Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Riding Obama's coattails

Riding Obama's coattails
Barack Obama isn't the only winner tonight. Thanks to him, Democrats are taking back statehouses and the US Senate

Ian Williams, Wednesday November 05 2008 05.30 GMT
Article history
As the world watches the White House race for all its historical significance, it is worth remembering that there is more at stake. Barack Obama's victory has reinvigorated politics across the US and revived the Democratic party, which in the Clinton era seemed destined to become a mere post office box for corporate donations. He insisted on contesting supposedly unwinnable states and building a nationwide base, which is, in a way, the best guarantee that he will not recede too precipitately to unprincipled presidential behaviour.

That base, those habits of organisation, could turn against him if he fails to deliver. In fact, his own success has now guaranteed that his party now has control of both houses in Congress as well, so he has fewer excuses.

At the local level as well, he has revived political activity in a way that promises interesting times. For example, in New York, where the citizenry turned out across the spectrum to ensure an Obama victory, Democrats and the Working Families party are riding in his slipstream, hoping to break the Republican oligarchy that has kept the state's politics notoriously dysfunctional for 40 years.

Thanks to creative redistricting - or gerrymandering, as it is known, depending on who is doing it - the Republicans have controlled the state Senate in Albany by securing over-representation for the sparsely populated upstate counties that they controlled. The basic deal is that state prisons are built upstate to employ locals to lock down prisoners from the city, long journeys from homes and visitors.

It has not been working. The half-dozen or so corrections officers at a recent barbecue I attended were all highly literate Obama supporters, and such votes will tip the balance of power. One reason for the excitement among New York Democrats is that in 2010 there will be a new census, and consequent redistricting, or counter-gerrymandering, to lock out the previous incumbents.

The congressional delegation is also likely to have the lowest number of Republicans since the days when it was the party of Abraham Lincoln and abolition, before it became the party of the renewed Confederacy under Richard Nixon.

And in an election there is always the part where the personal and political intermesh, so it is with particular pleasure that I note that the Obama upsurge in Minnesota may have taken Al Franken with him, leading to a form of historic revenge over Brooklyn transplant Norm Coleman. I was on Al's Air America show when he was discussing his Senate run, off-air of course, and the subject on-air was Coleman's lynch-mob-like chasing after Kofi Annan. Coleman's hatred for the UN and support for the Iraq war may have attracted large amounts of campaign donations from some people, but it certainly does not seem to have captivated the voters in his state.

And just across the Hudson, Joe Lieberman may not be running in this election, but whatever happens he is now history. He would appear to have backed the wrong horse, and the strong Democratic majority in the Senate no longer relies on him for a swing vote. They will realise that it was Obama's insistence on reviving the party nationally and driving for registration that brought them to power. They owe Lieberman absolutely nothing in terms of committee places and influence, and so he can fade away into the obscurity he so richly deserves.

However, beyond the parochial, the US can now put the Liebermans, Bushes, Boltons and Colemans back under cover, and face the world with pride. Six months ago, I pointed out that the world public looked upon these elections as an IQ test for the American public. The electorate has aced the test. It has put centuries of racism behind it and elected a president who shows signs of knowing where the rest of the world is, as well as knowing that the way to hearts and minds is not crushing testicles in some secret CIA dungeon.

No comments: