In the Wednesday edition of the Chicago Sun-Times, conservative columnist Robert Novak claimed Barack Obama's historical election last night was not "a broad mandate from the public" and the ensuing Democratic wave did little to change the political alignment in congress. Given recent history and the evidence of a shifting tide in American politics, I'm hard pressed to find a more inaccurate assessment of the outcome.
George W. Bush and Co. declared a "mandate" from the people shortly after his reelection in 2004 by a mere 35 electoral vote-margin. He did so despite barely eking out a majority with 50.7% of the popular vote over John Kerry's 48.3%. Incidentally, this 2.4% margin of victory was the narrowest win for any elected incumbent seeking reelection in all of American history--and he was a war-time Commander in Chief.
Obama sailed over John McCain last night with a clear majority of over 53% of the popular vote and a 6%, 7.4-million vote margin of victory that is over twice that of his predecessor. And with an electoral-vote margin of nearly 200 (over five times that of Bush), Obama's win constitutes not just more than double the "mandate" claimed by Bush, it is an historic landslide by contemporary standards.
The President-Elect flipped eight Bush states to the blue column and managed to get two states -- Indiana and Virginia -- to elect a Democrat for President for the first time in nearly half a century. Solidly red North Carolina hasn't sent a Democrat to the White House in 22 years but they seem likely poised to do so this year. And the changing maps in this election weren't limited to just the Presidency.
In the Senate, Democrats were successful in unseating the incumbent Republicans in New Hampshire, Oregon and North Carolina and won seats formerly held by Republicans in Virginia, Colorado and New Mexico. They failed to upset Republican leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky but, much like the races in blood-red Alaska and Georgia, the outcome should never have been in doubt or so razor-close. This is indeed a year of changing political landscapes.
At the time of this writing, it's still unclear whether a liberal former television writer from New York City will replace the conservative incumbent in Minnesota. And while it is true Democrats will likely fall short of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, they gained at least six seats and--not counting the unknown outcomes in Alaska, Minnesota, and Georgia--will hold the largest effective majority of either party since 1978. Democratic gains in the House were not of the scale of the Republicans in the last big change election (1980), but they won a majority margin Republicans haven't enjoyed in nearly 80 years.
Some say this election was a referendum on Bush and his failed economic policies. In order to push Bush as far into the background as possible, McCain tried to make it a referendum on Obama, his policies, and his vision for the country. Well, voters answered with the highest turnout ever for a presidential election.
No matter how empty the narrative conservatives choose to salve their wounds of defeat, the unmistakable reality of the 2008 election is that America -- red and blue, young and old, rich and poor -- indeed gave Obama and Democrats an overwhelming and, yes, history-making nod of approval. If Bob Novak doesn't think these vote totals, reshaped electoral map and switching of traditionally red states constitute a "mandate," then I'd be interested to learn what he thinks does.
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