The Right Stuff: Another Election, Another Lesson
I will never forget the 2004 presidential election. An Oberlin sophomore, I was beginning to realize how dissatisfied I had become with the liberal politics-as-usual that seemed to occupy every last intellectual corner of our campus. In the weeks leading up to Election Day, some of the most memorable events in my mind were the televised debates between President Bush and Senator Kerry, and between Vice President Cheney and Senator Edwards.
I watched these debates in residence halls on campus, surrounded by my peers, and I began to notice something troubling. The lounges in which we sat were consumed by two things only: jokes about the President’s less than exemplary grammar and loving praises of Senator Kerry’s alleged charisma.
Where, I asked myself, was the real debate? What happened to the issues? What had become of questions of political philosophy, or of conflicting views about America’s place in the world? The two politicians on camera talked about these things, but at Oberlin, it appeared, all this had already been settled.
As I walked around campus the day after the elections, I passed a number of students who were crying – bawling – openly at the prospect of another four years with President Bush at the helm. If anything was certain, it was that something had to be done about the sorry state of political dialogue on our campus: as far as I could tell, it was all emotion and no discussion.
By the following spring, Oberlin was home to an organized group of conservative students, in addition to the host of liberal organizations that had flourished over the years. If nothing else, this seemed a good start in the mission to get students engaged in an honest, two-sided debate about the political ideas of the day. By this time, though, the 2004 elections were a thing of the past, and soon there would be another chance to vote and another set of lessons about American politics.
This past Tuesday night, milling around an election night party with dozens of my peers, I thought back to the 2004 campaign season. As tempting as it was to reminisce, though, I tried not to dwell on the past. And so as throngs of liberal Obies cheered each time CNN called a big race for a Democratic candidate, I began to think about the roots and consequences of the Democratic congressional victory that developed before our eyes.
Though my appraisal is no better informed than that of any other interested observer, I did have a few thoughts. First, many of the Republicans in Congress (as incumbents often do) had grown too comfortable in their eminent positions. Washington is a world away from the people and issues that dominate a given state or congressional district, and too many legislators seem to have lost touch with that.
Second, Republicans seriously underestimated public dissatisfaction with the War in Iraq. As our best young men and women make the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country every day, it is not enough for politicians to promise that things will get better. Voters are less convinced that America’s presence in Iraq is necessary, and – whatever one’s position on the war – this fact cannot be ignored on the campaign trail or in the halls of Congress.
The 2006 elections were not generally pleasing to Republicans or their ideological cousins. That said, it should come as no surprise to my fellow students that Oberlin conservatives were not overcome by tears on Wednesday morning. There was no bawling and there were no fits of rage, because (at least for this conservative) there was a certain saving grace to the results of this Election Day.
It seems almost inevitable that two years with Speaker Pelosi, tax hikes and all the rest will be more than enough, come 2008, to produce within the electorate a desire for some GOP good sense. And the Democrats may again lose out in the race for the executive branch.