Friday, November 7, 2008


At The Decemberists concert at Terminal 5 on Wednesday, lead singer Colin Meloy led the crowd in a chant -- when he shouted "yes we can," the crowd of 3,000 replied "yes we did!" It was a great feeling, not only because Barack Obama (who was present on stage as a cardboard cutout through much of the concert) will be our next president, but because the youthful crowd had a certain proprietary claim. Obama took the youth vote of under 30s 66% to 31%, higher than any previous election, and he took first time voters about 70% to 30%. Of course, 95% of the African-American vote had a lot to do with it, too, much of which might also be counted in that first time tally. But the Obama victory feels like it's as much about youth as about race. Never before have I seen a political figure who captured such youthful hopes -- maybe Bobby Kennedy had a similar potential in his brief run. And the racial aspect of the victory is indeed important for any assessment of America's future potential, for the world those youths will live in. To see Obama take Virginia (the only Democrat since LBJ in '64) -- Virginia, home of the former Confederate capitol -- is truly historic. What's so telling about overcoming history is that in an eye-blink the future is no longer dictated by what used to be the case. Obama, more even than King or Malcolm or any previous African-American leader, sets a new dignity and possibility upon the shoulders of African-Americans in this country: rather than a figure in opposition, crying for change, making the system examine its own workings, making white Americans examine their consciences and prejudices, Obama has arrived as change within the system, as a leader for the varied population that is really America. No longer should our non-white subcultures feel disenfranchised by the fact that it was always a white man at the top. And this is not a regional victory, or a Supreme Court appointment. This is a man who received more votes than anyone in U.S. history.

Obama's 65,082,844(and counting) votes puts him above the most recent competition: in 2004, Bush II, running for re-election, received over 62 million. While it's gratifying to know that Obama beat W's time, it's still demoralizing to think that almost 63 million people voted for that bozo in 2004. America has much to answer for. But it's heartening to consider that John Kerry, Bush's opponent in 2004, received around 59 million votes to put him at third highest. That's still a pretty good Bush-backlash. McCain, Obama's opponent, comes in 4th (so far) with 57,179,043 which means he may have received less of a vote of confidence than did Kerry, running against a sitting "war president," while "the fundamentals of the economy were still sound."

Who was fifth? Ronnie Reagan, in his re-election landslide, garnered 54,455,075 votes. I'm hopeful for the numbers for Obama's re-election bid. I wonder how high it can go, if the Repubs really put up Palin again. I'm told evangelical Christians are a quarter of the U.S. population (which is pretty frighteningly high, if you ask me) but still, in terms of number of votes, I don't think it will look like much. Before we consider such horrors (or slaughters?), let's look at America's real moment of shame. In 2000, the 6th highest popular vote went to Al Gore with about 51 million votes, but the president then (and now) was the 7th highest: W., with only 50,456,002. And that's where the "every vote counts" mantra enters the hallowed halls of U.S. fallacies. And the state of affairs we're suffering through now begins there. Because not only was the election stolen, it was stolen by the most venal group of leaders in America's history.

Where, you're asking, is Bill "let's end this fairtytale" Clinton in all this? His numbers come AFTER the first Bush, in 1988, when George Herbert got 48,886,097 votes. Clinton came close to that with his re-election bid, garnering 47,402,357, and in his initial victory, in 1992, 44,909,326. And that's the Top Ten, folks. Ronnie's initial victory was only 43,904,153, but his opponent, Jimmy Carter, got the lowest tally of these eight elections, putting him at number 16 with 35,483,883 votes -- and that was his re-election bid. Ouch.

In electoral college terms, Obama has much further to go. The big crush came from Reagan in 1984 (525 points) and 1980 (489 points). Next, we go to Bush the First, with 426 in 1988. And that, my friends, was the Republican country, the high point of the party, the turning back of FDR and LBJ. Clinton comes in, at places 4 and 5, with 379 in his re-election, only 9 more points than his initial victory in 1992: 370. So, you see, the country didn't exactly go ga-ga over those Clintons. Would Hillary have beaten McCain? We'll never know. Personally, I'd rather the "glass ceiling" be cracked by someone not so indebted to a former male president to make her name, but just as long as it's not Sarah Palin doing the cracking...

Our man Obama places 6th in electoral college points, his 364 finishing behind Bill's score both times. No one else since 1980 cracked 300. W., the president by the slightest margins imaginable, claimed 286 points in 2004 and 271 in 2000, leaving his opponents to place 9th (Gore, with 266 in 2000) and 10th (Kerry with 252 in 2004). In case you're waiting for me to get to McCain (and Palin), he comes in 12th with 163. Papa Bush narrowly beat his time in his re-election loss to Clinton in 1992, with 168. Oh those Red states. God love 'em. Of course, if the Missouri tally ever comes in, then McCain will most likely rise above Bush the 1st with 174 points. Otherwise, Obama will be just 4 points lower than Bill's re-election tally, and move from 6th to 5th. Which would be nice, for Obama to crack the top five of this crew. C'mon, Missouri, show us.

Of course, I've left out the other big landslides: Nixon almost matched Ronnie's re-election with his re-election tally of 520 in 1972, and LBJ's election in 1964 gave him 486 points, which was close to Reagan's first election. But those were different times. Those liberal days that Ronnie effectively dismissed. Now what?

The buying power of the proletariat's gone down
Money's getting shallow and weak
Well, the place I love best is a sweet memory
It's a new path that we trod
--Bob Dylan, "Workingman's Blues #2" (2006)


Andrew Shields said...

When did you become a bean counter? :-)

Before you get mad at me for being sarcastic, I'm not; I'm grinning my head off.

And I just loved this:

"Obama has arrived as change within the system, as a leader for the varied population that is really America. No longer should our non-white subcultures feel disenfranchised by the fact that it was always a white man at the top. And this is not a regional victory, or a Supreme Court appointment."

Go Don go!

Donald Brown said...

Maybe I should become a bean counter. I found it oddly fascinating looking at the specs. Also, numbers vary depending on source. But what motivated me was wanting to see how this victory measured up to others -- just in quantifiable terms. Of course it is momentous for other reasons. But now I'm waiting to see what the final tallies for voter turn-out are. The highest in my lifetime was 63% in 1960.

And don't forget: democracy is always "by the numbers."