Many are feeling a surge of joy and relief after the U.S. election, but we shouldn’t get too comfortable now that the confetti’s been swept away. It’s a good time to remember, while spirits are still running high, that all our political hopes shouldn’t have to ride on just one federal election, and a lot of crucial things won’t happen if they do.
An undeniably significant symbolic change in America’s political climate has taken place. The election saw the biggest voter turnout since 1960, and Americans should be proud of that. Further, states like Virginia and Indiana went blue for the first time in decades. On the eve of the election, Germany’s Die Zeit listed six questions the outcome of this election would answer, among them: is the Reagan Revolution over? Is a generational shift taking place? Are we getting past racism? Tuesday night, America certainly gave some kind of yes.
That said, Obama and Biden will face huge challenges come January, and there is a limited amount of change that can realistically happen at the federal level in the next four years. Like presidents before him, Obama will need to move cautiously to protect his chances of getting re-elected – a more difficult balancing act when you’re trying to unite a divided country. And between righting the economy, addressing torture, and ending the war in Iraq – not to mention the huge debt Bush has left behind – the president-elect already has a hefty amount of damage control in front of him.
America is still incredibly divided. The Republican campaign strategy of appealing to “real America” exacerbated tensions that aren’t going to simply go away now that the polls have closed. The U.S. remains socially conservative, perhaps best shown on Tuesday, as residents in Arizona, Florida, and California joined 26 other states in banning gay marriage through constitutional amendments. While there is a lot of talk about a landslide, many states were blue only by a slim margin.
Certain things about American political culture are probably going to stay the same: the polarizing two-party system, the disproportionate political sway of corporate interests, America’s position on the world stage as an imposing imperial power. With the economy taking centre stage in American politics, health care and education will likely remain in the background, and climate change probably won’t get a chance to be addressed in a way that matches the urgency of the situation.
Politics today work in an emotional key, and the epic build-up to the election gets us so absorbed, it’s easy to forget the other levels that politics takes place on. Candidates’ faces have flashed on our screens so often, we only know them as pop stars. Now we hope they’ll materialize into life-size, progressive policy makers.
An active citizenry is always crucial. Obama won’t be able to come through on the change he’s been promising for the past year without the support from Congressmen and women across the U.S. So don’t forget your local politics; write to your representatives, attend demonstrations, and keep a critical eye on activity in Washington, whether or not you can vote on who ends up there.
Back up north, Jean Charest announced yesterday that Quebeckers will be heading to the polls in a month for a provincial election. While there were plenty of Canadians at Gert’s on Tuesday, we somehow doubt that New Hampshirites will come out in droves to weigh in on Quebec’s political future. Though poorly timed, the upcoming election certainly warrants your attention, since the result will directly influence many of the issues routinely covered in these pages: tuition fees, union rights, language issues, and farm and food policy, to name a few.
There is an upside to hyper-mediated American elections. This one, in particular, felt like a real collective experience, and it’s brought out a surge of energy and political will that North America hasn’t seen in some time. Let’s not let it dwindle away now that November 4 has passed.