The first question of the night is – what, exactly, happened last Tuesday? Was it a landslide? An earthquake? Or just a mudslide, a minor ‘seismic event’? Did President-Elect Barack Obama wake up the morning of November 5th with a mandate? Alternatively, did last week represent merely the expected outcome of an election held during an economic crisis, run in the shadows of one of the most unpopular presidents of all time, at least according to polls?
Sadly, I have no good answer to this question. Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com tackled it, in the form of asking whether it was a “realignment” election. He came up with pretty much the right answer, which is “come back and ask me in eight years.” No doubt that the outcome of the election gives Obama the opportunity to form a mandate, the chance to realign the politics of the country for a generation. Between his apparent popularity, his ability to motivate a huge group of supporters, and his support in historically red states like Indiana, Colorado, and North Carolina, and the obvious weakness of the Republican opposition (more on this later), he definitely has the chance to do something huge, and hugely important.
But, fundamentally, it comes down to whether or not he, his administration, and Congrssional Democrats are capable of governing well, of delivering the results they promised, both politically and policy-wise, of making the country a better place. If they can, then the Democrats will remain popular and a real realignment will have occurred. If not, don’t for one second believe that the Republican comeback of 1994 cannot be relived two years from now.
And so – what have we seen so far?