Issues Navigator

Global Challenges

Strategic Regions

Domestic Debates

Tag cloud

See All Tags

November 6, 2008 |  6 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

The End of an Era Gives Rise to a New Order

Sonja Bonin: The election of Barack Obama represents more than just the ascendancy of the first African American to the heights of political power in the United States; it denotes the end of the Reagan Revolution — the dominant form of politics in the US for the past generation that divided the nation on cultural grounds.

The Reagan Revolution Is Over

This is the end of the “Reagan Revolution.” I’m not saying that because the first African-American in history was elected president of the United States last night or because the Democrats won. What ended last night is the cultural warfare that used to decide former elections. For the first time in decades, the American people didn’t judge their favorite candidate based on their respective attitudes on abortion, gay marriage, evolution, and immigration. In fact, even when John McCain grasped the last remaining straw and promised tax cuts, the traditional Republican panacea that has worked so well since Reagan, it didn’t help him much. This time, the American people voted on issues that actually matter: the war in Iraq, the economic crisis and the desolate state of the American health care system.


Great challenges bear great opportunities

Perhaps it took a near catastrophe like the current state of the nation to make that happen. Many experts agree that Barack Obama, as president, won’t be a revolutionary but rather a reformer, in many aspects resembling the moderate Democrat Bill Clinton in office. What’s revolutionary about this election is the magnitude of the problems America is facing – and the fact that people seem to expect substantial, systematic change from their new president. Great challenges bear great opportunities. Besides ending the war in Iraq in a responsible way and reducing the gigantic state deficit (like Bill Clinton did during his presidency, following Bush senior), Americans expect their president, Barack Obama, to lead them through a fundamental economic crisis that’s shattered their trust in capitalism and finally help bring about fundamental changes in the health care system.

Sonja Bonin is co-editor of the Atlantic Review and a freelance journalist and translator based in Switzerland.

Related materials from the Atlantic Community:

  • 2
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this Article! What's this?

 
 
Comments
Member deleted

November 7, 2008

  • 2
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
There are quite a few reasons why Barak Hussein Obama as a President of the United States herald a new time for the world of perceptual-politics engineering:

1. It squarely removes the idea that the United States is a mere front for Judaeo-Christian fanaticism aimed at a modern day version of the medieval crusades - no matter how much many Churches, marginal groups of dissent, Insurgents, etc. in the third world states may have sought to have grown upon that image as their proxy war against the state-system or the war for the re-negotiation of the WestPhalian Treaty of the 1648. Of course suitably disguised as "Christain Piety" in the support for insurgent groups, etc. of particular vintages (largely Christian).

2. It also removes the notion of the United States as an anti-Muslim state. It also removes the notion that a Muslim middle name of a US president may necessarily mean a Muslim who is sympathetic to terrorism - either christian, Hindu, Jew or Muslim or even Buddhist or others.

3. It does not raise a new 'please' the Muslim syndrome in the place of the earlier 'please' the Jew syndrome that was at play. That would be an important signal to many states around the world that belabour under particular impressions generated by their 'christian' ex-officio ambassadors or representatives of the United Sates as well as many other developed states. Interestingly though - largely in third world states and developing societies.

These are perceptual matters and yes, do have a far-reaching impact upon the world at large. It also makes for a challenge to the separatists within the United States - of their assumed division based upon religion and race - amidst the assertion by Obama of a single United States of America. Needless to say that it would and shall present him with challenges that are interesting and yes - bring forth an Obama who stands at a particular crux of history that can make him larger than even John F. Kennedy in public memory. Perceptual matters have major impacts for public figures and states that rely upon perceptions as markers of success - as many politicians are wont to do in the face of overwhelming data generation and the severely limited public capacity for assimilation and intelligent dissimination of data and information. (intelligent as an antonym of stupid).

One of the major challenges infront of the US public would be: intelliegent data-information assimilation and dessimination. Should Barak Obama manage to put this challenge infront of the US public, he would have solved much of his and the problems of the US and ofcourse - the direction of US politics in a changing world that somewhow comfortingly continues to be a similar place: for life and dignified living. Should third world state inhabitants be assumed to have that basic right, without it being linked to their working for either the US or other state that can get miffed by a person of colour! As third worlds often showcase.



Tags: | US elections | Barak Obama |
 
Donald  Stadler

November 8, 2008

  • 1
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
Sonja, at it' most fundamental the 'Reagan Revolution' was about economics, about shifting the base of economic power and prestige from governmement functionaries and the chattering classes to businessmen and in particular entrepeneurs.

So is the US going back to the status pre-Reagan? Were all those Democrats 'partying like it's 1979'? No.

I think you misunderstand what Reagan was all about. The 'culture wars' (which is the shorthand for the campaign tactics you refer to) weren't really a Reagan thing. Reagan liked to make fun of the hippies & longhairs of the 60's, but the Democrats he campaigned against and beat weren't 60's radicals but older figures from JFK's generation. The Culture wars as a phenomena really only came of age in 1992 with the first Boomer President (Clinton), and really only hit it's peak with John Kerry.

Kerry was a polarising figure in ways most Europeans seem only dimly aware of. He really had few saving graces as a politician, as he was only a mediocre senator and had no executive experience. But he HAD managed to make himself into a highly polarising figure by his mid-20's. Despite a few feeble attempts to put it behind him in the end he could not - because he really had very little else on his CV to show that he'd lived and learned and had anything else to offer apart from his post-Vietnam embittered vet personae.

