I was not at all surprised that Senator Obama won to become the President-elect, but I didn't think he would win by that huge of an electoral vote margin. As almost everyone knows, he won big for several rather obvious reasons. The majority of Americans have been very disappointed and unhappy with the Bush Administration, as evidenced by the historic low public opinion polls for the President. Senator McCain had difficulty disassociating himself from the President, given his status as a Republican, his voting record in the Senate, and his consistent support for the widely unpopular and very costly Iraq War. Thirdly, the recent emergence of our depressed economy as the most important issue in the minds of the great majority of voters, and his inability to convince most voters that he had an effective plan to turn it around, greatly hurt him.
However, not so well known, perhaps, a very important factor in Obama's victory, as I alluded to in my previous post, was the widely acknowledged view that Obama's team ran one of the most disciplined and effective presidential campaigns in recent memory. McCain's team did not. The well-known conservative political commentator, Bill O'Reilly, on his radio show yesterday said McCain's team conducted a "chaotic" campaign, especially in dealing with the media. In part, O'Reilly apparently came to this harsh conclusion because of the team's erratic and too frequently negative ad focus and their shielding of Sarah Palin from the media, presumably because she had the questionable performances on one or two major media interviews, especially the one with Katie Couric on September 24th. I know there are differences of opinion on this, but I'm one of the many who think his selection of Palin as a running mate also had a net negative impact on his campaign, even though it apparently energized many in the conservative wing of his party. In my view, there were a number of stronger candidates available, including Governor Mitt Romney.
As was broadly expected, Obama gave a very appropriate and effective victory speech last night, acknowledging that he and his supporters have a great deal of hard work to do in the months and years ahead, that progress in fulfilling campaign promises will take time and require a substantial level of bipartisan support, but expressing confidence that working together we will "get there" and succeed. I was also very impressed with McCain's concession speech and President Bush's fairly brief remarks from the Rose Garden this morning. They both pledged full cooperation for the upcoming transition and, in McCain's case, in trying to work with the new administration in solving many of the country's problems from the Senate. Though one would expect that at a time like this, their remarks were gracious and positive, and good to hear. It gives Americans and our friends abroad reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the future.
All of that said, Obama faces a highly challenging period over the next several months, a period filled with high expectations by his followers. He will have to carefully balance those expectations with the financial and political realities on the ground. There will be little time for rest and relaxation. I would guess that his initial priority is to select a White House Chief of Staff and immediately thereafter his Cabinet, the three most important probably being his Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, and his National Security Advisor. Current Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has made it clear he would like to have his replacement available as soon as possible to work closely with him on the federal plan to rescue our financial markets and our economy in general. I hope Obama's new Treasury Secretary takes him up on that.
It is a very historic time, and few would disagree that President-elect Obama will shortly be the most important and influential person, not only in the country, but in the entire world. Aside from his staffing, his top priority must be our nation's economy. Next, I'd think it would be meeting with his national security advisors, military leaders and General Petraeus to discuss our missions and strategies for Iraq and Afghanistan, and combating worldwide terrorism. I'm sure he'll early on want to meet with the leaders of all our major allies abroad, but another top priority must be to try to mend our critical relationship with Russia, given our mutual interests in so many important areas, including nuclear non-proliferation and fighting terrorism.
It will be extremely interesting to follow what Obama does and how he and Joe Biden perform. I'm certain he will not meet the expectations of all his constituents, but I think he has a good chance to be successful, particularly if he is able to get a reasonable level of support from congressional Republicans on major legislative initiatives.