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Davis, California

Saturday, June 15, 2024

The closing arguments

For an election season that has lasted two yearswith candidates firstly and formally entering the race, then campaigning and fundraising, persisting through the primaries, accepting party nominations and now, reaching the final stages of the general electionthe experience is presumably a draining one.

But this is a special election, and not just because of the possible election of the first African American president. In addition, there is the sense that America is at a defining moment, one of tremendous historic opportunity. The end is as exhilarating as its beginning ever was.

So to the final contenders: Senator Obama against Senator McCain for President. At once, this is a clash between two personalities, ideologies and parties. Most prominently, it is a battle for the fundamental direction, heart and soul of the countryat stake are the past, the present and the future.

Much of the media’s recent focus has been on McCain’s strategic missteps. But there’s something profound about the way Obama’s poll numbers have been steadily increasing. What the media is underreporting are the numerous brilliant moves of the Obama campaign, coupled with a shifting, seismic paradigm.

From the beginning, Obama’s campaign approached tasks from a novel perspective. If previous presidential candidates won by identifying, narrowing, then focusing on a slice of the electoratesoccer moms, security moms, religious groupsObama expanded them, during the primary and now in the general election. He conducted the most efficient ground operations in history, empowering constituents to play an active role in the political process, and, in tandem with Howard Dean’s visionary 50-state strategy, dramatically increased the number of registered Democrats.

Furthermore, the media’s continued emphasis on the Red-and-Blue polarization neglected the emergent new electoral majoritythe ascension of the increasingly influential Hispanics, Asians and a reinvigorated African American electorate. Early voting patterns across numerous states indicate a broadening electorate, each with their own political motivations, values and behaviors. The traditional state constructs are evolving.

Yet while there are fundamental changes, there are also news cycles and daily polling. How did Obama react and respond to these political battles in a fierce partisan climate? He responded by not responding. As Stanley Fish, the prominent literary theorist, contended, “[Obama] didn’t do much and he said lessand his poll numbers went up.McCain suspended his campaign to take action, yet polls suggest that this move conveyed a lack of control. Politics is often about strategic and tactical moves. Sometimes, however, it’s about inaction, knowing when to remain poised and when to act authoritatively.

Most importantly, we’re witnessing the public’s reaction to the Capitol’s inaction. Characterizing Washington for the past few years were bitter partisanships, antagonisms born out of a refusal to engage intellectually and cooperate appropriately. Yet ideology only works with context, not against it. Consequent of this subscription to official party lines was a legislature that was often dysfunctional. In the end, Republicans controlled Congress, but it was more correct to say that nobody controlled it. Republicans did not assert leadership because leadership was lacking.

This is where the next president comes in. It is imperative that he cajole the legislature to end their infantile clinging to ideology and finally start acting on the most pressing issues, united by a common purpose and common sense. When Obama remarked,We are one nation, one people,he wasn’t just audibly stating his personal belief. He was echoing what many of us felt.

We are close to the end of the election. But we’re also witnessing the opportunity for a new beginning. At this moment, we can play our respective role to shape and define the direction of the nation.

Do not miss this chance.


It’s been almost a year since ZACH HAN began withThe Obama Revolution.Send your final thoughts on this exciting, unpredictable, and most importantly, important election to zklhan@ucdavis.edu.


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