The Filter: Nov. 5, 2008... President Obama Edition

A round-up of this morning's must-read stories.


(Adam Nagourney, New York Times)

Barack Hussein Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday, sweeping away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease as the country chose him as its first black chief executive. The election of Mr. Obama amounted to a national catharsis — a repudiation of a historically unpopular Republican president and his economic and foreign policies, and an embrace of Mr. Obama’s call for a change in the direction and the tone of the country. But it was just as much a strikingly symbolic moment in the evolution of the nation’s fraught racial history, a breakthrough that would have seemed unthinkable just two years ago... To the very end, Mr. McCain’s campaign was eclipsed by an opponent who was nothing short of a phenomenon, drawing huge crowds epitomized by the tens of thousands of people who turned out to hear Mr. Obama’s victory speech in Grant Park in Chicago. Mr. McCain also fought the headwinds of a relentlessly hostile political environment, weighted down with the baggage left to him by President Bush and an economic collapse that took place in the middle of the general election campaign.

(John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei, Politico)

Nov. 4, 2008, was the day when American politics shifted on its axis. The ascent of an African-American to the presidency — a victory by a 47-year-old man who was born when segregation was still the law of the land across much of this nation — is a moment so powerful and so obvious that its symbolism needs no commentary. But it was the reality of power, not the symbolism, that changed Tuesday night in ways more profound than meet the eye. The rout of the Republican Party, and the accompanying gains by Democrats in Congress, mean that Barack Obama will assume office with vastly more influence in the nation’s capital than most of his recent predecessors have wielded. The only exceptions suggest the magnitude of the moment. Power flowed in unprecedented ways to George W. Bush in the year after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It flowed likewise to Lyndon B. Johnson after his landslide in 1964. Beyond those fleeting moments, every president for more than two generations has confronted divided government or hobbling internal divisions within his own party. 

(Ron Fournier, Associated Press)

The elevation of Barack Obama to the White House is a transcendent moment, for what this election says about a nation where blacks were once considered property. And that might be the least of it. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event. At odd intervals — 1800, 1860, 1932, 1980 — the nation reaches a "pivot point," an election that draws the line between the past and the future. And 2008 appears to be just such a line in the shifting sands of our convulsive times. Reagan-style conservative supremacy? Over. The era of baby boomer leadership? Waning. And maybe, just maybe, something new has arrived: a post-partisan approach to governing, founded on the Obama Coalition, fueled by young and minority voters, powered by the 21st century technologies that helped turn a first-term senator from Illinois into a historic lodestone. From the beginning, Obama had his sights on something bigger than the "50 percent plus one" approach championed by Karl Rove. He wanted a larger statement.

(Dan Balz, Washington Post)

After a victory of historic significance, Barack Obama will inherit problems of historic proportions. Not since Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated at the depths of the Great Depression in 1933 has a new president been confronted with the challenges Obama will face as he starts his presidency. At home, Obama must revive an economy experiencing some of the worst shocks in more than half a century. Abroad, he has pledged to end the war in Iraq and defeat al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He ran on a platform to change the country and its politics. Now he must begin to spell out exactly how. Obama's winning percentage appears likely to be the largest of any Democrat since Lyndon Johnson's 1964 landslide and makes him the first since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to garner more than 50.1 percent. Like Johnson, he will govern with sizable congressional majorities... But with those advantages come hard choices. Among them will be deciding how much he owes his victory to a popular rejection of President Bush and the Republicans and how much it represents an embrace of Democratic governance. Interpreting his mandate will be only one of several critical decisions Obama must make as he prepares to assume the presidency. Others include transforming his campaign promises on taxes, health care, energy and education into a set of legislative priorities for his first two years in office.

