Confetti has now been swept away by illegal migrant cleaners, balloons have deflated faster than the economy, and suicide pills in case the unthinkable happened have been flushed down the toilets by liberals around the country (except for those few who have kept theirs in case America emerges victorious from Iraq). The wheel has turned, history was made — even if not particularly emphatically by historical standards — and the cliché count among the commentating class has surpassed the number of foreclosures in California and Arizona combined.
Now is perhaps a good time for several quick predictions for the next four years (or more, if we’re unlucky). None of them are in any sense brave predictions. They are animated by the sentiment often espoused by my late grandmother: “things are rarely as good or as bad as people think they are.” It’s a sentiment born out of years of war, occupations, oppression, economic hardship, and assorted political upheaval. It has served my grandmother and my family well in surviving through the ups and more numerous downs of Central European history, and I believe it will also serve us all well as we enter the uncharted territory of Barack Obama as the holder of the bully pulpit, commander in chief, and leader of the free world.
America will continue to be a terrorist target
As Osama bin Laden watched the election night returns on CNN in some mud hut in northwestern Pakistan, it is very unlikely that Barack Obama was the change that this wily jihadist could believe in.
You have to remember that the planning for the September 11 attacks took place while a loveable, charismatic, I-feel-your-pain Democrat occupied the White House. Clinton was an internationalist, multilateralist, militarily-ambiguous (at the best of times) Kyoto believer. None of his charm, popularity, and bleeding heartedness had made him any less satanic in the eyes of Osama and Co. Similarly, the Iranian hostage taking crisis of 1979 took place under the watch of a sincere, righteous, and devout believer in human rights, justice, and morality in international politics.
This is because the enemies of America don’t care about the personnel in charge but about America’s values and America’s policies abroad. Presidents come and go, conservatives replace liberals and are in turn replaced by conservatives yet again, the country lurches from the Great Society to the Contract with America — yet America’s values, as well as her interests abroad, remain surprisingly consistent. This is her true strength, but also the reason why she continues to attract the hatred of totalitarians of all stripes through decades and centuries.
To truly satisfy al-Qaeda and their followers, in the short term, the United States would have to prematurely withdraw from Iraq, abandon the war on terror in Afghanistan and elsewhere throughout the world, leave Israel to destruction by Iran and other enemies, stop providing financial aid and other assistance to assorted Arab countries, and withdraw any and all military forces as well as economic and political interests from the Middle East.
In the medium term, the United States would have to pull back to within her borders her international political, economic, and cultural influence. No American companies “exploiting” the developing world, no Britney and Hollywood movies beamed around the world, no NATO, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and exporting democracy.
And in the longer term, the United States would have to convert to Islam and become part of the worldwide ummah.
One or two items from the short-term list might conceivably, if unlikely, become a reality. Anything more is an Islamofascist pipe dream; anything less is unacceptable. The war will go on.
Those who pretended that anti-Americanism was all about Bush will be proven wrong
The world has spoken. Even though countries as diverse as France, Pakistan, Australia, and Kenya did not have any Electoral College votes, they still got the president they wanted. There is little doubt that, at least in the short term, America’s Bush-era high negatives around the world will deflate amongst an orgiastic celebration of fresh hopes and new beginnings.
But just as al-Qaeda will not cease being an enemy of America just because America elected a president with the middle name of Hussein, so won’t the anti-Americanism around the world suddenly vanish when George W. Bush takes off for his last helicopter flight out of the White House. Anti-Americanism is a complex political (and all too often psychological, if not psychiatric) problem that is as old and complex as America herself.
For America not to be hated around the world, she would have to cease being America. That is not going to happen, even under President Obama. As I mentioned in the previous section, America’s interests in the world and values at home will largely remain unchanged. The United States will still play a dominant role in international affairs, it will still have allies and enemies, its economy and culture will continue in innumerable ways to exert influence everywhere from the new skyscrapers of Shanghai to the slums of Cairo.
