What a contrast between last Tuesday and Election Night four years ago. Back then, the entire celebration consisted of two or three guys running around Old Campus shouting, “We won!!! We WON!!!!” The rest of us responded, as I recall, with silence.
The flip side of our recent rejoicing is the near-hysterical fear among some conservatives about the president-elect, specifically that he is a communist or a socialist. I’ve been having a hard time determining if they actually think this is possible. At first I took it to be a last minute attempt at negatively branding Obama, the way John Kerry ’66 was enduringly labeled a flip-flopper.
But even though my vote for him was never in doubt, I’ll admit to being shocked when Obama told Joe the Plumber, “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” It’s not that this is such a radical idea; a progressive income tax necessarily entails wealth-spreading. But I couldn’t believe Obama would state a desire for redistribution so nakedly.
Given my own surprise, I suppose the conservative reaction was inevitable. I get righteously indignant when I think about all the innocent foreign people we’ve killed or caused to die in the last five years; conservatives feel the same way when they think about losing money. I don’t believe these things are morally equivalent, but I recognize that the conservative position at least has a tincture of sanity to it — one’s bank account undeniably dictates daily life, whereas the war in Iraq directly affects only those Americans in the military and their families.
The communism theme didn’t die with John McCain’s campaign. It showed up, among other places, in a guest column in last week’s News (“You made a big mistake, America,” Nov. 7). It’s absurd to suggest that Obama’s tax plan bears any relation to the murderous collectivization efforts of Russian and Chinese communists, but that didn’t stop this writer. Nor did it stop me and scores of others from rushing to condemn the column on the online comment section. We shouldn’t have bothered; the column spoke for itself. But indignation is irresistible these days. That’s why my parents and I can barely have a civil conversation during dinner.
My mother once told me how upset she was that “Obama launched his political career in the living room of the worst domestic terrorist in American history.” She said this despite the unlikelihood of such a figure’s having a living room, instead of being locked up (like Ted Kaczynski) or dead (like Timothy McVeigh). She meant Bill Ayers, who, despite setting several bombs in the 1960s and 1970s, never actually killed anybody. The rhetorical power of this talking point seems to have outweighed its obvious implausibility in her mind.
She and I spent a lot of time in the car during the Clinton years, and we listened often to Rush Limbaugh. Gradually my child-self developed a reflexive distaste for liberals. They were weak, smarmy, ingratiating. Some were truly contemptible. Clinton was the consummate example, a man with no honor or integrity. It didn’t matter what his policies were or what he achieved; he was such a base person that the fact of his presence in the White House was a scandal in itself. Now, in 2008, everyone seems to agree that Clinton looks pretty good, and I’ve been unable for years to hear Rush Limbaugh without getting furious. The difference has been President Bush.
What conservatives have gotten away with Democrats could only dream of. Imagine if a Democrat had been president on September 11. Forget the fact that his administration would have been only eight months old. If his Aug. 6 daily brief had been titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” he never would have made it to a second term. The Republicans would have eaten him alive. And if a Democrat had presided over the American military failures in Iraq, he would have been labeled unfit for command. Again, no chance of reelection. Maybe this goes to show what conservatives keep saying, even after Obama’s victory — that this is a center-right country.
Here’s what’s certain: Obama is inheriting a hot mess. Something is bound to go wrong. Republicans seem likely to regain their outrage at perceived presidential failures. But, luckily, Barack continues to look unflappable. Maybe among the changes he brings can be an end to this double standard in accountability.
Eamon Murphy is a senior in Saybrook College.