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Post Election Analysis Part 1 -- Four Articles

From 9/11 to 11/4-How soon we forget.

Obama's Real Opposition-Presidents come and go; Congressional barons are forever

Obama's Dour Vision-How much change do we really need?

Obama and Preferences-It's time to move past racial quotas

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From 9/11 to 11/4-How soon we forget.

By Bret Stephens
Nov 4, 2008

Dec. 7 was once a significant date on the American calendar. But sometime in the past 20 years it faded almost entirely out of view. Partly this was generational and partly it was historical, as the end of the Cold War drew a line under the era that began with the day of infamy. And partly it was a matter of indifference and neglect.

With that in mind, here's a forecast for tonight's result: Starting around the time the returns from Pennsylvania and Virginia are announced, 9/11 becomes another Dec. 7.

On Sept. 12, 2001, few people would have doubted that the attacks of the day before "changed everything." And for the next seven years it was so, as nearly every major event in American life was in some sense a consequence of 9/11. The list includes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; Guantanamo and warrantless wiretaps; diplomatic relations with allies and international public perceptions of the U.S.; President Bush's re-election in 2004 and the Democratic comeback of 2006; Barack Obama's rise as the antiwar candidate of choice and John McCain's resurrection as the guy who was right about the surge.

Yet the past can be a tricky thing to predict. Zhou Enlai wasn't kidding when he told Henry Kissinger, in the early 1970s, that it was "too early to say" what the consequences were of the French Revolution. Take any historical event, and its significance to the present rests largely on the way we choose to remember it, if we remember it at all.

The way in which we've chosen to remember 9/11 has certainly changed in recent years. Following the attacks, Ground Zero became a symbol not just of vulnerability and loss but of defiance and rebirth. Seven years later, the Freedom Tower is no more than a stump, the rest of the site is a pit, the future of Towers Two, Three and Four is in doubt, and the entire project has turned into a 16-acre emblem of national incompetence and frustration.

In the fall of 2006, Foreign Policy magazine commemorated the anniversary of 9/11 with a cover story titled "The Day Nothing Much Changed." Elsewhere, the "War on Terror" was declared a misnomer, though nobody could ever quite agree on a better name.

A string of Supreme Court decisions overruled the administration's arguments that terrorists were a new kind of enemy to be dealt with through a new set of rules. The failure of al Qaeda to strike America a second time led to some speculation that 9/11 was just a spectacular one-off. The failure to win conclusive victories in Afghanistan and Iraq led to a sense of exhaustion with wars that increasingly seemed beyond our means to prosecute successfully.

People also began speaking of the attacks as a "tragedy," as if they were no different in kind from a catastrophic earthquake. This was largely a product of linguistic slovenliness. But as George Orwell once observed, "the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."

To suggest that 9/11 was anything other than an outrage is one such thought, though really it's more like a form of ideological legerdemain. A tragedy involves no villainy or evil, except perhaps metaphorically; assigns no blame, except perhaps against fundamentally impersonal causes; and prescribes no remedy, much less any form of justice, other than the act of "healing" itself. Marking 9/11 as a "tragedy" thus becomes a way of signifying its political irrelevance.

On the most recent anniversary of 9/11, both candidates walked side-by-side into Ground Zero, presumably to underscore some baseline commonality of purpose. This was appropriate, but it was also in some ways misleading.

The animating impulses of Mr. McCain's life have always revolved around the act of confrontation: against the traditions and methods of the Naval Academy; against his captors in Vietnam; against "special interests," especially those connected to his own party; against Saddam Hussein, Vladimir Putin and the general threat posed by radical Islam. Most, though not all, of these were fights worth having, and 9/11 is a reminder of what happens when they are avoided.

By contrast, Mr. Obama's candidacy rests on the promise of transcendence, though in practice that often seems like a form of slipperiness. He has campaigned on the theme that the old categories no longer apply: not of race or class, or of blue and red states, or of left and right. And in the matter of race, the transcendence Mr. Obama offers is genuinely wonderful.

But not everything is susceptible to transcendence. Terrorists will not be less dangerous by being contextualized in a matrix of threats that includes climate change and global poverty, or because they will be mollified by Mr. Obama's middle name. Nor will Iran be deterred from developing nuclear weapons because a President Obama will restore faith in "brand America."

A global financial crisis has now given voters a fresh reason to turn the page on the 9/11 era and attend to a different set of fears. Electing a "transformational" president might even ease the transition. But it bears keeping in mind that America's second Pearl Harbor only took place when we were well on the road to forgetting about the first one.

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Obama's Real Opposition-Presidents come and go; Congressional barons are forever

By The Wall St. Journal
Nov 6, 2008

Now that Barack Obama has vanquished John McCain, he faces a much greater foe: Democrats on Capitol Hill. They've humbled the last two Democratic Presidents -- and with their enhanced majorities next year, they'll be out to do it again.

