The Rockaway Irregular
Well, it's finally over — and about time, too. After two years of seemingly endless campaigning and eight of partisan bickering and recriminations, the country appears to have turned an historic corner, giving us our first African-American president in a broad liberal sweep across the two major branches of government. Barack Obama, in his victory speech, brought many to tears among the tens of thousands gathered to hear him at Chicago's Grant Park as the election returns poured in. He struck the right notes, too, graciously reaching out to John McCain and his supporters while promising to defend this nation against its enemies. For a few moments many of us who have anguished for months over the prospects of handing the Pelosi-Reid Congress a blank check to govern, could forget that worry and lose ourselves in the music of this historic moment.
A little earlier in the evening, John McCain gave his own speech. It was gracious and eloquent in its plain spoken way and probably the best he'd done in the entire campaign. Still, comparing his rhetorical skills with Obama's, it was clear he'd been outclassed yet again. Looking on, no doubt, from the White House he will soon vacate, George W. Bush must have wondered at the fickleness of American voters.
The most unpopular president in recent memory, only four years earlier he had given his own victory speech: "I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent," he said then after convincingly defeating Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. "I will need your support," he went on, "and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can to deserve your trust." He never achieved that goal as Americans hardened their positions against him and his popularity ratings plummeted.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal a day after the 2008 election, investigative reporter Jeffrey Scott Shapiro notes that Bush has been "blamed for everything . . . despised by the left while continuously disappointing the right."
The partisan rancor that has infected this nation for the eight years of Bush's presidency, and which finally culminated in a wholesale repudiation of his party and ideas on November 4 was, Shapiro notes, "nothing less than a national disgrace. The attacks launched against (Bush) have been cruel and slanderous, proving to the world what little character and resolve (Americans) have." Bush, sitting with his wife and aides in the White House, can be forgiven if he felt a twinge or two of jealousy as the new presidentelect, Barack Obama, basked in the warmth and accolades of his supporters and of the nation at large.
These past eight years have seen strident accusations of voter fraud and suppression, stemming from the first Bush win in 2000, and continuing claims that Bush was out to overturn the Constitution via a fascist usurpation of power.
The relentless barrage of attacks against him were unceasingly bitter and increasingly vehement. In part this was really about a political strategy adopted by Democrats early on to regain the levers of power in Washington, but it took on a life of its own in the anger and resentment that metamorphosed into what came to be known as Bush Derangement Syndrome, a condition that was not limited to our own shores. There was nothing Bush could do to please those afflicted and not even the crisis that hit this country on September 11, 2001 could ameliorate the bitterness for long.
Anti-Bush sentiment became part of the national narrative as the mainstream media took up the baton and carried it for politicians on the Democratic side of the aisle who never ceased smarting over their surprise loss of the White House in 2000. Yet here we are, witness once more to democracy in action as, lo and behold, President George W. Bush prepares to step aside in favor of his duly elected successor, President-elect Barack Hussein Obama. The little known oneterm Democratic Senator from Illinois, with magic in his voice and a "transformational" biography, has enchanted American voters as he led Democrats to a watershed national victory.
In the final years of the Bush presidency, events conspired to undermine Republican fortunes, some the fault of Republicans themselves and some not. Bush gambled his presidency on a war in Iraq on which he could have passed, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and, while he may actually leave office with Iraq largely under control, it will do neither him nor his party much good. On Bush's watch Republicans in Congress failed to fulfill the charge with which American voters sent them to Washington, spending like the Democrats they had replaced. Americans held it against them.
An awkward speaker, burned too often by a hostile media for his public utterances, Bush ultimately forsook the presidential bully pulpit, leaving it to his critics to define the national narrative. When the financial crisis finally hit us this September, in the waning days of a seemingly endless presidential campaign, it was the icing on the collapsing Republican cake.
John McCain never seemed to stand a chance. And he didn't make things any better by his erratic, and all too often awkward, performance on the campaign stump. He couldn't run away fast enough from the sitting Republican president while the Democrats' anti-Bush narrative had long since begun to do its corrosive damage.
With President-elect Barack Obama's victory on Election Day, Americans have finished the job they began in 2006 and handed Republicans their walking papers. President-elect Obama was an impressive candidate, despite his minimal experience. Come January, we'll find out just how serious he was when he spoke at Grant Park, promising to heal the nation and unite us again.
The torch now passes to a new president and a new party. All of us, Republican, Democrat or independent, owe this man our respect and the chance to do what he was elected to do. If George W. Bush was treated shabbily by those he defeated, Republicans have a special obligation to do better. Those of us who differ with the new president must speak out, of course, and make our voices heard, but the new president must be accorded the respect and opportunities that so many of his own supporters once failed to provide the present White House occupant.
If Bush were the "dictator" and "fascist" so many have ceaselessly moaned about, would Barack Obama be standing astride the gateway of history today, preparing to take the oath of office and govern a nation that, within the lifetimes of many of us, was still struggling to fulfill the promises it made in Lincoln's day?