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HISTORY JUST HAPPENS
November 3, 2008 - Ray Hall (Archive)
Tuesday if the polls and conventional wisdom holds Barack Obama will be elected the 44th President of the United States. There is little doubt that this election is a turning point in our nation’s history. Big events such as multiple wars, depressions and recessions are expected to influence the course of history and we have had our share during the last eight years. There were unexpected shockers—the stock market crash, shrinking employment, events in Pakistan and nearly everyone expected Hillary Clinton would be the first female President. However, as history is written I am struck by how seemingly ordinary events intervened and changed the course of history.
Although the presidential campaign began two years ago, the outcome was decided four years earlier at 12:50 AM, October 11, 2002 when HJ Res. 114 was approved by a roll call vote in the U.S. Senate. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was one of 77 Senators that voted in the affirmative. When the war turned sour Senator Clinton tried to nuance her vote—she claimed she believed the intelligence concocted by the Bush Administration and that hers was a reasonable conclusion under the circumstances. Her critics claimed that her vote was politically calculated with her eyes on the White House. She could never shake the repercussions from that vote; her reasoning that she did not believe the President would immediately go to war seemed to be refuted by the very title of the resolution: “A joint resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq.” Regardless, that vote would ultimately cost Hillary Rodman Clinton the Presidency and propel the junior Senator from Illinois to the forefront.
Although Senator Clinton was easily the strongest candidate early in the Democratic primary, she assumed the role of heir apparent and was there for everyone to take a shot at. If Senator Clinton misjudged how badly the Iraqi war poisoned the political atmosphere, Republicans ignored the obvious and continued in lock step with a failed Administration. It was the Republican’s stubborn refusal to recognize their own incompetence in managing the government and the war that made the election of a Democrat a virtual certainty.
With Senator Obama making impressive strides, political operatives were envious that a man with barely two years in the Senate and a paper-thin resume could be drawing so much favorable attention from the national press. Then came the bombshell; Senator Obama came out of Iowa with an unambiguous win and was on the verge of snatching the nomination from the heir apparent. A surprise win in New Hampshire put Senator Clinton back in the primary fight, but despite some impressive wins she was unable to pry the nomination from Senator Obama.
If Senator Clinton underestimated this political rookie who looked so comfortable on the national stage, the Republicans and their eventual nominee were absolutely clueless about Barack Obama. Republican ears might have perked up when he defeated one of the most politically astute political teams this nation has ever seen, or when he reneged on his agreement to accept public financing for his campaign.
Instead, the Republican hierarchy was chomping at the bit to run against this inexperienced, bi-racial politician. Here was a man who had an uncommon if not a notorious middle name and whose picture was circulated nationwide depicting a smiling Obama dressed in a turban and wearing Arab looking garb. Talk radio packaged Michelle Obama’s public utterance about feeling good about America for the first time with the fiery rhetoric of Obama’s pastor and with William Ayers, a 60’s radical, and mocked Obama’s work as a community organizer. When the campaign began in earnest both Senator McCain and Governor Palin publicly ridiculed the value of Obama’s involvement as a community organizer, but that ignorance proved their undoing.
Republicans, together with a large segment of the country, simply do not understand America’s poor and particularly the minority poor. A community organizer knows how to build from the bottom, how to work person to person, house by house, block by block communicating with a population made unreliable by their desperation. Content to attack Obama for his associations, the Republican campaign languished as Barack Obama, the tech savvy community organizer, massaged the Internet for more than $300 million in campaign contributions. Youthful, tech savvy volunteers exploited the wireless universe, collected thousands of cell phone numbers, used text messaging and e-mails, registered thousands and thousands of new voters and turned out hordes of early voters.
It was that organizing know how that allowed candidate Obama to have a “ground game” and operate effectively in Republican states. The Obama campaign had 400 paid workers across the state of Florida and nearly 50,000 volunteers. John McCain had 40 paid campaign workers in Florida. In North Carolina, clearly a Republican voting state, Obama opened 50 offices with paid workers and put 21,000 volunteers on the ground. In Ohio, a state that is viewed as a must win for Republicans, Barack Obama had 89 campaign offices in Ohio’s 88 counties and that pattern was duplicated in swing states across the country. It was a bottom up campaign—a true grassroots campaign. As a result, a lop-sided majority will elect this most unlikely candidate and increase the number of Democrats in the House and Senate. Republican political operatives shake their heads in disbelief and worry how far down ballot Barack Obama’s coattails will extend.
We are not only left with a historical election, we have been an eyewitness to the most successful presidential campaigns ever and have seen the end of publicly financed presidential campaigns.
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