Mr. Obama may appreciate the threat, because yesterday he offered Clinton White House veteran Rahm Emanuel a job as his chief of staff. But even that savvy, relatively sane liberal will have difficulties grappling with the fearsome committee chairmen and liberal interest groups that did so much to sabotage Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Meet the President-elect's real opposition:

David Obey. The Appropriations Chairman wants to slash defense spending as a money grab for more social programs and entitlements. Fellow spender Barney Frank recently added that a military budget cut of 25% was about right. A military crash diet wouldn't leave the funds for the surge in Afghanistan that Mr. Obama advocates, and it's a sure way to hand the national security issue back to the GOP.

Chuck Schumer. The Senate Democrat and his friends are already threatening banks if they don't lend more money instantly under the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Other political masters want to use Tarp to nationalize large swaths of U.S. industry such as the Detroit auto makers or to bail out states like New York that are in debt. If Mr. Obama doesn't want to have to pass a Tarp II, he'll have to say no.

George Miller. Some Democrats are starting to target the tax subsidies for 401(k)s and other private retirement options. Mr. Miller, who heads the House Education and Labor Committee, calls them "a big failure" and recently held a hearing to ponder alternatives, including nationalizing pensions and replacing them with special bonds administered by Social Security. The proposal has also caught the eye of Jim McDermott, who chairs the relevant Ways and Means subcommittee. Mr. Obama won big with his promise of tax cuts for the middle class, which doesn't square with attacks on middle-class nest eggs.

John Conyers. The man running House Judiciary is cheerleading the Europeans who want to indict Bush officials for war crimes. Other Democrats are thinking about hearings and other show trials. This is far from the postpartisan reconciliation that Mr. Obama preaches.

Henry Waxman. With President Bush soon to be out of office, the Californian's team of Inspector Clouseaus at House Oversight won't have any "scandals" left to pursue. The word in Washington is that Mr. Waxman is looking to unseat John Dingell as Chairman of Energy and Commerce, in order to shove aside a global warming moderate. That could pave the way for huge new energy taxes. Voters will punish Mr. Obama if they get hammered every time they fill up the gas tank or buy groceries.

Pete Stark. The Chairman of a crucial House subcommittee dealing with health care doesn't think Mr. Obama's proposal to significantly federalize the insurance market goes far enough. He wants a single-payer system like Canada's. Mr. Obama may want to strike a deal with Senate Republicans on health care, but Mr. Stark will be pulling him left at every turn.

All of these feudal lords -- and many others -- also come with their own private armies: the interest groups that compose the money and manpower of today's Democratic Party. The American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch and others on the anti-antiterror left want Mr. Obama to limit the surveillance and other tools that have prevented another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense will insist on onerous caps -- that is, taxes -- on coal and other carbon energy. Those won't help Mr. Obama carry Ohio and Indiana again in four years.

The trial bar wants an end to arbitration in disputes in return on its Senate investment, while the National Education Association will try to gut No Child Left Behind accountability standards. And organized labor will insist on a major push to pass "card check," which would end secret-ballot elections for unions. If Mr. Obama wants to mobilize the business community against him while squeezing moderate Democrats, he'll go along with that right from the start.

While many voters may think they've voted for "change" in Mr. Obama, they also handed power to the oldest forces in the Old Democratic Party. Jimmy Carter campaigned as a moderate and outsider, but Congressional liberals quickly ran his budget director, the economic centrist Bert Lance, out of town. Then they overrode Mr. Carter's veto of a pork-barrel water bill. Mr. Carter referred to the tax committees as "ravenous wolves" after they transformed his tax reform into a special-interest bouquet. Next came Reagan.

Bill Clinton also campaigned as a moderate, but in his first two years he was unable to govern as Congress pursued liberal priorities, including a big boost in taxes and spending. Recall Roberta Achtenberg as the scourge of the Boy Scouts and Joycelyn Elders calling for the legalization of drugs? Mr. Clinton chose -- or was forced -- to take up gun control and HillaryCare before welfare reform. Next came Newt Gingrich.

Maybe Mr. Obama has absorbed these lessons, but even if he has he'll have to be tough. The Great Society liberals who dominate Congress are old men in a hurry, and they'll run over the 47-year-old neophyte if he lets them.

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Obama's Dour Vision-How much change do we really need?

By Dan Henninger
Nov 6, 2008

Barack Obama's victory speech Tuesday night had grace notes. He wants to pull away from the "partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long." Well past due on that one.

He praised a party of Abraham Lincoln "founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty and national unity. Those are values we all share." And the way such values are kept alive is by a victor's thoughtful mention of them. His remarkable win was truly "not hatched in the halls of Washington," a fact that contributed much to his support from an electorate disillusioned with the federal institutions at both ends of Washington.

That said, it might be useful to ask at this early stage what, precisely, is President-elect Obama's understanding of the American idea? What I take away from the victory speech is that his vision of America is fairly depressing, a lot more dour than my sense of America in 2008.

Throughout the campaign, Barack Obama ran against the "failed" presidency of George Bush -- his "failed" economic policies, his "failed" war in Iraq and so on. In his victory speech, though, Mr. Obama appears to be describing a generalized failure of America itself.

