It was around 11:30 p.m. on election night — after electoral vote counting put Sen. Barack Obama over the top and guaranteed him the presidency — when I received a phone call from a dear friend. Normally one of the most stoic people I know, my friend was obviously in tears and seemed to be quivering with excitement about the Obama victory. While not a registered Democrat, she kept telling me: “We won. I can’t believe we won.”
As a black conservative who did not simply vote my race and who never supported the Obama candidacy, I went to bed that night pretty miffed. The next morning, I awoke to half-a-dozen text messages from friends in Europe and Africa congratulating me — and America — on Mr. Obama’s election. Since I am generally not the type to burst the bubbles of people I care about, I politely responded without revealing my own reservations. In all of this celebration over Obama, I feel like I am missing something, or — more appropriately — missing out on something.
As I heard from my friends and watched the faces in the crowds on television, I found myself wishing that I felt what they felt. I found myself wishing that I saw in Mr. Obama what they saw in Mr. Obama. However, like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” I instead find myself staring at the little man behind the curtain.
When I later watched President-elect Obama’s first press conference, I was struck by his inability to answer a direct question. A reporter asked him if most Americans will actually realize a tax cut under his proposed tax plan. Mr. Obama responded by saying that his tax plan will result in a net tax decrease. In the final days of the campaign, Republicans were quite vocal about the fact that no one in the Obama camp seemed to be on the same page when it came to who would get a tax increase. Even after the chaos of the campaign ended, it seems the same pattern of obfuscation is in effect.
Having a longer Washington resume than Mr. Obama, as a paid political staffer and an aide to three congressmen, I tend to be cynical about all politics — particularly American politics. Apart from a few specific issues such as taxes and certain social issues, there isn’t much difference between how the members of our two political parties actually go about the business of governing. But it’s a whole different matter when it comes to the rhetoric and sophistry that leads up to the actual governing process. I suspect this realization has already struck Mr. Obama, as some of the things I am sure he envisioned on the stump now clash with the sobering reality of the actual and daunting task of governing.
I don’t expect conservatives will be pleased with the fruits borne of an Obama administration. Yet I am also convinced that many swept up in Obamamania will find themselves similarly disappointed as the grand changes they hoped for turn out to be merely slight permutations on the same tepid style of governance and policymaking dominating the United States since the administration of President Richard Nixon.
America as a whole, we must remember, has never been fond of radical changes. Consider the policy debates between the Whigs and the Democrat-Republican parties during the early years of our nation’s existence, leaving our country existing as half-slave and half-free. Also consider the slow and non-radical approach to enforcing equal rights throughout the South. Remember how the Clinton administration’s grand plan to nationalize health care died with a whimper.
Several months ago, I joined another friend at a coffee shop in Cairo, Egypt. She told me that the minute Mr. Obama was elected president, the entire world would view America differently (with the implication of positive change). If none of the other very high expectations of Mr. Obama’s supporters are met, I at least hope she is right with that one prediction.
Bishop Council Nedd II is a member of Project 21.