The Day After

We rounded up some Texas journalists and notables to give us their reactions to the long campaign which culminated in Barack Obama being elected the 44th president. Here’s what they said.

November 2008By Comments

From Day One, Barack Obama becomes the country’s crisis manager—facing the fierce urgency of huge expectations. Problem is, he’ll be taking fire from both sides of the partisan divide.

His own Democratic Party, having won the trifecta of House, Senate and Oval Office, will want to pursue a partisan agenda and punish the GOP. Republicans, crabby and gathered in an undisclosed location, will be tempted to spend the next four years gumming up the works. But that’s exactly what voters, both Democrats and Republicans, voted against.

Karl Rove has now beaten John McCain twice—once in 2000 in South Carolina and again on Tuesday. Rove made hyper-partisanship the weapon of choice in both elections and governing. He fanned the culture war and played to the base with wedge issues and a swaggering politics aimed at destroying the opposition, not building durable coalitions to get things done. When things started going south for Bush and GOP, he had no friends. Four years ago, Karl was talking about creating a permanent political majority. Looks like voters Tuesday delivered one.
—Wayne Slater, senior political reporter at the Dallas Morning News and author of Bush′s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential

A moment in history. At a time of tremendous change in the world, we took the biggest change America has ever taken. This is how, to a small degree, many of us Irish Catholics felt in 1960. We will never see ourselves the same, and the world will never look on us in the same way. A beautiful thing. And the lesson Obama taught us by taking a leap and running, even when most told him to wait four or eight years, and even though he probably felt slightly unready. When life′s windows open, we need to be prepared to make that leap of faith. Otherwise, that chance may not come back.
—Matthew Dowd, ABC News analyst and former senior adviser to President George W. Bush

When I graduated from high school in Fort Worth, no black student had ever attended any school that I had attended, yet in less than my lifetime we have come from a society that sanctioned segregation to one in which an African American has been elected to our highest office. That is more than an election—it is a wonderful moment in the history of America and I was thrilled to be there to see it.
—Bob Schieffer, veteran CBS correspondent and Face the Nation moderator

The morning after, it′s easy to just repeat the stream of conventional wisdom that′s available on blogs, Web sites, TV, and radio as I type. That Barack Obama rewrote the national presidential landscape—gosh, he won in Indiana! That he ran a truly incredible campaign that′ll be the new model for grassroots organizing and fundraising. That Democratic gains in Congress were a little less than many expected (newly convicted felon Ted Stevens looks like he′ll be elected in Alaska—what is going on up there?). That Texas continues to move, however slowly, back to something resembling an actual two-party system.

For me, though, watching Obama step onto that Grant Park stage, in front of 125,000 people, brought up memories of filming out in the Mississippi delta in the early 80′s, documenting races for county commissioner where watching blacks even voting, let alone winning local office, was like watching people walk from one century to another. Listening to Obama speak, I kept thinking that this is the guy I′ve been waiting for for President. Who actually means it when he says he′ll govern for everyone. That it′s time to move beyond the dysfunctional government of the last two decades. If he acts as President as he did as a candidate, all this might just come true, even with the mess that the country is in. Inspiration can go a long way when you want to lead. It helped win this election.

A friend of mine in western North Carolina, exhausted after a day of getting out the vote, sent me these lines from a Seamus Heaney poem that do a pretty job of summing up what last night was like.

“…once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.″
—Paul Stekler, award-winning documentary filmmaker, and director of “Choice 2008”

Well, dear Texans, I guess it can’t be true that a really large number of you believed Obama was a Muslim. Thank God for that! My reaction to the election outcome is one of giddy relief. America is ready for change, new ideas, and a new outlook on international life. And we better be ready to work for all that because the new President faces the worst challenges of anyone ever to ascend to the office.

Most likely because the dangers are so immense, we may even be disappointed in government again, but I have my fingers crossed. And I am still with the Churchill quote on democracy. “…the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

It is such a relief to be a Texan and now not have to apologize for the President we sent to the White House.
—Liz Smith, the “Grande Dame of Dish” and celebrated gossip columnist

Maybe, as many have said, it took a confluence of events, a perfect storm, for America to elect a black man president. A shattered economy, a failed Republican presidency, a lingering, unjustified foreign war, and a brilliant, charismatic candidate who ran a superb campaign. Oh, and let’s not forget, Sarah Palin and John McCain. Maybe it took all that for this country to overlook race and vote for a candidate with a strange name and exotic background.

I’m not sure it matters that Obama’s election required a perfect storm. When you break barriers as immense as this, does it matter how you got there? I think the forward momentum and the surmounting of age-old prejudices are what are important, are what will shape us for years to come and change us forever—and not how we somehow, accidentally or coincidentally, managed to get there.

Yeah, it’s damned wonderful. O Happy Day.
—Ruth Pennebaker, novelist, syndicated columnist, blogger, and KUT commentator

This year′s election was a mixed bag for both political parties. The Democrats certainly can be happy that they picked up a number of offices in the Texas House and in Harris County, but they also lost ground in the congressional delegation with Pete Olson′s defeat of Nick Lampson.

