, different America. Left-of-center opinion makers pointed out that Obama faced a tough choice in bringing forward a completely fresh team because of the enormity of the challenges that he faced. Right wing opinion makers blamed the post-election stock market decline on Obama.
But even before this, the victory was bitter-sweet. Proposition 8, the referendum to define marriage as only between heterosexuals, passed, striking a blow against gay marriage. I was shocked at its passage in California, one of the most liberal states in the country, especially after it looked like it was going to lose quite easily. LA Times and The Nation suggested that supporters of the proposition were successful in making the issue about being more than marriage, that if the proposition failed, churches would be forced to recognize and perform gay marriages and that schools would be forced to teach about gay marriage. Another trump card, specifically targeting black voters, was a video of Obama saying that he wasn’t in favor of gay marriage, though the truth was that he was emphatically against Prop 8. Curiously, Obama didn’t do as well as his predecessor Democrat for President, John Kerry, only among people older than 65 and homosexuals.
The exit polls showed that African-Americans overwhelmingly voted in favor of the proposition. The bigotry upset me. One of the blacks who was interviewed said that it had been a difficult decision for him. He said that he had “a deep and personal reverence for civil rights”, but being a Pentecostal Christian trumped eventually. That religion had been used to condone slavery seems to have been forgotten by most blacks. There is a poignant, intelligent and mature movie, Far From Heaven, that deals with this sort of bigotry. Set in the 50s, when homosexuality was considered a disease and civil rights was still a decade or more away, it tells the story of a married couple, considered the model American family in a small town community, but the husband is gay and she, lonely, seeks comfort in the company of her black gardener, a well read, intelligent man. But she cannot condone her husband’s gayness while he finds her friendship with a black man, appalling. The bigotry so movingly depicted in the movie has stuck with me for a long time.
They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
between stars — on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
to scare myself with my own desert places. – Robert Frost