The months leading up to this past November were marked with many prophecies and promises from both sides. While some seemed well founded and others a bit more far fetched, all the rhetoric slung one way or the other was meant to do one primary thing: stir up hopes and fears.
Now that the votes are all tallied up and the transition is underway, those that voted for the next President of the United States may see their dreams coming into clearer focus while those that adamantly voted against him may have the prickling feeling that their worst nightmares are coming true.
But whether you view Obama as the liberal messiah or the bogeyman, there is some writing on the wall that is likely to be baloney.
Here's a quick sample of some of the things that are unlikely to happen once Obama takes the helm:
One surefire way to win a popularity contest in the 2000s was to stand against republican President George W. Bush. Both political sides offered a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of change (“Change We Need,” “Change We Can Believe In,” “Ready for Change!”) which made many voters assume that Obama will work to undo one of Bush's most unpopular moves: The War in Iraq.
Though President-Elect Obama's campaign website asserts that action on Iraq will be taken “immediately upon taking office,” the rest of the wording is a bit more wishy-washy. The rest of the promise goes like this: “Obama will give his Secretary of Defense and military commanders a new mission in Iraq: successfully ending the war. Removal of troops will be responsible and phased.” With so many caveats and qualifiers, the sentiment would have been more succinctly stated: “We sure would like to end the war in Iraq.”
Who is to say what qualifies as “responsible,” and how long a “phase” will be? (For example, I know some people who have been in the “phase” of adolescence for decades.) And regarding “successful,” we know from experience how effective simply declaring a mission accomplished prematurely can be. It's unlikely that the next administration will make the same mistake, and will instead opt to stick to their guns until victory can be declared unequivocally (a seemingly impossible task in itself).
But the real bugger to those who voted for peace will be the fact that Obama hasn't been shy about his plans to trade one war for another, possibly more. In speeches during his campaign, Obama promised to “shift the focus of the war on terror to Afghanistan and Pakistan,” where our troops would attempt to engage Al Qaeda more directly, according to a Politico news report from July 15, 2008.
So while the right wing opposition may have mocked Obama for being “too soft” on terrorism, and the left had its hopes up for a full withdrawal, the likely scenario will be neither/nor.
American's are prone to buy when they panic. And when rumors started circulating that Obama was going to put an end to those salad day's when getting your trigger-happy paws on a gun was as easy as signing up for a checking account or buying a car, well, let's say some of us panicked.
According to a CNN report from November 11, 2008, the FBI received “more than 374,000 requests for background checks on gun purchasers” the week Obama was elected, which was “a nearly 49 percent increase over the same period in 2007.” Anticipation of our new Democratic administration caused a bigger spike in boom stick buys than fear of a digital apocalypse, impending terrorist attacks and cataclysmic natural disaster, a gun shop owner told CNN.
So what's scarier than all that? What do American's fear more than threats against our cities, Casio calculators and the well being of our families and colleagues? Taxes.
A little bird (i.e. the NRA) began whispering (i.e. spending $15 million) to the public that Obama was “a serious threat to Second Amendment liberties.” One favorite shocking factoid that loves to get forwarded in emails is that Obama “endorsed a 500 percent increase in the federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition.” Wowzers.
(By the way, the comment was to raise the tax by 500 percent not to 500 percent. So, that would be boosting the current federal rate of 10 percent to 50 percent. By comparison, the $2.57 tax on a $4.00 pack of Pall Malls in New Jersey is a 64 percent tax.)
So, what appeared to be a hostile taking up of arms against a historic shift in power was really, in a way, just Americans sniffing out bargains as usual. Rumors of tax hikes simply made firearms the next Wii Fit or Tickle Me Elmo.
Only time will tell what Obama will do about ammo taxes, but according to his presidential campaign, it seems like it's likely to be “not much,” mostly on account of bigger fish needing to be fried. The NRA cites a December 13, 1999 Chicago Defender article for the 500 percent figure where Obama did indeed comment at an anti-gun rally that, among other measures, he was “seeking to increase the federal taxes by 500 percent on the sale of firearm ammunition.” However, Obama wasn't even running for president at the time, as he was just beginning his second term as an Illinois senator. In a more recent Q and A from OnTheIssues.org, during his run for president, markedly less radical standpoints were taken on gun control and the 500 percent hike hasn't been specifically mentioned since.
Purported ties to radical political parties and an off-hand comment regarding intentions to “spread the wealth around” helped contribute to much fear that the presidential candidate in the blue corner would end up painting the nation red. That misconception has a few sources. Firstly, to a conservative, the standard Democratic stump sounds more like socialism just like a republican stance sounds more like fascism to a liberal. But just because one is relatively closer on the spectrum to either extreme doesn't mean they are anywhere near it in absolute terms.
