Pinch Me…But Not Too Hard

So the 2008 U.S. Election is over. What of it? A black man was elected as president for the first time. This is certainly monumental. But that’s about all that is. Despite all of President-elect Barack Obama’s talk of change, not much has, nor, does it seem, will in the near future.

Election night was very interesting. I made it to four different gatherings. Two were Democratic ones. At those, elation, joy, glee, and even a smidgen of gloating permeated the air. Coupled with scenes of the massive gathering at Grant Park in Chicago, a very interesting mood was evident. I’d been at a gathering when Bill Clinton first won in 1992. I don’t remember this kind of jubilation. I do recall two women’s discussion, one of them observing how much better Clinton looked in jeans than Papa Bush; I think the jubilation arises largely as a result of the awareness that an exit is now visible from the miasmic abyss that the sitting President has created for the country.

The reason for my tempered view of how much “change” is in the offing comes from what has happened down the ticket– candidates and ballot measures– in various states. It was a mixed bag. If such a massive desire for change existed in the country, the popular vote (not the distorting Electoral College) would not have broken 64,118,579 (52%) for Obama, 56,542,266 (46%) for McCain, and 1,567,419 for all the “others”. Even among the “others”, the left/right split mirrors the Democratic/Republican proportions. This is not a major change from the proportions of the previous two presidential elections: Gore/Bush–47.9/48.4 and Kerry/Bush 48/51. The Democratic side has simply increased by about 4%, and this, I would hazard a guess, due largely to newly registered voters. If this is the beginning of the “people’s”, Democratic, party really living up to it’s reputation as such, then we might see a long-term change.

Similarly, on the Congressional level, the Democratic side has posted a 19-seat gain in the House of Representatives, with eight undecided races. On the Senate side, they gained 5 seats, with three undecided and one more headed for a runoff. These are significant, but not overwhelming.

Now, if California’s twelve ballot measures are considered, we see, once a gain, mixed left/right (at least stereotypically) results. It doesn’t matter what these results are for the purposes of this discussion. Most are very close. They might even change because there are many, many hundreds of thousands, running into the millions, of as yet uncounted ballots. Yet, the results, even if reversed, would still be very close. These uncounted ballots are absentees received very late in the cycle and provisionals from Election Day.

The same can be said of measures passing, or not, in other states. It is a mixed bag of left and right leaning successes. Although, it’s probably also safe to say that people across the country are tired of the right wing’s abortion extremism. However, the big scare tactic issue is now “gay marriage’. Ralph Nader’s dismissiveness of “gonadal politics” seems very appealing now; Various bans have passed, including (probably, though not yet definitively) California’s Prop 8. One state even voted to prevent same sex couples from adopting children. So, as someone observed, same-sexers may be the last group it’s OK to discriminate against. The cover argument used by the hate-mongers who put these measures on the ballot focuses on the term “marriage”. While I agree it would be optimal to have a different term to describe same-sex unions, it’s not important enough an issue to use a a basis to legalize discrimination against a group and deprive it of the same benefits and protections afforded by the federal and state governmen’s based on one word. Many tax and other issues are addressed by virtue of being “married”, not “civil unioned”, or some other term. Since change takes time and often starts in the states before being federalized, I see no reason to get so hung up over one word.

Medical marijuana and assisted suicide have made progress. Conversely, Ward Connerly’s destructive crusade against affirmative action is still finding believers in other states. But, the anti-tax fringe was unsuccessful at passing income tax reduction measures. You see what I mean by seemingly contradictory political orientations succeeding, or not, at the ballot box.

As to the specific results of the ballot measures, the only general observation that can be made is that people are willing to pay for infrastructure that builds a better future. California’s Prop 1A, the high-speed train measure passed handily as did the transportation directed sales tax increase, Measure R, in LA County. Similarly, all 23 education bonds proposed by various jurisdictions in LA County also passed. Even in these difficult economic times, people clearly see the benefit of building for the future.

Moving over to the Armenian perspective, and questions of governance, the best candidate won the presidency. Now, we’ve got to keep up the pressure to get good people appointed and appropriate policies implemented. The choice of Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff speaks loudly, by all accounts, to whence Obama will govern, the so-called “center”. This is no surprise since his past is no different. Perhaps more ominous is Emanuel’s declining grades on the ANCA’s scorecard: 2004- B , 2006- C , and 2008- C-. It would be great if Samantha Power could reenter Obama’s circles. This is one thing we should advocate. Similarly, we might try to keep the worst offenders of the Clinton Administration from becoming ensconced in this one.

What should help us have some say in Obama’s selection process is our relatively early support, the roughly 85% support (ANCA polling) Armenians gave him and Biden, and the consequent importance of the presence of Armenian communities in swing states. All this all speaks to our having come of age in the presidential politics arena, an important step in the Armenian community’s political maturation in the U.S.

On the congressional level, 201 of 211 ANC endorsees won in the House of Representatives, with 12 of 15 Senate endorsees, one more pending, winning too. This is not too bad when you consider the relatively large turnover in seats as the Democratic Party recorded its gains. Two unfortunate losses to us, on the Republican side, are Joe Knollenberg, Armenian Caucus co-chair, and Steve Chabot, who stood up to Bush and extreme pressure, to vote for H. Res. 106.

The future portends trying economic and Armenian times. We all have to toughen ourselves and continue slogging through the thicket of D.C. politics to improve America’s, Armenia’s, and Armenia’s’ future. Keep up the political engagement and expect no radical departures from business as usual. The election party’s over, the despicable White House occupant has only two and a half moths left in office, but we’ve still got lots to do.

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