Why didn't the culture wars work on Obama? Obama was the Un-Kerry. He was 19 when Reagan was elected, 11 when the radical Dems took over the 1972 Democratic national convention, 9 at the time of Kent State. Too young to have been there, too young to have done anything culture warrish himself. No way that stuff was going to stick to him.

So why did the Republicans try the culture war theme on him? Two reasons I think. #1 was a poverty of imagination. They have been fresh out of ideas for a while. Bush was a radical leading a conservative party, the result was massive cognitive dissonance. Their lack of fresh ideas was painfully obvious throughout the campaign.

The second reason is that the GOP didn't expect to face Obama. Hillary was the overwhelming favorite to take the Democratic nomination from Election Day 2004 until January or February of 2008. Hillary WAS a culture War figure, possibly even so than Kerry. Culture War tactics WOULD have hurt her badly, and very possibly McCain could have beaten her on that theme, even with everything else going against him.

So are the Culture Wars dead? In Presidential politics, yes. They may hang on for a while in certain congressional and senatorial races, but not as a main theme as the boomers pass into retirement. I haven't the slightest idea who the Democrats will nominate in 2016; chances are massive it won't be a boomer. Hillary is 99.9% finished.

But understand this; the culture wars were never a strategy, only a very effective tactic. The GOP wasn't about the culture wars any more than the New Deal was about hating Hoover. The GOP isn't dead; It probably will recover some seats in congress in 2012 and possibly in 2016 (depending on how the economy is doing). If the democrats falter they will be set to make a real comeback nd perhaps take back control of congress as early as 2014 or 2016. Writing the obituary for a political party is always a stupid thing; Remember the obits written about the Democrats from 2002 and 2004?
 
Jeffery Allen Richard

November 10, 2008

  • 5
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
This interpretation of the meaning of the 2008 Election is very common in journalistic circles, but I think it is largely unsupported by a closer look at the election (especially down-ballot contests).

Keep in mind that Obama ran on a very inclusive (and simultaneously ambiguous) platform - one that for example embraced tax cuts for most tax payers combined with increased social spending. The war on Iraq turned out to be a non-issue in the election (ironically the success of the surge likely removed the war as a major issue for most voters). This was not an election where policy disptes between the candidates were of major significance (unlike 1980, 1984, or 2004) - this was an election fought and won in the ideologically incoherent mushy middle.

Looking down the ballot, I can't see anything that would suggest that there has been a major transformation in US politics. An anti-same sex constitutional amendment passed in ostensibly liberal California. Democrats increased their numbers in the House and Senate, but did not hit the 60 votes necessary to run the Senate without GOP cooperation. In terms of a partisan power, the fragile Republican majority of 2003-2006 has been replaced by an equally fragile Democratic majority.

Obama himself comes out of this election with tremendous personal goodwill amongst most American voters - more than anything, people of both political parties want his Administration to be a success and to calm the increasingly bitter partisan conflict of the last sixteen years (especially as waged by the cable news networks). Believing that this election was a mandate for a major ideological shift (as opposed to a major stylistic shift) would likely evaporate that goodwill and result in tragic lost opportunities (much like the that caused by overreach in Clinton's first two years).
 
Jeffery Allen Richard

November 10, 2008

  • 4
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
One other thing to keep in mind is that in many ways the current Global Financial Crisis is not as harsh for the average American as the stagflation of the 1970s and early 1980s. That was the terrible combination of high unemployment (7.5% in October 1980, which was a decline from a high of 9% in May 1975 compared to 6.5% in October 2008), high interest rates (nearly 18% in October 1980 compared with a little more than 4% in October 2008) and inflation (13.5% in 1980 compared to 4.% for this year). Combine that with three successive quarters of declining GNP (the US has had only one declining quarter so far), and the picture after the election of 1980 looked very bleak indeed. The biggest difference was that the current financial crisis came as a sudden shock to most onlookers, while the "stagflation" of the 1970s had been an ever-worsening situation for the better part of a decade (and many commentators assumed that was simply going to be the norm for the later 20th century).
 
Jeffery Allen Richard

November 11, 2008

  • 3
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
BTW, a fascinating bit from the WSJ regarding which candidate was perceived as being more likely to cut taxes:

"Down the campaign homestretch, Mr. Obama's tax-cutting promise became his clearest policy position. Eventually he stole the tax issue from the Republicans. Heading into the election, 31% of voters thought that a President Obama would cut their taxes. Only 11% expected a tax cut from a McCain administration."

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122628429302812557.html
 
Marek  Swierczynski

November 12, 2008

  • 3
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
To Jeffrey: the crisis may not be as harsh in the real economy as it is portrayed in the media, but your comparison with the 70/80's does not take into account that then much fewer people were dependent on the stock exchange than today. I would say, barely anyone had their lifes in hands of the stock exchange traders in the 70's, whereas today barely anyone has any other option than to buy a life insurance or pension scheme that is based on speculation. And when people see their money (that was actually never there) suddenly disappear, no surprise it has a knock-on effect on the rest of the economy. So that crisis, deeper or not, was a real economy crisis, and as such probably easier to manage and live through. This one is different and I think we're yet to see the full scope of it.
Tags: | different crisis |
 

Commenting has been deactivated in the archive. We appreciate your comments on our more recent articles at atlantic-community.org


Community

You are in the archive of all articles published on atlantic-community.org from 2007 to 2012. To read the latest articles from our open think tank and network with community members, please go to our new website