First, the proviso: this election is far from over yet. As I recently said, “It ain’t over ‘till the old guy concedes.” As unlikely as it may seem right now, McCain could still win — and this is no time to let our guards down.
But even if we were to pretend that Barack Obama actually does have the election wrapped up, we would still need to fight like hell.
Obama needs more than a win: he needs a landslide — or at least something fairly close to one. Sure, Bush managed to (mis)lead the nation, often in almost dictatorial ways, despite losing the popular vote in 2000 and barely winning in 2004. But Bush had two things going for him Obama won’t: first, of course, he benefitted politically, in an overwhelming way, from the 9/11 attacks; and, second, he was blessed to have an incredibly wimpy opposition party in Congress.
Obama is unlikely to have either of these things going for him (thank goodness in the case of 9/11).
Without these political breaks, Obama will find it hard to push his policies though Congress, especially if the Democrats fall short of a 60 vote filibuster proof majority in the Senate – something vastly dangerous in a time of crisis.
If elected, Obama will inherit a critically sick nation: our economy in ruins; our foreign policy a disaster; two wars bleeding both our military and our treasury dry; our national infrastructure decayed to the point of collapse; climate change attacking us in increasingly serious ways; and, of course, a national debt that could pave a “road to nowhere” in gold from Wasilla, Alaska all the way to the now disgraced “planet” of Pluto.
Given these challenges, Obama will have two options: take bold action to put the country right, or let America’s problems fester until, four years hence, a frustrated nation sends him packing. The problem is, of course, that bold action won’t happen just because he wants it to (or just because he sprinkles magical post-partisan dust on Congress).
Change is an easy word to say, but a hellaciously hard nut to crack in American politics. To have even a fighting chance, he’ll need both a broad electoral mandate and a huge Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. And he will only get those by handing John McCain one hell of a shellacking on Nov. 4.
There is, however, a second, darker, reason why the margin of victory is critical. Only a smashing Obama win will shut up right wing conspiracy theorists. We received a small taste of their paranoid wares just last night from none other than McCain himself:
“We need to know the full extent of Sen. Obama’s relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”
This is pure BS, of course. Everyone with any knowledge of the situation (including John McCain) knows that the only fraudulent acts that have been seriously alleged, involving ACORN’s voter registration drives, have nothing to do with actual votes. Instead, it appears that a few of the people ACORN hired to register voters, engaging in a little venture capitalism of their own, turned in false names in order to pad their paychecks (they’re paid based upon how many people they sign up). There is absolutely no evidence that anyone intends to actually vote under the fictitious names. The victim here is ACORN, not the McCain campaign.
So why is the GOP pushing this fairy tale? The principal and most troubling motive, of course, is to set the stage for vote suppression on Nov. 4. But there’s something else at play, too. The political right is also setting the stage for later efforts to undercut the validity of an Obama presidency — to challenge its legitimacy — by implying that he didn’t win fairly. Instead, they’ll claim, it was all part of an elaborate fraud.
The best way to shutdown such lies, of course, is for Obama to score a smashing victory — the sort of landslide that no one can claim, at least with a straight face, was anything but real. So even if you think Obama has it in the bag (which would be a mistake), you still have to keep fighting.
In this election, numbers matter. They matter a lot.