“There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—the place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
You might recognize those oft-quoted words, from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter Thompson's iconic 1971 book about the death of the American Dream. Thompson, it seemed, was able to see long into the future—through Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 1 and Clinton and into Bush 2, past Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Christian Coalition, the Moral Majority, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay and Dick Cheney and into the Iraq war and global financial chaos—and if that were possible, 37 years would have looked like forever.
In light of Barack Obama's historic win over John McCain, we can peer out from our little corner of the continent and see something coming. It's tempting to call the blurry visage “the next wave,” an enveloping populist swell carrying a new hope for the American Dream—one promising affordable healthcare and higher education, trickle-up economics, personal liberty for everyone and an end to unnecessary war.
We so want it to be that, particularly in view of McCain's ugly, paranoid, dishonest campaign, which made Obama appear as if he were galloping to Earth from the heavens, parting the dark clouds atop a noble steed.
But we're not sure that's the wave we're seeing. We don't know if we're looking at it, as Thompson said, “with the right kind of eyes.”
In other words, while Obama's victory is cause for raucous celebration, maybe even for weeks on end, let's not get carried away, for that wave might take us only part of the way to our destination before it rolls back again.
We've already called this election “historic,” and we did so due to the simple fact that Obama happens to be part-African-American. That a black man was elected president of the United States while people who suffered through decades of civil-rights atrocities are still alive to see it defies description. For that reason alone, Nov. 4, 2008, truly stands as one of this country's best days ever.
But let's keep in mind how Obama wound up getting this gig. It was a perfect storm that began to grow in 2006, when Shiites and Sunnis, disaffected by the complete and total botchery of the occupation of Iraq, went berserk and spilled each other's blood all over Baghdad and points beyond, which turned public opinion against the Iraq war and started George W. Bush's approval rating a-spiralin'. Meanwhile, a parade of Republicans—DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Duke Cunningham, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Alberto Gonzalez, Scooter Libby, Karl Rove and David Vitter—did its best to irritate moderates and independents.
Gas prices ballooned and the economy began to slide into recession, culminating, just before election time, in an frenzy of home foreclosures and bank collapses and a worldwide credit meltdown, forcing taxpayers to stomach a $700-billion Wall Street welfare fix and question the Republicans' decades-long deregulation orgy.
Meanwhile, Obama's campaign emerged from a grueling slog against Hillary Clinton as a disciplined, unflappable, cash-loaded, fully greased unstoppable bullet train, and the McCain campaign descended into a laugh-a-minute, Laurel and Hardy-like comedy of errors, bloopers and boners.
And still, with all that going against McCain and for Obama, look how close it was. We went to press before getting the final tally, but the final polls had Obama up by just seven points nationwide (when, really, it should have been closer to 20), and lovable-loser Democrats nervously awaiting bad news from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.
Obama on Monday night commented that the electorate is conservative—not politically, he said, but in a way that they don't like sudden, wild ideological swings in policy. He was spot-on with the latter, dead wrong with the former. This is a conservative-leaning country, one that elected a recovered party-boy and terminal knucklehead as president twice in the last decade simply because he was more conservative than the other guy, who, in both cases, demonstrated far more intelligence and competence. This is a country that would sooner pour battery acid into its eyes and chew off each of its limbs than agree to a tax increase. This is a country that would have, during any other time, been successfully swayed by charges that Obama is a socialist.
And this is a country where the president has to start running for reelection soon after placing the knick-knacks on the Oval Office shelves.
So, our fellow liberal populists, enjoy the honeymoon. Bask in the warm glow of the smarter, calmer, darker-skinned man having been elected. Raise a glass to Hunter Thompson, who didn't live long enough to see the day. Dance, sing and have lots of hot monkey sex. But don't expect a tsunami of prison reform, sane drug laws, single-payer healthcare and widespread lobbyist unemployment. All we can hope for is that Obama, with the power of his persuasion, can start moving us slowly down that long, treacherous road.