The Corner

Our Election

This has been a long and frustrating election season, but as it closes (in a frustrating way), it’s important to recognize a bit of the good on display this year as well as the bad.

Politically speaking, both candidates were most impressive in the primaries, not the general election. The most extraordinary thing each of them did was win his party’s nomination, which neither seemed likely to do at the beginning of the year, and which neither did the easy way. Both showed their strengths in how they won the nomination: McCain through sheer resolve and grit; Obama through a mix of studied blandness and high theater.

Once they’d both been nominated, the Democrat (whoever was chosen) was always far more likely to win the election this year than the Republican, and he did. McCain could have helped himself far more than he did, to be sure, and could have won too. But he was always facing heavy winds. Obama ran a creative, smart, and disciplined campaign, but that’s not all that hard to do (or to appear to do) when you’re ahead, as he has been almost without interruption since winning his party’s nomination. In the brief period when he was behind, his campaign was not creative, not smart, and not disciplined. The economy rescued him by putting him back in the lead. That’s just how it is: winners look good, and thanks to the circumstances of the hour, Obama has been the likely winner for most of this campaign.

But this campaign has had a positive side that went beyond political strategy. I think our country made a serious mistake in its choice of a leader today, which is something democracies do very frequently. But we also showed that we can make our judgments—right or wrong—without the taint of racism that used to burden America’s big decisions. That’s a very real silver lining in what for some of us is a very dark cloud of an election. We looked at two men of different races and we judged them as two men, not two races. Obama did not win because he was black, and was not set back because he was black. It’s another reason to love our country. We have shown ourselves that we are better than we used to be in at least one important way. We didn’t need to elect Barack Obama to show ourselves that; we needed only to treat him as we would any candidate in his position. And I think that’s all we did. I only wish that in judging these two men as men we had judged them correctly. 

Now we will have to work to avert (and failing that, to reverse) the mistakes our president-elect and his co-partisans seem inclined make in office. Let us pray they don’t make them, of course. But if they do then let us be ready; and let us be ready also to govern again when the time comes, as it will. We will hasten its coming by preparing and by showing the country we’re ready. None of it will be easy, but America is worth it.

God bless our country, and our new president-elect too.

Yuval Levin — Yuval Levin is the editor of National Affairs and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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