Presidential Election 2008: Post-Mortems

–Richard E. Vatz

First and foremost, congratulations, President-elect Barack Obama. You deserve and will surely have the country’s full support on matters regarding non-controversial and even quasi-controversial initiatives for your first, say, 9 months in office. Regarding the rest of your agenda, there will still be the loyal opposition of conservatives and Republicans who oppose a weak, naive foreign policy, a soak-the-rich tax code and a “no off-shore drilling in U.S. coastal waters or drilling in ANWAR” energy policy based on environmental superstitions. There will be no “honeymoon period” to spare you criticism for a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq or appeasement with Iran regarding their nuclear weapon-acquisitiveness.

Second, let us hope that the public recognizes that the era of disinterested media is over and has been over for some time. The number of newsmen and newswomen whose political predilections in this presidential election were unknown to discerning viewers, listeners and readers is not large. Let me list all of those who come to mind: Bob Schieffer. The New York Times’ bias against Sen. McCain was particularly palpable: the refusal to print his op-ed article after printing Sen. Obama’s and the journalistically baseless linking of Sen. McCain to an inappropriate relationship with a lobbyist, to just name a couple.

Media comedy, daytime and late-night shows? Oy. For the first, please read my Red Maryland blogs and the Boston Globe article I previously referenced, Lisa Wangsness, “Comedy has Become a Liberal Genre,” October 20, 2008. For the latter two, read The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz piece, “Softer Shows Hard on McCain,” November 3, 2008. This last piece is just exquisite.

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Third, and for those who like to label all such complaints as “Monday morning quarterbacking,” let me say that the following opinion was established precisely at the moment of the event’s occurring and was made public within days: any presidential candidate who announces that there is one pre-eminent issue in an upcoming presidential campaign, say radical Islam, and that his own candidacy is urgent due to his experience and bona fide foreign policy background and then chooses a running mate who personifies lack of experience and lack of said background deserves to lose. It’s just that his supporters don’t equally deserve to lose.

Fourth, in Chicago’s Grant Park before over 100,000 euphoric supporters, President-elect Obama said, “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.” Fair enough puffery for a post-election speech. He then took a sentiment, as he is wont to do on occasion, from the last senatorial president John F. Kennedy’s inaugural, and said, “The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you: We as a people will get there.” President Kennedy had said of his agenda, “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.” Not a bad beginning, Mr. Obama.

If I may end with a personal reflection: for me this has been a most satisfying election year, not the least reason for which is Mark Newgent’s enlisting me to voice my opinions unimpededly on Red Maryland. All my life I have been insufferably opinionated, and this venue has been nothing short of a god-send.

Good luck, President-elect Barack Obama. One piece of political/rhetorical advice: avoid the temptation to blame all of the problems of the country during your presidency on the Bush presidency. Such scapegoating will be inconsistent with your claims of a new political and rhetorical landscape.

Dr. Richard E. Vatz is professor of political communication at Towson University

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