Perhaps to a fault, there is an extraordinary amount of emotional investment in the result of the Nov. 4 American presidential election.
A previously wounded liberal America has been resurrected by the unpopularity of a Republican president and a failing economy. Previously disenfranchised and cynical African Americans and younger voters have been inspired by Barack Obama’s rise. A world that saw America in a negative light during a disastrous Bush administration now fawns over Obama and is poised to change its mind.
But with a week still left before Election Day, and a significant lead for Obama in the polls, how would people react if Obama lost?
November 7, 2008 – The American public reached a near-chaotic state of polarization yesterday as it attempted to understand and react to the surprising and controversial victory of Senator John McCain in Tuesday’s presidential election.
African-American communities, left-wing groups and supporters of Senator Barack Obama rioted in major cities across the country. Claims of mass racism and conspiracy were seen on signs and heard in chants as tens of thousands in Chicago, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia took to the streets.
There was no masking the anger and disbelief at how Democrat Obama could lose despite a 10 point lead in the national polls. John McCain won the electoral college with 277 votes to 261 for Obama after razor-thin wins in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida; all states Obama led in polls before Election Day.
Campaign strategists and their legal teams have warred over the last two days as voters who were turned away from the polls testified for the media. In some Ohio counties, thousands of voters were reportedly refused the right to vote for various reasons, and counts are still being disputed.
Numerous reports of voter suppression and anonymous racially-charged anti-Obama automated phone calls in key states have triggered the angriest reactions to McCain’s victory. In Philadelphia, one of the more radical anti-war groups came into violent confrontation with election officials conducting re-counts, according to the Associated Press.
African-American leaders who feared the effects of Obama’s race prior to the election, have accused election officials and the Republican party of race-based voter intimidation, similar to that alleged following the 2000 election in Florida.
“There is clear evidence that there was a systematic effort by forces opposed to Obama to stoke racial fears as well as dull African-American turnout,” said Reverend Al Sharpton during a television appearance.
Racial tensions were accompanied by political tensions, as liberal groups rapidly mobilized online to inundate the blogosphere as well as the mainstream media with evidence to support their claims of an organized conspiracy to steal the election from Obama. The evidence circulating included rumours of electronic voting machines rigged to choose McCain, unexplained voting delays in heavily Democratic counties, and the automated “robocalls.”
The democratic candidate vowed to contest the results, but attempted to calm his enraged supporters. “Although this fight is not over, I strongly urge my supporters to conduct themselves peacefully, so as we do not lose sight of our goal,” said Senator Obama at a press conference in Chicago.
But some in the media were extremely pessimistic about the political ramifications. “This is a disaster,” said CNN analyst Paul Begala. “This is not only a bad day for America, but this could very well mean the destruction of the Democratic party. They were handed this election on a silver platter and they still blew it.”
The sheer surprise of the election results has convinced some evangelical Christians of the presence of divine intervention. “Although John McCain has not yet proven he plans to do the Lord’s work, God has spoken and has struck down the idea of Barack Hussein Obama and his extremist reign over the Lord’s greatest nation,” said televangelist Pat Robertson. He has drawn sharp criticism for his remarks.
Although the election saw the highest turnout of younger voters in decades, voting for Obama two to one over McCain, the results may have increased their cynicism. “Everyone feels like the system is rigged and they wasted their time,” said Sarah Saccany, president of the Ohio Young Democrats.
The United States’ image abroad may have also been hurt once again, as foreign media ridiculed American democracy yesterday, as they did in 2000. Most of the reaction throughout the world appeared to see the result and particularly the potential of a Sarah Palin presidency as a definitive sign of the end of American global dominance.