Paul Nitze: Guest Opinion
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Fat, lush tears rolled down a lot of faces at Colorado Democrats’ victory party at the Denver Sheraton on Tuesday night. Pat Waak, the party’s chair here in Colorado and no stranger to bare-knuckle politics, was giddy. Ray Rivera, Barack Obama’s campaign manager for Colorado, jumped a foot in the air when CNN called the race for his boss. Denver’s mayor, John Hickenlooper, punched a friend on the shoulder and told him, “Tomorrow’s the first day of the twenty-first century.”
Catharsis is the word of the moment, and that catharsis is real. Politics is a cynical business, no more so than during a brutally contested presidential run. We are right to be sick and tired of this race, all two years’ worth of it, and fed up with the political stalemate that’s taken hold in Washington. But none of that dilutes the cleansing power of Tuesday night.
With one trip to the polls, we have dramatically changed the perception of the United States around the world. That change in perception is of enormous benefit to our foreign policy and national security, and it doesn’t hinge one bit on how successful the next administration turns out to be. As much as I hope for the best, and as much as I doubt we could suffer leadership that’s any worse than the status quo, we could be disappointed by the rookie senator from Illinois.
But no matter how President Obama performs, it will be more difficult for jihadists in Damascus to recruit a new suicide bomber when they know we’re governed by a half-Kenyan, half-Kansan, all-American named Barack Obama. President Obama will provide an enormous boost to what Joe Nye, a frequent visitor to the Aspen Institute, calls our “soft power.” That soft power reflects the legitimacy of our values, a legitimacy that’s been torn to shreds over the last eight years.
It will be more difficult for leaders in Europe and Asia to reject our foreign policy goals when their citizens know that our democracy is more vital and inclusive than theirs. President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel will struggle to paint us as dangerous or misguided when we have put a man in the White House who could not have made it to the top of the political ladder in France or Germany.
We will also come together as a polity to a far greater degree than we have the past eight years. Don’t kid yourself for a second that the politics of division have been laid to rest. Yet the tenor of the Obama campaign, and its stress on inclusion, will pay dividends. The legacy of slavery and racial discrimination, that great seam running through our history, has taken a turn toward the light that few could have imagined even a few years ago.
In paying homage to this national catharsis, I am echoing thousands of other commentators who have witnessed the same thing. Less attention has been paid to the other major benefit of Tuesday’s results. Over the next 10 years or so, after a richly deserved trip to the wilderness, the Republican Party will reshape itself into the great party it once was.
The past eight years have made a farce of the political transformation of the GOP that began with Barry Goldwater and reached its intellectual apogee during the early Reagan years. President Reagan and the Republican Party of the 1980s made a deal with the American people that a large majority was happy to accept. The deal was as follows: So long as you accept a party platform whose social planks are controlled by the Christian right, we will govern with competence, spend only as much as we need to run a lean government, and provide for a strong national defense.
Since then, the GOP has taken a long, divisive slide into the politics of religious nationalism. During that time, governance became a four-letter word and President Bush grew our spending at the fastest clip since the Vietnam War. Among the many things that were made clear on election night is this: The Republican Party will not return to dominance until it reasserts its claim to fiscal responsibility.
As a Democrat, it may seem strange that I’m upset the other side was taken to the woodshed on Tuesday night. In a way, I’m as gleeful as the crowd at the Sheraton on Tuesday. Certainly, I’m filled with pride that we’re about to install Barack Obama in the White House and that the voters validated a campaign based on hope instead of fear.
But another part of me thinks that our government works best when both parties are at their best. We will not succeed in turning this mess around without a strong challenge from the Republicans. No one should forget that the rare bout of belt tightening and budget discipline we experienced in the early 1990s came through the efforts of moderates in both parties. So here’s a toast to better times ahead, to a burnished American reputation in the world, and to the prospect of a Republican Party reinvigorated by its best and not its worst instincts.
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