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 a historic corner.
In his victory speech, Barack Obama brought many to tears among the tens of thousands gathered to hear him in Chicago’s Grant Park. He struck the right notes, too, graciously reaching out to John McCain and his supporters while promising to defend the 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 plainspoken way. Looking on, no doubt, from the White House he will soon vacate, George W. Bush must have wondered at the fickleness of American voters.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal a day after the election, reporter Jeffrey Scott Shapiro noted 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 wrote, “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.”
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 attacks on Bush 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 not limited to our own shores.
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 loss of the White House in 2000. Yet here we are, witness once more to democracy in action as, lo and behold, President Bush prepares to step aside in favor of his duly elected successor.
In the final years of the Bush presidency, events – some the fault of Republicans themselves and some not – conspired to undermine Republican fortunes. Bush gambled his presidency on a war in Iraq he could have passed on, 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 American voters sent them to Washington with, 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 this September, in the waning days of a seemingly endless presidential campaign, it was the icing on the collapsing Republican cake.
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 Obama’s victory, Americans have finished the job they began in the 2006 midterm elections 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, Republicans, Democrats and independents, owe this man our respect and the chance to do what he was elected to do.