After McCain had the good luck to win the nomination early, he squandered valuable time, failing to use his advantage to define his campaign, or Obama. In contrast, the brilliance of Obama's campaign implied Obama's ability to govern. Once McCain impetuously took Obama's chameleon moderation off the table, the unqualified Obama, who had more energy and seemed more coherent, gained credibility and endorsements, synergistically. Consequently, the late attacks, though legitimate, against Obama as a stealth candidate seemed like smears.
Yet, on election eve, even New York Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler, speaking for Obama at a Florida synagogue, implied his candidate knew what Rev. Wright stood for, but had lacked the "political courage" to repudiate his pastor. Earth to Nadler: If you're Jewish and you feel your candidate lacks the guts to confront the bashing of America and Israel, why would you support him?
Generally, voters continue to want something for nothing: On Tuesday they rejected Republicans for their un-Republican policies of borrow-and-spend and embraced Democrats for their un-Republican policies of tax-and-spend. But, there's more to this year's political soap opera than economic bad times and the class warfare to which Democrats pander demagogically. Indeed, truly hardworking people properly blame a government that (under Clinton, as well) seemed to favor parasitic Wall Street bankers over them.
But what about people who had put nothing down on a home, then borrowed on it to live beyond their means, and believe their predicament is somehow everyone else's fault? In Obama's presumed cradle-to-grave nanny state they now have a savior. When candidate Obama said everyone has a "right" to be provided day care for their children and a college education for them and universal health care and ..., how does one distinguish between Obama's peculiar constitutional theory of civil rights and his pedestrian campaign rhetoric of bold promises? As one Obama voter interviewed on television said, "I owe money on a car loan. I helped him out, and now he can help me out."
The more liberal Jews often speak of "tikkun olam" and the Jewish ethic of caring for the less fortunate. Yet, they favored Joe Biden, who gave almost nothing to charity. Instead, his concept is to tax others to enforce his concept of social justice. Why not have an honest dialogue?
Before his election, Obama said he wants "to fundamentally transform America." Most of us believe his election itself testifies to the innate greatness and wonderful goodness of America, and we do not believe our country requires a fundamental transformation, and certainly not into the mold of European social democracy -- secular and stagnant. Yet, as an American, I never thought I would say that I find a new French leader, the pro-opportunity, pro-defense Mr. Sarkozy, closer to the American ideal than our own president-elect. In giving President-elect Obama the benefit of the doubt, I hope sincerely that he can grow into the job, and I can revise that assessment.
Back to the campaign. Why did voters believe that Obama and his backers (examples: Finance Chairs Chris Dodd in the Senate and Barney Frank in the House of Representatives), who aggressively supported the massive program of sub-prime loans and stubbornly resisted critical reforms, were somehow better qualified and more likely to resolve the economic crisis than McCain, the maverick who had outspokenly opposed Fannie and Freddie excesses? The dysfunctional McCain campaign failed miserably to anticipate, and communicate, on the issue of the economy. Indeed, it is McCain, not Obama, who would more quickly get government out of the bailout business. Obama's campaign words, "We're seeing the final verdict on Bush's failed economic policies," cleverly evaded this unreported or underreported fact: Wall Street favored Obama. It did so because the wealthy, with their tax lawyers, do just fine under Democrats; it's the middle class that disappears.
McCain was not a leader on the economic issue. His anemic, often irrelevant, campaign advanced silly proposals like a gas tax holiday. When he suspended his campaign, he had an opportunity to dominate the White House meeting, oppose the bailout and insist on oversight and taxpayer protections, and emerge as the leader. Instead, he fumbled, and Obama picked up the ball.
The blatantly biased media did not explain the origins of the economic crisis; instead, the media consistently boosted Obama, who never actually had taken on his party, as the candidate somehow for change, while resisting any serious investigative reporting of Obama's myriad deficiencies and inconsistencies. For example, Obama, who once said gun ownership was not protected against the Second Amendment, reversed himself, just as he did on public funding of campaigns, offshore oil drilling and many more issues, with a free ride from reporters. But the media magnified every alleged error by Sarah Palin and at the same time barely publicized Joe Biden's numerous, even egregious, blunders. In fact, more investigative reporting was directed at Palin than at Obama.
The media's role should be considered in context. Bill Clinton inherited a world void of the Soviet threat, thanks mainly to the policies of Ronald Reagan; Clinton had little to do with the resulting calm. Further, Clinton was required to show fiscal restraint at home, thanks mainly to Republican control of Congress; Clinton had little to do with the cyclical economic recovery. But in the Clinton mythology, relative peace and prosperity were, perversely, his accomplishments. Now, we face this coming trajectory: lower oil prices, a recovering stock market, a turnaround economy, and stability in Iraq, no thanks to the emerging one-party rule of Barack Obama, who is likely to take credit.
Congressional Republicans are hardly blameless for their predicament or bad press: Under House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his successors, they not only failed to reform, but also acted more like the tyrannical Democrats they had replaced. And where these Republicans had resisted (to his benefit) the big government of President Bill Clinton, they then supported (to his detriment) the reckless expansionism of President George W. Bush. The Bush Administration acted like Democrats -- giving rise to an even greater and more costly Federal role in our failing public education system and adding a dysfunctional prescription drug benefit to our troubled Medicare program. All this, and more anti-conservatism, yet they were glaringly incapable, even after Sept. 11, of even trying to secure our borders.
The turning point for many conservatives was when the Congressional Republican leadership abandoned Federalism to convene Congress in an emergency weekend session to consider a matter in the Florida judiciary -- the Terry Schiavo case involving Schiavo's terminal illness. As for the Administration, its handling of the Katrina case, complete with political cronies, demonstrated incompetence that embarrassed conservatives and further damaged the Republican brand.
Expect to see the Democrats, who under Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, have controlled Congress for the last two years, use their one-party government to produce the same sort of failures, but on a much grander scale. The (Democratic) cure can be worse than the (Republican) disease.
The collapse of the credit markets is the main reason both for the Obama victory and for the Republican losses in the Senate and House. The national vote was largely punitive -- punish the Republicans for economic uncertainty and despair. What of the political onslaught we now face? Congressman Howard Berman, almost alone among Democrats, has had the integrity to resist what his party wants to do: In the name of fairness, Democrats would trash the First Amendment and silence talk radio. But will other Democrats of conscience resist the cynical plan of Democrats to eliminate the secret ballot on whether workers want a union? What about appointing nominees to the Supreme Court who share Obama's philosophy that the purpose of income taxes is not to raise revenue, but to redistribute wealth, and that such redistribution to the recipient is a civil right?
McCain made a gracious and moving concession speech. Obama, in turn, set a tone of unity and, for the first time, tried to lower messianic expectations. But time will tell whether he grows beyond his leftist background and ideological voting record and governs from the center, or yields to the extremists in his party who control Congress.
So, finally, what does this election in the United States mean to Israel? In recent years, the American left, like its counterparts elsewhere, has been hostile to the Jewish state, and the left now controls the U.S. Congress. As for the presidency, Israel can hardly rely on Jewish voices of dubious moral authority, like Congressman Nadler, who "know" that Obama really is a friend of Israel.
The people of Israel face an existential threat from Iran, while in Obama they see, at best, a work in progress -- "a man not fully formed" -- as Dennis Prager observed, hopefully, the day after the election. Thus, these election results make a compelling case for risk-averse Israelis to elect a man associated not only with national prosperity but also with national security -- Bibi Netanyahu.
Arnold Steinberg is a political strategist and analyst.