Since the late September Wall Street meltdown, a spiraling contagion of financial fear, John McCain's candidacy began to founder. The Arizona senator briefly suspended his campaign and stated that he would not attend the first presidential debate in order to focus on the crisis, although he did show up in the end. That move was not perceived to be serious but rather evasive. After the bailout measure was passed with the support of both candidates, McCain and running-mate Sarah Palin focused a negative campaign against Senator Barack Obama to associate him with the far-left and to stoke the fear of radicalism. While this energized the conservative base, who had been suspicious of McCain, it repelled independents and more moderate Republicans who began to publicly endorse Obama. "No Drama" Obama, as he has been called by his advisors, only needed to stay positive and confident to support the nation's shaky nerves. Even the Wall Street bankers started to endorse Obama, who came to symbolize stability rather than the tax-gouging socialist portrayed by the Republicans. The securities and investment industry ponied up 43% more cash to Obama's campaign than to that of his rival. The fact that both candidates' plans according to economists were infeasible was secondary to the perception of calm that has been the hallmark of Obama's campaign since his difficult win over Hillary Clinton.
Even without the roiling financial markets, McCain had an uphill battle against Obama thanks to the unpopular reign of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who has an approval rating of under 30%. Obama only had to remind his audiences that McCain had voted with the president 90% of the time. Although McCain repeatedly referred to himself as the maverick who would shake hands with opponents across the aisle, he was still identified with discredited Republican agendas, both foreign and domestic. Barack Obama, despite his well-publicized liberal voting record, managed to seize the center, more so as McCain and Palin became entrenched with the right-wing of the party in the last desperate month of the contest. A record 130 million citizens showed up at their polling places, with the highest percentage of registered voters in decades at 64%. Obama won over women, minorities, and young voters who came out in force. In addition to his commited base, McCain still won a majority of the white vote. Republicans also lost at least eleven House seats, five Senate seats and one governorship.
For Catholics, this was the election where the Church's pastors were most vocal on the voting criterion. In addition to the "Faithful Citizenship" letter issued by the bishops' conference about the moral factors in the election, at least fifty bishops issued pastoral letters on the primacy of the protection of innocent human life over any other consideration. Despite the public wrangling over priorities, Catholics voted for Obama by 54-45%, a shift from the 2004 Bush-Kerry contest where Bush won the Catholic vote by 52-46%.
A look at some of the ballot measures on life and marriage issues across the country are revealing as to how voters view these social questions. In Florida, Arizona and (probably) California, constitutional bans were passed on same-sex marriage, and in Arkansas adoption to same-sex couples was barred. Life issues took a big hit across the country, as voters in Washington state approved doctor-assisted suicide, and in Colorado and South Dakota bills limiting abortion were defeated. Also, Michigan approved a bill allowing stem-cell research. While the constituency responds to the claims of the gay lobby with reserve, the life issues have become more abstract, clouded by ideologies of the right and left. For the span of three and a half decades since the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, the pro-life cause has been tied to the fortunes of conservative Republican economic and foreign policy creeds, both of which were roundly repudiated this election cycle. Meanwhile, the rhetoric of choice has obscured the real human toll. Clearly more educational groundwork is needed before a political impact can be registered.
As for conservative concerns, it remains to be seen how far Obama will push the country toward social engineering or how his party might hamper the educational and charitable work of religious organizations. On the other hand, his administration may be so mired in the immediate economic crisis and wars they have inherited as to render any dramatic shift impractical. The young and inexperienced Barack Obama by many accounts is on over his head, which may open an opportunity before a second term. Today the Republicans begin to prepare for the next election. As was heard often during this campaign, they still look to their star Ronald Reagan as their model, a president who, if anything, exuded confidence.
[Published in translation at ilsussidiario.net]