Most of these fears are based on confusion over the definitions of socialism, Marxism and communism. Since the Cold War, angry Americans have often used these terms as catchall descriptors for anything that smacks of evil or threats to the status quo. Given that Obama ran counter to his detractors' main pick for president, it seems that he fit the bill quite well, given that definition.
But here's how Merriam-Webster defines socialism: “a system of society or group living in which there is no private property” or “a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the government.”
So how does Obama's policy and track record chalk up under that scope? All signs point to “probably not a socialist.” New York Times writer S.E. Cupp interviewed a few actual socialists in her September 23, 2008 piece on HumanEvents.com and here's what they said:
“Obama is as much a socialist as the Pope is an atheist. Income redistribution is not a socialist act.” – F.N. Brill, National Secretary of the World Socialist Party
“Barack Obama's programs are not socialist. The vast majority of his proposals are anti-worker (or he might say ‘pro-business'). His health care proposals are more to save the for-profit insurance industry and do not have the goal of ending for-profit insurance. … Many of his other economic proposals are pro-corporate.” – Greg Pason, National Secretary of the Socialist Party USA
“The idea that Barack Obama is socialist, or quasi-socialist, or semi-socialist, or socialist-light, or anything of the sort, is far-right nonsense. Barack Obama, like John McCain, is very much a ‘politician as usual,' fully committed to the continuation of the capitalist system and the expansion of its empire.” – David Schaich, Socialist Party Campaign Clearinghouse Coordinator
The key terms in those quotes (other than “not socialist”) are “pro-corporate,” and “anti-worker” and “capitalist.” Whereas he may not be as pro-business as conservatives, purely on the virtue that he is a liberal, his belief in and operating within the capitalist, federal constitutional republic of the U.S. mutually excludes him from being a socialist. A nation can't be socialist without completely outlawing corporations and private ownership any more than you can be dead if you have a heartbeat or an atheist if you believe in a deity. In reaching the highest office in the U.S., President-Elect Obama has very much worked within the system of federal government and the Electoral College, rather than against it.
The two components of Obama's platform that are inducing much of the nail-biting are his increased taxes on the more wealthy (and subsequent decrease in taxes for the middle class) and his bid to make “health insurance affordable and accessible to all.” But these are both a far cry from universal government funded healthcare and a government planned economy.
In fact, we've had a bracketed tax system (i.e. higher taxes for the wealthy) since 1913 and last time I checked, our flag still features blue and white in addition to red.
Lovers of freedom need not worry that Obama's first action on January 20th will be to sentence lady liberty to death, and many of the doomsayers will likely be pleasantly disappointed when Obama turns out to be a normal, red-blooded capitalist after all. But on the other hand, those that voted him in may be unpleasantly disappointed that the change that he promised may not be as a sweeping and inclusive as they had hoped.
More evidence that Obama believes in the American way of laissez-faire business, bootstrap yanking and the celebration of profit and ambition are his good friends on Wall Street. This, too, is something unlikely to change once Bush steps down.
In the latter half of 2008, many cried out for Washington to deliver some comeuppance to the tanking financial players responsible for leaving the nation's economy in shambles whilst they themselves made a lavish exit via their private jets stocked with golden parachutes. The roster of scandalous grand failures reads like one big dirty laundry list (Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, The Big Three automakers, etc.) and the time for a corporate smackdown rather than a corporate handout has never seemed more ripe to many disgruntled voters.
Much of the rhetoric for and against Obama stressed that he was a man of the people, not big businesses. While it may be true that he is more outspoken on behalf of Main Street than other candidates, that doesn't mean that he doesn't have some very wealthy friends. A quick peek at OpenSecrets.org shows that Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, UBS, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers and Citigroup all top his list of campaign contributors who helped rack up a record breaking $750 million or so. And in spite of the recent missteps of the financial sector, it's hard to believe that so many who were in the business of making money would plunk down over $400,000 dollars each towards someone who they thought wouldn't stick up for them.
Obama is also close to many legendary financiers, including: George Soros, Warren Buffett, Texas Oil man T. Boone Pickens, UBS Americas CEO Robert Wolf, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker and Credit Suisse banker Steve Koch, with many of them serving on his financial committee. The prospect of Obama turning around and doling out punishment to the hands that fed him is not only unlikely, but also politically moronic. Plus, folks like the Oracle of Omaha didn't make their billions by backing the kind of guy who is going to take their money and hand it to hobos in the park.
While Obama – and practically everyone else in the nation – has called for more oversight of the financial sector in response to the recent economic collapse, it is unlikely that this means all out war on Wall Street.
Amongst all the serious issues at hand, the fate of the presidential bowling alley in the White House has somehow wormed its way into the top worries on the minds of Americans as Obama takes office. In 1969, President Richard Nixon had a one-lane bowling alley built into the basement of the White House which has become somewhat of a legend as far as White House lore goes.