(John Dickerson, Slate)

Barack Obama has said he wants to change the political system. Now that he is president-elect, we'll see what that actually means. As he works to remove the troops from Iraq, reform the nation's health care system, and promote American energy independence, we'll see how well he keeps his promise to reach out to others with different ideas. He once promised that negotiations about his health care plan would be shown live on C-SPAN. Is he really going to be that transparent? It may take some time before we know these answers. But some indications of Obama's new kind of politics could come before he starts making policy decisions. In his acceptance speech, Obama plans to offer some symbolic gestures, such as reaching out to Republicans and not appearing overly celebratory. This is a good start, but there's more he could do. Here are a few suggestions.

(Ezra Klein, American Prospect)

Barack Hussein Obama was, arguably, the country's most unlikely candidate for highest office. He embodied, or at least invoked, much of what America feared. His color recalled our racist past. His name was a reminder of our anxious present. His spiritual mentor displayed a streak of radical Afro-nationalism. He knew domestic terrorists and had lived in predominantly Muslim countries. There was hardly a specter lurking in the American subconscious that he did not call forth. And that was his great strength. He robbed fear of its ability to work through quiet insinuation. He forced America to confront its own subconscious. Obama actually is black. His middle name actually is "Hussein." He actually does know William Ayers. He actually was married by Jeremiah Wright. He actually had lived in Indonesia. These were not smears, though they were often used as such. They were facts. And this election was fundamentally about what happened when fear collided with fact.

(Ross Douthat, The Atlantic)

Unlike previous Democratic nominees, Obama was operating in an environment where his side had the upper hand on almost every issue, and there was actually more risk than reward involved in straying too far off the liberal reservation. And the campaign he ran reflected that reality, rather than living up to its initial promise to transcend the left-right divide. So I was disappointed in Barack Obama, but I also realize that his campaign wasn't addressed to me: It was addressed to the constituents of a potential center-left majority, and that's the majority he won tonight. Whether this majority holds together will depend on how he governs, but for the moment he has achieved something that no Democratic politician has achieved in a generation: He's carved out a mandate to take America at least some distance in a leftward direction, and he has left the conservative opposition demoralized, disorganized, and arguably self-destructing. Obviously, this achievement was made possible by the blunders of his predecessor, the floundering of the McCain campaign, and the good fortune of running against the incumbent party during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. But great politicians are almost always lucky politicians, and Obama's good fortune does not diminish the magnitude of his triumph tonight, and the credit that he and his campaign deserve for the race they've run. 

(Gerard Baker, Times of London)

The country regarded loftily by many Europeans as hopelessly racist and irredeemably right wing has voted to be ruled by a black man, at the head of a party committed to economic redistribution and a foreign policy rooted in peaceful diplomatic engagement... The country faces challenges on a scale no incoming president has had to tackle since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. The economy is in a recession likely to be as deep as the deepest in the last 50 years. Recently, wild financial market mayhem and unprecedented government remedies have fostered doubt in the efficacy of America’s system of economic organisation. The country’s standing in the world has been compromised by foreign policy failures, the public relations disasters of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and more recently a perceived lack of leadership in the global crisis. All the while these failings have taken place against a backdrop of steadily mounting fear that the US may be eclipsed within a generation by the emerging powers in Asia. Remedying any one of these ills would be a tall order for a new president. Trying to cure them all at the same time looks positively Herculean.

(Noam Scheiber, New Republic)

It didn’t take long for the GOP to settle on a narrative once the numbers started heading south last night: John McCain was running even or slightly ahead of Obama until the economy cratered in September. If not for the financial crisis, McCain would have stood a pretty good chance of winning... [But] the economy is hardly an illegitimate issue, some arbitrary external event that has no business deciding an election. A big chunk of what you ‘re doing when you vote for president is choosing a manager of the economy. Having said that, there’s no denying that the economic crisis strongly affected the size of Obama’s victory. Over the last several decades, the country has seen two swing groups move in opposite directions: Working-class whites exiting the Democratic Party, and more affluent, educated voters leaving the GOP. For either side, the key to winning a presidential election has been to hold onto its own swing voters while consolidating gains among the other guy’s. Thanks to the economy, Barack Obama more than accomplished that last night.


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