President-elect Obama ran on a campaign of hope, portraying conditions in America as worse than they are. Wonder Land columnist Daniel Henninger speaks with Kelsey Hubbard. (Nov. 6)

It emerged in the first sentence: "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

He presumably is referring to the election of the first African-American president, an achievement. Is it true to say, though, that this alone proves that "the dream of our founders is still alive in our time?"

Many phrases and passages in the speech suggest an America in a kind of collapse. "It's been a long time coming." "The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep." He believes his campaign volunteers "proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory."

A benign explanation would be that either Mr. Obama's friend Ted Sorensen or his talented young speech writer needs a tutorial in the perils of over-writing. This untethered rhetoric is Sorensian overkill.

Harder to account for is the persistence of Mr. Obama's grim vision of where we stand now. This was nowhere more evident than in the speech's passages with "Yes we can," which he now equates with the "American creed." "Yes we can" was appropriate as a campaign punch line. Here, however, it punctuated points in U.S. history that Mr. Obama clearly sees as analogous to our current status and challenge: the "despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land," the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Montgomery bus boycott, and the day "a preacher from Atlanta" delivered his We Shall Overcome speech.

The overwhelming reason Barack Obama won this election is because voters, in their pedestrian way, want him to restart the stalled, damaged economy, which for all the "Depression" talk is nowhere near the 20% unemployment rates and low living standards then. The election came his way the night of Sunday Sept. 14, when the financial crisis exploded. Before that, he and Sen. McCain were in a virtual tie, and the Democratic nominee should have been well ahead of a candidate tied to the out-of-favor Republicans. Doubts among undecideds were holding down Mr. Obama's numbers. The markets' disintegration and loss of confidence in the nation's economic stewards gave him his win.

In what way is this a mandate for "change" similar to the vast economic restructurings of the dust-bowl years and social legislation of the mid-1960s? Yet again in the speech: "I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand."

This takes us well past George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Remake this nation? Calloused hand by calloused hand?

Any nation is a work in progress, with problems worthy of public attention. None in the U.S. -- none -- tops the collapse of the urban public-school system. It is a little insulting, though, to imply that the America of people and institutions -- private enterprise and public officials -- who've worked the past 40 years to move the nation's living standards forward somehow don't measure up to "the founders' dream."

When in this context he asserts, "Our union can be perfected," one pauses. Efforts to achieve the abstraction of national perfectibility can prove a dicey proposition.

An alternative explanation for all this would be that Barack Obama is given to grandiosity such as the famous Greek columns in a Denver stadium. Among the Obama supporters who made his case to me the past year, I doubt many would say this level of grandiosity was what they had in mind amid constant assurance that he is a moderate, pragmatic man.

Mr. Obama's messianism may be setting him up for a fall. It might make sense between now and his Inaugural Address for the president-elect to lower his flight path. Among the images evoked by Greek columns is the myth of Icarus. The Founding Fathers' idea of "change" was in fact more modest than Mr. Obama's, a reality worth pondering lest he take his followers on a ride toward the sun.

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Obama and Preferences-It's time to move past racial quotas

By The Wall St. Journal
Nov 6, 2008

Tuesday was a bad day for America's racial grievance industry: Not only did Barack Obama become President-elect, but voters continued to show their mistrust for racial quotas and set-asides.

While Mr. Obama was winning 43% of the white vote nationally -- John Kerry won 41% in 2004 -- voters in Nebraska and Colorado were also weighing a ballot initiative that would eliminate race and gender preferences in government hiring. The measure passed easily in Nebraska, and similar bans have already passed in Michigan, California and Washington state.

Returns in Colorado were still too close to call as we went to press, but opponents of the ban were ahead slightly, 50% to 49%, with 91% of precincts counted. Even if the measure fails, however, it will have done better than John McCain by several percentage points in a state he lost, 53% to 46%. We trust that sponsor Ward Connerly will keep taking his efforts to other states.

The existence of racism in America has long been used by some civil rights leaders and the political left as an all-purpose explanation for racial disparities. According to the likes of Al Sharpton and Julian Bond, bigotry is at the root of higher rates of black teen pregnancy or lower rates of black homeownership. The election of a black President doesn't mean that racism no longer exists. But it does make it harder to justify the claim that a racist country is the major obstacle to black advancement.

As President, Mr. Obama will have to meet the expectations of millions of voters, including minorities. Symbolism can only go so far. He could make a major contribution to American society -- and help his own popularity -- if he used his bully pulpit to facilitate minority advancement without resorting to discriminating against others.

If we could recommend a single policy as an example, it would be education choice, including school vouchers. Today's economy places a higher premium on education than ever before. And choice would help black students escape from the worst public schools and attend private institutions like the one to which the Obamas send their own children.

Slavery and Jim Crow are part of America's history, and racial preferences, however misguided, have been an attempt to atone for that past. But Mr. Obama's own success and the success of initiatives banning racial discrimination are signs that America wants to move past the era of racial spoils or favoritism and toward a new era of color-blind opportunity for all.
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