The Democratic movement also benefitted greatly from urban support for Barack Obama. The big question now is can the Democrats sustain that when Obama is not on the ballot in 2010?

For the Republicans, not all was grim. They still proved they can win statewide, and in most instances the Democrats can′t touch them. That won′t change until the Democrats can roll Tarrant County into their column.

Also, as the most populous Republican state, Texas may become more important in the 2012 presidential elections. That would enhance the possibility of Gov. Rick Perry or U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn to take a serious look at running.
—R.G. Ratcliffe, long-time Texas political reporter for the Houston Chronicle. (Read more analysis of the race on Democrats Gain Ground but Texas Remains a Red State.)

My thoughts? First, I’m thinking it should be today that Starbucks offers free coffee. Okay, beyond that, on the national front, my overall impression is: Wow. No matter who you voted for, the fact that we will have our first black president has got to instill you with some sense of pride. We have come a long way as a nation. We have reached a day where we can judge a man by the content of his character and not the color of his skin. We have achieved a dream. That we only hand him the keys to the car when it’s in the proverbial ditch is another story.

In Texas, Republicans withstood the Democratic tsunami (no less than Kay Bailey Hutchison’s description). But they’ve noticed that it’s started to rain. Dallas County flipped Democratic four years ago. Last night it was Harris County’s turn. In 2002, the 150-member Texas House had 88 Republicans. With last night’s results, it now has 76, maybe 75 depending on a recount. The GOP lost a seat in the state Senate, possibly two depending on a run-off. The margin of victory in statewide races has gotten thinner—more like a comb-over than a thick mane. Can you hear the pitter-patter of the rain drops? When you dominate virtually every office in the state, there’s only one way to go. That’s probably why the Democrats have called a big puffy press conference and the Republicans, looking for coffee, haven’t yet.
—Christy Hoppe, Austin Bureau Chief of the Dallas Morning News

The Travis County Democratic Party is very happy. We showed that a strong field organization makes a huge difference in close races. We were very ambitious with our field plans this year in Travis County—we gambled that if we built the infrastructure, the volunteers would come. And they did. Not only did we make every call and knock on every door that we wanted to this time, hundreds of local volunteers helped Obama by calling or even traveling to swing states.

I had never seen a national news station declare Texas “too close to call” in the presidential race before last night. It turns out that Barack Obama did very well in early voting in Texas. This shows that, should we ever again run a full statewide coordinated campaign with a field component, we can win Texas. The simple fact that Hillary and Obama ran a full barrage of television ads in the primary helped inspire Texans to vote Democratic in the primary, and some of that carried over into the general. It was the first time I can remember that we had more ads talking about the great attributes of Democrats than about the attributes of Republicans. Ads help, but they must be accompanied by a field campaign.

We can win the Governor′s race in 2010, but only if we keep our fundraising dollars here in Texas. We need to have statewide operations in 2010 like those we ran here in Travis County and in Harris County in 2008. Just look at our local results. Yes, Travis County as a whole is very Democratic, but we also won at least three seats in very conservative parts of the county. Karen Huber unseated longtime Republican County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, Adan Ballesteros unseated Constable Bob Vann, and Valinda Bolton was reelected against the Keel name. The key in all of these races was a strong grassroots volunteer-fueled field campaign. I look forward to helping with this effort again in 2010.
—Andy Brown, chairman of the Travis County Democratic Party

As post-election realities sink in on November 5, I′m wondering how the election gets incorporated in the political zeitgeist in Texas. Beyond the obvious predicable orgy of post-election deconstruction of trends and numbers and winners and losers (in which I′ll gladly participate later), just what the new normal is going to feel like is a huge question.

Just how contentious will Texas be now that the state is a de facto leader in the national opposition? The Republican majority in the state will almost certainly take an active role as the political opposition to the new national majority, which is a natural outcome of the election returns in the state and Texas′s size and stature compared to other states maintaining Republican majorities. But this happens as the Republican majority in the state is besieged by both the national political tides and a more competitive political system inside the state. Will Texas Republicans choose to follow the path of their candidate in his concession speech, or instead go the route of those in the crowd who booed and hissed at the mention of Obama′s name? If the mood of the political majority in the state turns toward the Palinist view that Obama is not merely the opposition but somehow un-American or fundamentally intolerable, they will aggravate the political and cultural differences that are already feeding the Democratic recovery in the state.

Three and a half million Texans cast their vote for Obama—and as the ever-astute Ross Ramsey has pointed out, these voters were concentrated in the four major counties in the state. If the ruling majority stakes its political future on an assault on the sensibilities that fueled Obama′s support in the state—urban or urban-friendly, multiracial, educated—it will at the same time be aggravating deep cultural divisions in the state. At best, this is only a short-term strategy for narrowly defined political success. At worst, it pushes the state away from yesterday′s shift in the national political culture—a shift that has nothing to do with political party, and everything to do with people embracing a more expansive and civil view of what Texas is becoming, and what it can be in the future.
—Jim Henson directs the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin.

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