We’re hearing a lot these days about Obama’s “landslide victory.” We need to be more cautious in using the term. Yes, in terms of the Electoral College, Obama’s victory really was a landslide—338 votes, versus 127 for McCain. But in terms of the popular vote, it was only slightly better than a squeaker—51% for Obama, versus 47%for McCain.
History provides us with some real popular vote landslides: Theodore Roosevelt‘s 56.4% to Alton B. Parker‘s 37.6% in 1904; Warren Harding‘s 60.3% to James Cox‘s 34.1% in 1920 ; Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s 60.8% to Alf Landon‘s 36.5% in 1936; Lyndon Johnson‘s 61.1% to Barry Goldwater‘s 38.5% in 1964 ; Richard Nixon‘s 60.7% to George McGovern‘s 37.5% in 1972; and Ronald Reagan‘s 58.8% to Walter Mondale‘s 40.6% in 1984.
No election since 1984 has been anywhere near that lopsided. Since then, both parties have shaped their campaign strategies by the Electoral College vote, with varying degrees of success, and the popular votes have been really close. This time, the Democrats succeeded big time in getting an Electoral College landslide and a popular vote squeaker. I will be really disappointed in them if they merely rest on this somewhat dubious victory, instead of attacking its premise.
We need to face the fact that we have been, for several decades now, a closely divided nation. Those of us who take our politics seriously may also need to accept the fact that our fondest dream may be the worst nightmare of nearly half of our compatriots. Regardless of the Electoral College numbers, this election was no landslide. Obama’s repeated theme of creating unity had better be more serious than the rhetoric of Nixon’s “bring us together again” in 1972. Our party will rule by a narrow margin, just as the other party has for the last 8 years. Neither can afford to throw its weight around, and, given our current economic and international disarray, our country cannot afford to spend the next four years in internecine bickering.
I would like to see the Democrats do two very important things: not brag about this election as a Dem landslide (which will only falsify the history that matters, exacerbate the GOP’s sense of grievance, and make political coexistence impossible), and advocate a bipartisan campaign to improve our electoral system and get rid of the Electoral College. We can’t afford not to, given the mess we’re all in right now.