Just as importantly, America will remain a capitalist, consumerist, open, multi-ethnic, religious, polluting, entertaining, creative, democratic, and free society. Barack Obama’s rise to the highest office in the land is undoubtedly pregnant with much symbolism and meaning, but America has merely elected a new president, not a new system of government or a new people.
The excitement of the historic election will eventually die down, but the cold hard reality will remain. Particularly since …
Disappointments will start on the day one
Obama ran as a Messiah, but now he has to govern like a politician. He will disappoint, as all politicians invariably do over time.
To say that Obama created unrealistic expectations during his campaign would be a political understatement of the decade. Tens of millions expect him to do everything from filling a spiritual void and transforming politics (into what, I don’t think any one actually knows) to stopping global warming, fixing the economy, and guaranteeing everyone a comfortable and secure livelihood.
But Obama and his administration will be working within the constraints of the Constitution and the political system, as well as of the economy and social considerations. Rhetoric can soar and inspire but it can’t magically transform everyday realities. Change you can believe in is not necessarily a change you can easily implement.
I expect that, to paraphrase my grandmother’s motto, President Obama will not be as bad as his detractors fear, or as good as his supporters hope for. America won’t turn into a Union of Soviet States of America, even though the U.S. has elected its apparently most left-wing president in history, a man who throughout his rather short and undistinguished career has freely associated himself with Marxists and other assorted far-leftists. Neither will America turn into some post-modern paradise on earth. Obama will not “heal the divided nation” or end the “bitter” partisanship. Such touchy-feely rhetoric is what his supporters might swoon over, but neither objective is achievable, or even particularly desirable in a healthy, competitive, two-party democracy.
Things will get worse for the Republicans before they get better
Political parties which lose, particularly lose big, don’t stop having problems when the polls close. The Republicans can expect some unpleasant times ahead as the minority party out of office in the White House, the Congress, and soon on the High Court. These unpleasant times will be made doubly so by the internal strife over the soul and future direction of the party.
The debate over what the Republican Party is, what it stands for, and what constituencies it should seek to appeal to in order to regain power, is a necessary one, though it will not be pretty. Navel gazing and inward looking, the infighting, bitterness, and the perceived ideological extremism will all make the GOP seem unattractive to anyone outside the base, and many people within it. And the base alone doesn’t win the elections.
There will be a long honeymoon for Obama, partly because of the strength of the sentiment for change, partly because of his status as a media and elite darling, and partly because of a non-partisan human inclination to give the new guy a fair go. Under ordinary circumstances it takes some time for a politician to go from hero to zero. These are not ordinary times, however. With the double whammy of an economic crisis and the ongoing war on terror (even though it has decidedly gone cold lately), I won’t venture any guesses about the likely timeline, but conservatives should not expect a quick and easy comeback.
A Republican resurrection would not be simple at the best of times, but now the GOP also faces a whole new generation of young voters who have given their first vote to the Democrats and might keep on doing so in the future. The Republicans also confront the reality of increasing electoral participation of ethnic minorities, hardly a Republican constituency. This represents not just a strategic or tactical challenge. It is an existential challenge for the party seeking to build a new majority coalition.
Deification of the Anointed One will only get more sickening
Prayers, chants, portraits with a halo? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Should the Obama presidency end in tears, prepare for the Messiah narrative to get hyper-charged among the Obamaniacs. If the brave new experiment collapses due to Obama’s faults, external circumstances, or a combination of the two, the Messiah will have become scorned, scourged, and crucified, dying (politically) at the hands of the evil ones, while attempting to redeem his people. If particularly unlucky, America might acquire its own version of the King Arthur mythos, where the brave leader is not really dead but merely asleep somewhere beyond the horizon in the West (Hollywood, perhaps?), awaiting to come back and rescue his country at a time of future peril.
That would be truly unbearable; America cannot afford another Nixon experience.