MADISON, WI –One year ago Tuesday, Barack Obama redefined American electioneering to such an extent that it was possible to believe that the success of his transformational campaign would lead to a transformational presidency.
After all, he had already changed most of what America “knew” about politics.
The freshman senator from Illinois had not only won an election for the presidency of the United States on November 4, 2008.
He had not just rewritten the rules that had for so long made the upper reaches of electroal competition the domain of white men of a certain class.
He had not merely put an end to the Bush-Cheney interregnum that had divided the nation along seemingly insurmountable chasms separating red and blue states.
With his victory on that remarkable presidential election day, he restored a measure of presidential legitimacy to a country that had for the better part of two decades seemed to wander in the wilderness. And with that legitimacy it seemed possible that he might make real the promise of “change.”
As he noted the anniversary Tuesday at an event in Madison, Wisconsin, Obama acknowledged as mich, saying, “One year ago, Americans all across this country went to the polls and cast ballots for the future they wanted to see. Election Day was a day of hope and possibility…”
That hope and possibility was grounded in the reality of an electoral mandate of a magnitude not seen in two dcades.
It had been 20 years since a president was elected with a majority of the popular vote and no serious debate about his Electoral College majority. While Democrats delighted in reminding Republicans that George Bush’s 2000 “victory” was imposed by a Republican-dominated U.S. Supreme Court and that his 2004 “victory” relied upon a shaky “mandate” of Ohio’s disputed result, Republicans noted that (because of the interventions of Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996) Bill Clinton “victories” were attained with less than 50 percent of the vote.
Obama’s victory needed no quotation marks.
He won without qualifiers or footnotes.
He won big – bigger than any presidential candidate in 20 years, bigger than any Democratic presidential candidate in more than four decades.
But Obama, always a more cautious man than his campaign suggested, has not governed big.
To be sure, he has faced daunting challenges. As the president explained in Madison, the 2008 victory was “a sobering one because we knew that we faced an array of challenges that would test us as a people. A financial crisis that threatened to plunge our economy into another Great Depression. Record deficits. Two wars. Frayed alliances around the world.”