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Post-Election Thoughts Before Obama Begins to Fall from Grace

Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony, is guest blogging as one of Jewcy‘s Lit Klatsch authors.  His book narrates the lives of a young couple from the time they meet in college through fifteen years of their journey through life together. … Read More

By / November 11, 2008

Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony, is guest blogging as one of Jewcy‘s Lit Klatsch authors.  His book narrates the lives of a young couple from the time they meet in college through fifteen years of their journey through life together.

So last Tuesday (can it really be only a week ago?) my wife and I drove down from Brooklyn to Philly to get people to the polls. We were stationed in northeast Philly, in a largely African American neighborhood, and I admit to feeling more than a little uncomfortable playing the role we played, the same role hundreds of others played (all the volunteers at our station seemed to hail from Brooklyn, and just about all of us were white, well-educated, etc.). I felt like a carpetbagger, and a very particular kind of carpetbagger. A white guy from New York come to Philadelphia to tell black people to vote for a black man. I wasn’t sure how I would feel if I was on the other end. So I was delighted by the reception we got, which was utterly enthusiastic, with not a trace of resentment from anyone (save from one middle-aged woman who was voting for McCain), and it felt to me that one of the wonderful things about this election was the way racial differences were transcended not just in the voting booth but in interactions between voters.

But to take a step back, I was an enthusiastic Obama supporter, though I never quite drank the Obama Kool Aid that some of my friends did. This takes nothing away from his candidacy, which was obviously historic. And he ran a disciplined, tight campaign, and he’s serious and extremely intelligent, all the things that we need in a President today and that our current President and Obama’s opponent lacks.  This all goes almost without saying. And being only a few years younger than Obama, I have several good friends who were classmates of his at law school and co-editors with him on the Harvard Law Review, and the reports are nothing less than glowing. In his heart of hearts, he’s probably a real liberal, certainly more liberal than any President in memory.

That said, the guy’s a politician, and anyone who doubts that he’s going to govern very much from the center should have a look at Ryan Lizza’s long and thorough profile of Obama in the New Yorker from a few months back. It’s sobering and a real reality check to those who think they’re getting Adlai Stevenson.

But then, Adlai Stevenson never became President, and he’d have even less of a chance of winning if he were alive today. I thank god that Obama was elected. I’m struck, though, by the degree to which smart liberals seem deluded about whom they’re getting and deluded, even more so, by what the election of Obama portends. Yes, it’s huge and historic, and yes, the number of new voters was incredible, but all this talk about a permanent change in the political landscape seems silly, as does the argument that Obama proved that the way to win is to take the high road. Yes, Obama won, and yes, he took the high road (Mccain, by contrast, ran an absolutely scurrilous campaign, and anyone who wants to give him credit for giving a "gracious" concession speech, well I’m not even going to go there…), but he won despite having gone the high road, not because of it.

Obama won because Lehman Brothers collapsed. Simple as that. We are in the midst of the worst economic crisis in nearly a century, and the timing of that crisis worked perfectly for Obama’s campaign. Yes, he’s smart and charismatic; yes, he ran an incredibly disciplined campaign; yes, he managed not to be baited into becoming the "angry black man," all of which are notable accomplishments. But none of that would have mattered were it not for the economic crisis. Everyone hates negative campaigning, but politicians continue to do it because it works, and now there’s extensive neuroscientific research explaining exactly how and why it works. It didn’t work this time, but only because of wildly unusual circumstances. This was an election with perhaps the most unpopular President ever in a country in just about the worst economic crisis it has ever faced, and in such circumstances, Bill Ayers and socialism and Rashid Khalidi and Barack Hussein Obama and all the other nonsense that got thrown at him didn’t stick. Swift Boat wouldn’t have stuck, either, and neither would Willie Horton. John Kerry would have won this election. Even Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale might have won this election. And anyone who thinks that North Carolina is now officially and henceforth a blue state is seriously deluded.

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Not to toot my own horn (OK, I will, if only briefly), but the book was a 2007 NY Times Notable Book, and the way this is relevant to you is that I’m offering a free copy to three lucky Jewcy readers. All you have to do is send me an email at Jhenkin at SLC dot edu with the subject "Achin’ for Matrimony" and you’ll be entered in the drawing. For more about the novel, click on here, and for those of you who want to skip straight over the foreplay and buy the book for yourself, your friends, your cousins (Chanukah isn’t far away!) here’s the place for you. Finally, a note to book groups. I’ve been participating in a lot of book group discussions of Matrimony, so if you’re in a book group, or know people who are, and would like a visit from the author either in person or by telephone, get in touch with me at the aforementioned email address or through the book group link on my website. 

Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony, is guest blogging on Jewcy, and he’ll be here all week.  Stay tuned.

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