EDITORIAL: How Barack Obama won
by Peter Westmore
News Weekly, November 22, 2008
How did Obama win the US presidency despite having had such a left-wing voting record in the Senate?
The decisive victory by Barack Obama, the Democratic Party's candidate, in the US presidential election has been received with rapturous enthusiasm by African-Americans and critics of retiring US President George W. Bush.
The 47-year-old Obama defeated John McCain, the 72-year-old Republican maverick by a 53:47 margin in the popular vote, but far more decisively in the electoral college, which actually decides the American president. In the electoral college, the candidate with a majority of votes in each state takes all the votes, giving Obama a 2:1 majority.
Obama's comfortable win reflected a swing of about 5 per cent of voters from the Republicans to the Democrats since 2004.
There were several key factors in the election: the US economic crisis; Obama's success in mobilising voters from among the 35 million black Americans; the Democrats' advertising blitz, based on very successful fund-raising; and Obama's polished presence and flowing rhetoric.
The single decisive issue in the election was the financial crisis which has already caused US unemployment to rise sharply this year.
In almost every speech, advertisement and interview in the final weeks of the campaign, Senator Obama hammered the economic crisis and blamed President Bush and John McCain for it.
What was surprising was that John McCain failed to meet the challenge by pointing out that the Clinton Administration created the circumstances for the crash by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, and by forcing lenders to make home loans to low-income earners, thus setting in train the process which culminated in the sub-prime collapse in 2007.
William Kaufman wrote, "If you're looking for a major cause of the current banking meltdown, you need seek no farther than the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.
"The Glass-Steagall Act, passed in 1933, mandated the separation of commercial and investment banking in order to protect depositors from the hazards of risky investment and speculation ...
"This disgraceful bow to the banking industry, eagerly signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1999, bears a major share of responsibility for the current banking crisis."
Despite hundreds of billions of dollars being pumped into the financial system by the US Treasury and Federal Reserve to ward off a credit squeeze, job cuts announced by US employers rose from 95,000 in September to 113,000 in October, the highest number of layoffs in almost four years.
This month, the unemployment rate is expected to rise to 6.3 per cent from 6.1 per cent. Some analysts have predicted that the US unemployment rate could rise to 8 per cent by the end of this year, and go higher in 2009.
The Institute for Supply Management reported that the non-manufacturing sectors of the US economy (including services and agriculture) contracted sharply in October, with its index falling to 44.4 per cent from 50.2 per cent in September.
This follows negative reports on manufacturing and factory orders, and the worst monthly car sales in 25 years, as the financial crisis has spread from the stock market into the real economy.
Voting in America, unlike in Australia, is voluntary, and people must register to vote in elections.
A key to Obama's success lay in mobilising voter registration among the 35 million African-Americans. In the presidential election, about 95 per cent of them are reported to have voted for Obama.
Another element of Obama's success was his astonishing success in fund-raising in which the business-aligned Republicans usually outrun the Democrats. As a result, Obama's paid advertisements saturated the media in the run-up to the presidential election.
According to Jonathan Salant, Obama "harvested more campaign cash than anyone before him, using both the Internet and traditional high-roller dinners to bring in more than $650 million from some three million donors for his presidential campaign.
"The 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry, raised less than half that amount, as did George W. Bush and Al Gore combined in 2000." (Bloomberg News, November 5, 2008).
According to Salant, Obama outspent McCain 3:1 in the last weeks of the campaign, raising not only money but a dedicated workforce of both volunteers and employed staff throughout the country.
And, finally, Barack Obama's polished public performances, combining soaring eloquence with self-confident assuredness, gave people confidence that, though lacking experience in public administration, he would be able to handle the job of President and commander-in-chief.
This is despite the fact that Senator Obama's voting record shows that he has been the most left-wing senator on social policy, supporting abortion on demand, homosexual marriage, the UN's population-control activities and Al Gore's radical environmental agenda.
These issues barely raised a headline during the campaign, yet could well be the most important issues of all.
- Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.