That, as they say, is that. President-elect Barack Obama is correct in saying that "defining moment of change has come to America."
As the first African-American president, he will always hold a significant place in national history, but his effectiveness in delivering on the promise of change must be measured both in terms of quantity and direction as he assumes the roles of chief executive and commander-in-chief.
Change is not hard-wired to deliver in only a positive direction. Neither is it true that change that causes positive effects for one person or family will not have a negative effect on others. Nor is it like a domesticated pet that can be leashed; unintended consequences are the bane of every change-artist politico.
Despite all of the realities and wild cards — known only in hindsight — change sounds good. Even when we do not have the benefit of seeing it in legislative form, but only hear the happy populist rhetoric that scintillates crowds on the campaign trail, change makes us feel like good times are just around the bend. The grass is always greener. Yada, yada, yada. Blah, blah, blah.
The question that faces us is to what degree Obama's victory is also a mandate for the changes he will attempt to make, in terms of judicial appointments and cabinet postings, as well as his policy agenda. There are many reasons to suspect that the Democratic wave that swept the country yesterday was a public relations success, not an ideological one, because the ideology has yet to manifest itself in a clear legislative policymaking agenda.
Based on campaign promises, people voting for Obama might have done so simply because they believed he would lower their taxes. To them, he might represent the values of conservativism in a package that was more appealing than that grumpy ol' John McCain. If not for the fine print that will become the essence of how Obama delivers on his other promises without bankrupting the country, those voters might get what they are expecting. With that in mind, it might not be smart for Obama to rapidly conclude that the results of this election represent a mandate for the liberal objectives that were challenged by McCain, as well as members of the media, without much in the way of substantive response from Obama.
It is probably unrealistic to expect Democratic politicians — now in cloistered conclave, contemplating what can be accomplished whilst we have one-party rule — to question whether a juggernaut liberal agenda for the first session of 2009 is not the will of the people. No one wants to look a gift horse in the mouth, but ignoring the possibility that the electorate might not have been voicing a mandate, despite the results of the election, could have the effects both of ensuring a pendulum swing back in 2010 to a Republican-dominated Congress and the exacerbation of the country's current economic predicament.
Based on our two-year history with the party leadership of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, R-Nev., and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the Democrats will gulp greedily from the chalice handed them without too much concern for why it was given to them in the first place. After all, it would be somewhat rational — although short-sighted — to conclude that yesterday's results were a clear message of animosity toward Republican candidates and the values underpinning their party.
In the presidential race, while several states switched from red to blue, not one flipped in the other direction. The same trend is shaping up in the Senate, House, and gubernatorial races, although the Minnesota race between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken will have to be decided after at least one recount. (Minnesota GOP attorneys should connect with the Washington State GOP for a briefing on lessons learned from having close statewide races slip through their hands. Reference: Gorton/Cantwell, 2000, Rossi/Gregoire, 2004.)
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