Obama, a notoriously bad bowler who is known to blow off steam on the basketball court, quipped during a Jimmy Kimmel Live appearance that he was planning on “getting rid of the bowling alley and replacing it with a basketball court in the White House.” And for some reason, the nation freaked, spawning hundreds of blogs and news bites (“Should the new court come at the expense of the most famous bowling lane in the country?” asks Political Machine) on the fate of the famed bowling alley. But here are a few good reasons not to worry:
- Space. Judging by the pictures, it doesn't seem like there is enough physical room for a basketball court in the space currently dedicated to the bowling alley. The ceiling is too low, for one, unless Obama plans on dunking full time. I can't imagine that there aren't better sites for a full court on the White House property than the basement. For instance, one Voice of America piece from December 12, 2008 intimated that a tennis court may be converted instead.
- Truman's Alley. Believe it or not, another presidential bowling alley was displaced in 1955 and America stayed strong. In 1947, President Harry Truman built a bowling lane into the West Wing which was later relocated to the Old Executive Office Building to make way for a mimeograph room. No big deal.
- It was a joke. Given the circumstances preceding the comment and the venue (i.e. a late night comedy show) it can be assumed that Obama hadn't sworn in before declaring his intentions of uprooting Tricky Dick's lanes. Obama clearly made the statement in order to make light of his “dainty” bowling performance and get a few laughs.
Sleep easy, America. President Nixon's bowling alley is safe, for now.
Some alarmists skipped the common anxieties that Obama might be too inexperienced, too liberal or too smooth and went ahead and declared him the Anti-Christ. Yes, that Anti-Christ: the man of ultimate evil, bearing the number of the beast, who will take control of the Earth and serve as a harbinger of the End Times.
It seems like every generation has believed like it was the last, (See panics regarding: Y2K, the Hale-Bopp Comet, the Large Hadron Collider, the Mayan Apocalypse, the Cold War and more) with soothsayers screaming that the end is nigh since 2800 B.C. And while it may be the end of the world, figuratively, to those that can't stand the thought of a black Democratic 47-year old man in office, the batting average for the apocalypse predictors still isn't looking so hot, as evidenced by our continued existence today (fingers crossed for tomorrow!).
As with many doom frenzies, the New Testament book of Revelation is cited as evidence. Per one popular chain email excerpted by preeminent debunkers Snopes.com, the Bible claims that, like Obama, the Anti-Christ will:
- Be a man in his 40s
- Be of Muslim descent
- Have a “massive Christ-like appeal”
- Deceive the nations with “persuasive language”
The email goes on to say that the Anti-Christ will “promise false hope and world peace, and when he is in power, will destroy everything,” before concluding the warning with the jumpy question, “IS IT OBAMA?!”
The problem here lies within the fact that the use of deceitful, persuasive language, instilling false hope and promising world peace are qualities held by pretty much any politician or Miss America runner-up. Being charismatic has simply been part of the job description of a presidential hopeful, ever since those fateful televised Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960. If Obama wasn't charming and well spoken, he wouldn't have made it this far.
The other more glaring problem with the email is that the Book of Revelation (singular, in spite of the popular proclivity for tacking on an “s”) never mentions any of that hullabaloo. The aspects that the Book does attribute to the Beast include:
- “…having seven heads and ten horns…”
- “…the feet of a bear…” and “…the mouth of a lion…”
- a fatal “…wound by a sword…” in his head
- “…and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority…”
You may not agree with political aspirations clunking around within it, but it's hard to argue the fact that Obama does, indeed, have only one head on his shoulders which is conspicuously absent of horns and sword wounds. And if I'm not mistaken, the Bible- citing apocalypse wranglers just accused the American voters of being a “dragon,” for what it's worth.
With such drastic differences between the “Obama as Anti-Christ” rumors and the biblical passage it purports to quote, it's a wonder they didn't just go ahead and claim that the Bible prophesized that the Anti-Christ would be “a lawyer from Chicago,” who will fatefully bowl a 37 in Altoona, Pennsylvania and has a surname that rhymes with “Oh, Llama!”.
While only time will tell if Obama will run the country and/or the free world as we know it into the ground, it's relatively safe to say that Obama is not the fabled pawn of Satan, as per the Bible.
There are many things to be apprehensive about in the next coming years. As a nation, we are facing one of the worst economic crises in our history, global food and energy shortages, growing environmental threats, waning international regard and a flailing military presence in hostile nations. And to cap it all off, we just elected the first African-American president in the history of our country and the first Democratic administration in almost a decade. Whether this is reason to be filled with hope or fear depends on your political leanings and respective optimism or pessimism.
But the beauty of this nation's governmental system is its checks and balances. We voted in a left-leaning executive, not a monarch. And all the fussing and fighting and decrying and debating has, historically, resulted in a centrist path for our nation. Rather than this being the end of the American lifestyle that we have come to know and love, a far more likely scenario is one marked by compromise and moderation. True, Americans voted for change. But as long as voters stay conscious of and invested in the direction of their government, that change will be affected in a measured fashion at the will of the people.