Well, it turns out that my concerns about the turnout in my previous post are now totally wrong. Nate shows today that Obama beat Kerry in pretty much every demographic, and in some he beat him by double digits. Considering that more people voted, period, than in 2004, it follows that more of each demographic (in raw numbers, not just as a percentage) voted for Obama, too.
I would like to know, however, how many people voted for Bush in 2004 and voted for Obama this time. I’ve heard lots of anecdotal stories, but I want data, if such data exists. Saying something like “America is more Democratic now” requires a better understanding of the relationship between the set of “Voters in the 2008 election” within the set of “Americans.” I mean, you can make a sort of 1:1 distinction (I believe one of my profs says something like “a public is made of who bothered to show up”), but in trying to understand the broader scale of things, you know… something a bit meatier is maybe helpful.
Still, I got a pretty strong complaint from a buddy about my previous post. His complaint was basically about why I cared about what Matthews thought about what had happened in the election. The event was what was worth remarking upon, not the response/reading of the event.
What I meant was, however, that it is important that people are responding to this election in such an affective manner. What kinds of celebration are, actually, called for here?
For Matthews, it’s worth celebrating that the US has elected an African-American. This feeling has anecdotally permeated all of my encounters with Obama supporters since Ohio was called. There’s a lot of “it shows a lot that in 40 years…” and the like that I hear from, generally, white yuppie types–including both baby boomers and young hipsters. There’s a lot of self-congratulation, like, “See? We proved we’re not racist! And for our second trick, we’re going to make Crash Best Picture!”
But, look, the point wasn’t to make some kind of gesture about race with this election. The point was to stop the GOP brand of corrupt misgovernance (which is why I think it’s important to realize how full of FAIL Bush’s reëlection was). The fact that at the same time we managed to break some kind of color line is, not to be too dismissive of the true happiness that people are feeling, sort of just a bonus. We need a good President. Obama’s racial makeup is neither a necessary nor a sufficient component of his chance at being that. Do I think it helps? Sure. Is it enough? Does anyone think that?
So for the time being, I see it as important to keep the reactions as two separate things. There’s a response that’s a repudiation of GOP misrule, and there’s a response that’s a gesture toward civil rights.
But what kind of credit can (or should) I take for the civil rights side of any kind of response I’d have (as a non phenotypical racial minority)? This morning on the 12, a young guy boarded and started a call/response with the rest of the riders about Obama. “Barack Obama!” he’d shout, and the bus would respond, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” I kept my mouth shut. Then he started trying to guess who on the bus voted for McCain. Again, I kept my mouth shut (and I was too far away to fall into his gaze). But it would’ve been strange for me to somehow join in. I don’t see his election as a validation of some kind of American promise regarding equality for all.
(Weirdly, if the call/response were about a team that had just won a championship, then I would’ve joined in.)
I mean, part of the (alleged) McCain gambit in the selection of Sarah Palin as running mate was that she would bring over people who wanted to see the glass ceiling for women shattered. She even alluded to this in her début. So for people who cared most about seeing women finally reach for the (second) highest office in the land, the thinking goes, McCain should get their vote. After all, Obama could’ve chosen HRC as his running mate, but didn’t. Obviously gender equality (continuing the thread) is not as important to him. These were all GOP logical contortions we experienced this summer, don’t forget.
Turn the clock back further to Obama’s 2004 race against Alan Keyes, a nominee suspected of being chosen precisely because it would take the racial aspect out of the election equation (or so some surmised). Now imagine, then, for a moment, this year’s election if Obama went up against Keyes instead of McCain.
Now imagine Keyes against HRC. Or, hell, even Biden or Edwards, unlikely as it is.
See what I mean? The proper response to having Alan Keyes defeat Joe Biden for President is not, “I’m so amazed at how far we’ve come since the end of Jim Crow” or Matthews’s “America has done it [showing the world it is the vanguard in equality] again!” The proper response is, “I can’t fucking believe that the Democrats failed, once more, to convince the USA that the GOP simply has no interest in governance.”
And that’s the point of keeping the affective and political responses somehow separate. Making the significance of Obama’s election related to race carries value (as I believe Cory Booker explained on MSNBC, Obama’s election may encourage more African-Americans to seek statewide offices, no longer wary of looking for votes outside of urban environments), but it’s a part of a picture that has many more crucially important elements at hand, like fixing this country.
And it’s in the fixing the country where I get a little deflated. I don’t think the press will let the Democrats enact the agenda they want, nor do I think the GOP (though they may be so chastened that they are willing to start playing ball) somehow will forget how to obstruct. But even if that were all in place, Obama, himself (and the leadership in Congress) are not, simply, progressive enough to push through change that would, actually, be change. Perhaps I’m wrong; I’d love to be. But I see Obama as ruling as an infuriating centrist right out of the School of Clinton. And that, then, makes me a lot less excited about the election than everyone else around me seems to be.
Then again, I can’t think of anyone who shares my politics close enough where I’d be excited about their election who could, also, at the same time, actually get elected. This is where 2004 returns: had Kerry won, defects and all, we still would’ve thrown Bush out of office. Now we are denied the opportunity of actually turning our backs on him. And here’s where kos’s mantra returns: first, more Democrats; then, better Democrats.
Bart: “Wow. I feel so full of…what’s the opposite of shame?”
Bart: “No, not that far from shame.”
Homer: [quavering] “Less shame?”
Bart: [happy] “Yeah…”
(now on Daily Kos, too)