Millions of Americans will wake up disappointed on Wednesday morning. Barring an electoral tie vote, or some similarly freakish outcome, their candidate for president — either Barack Obama or John McCain — will have lost. And they’ll face the prospect of four years under a president they opposed.
But it can’t be that bad, can it? Does John McCain have ideas that even liberals can love? Will Barack Obama do things that conservatives like? Or does a victory for one side mean utter disaster for another? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, consider the possibilities.
For a liberal, there’s lots of reasons not to like John McCain: His support of the Iraq invasion; his rabid defense of tax cuts for the wealthy; the sleaziness of a campaign that has tried to paint Barack Obama as a friend and acolyte of terrorists, socialists and perverts.
But there’s no reason to panic if he wins. After all, John McCain has been far from a perfect Republican.
For one thing, he believes climate change exists. That’s a rarity in his party, one that offers a "Nixon to China" moment that can finally bring conservatives into a discussion about solutions to the problem. McCain has also been a lone voice in his party against the torture of suspected terrorists — not because he’s soft on terrorism, but because he personally knows the human costs of such evil.
What’s more, he actually does have a history of bipartisanship. McCain really has bucked his own party – on issues from judges to immigration to campaign finance reform – and worked with Democrats on issues he judged important. After eight years of a presidency that tried to muscle its opponents into submission, that attitude would be a welcome change.
Before this campaign, liberals found lots to admire about John McCain. Once campaign wounds have healed, perhaps they can again.
James Madison wrote more than 200 years ago: "Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm." Madison was writing about the dangers that factions pose to a free republic, and how a well-constructed Constitution, strong political institutions, and steady principles could guard against the evils of partisan excess, regardless of who is president.
If Barack Obama is the next president, he will have ample opportunity to make mischief. He can fill the courts with judges who believe in a "living constitution" — that is, a Constitution that changes with the times. He can push for all kinds of new spending. He can "spread the wealth." Or, at least, he can try.
But Obama is likely to discover, as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush learned before him, that he can only do so much — even with a friendly Congress. Obama can shape the bureaucracy and the courts, but he cannot fundamentally alter the institutions he’s charged with governing. He is beholden to popular opinion and to politics foreign and domestic.
Obama already moderated his rhetoric on raising the capital gains tax, on free trade, and on withdrawing quickly from Iraq. He shows signs of real prudence.
To argue, as a handful of former Reagan and George H.W. Bush administration officials have, that an Obama administration could help advance some conservative policies beggars belief. But confronted by the realities of the world as it is, not the world as he wishes it to be, Obama could temper his agenda. If Obama the politician understands that politics is about compromise and consensus, then Americans have much less to worry about.
Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog daily at http://www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and http://politics.pwblogs.com/