Saturday, November 08, 2008

Election Round-Up Wrap-Up

It's been many months since I've been able to post here. Being back at college creates a rather different set of priorities, so blogging has gone on the wayside. To review, since I last posted in August, in big political events we've seen:

-the selection of Joe Biden as Barack Obama's running mate
-the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate
-the Democratic National Convention
-the Republican National Convention
-three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate
-many humorous political sketches back on SNL
-lots of jabs and punches thrown back and forth from the two campaigns
-Barack Obama getting elected to be the 44th President of the United States
-Barack Obama commencing his transition into that post

So, to start at the beginning, I thought that the selection of Joe Biden as VP by Obama was an inspired choice. I was initially a proponent of Biden for Secretary of State, but I definitely did not have a problem with his selection as VP. Biden probably helped sway some blue-collar voters and people who were concerned about Obama's comparatively minimal level of experience in the government, and I'm hopeful that Obama will make use of him as an advisor and diplomatic envoy, rather than shunting him to the usual VP role of state-funeral-attender-in-chief.
My first reaction when John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate was "who's that?" The unknown Alaska governor seemed an ununsually low-profile pick. I was expecting someone like Mitt Romney, who would shore up McCain's shaky credentials on the economy. Palin attracted a lot of attention, though, and it looked like McCain picked her to energize conservative voters and hopefully grab some women too...possibly even some supporters of Hillary Clinton. In very short order, though, as people started to find out about her, it was really only people who already leaned conservative that Palin helped to cement for McCain. Stories about her "diva"-esque behavior and lack of basic geographical competence have been flying around since she was picked.
The Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention were their usual interesting blend of pageantry and speeches by politicians of national and local significance. Some of the stars of the Democratic convention were Michelle Obama, Sen. Hillary Clinton, fmr Pres. Bill Clinton, fmr VP Al Gore, fmr VA Gov. Mark Warner, VP nominee Joe Biden, and of course the presidential nominee himself, who gave a great speech in front of a huge crowd at Denver's Invesco Field. The Republican Convention was also interesting, although the first day's events were largely canceled due to an incoming hurricane. It was incredibly patriotic, as the Republicans clearly tried to grab the title of "most patriotic" again with McCain's slogan "Country First." The most interesting moment of the RNC was easily Gov. Sarah Palin's speech, which was really the first chance for the country to get to know her. What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull, again?
As the general election campaign season progressed, each side shot back and forth with criticisms of policy, acquaintanceship, and personality. The Obama campaign persistantly linked McCain to the incredibly unpopular President Bush, and the McCain campaign tried to link Obama to domestic terrorist William Ayers. Obama and Bush clashed in three presidential debates, which progressively decreased in structure and virtually always gave the most attention to the defining issue of the campaign-- the slumping US economy. The vice-presidential nominees also debated, in the most-viewed debate in recent years. The Biden-Palin matchup was highly anticipated due to the stark difference in experience and knowledge between the two. But Biden didn't lose his temper or make any kind of gaffe, and Palin didn't completely flop and so, as my Government professor said, they both exceeded expectations.
The other, somewhat unexpected, major media contributor to this campaign was NBC's comedy program Saturday Night Live. It all started with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's brilliant sketch of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton offering a message about sexism. From there, we continued to see the VP debate sketched, an endorsement from Bush (Will Ferrell in a reprise), and Palin's infamous interview with Katie Couric. Then the candidates themselves decided to get in on the action, and we saw John McCain and Sarah Palin themselves appearing on the show towards the end of the race.
Of course, it all had to come to an end at some point. And come to an end it did. On November 4, 2008, the voters went to the polls and cast their votes. The major issue in US elections is of course not the popular vote, but the electoral college votes. Obama or McCain had to get to the magic number 270 electoral college votes in order to win the election. As things turned out, the country was ready to embrace Obama's message of change. He took the traditionally blue states, and then grabbed the critical (and, for the past two elections, Republican-leaning) states of Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, New Mexico, and Colorado. I was watching the returns come in, keeping up with the electoral math on a map of the US, and as soon as Ohio was declared for Obama, my friends and I knew it was all over as soon as the polls on the West Coast closed. This proved to be true, and the party started around 11:00 PM ET. Here in DC, my entire campus went berserk, people screaming and crying and hugging and running around in insane joy. Ultimately a lot of people wound up down at the White House after McCain's very gracious concession speech (in front of considerably less gracious supporters) and Obama's victory speech, where my peers and half of the District of Columbia essentially held our own victory rally in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It was a fantastic night.
So now the hard work begins. President-elect Obama has set up a transition team and is beginning the work of setting up a new government. He will be getting briefed on economic and foreign policy matters and appointing new officials. His first decision, announced a couple of days after the election, was the selection of Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, as his Chief of Staff. Emanuel will probably be a very effective Chief of Staff, regardless of the fact that he may not be the most diplomatic of men (his nickname on the Hill is 'Rahmbo'). The likely next appointment will be Robert Gibbs as Press Secretary. Other speculations include keeping Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense, and appointing Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) or Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NB) as Secretary of State. Keep an eye out; further appointments will likely be coming frequently as Barack Obama prepares for the hard work that will face him in his new job as the 44th President of the United States of America.

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