Well, that’s it. The American election is over, and Barack Obama and Joe Biden are, respectively, the President and Vice President of the United States.
Yes, I know, there are still three weeks and one presidential debate to go. And, yes, of course, as we so often hear, three weeks is a lifetime in politics. And there is also a lot of talk of ‘game-changers’, comebacks, and October surprises. But let’s face it, the handwriting is more than on the wall - it’s everywhere. With Obama ahead, tied, or even just behind in places like Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina, well, that’s it: The election is over.
Yes, I know that people have not voted yet, although in some states many have, and, yes, there are some who have not made up their minds. But, trust me, people will go to the polls on Nov 4, and there are not nearly as many who have not made up their minds as you might think.
And, then again, there is the racial question, the so-called Bradley effect: Some Americans will never vote for a black man and Obama will lose perhaps up to six points because of this. Well, it is true that some Americans will never vote for a black man (or for a woman, black or white), and that is their business. They, however, have already been factored into the equation, and as for the six percentage points: It is probably not that high, and part of it will be offset by a larger than usual youth vote, increased registration of Democrats, and efficient ground organization in the battleground states.
So, trust me, the election is over; Obama is president.
Of course this pronouncement will have little effect on the machinery inexorably grinding its way to a Nov 4 finish. There will be a final presidential debate which will be no more conclusive than the first two. Candidates will continue to be shuttled to critical locations in important states that have been chosen by poll number crunching computer programs. The candidates will give set speeches and then be moved on to the next preselected spot.
A lady from the far north will continue giving Tina Fey impersonations to adoring crowds who will shout out endearments, such as, ‘liar’, ‘treason’, and ‘terrorist’ which will warm the glaciers of her heart. There will be more and worse shouted out, and the thermometer of fear and hatred will rise, but it will make little difference to the final result.
In November this lady will return home, and no blame will be laid at her door because she was only doing what she was programmed to do, and anyway it was never entirely clear if she actually knew what she was doing. She will fly south every now and then to give speeches and fundraisers to the converted, but in the end, the real Tina Fey will have a longer shelf life.
And the old warrior, the last American hero, will have been doubly defeated by George W. Bush – once ignominiously in 2000 and now by eight years of Bush’s disastrous chickens coming home to roost. The old warrior will return to the Senate, and in General MacArthur’s words, will “just fade away.”
And all of the columnists who are currently churning out daily analyses of debates, arcane interpretations of polls, and reasons why or why not certain target groups of the populace will vote one way or the other, have already written a post Nov 4 piece which states conclusively that for a number of historical reasons, the election could only have ended in an Obama victory.
It is all a bit like football game in a large stadium: Time is running out and one look at the scoreboard tells us that the adrenaline rush from the cliffhanging, nail biting finish is not going to happen. Still, the fans cheer. After all, they came to enjoy themselves. However, what they don’t seem to notice is that just outside the stadium, the city is burning. The world’s financial system is in flames, and after the game is over, they may not have homes to go back to.
So it is not too early to start thinking of an Obama administration and asking if the world really has time to wait for a transition of governments and the formal change of power on January 20.
The world’s financial crisis has been caused by a lack of confidence. There is no one government or person who can calm panicked investors, and inspire confidence. The present lame-duck American leadership long ago squandered whatever confidence instilling powers it ever had.
So Obama finally has the job that he wants – President of the United States – and he had better be prepared to start immediately. All of the talk in the primaries by Hillary Clinton (remember her?) about being ready to lead on Day 1 has never rung more true. There has, however, been a slight change to the program: Day 1 has been moved up from Jan 20 to Nov 5.
On Nov 5, Obama should name his Secretary of the Treasury, Economic Advisor and complete economic team. That team should immediately move into and, if not occupy, then at least share, the offices of Secretary Paulson and other Treasury officials, and if it is legally impossible for the new team to take control, they should at least be present when all important decision are being made.
Obama, as President Elect, should announce on Nov 5 that he will address the nation on prime time TV within days. In that address, he should make it clear that his hand is firmly on the tiller, and explain why people should have confidence in him and in the financial system.
Obama has recently called for Americans to unite to help rebuild the economy, saying, “I won’t pretend that this will be easy or come without cost. We will all need to sacrifice. We are all in this together.”
His prime time speech – a modern version of FDR’s Great Depression fireside chats to the nation – will be the perfect opportunity for Obama to outline the sacrifices that he and his administration are prepared to make.
For starters, he might announce that there will be no Inauguration Balls in January or that they have been replaced by a virtual gala affair on the Internet. Those corporations and individuals who might have donated money to offset the cost of these celebrations can be directed to give their money to a fund established for paying down the national debt.
We all know that the millions saved by, for example, not holding Inaugural celebrations amount to only a few drops in the proverbial bucket what with a $700 billion Wall Street bailout being authorized last week. But like Lyndon Johnson turning out the lights in the White House to save electricity, it is the thought that counts. Sacrifice, like charity, begins at home.
The American people do not need to be told again that the fundamentals of the economy are sound, and American workers do not need someone to sing to them, “You’re Sensational!” What is needed is a demonstration that the power vacuum at the top of government has finally been filled and that a rational, intelligent, sentient being has taken control and will steer the ship of state away from the rocks.
Obama has to date shown how calm, cool, and confident, he can be, even to the extent of seeming aloof and detached. His address to the nation after the Nov 4 election will be the time to transfer a bit of that coolness to the volatility of overwrought investors and overheated markets.
This is the first job of the Obama Administration. It certainly cannot wait until Jan 20 and the only question is: Can it wait until Nov 5?