I remember election night 2000. The networks called Florida for Al Gore about 8:30 p.m. We all knew what that meant. Gore would become the 43rd president of the United States. He would bring his piety and his stiff mannerisms to the White House, but, hey, America could do a lot worse.
And then we did! Within a couple of hours the TV pundits were back to announce that something had gone wrong. Votes were in question. Florida was back in play. This election wasn’t over yet.
There followed weeks of acrimony and litigation, ending with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that stopped the Florida recount and gave the presidency to George W. Bush. So began the eight-year nightmare which ended on Nov. 4, with the election of Barack Obama.
Bush leaves office with the nation in economic chaos, diplomatic isolation, environmental peril, and war without end. He leaves office much as Herbert Hoover did in 1933, with the nation hinging on a transformational moment. Much of the Republican policy and philosophy of the past 40 years will soon be swept away, not just because they are bankrupt, but because the GOP has followed its scorched-earth tactics and culture-war strategy to a dead end.
The defeat of John McCain finally closes the Vietnam War, which America has been fighting with itself for the past 40 years. McCain built his political career on his Vietnam record as a prisoner of war, just as former President Bill Clinton started his political career as an anti-war activist in the 1960s.
After 40 years of anger and acrimony, a younger generation has taken the stage, a generation that does not remember Vietnam or care who the heroes and villains were. They are not as racially polarized as their parents, and they do not share the homophobia which the Republican Party has used so effectively to mobilize their base. They are environmentally aware and largely immune to the sneering cynicism the GOP has used so effectively against environmental policy.
All of this bodes ill for the Republican Party. In a nation growing more urban and multi-ethnic, the Republican base seems increasingly irrelevant: white, rural, and old. In the waning days of the campaign, this base manifested a streak of anti-intellectualism that many suburban (and traditional Republican) voters found unacceptable.
The election night speeches by McCain and Obama told the story. McCain conceded before a few hundred supporters in the ballroom of the ritzy Arizona Biltmore Hotel. As the cameras panned over the crowd, there was not a black or brown face in sight. It looked like a restricted country club.
By contrast, the one million-plus who thronged Chicago’s Grant Park to hear Barack Obama’s victory speech looked like AMERICA! This is the future. We saw it Tuesday night in Chicago.
Of course, not much changed in South Carolina, where racism, homophobia, and anti-intellectualism still flourish, giving the GOP a death grip on state and local politics. Republicans maintained solid control of both chambers of the General Assembly. It says a lot about this racially divided, one-and-a-half-party state, that more than half of our lawmakers had no opposition.
And here’s another index of our democracy: S.C. has long ranked last in the nation for the number of women in the legislature. Going into last week’s election, fewer than nine percent of the state’s 170 lawmakers were women — and the senate was losing its one woman. This helps explain the levels of violence, poverty, and ignorance women and children are subjected to in this state.
There were a couple of bits of good news coming out of Charleston County. Political novice Anne Peterson Hutto defeated Republican Wallace Scarborough in his bid for a fifth term in House District 115. I know many of the organizers and workers in Peterson Hutto’s campaign. I can attest to the months of hard work they put into making this moment possible. And it should provide inspiration for others around the state who want to create a viable two-party system here. A well-run, hard-hitting campaign can dislodge an incumbent Republican in this god-and-guns state.
The other good news out of Charleston County — aside from the fact that Obama carried the county — is that John Graham Altman III lost his bid to return to the Charleston County School Board after an absence of nearly 20 years. Time and events seem to have passed the geriatric hatemonger by, leaving him to sit in his Folly Road house and grumble at the world. And he has much to grumble at, because this is a much healthier society than it was two weeks ago.
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