America Votes for a Restoration

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, November 5, 2008 12:39 PM

Americans are sick to death of President Bush. They don't agree with him on the key issues of the day. They don't like the way he does his job. They don't like his worldview.

That was one of the messages the American public delivered yesterday -- loud and clear -- by decisively electing Democrat Barack Obama as president. Americans picked someone to replace Bush who couldn't really be any more different, and who has promised to roll back virtually all the signature elements of the Bush era.

Yesterday's collective cry for "change" was in part about taking a new path forward, but it was also a call for a restoration of American values, pre-Bush.

Adam Nagourney writes in the New York Times: "The election of Mr. Obama amounted to a national catharsis -- a repudiation of a historically unpopular Republican president and his economic and foreign policies, and an embrace of Mr. Obama's call for a change in the direction and the tone of the country."

Kevin Merida writes in The Washington Post: "The magnitude of his win suggested that the country itself might be in a gravitational pull toward a rebirth that some were slow to recognize."

Vaughn Ververs writes for CBS News: "Obama's election arguably represents the most dramatic break from the status quo ever in presidential politics. The first black president, one with a less-than-familiar name, is in so many ways a complete repudiation of everything about the presidency of George W. Bush.

"The once-improbable Democratic candidate has ridden the twin themes of 'hope' and 'change' into the White House, and that, combined with his juggernaut of a campaign operation fueled by unprecedented fundraising, has helped his party extend its advantages in Congress to the point where there is a real possibility of sweeping changes in the country's direction. The sheer size of the victory would be mandate enough, but Obama's is a promise of fundamental, radical change, not incremental adjustments, giving even more impetus to his agenda."

Ken Herman writes for the Cox News Service: "It was a rebuke as complete and clear as they come for somebody not on the ballot.

"Eight years after he made his way into the White House despite getting fewer popular votes than his opponent, President Bush was ushered out Tuesday by a nation looking for new direction. . . .

"The ballot-box rebuke was made more devastating by the fact that Bush is so unpopular that he had to pretty much hide out during the campaign.

"He made three public appearances, for a total of about 12 minutes, with [Republican presidential candidate John] McCain. Ten of the minutes came in March when Bush endorsed McCain in the Rose Garden with a promise to campaign for or against the GOP nominee, whichever would help more.

"'If he wants me to show up, I will. If he wants me to say, "You know, I'm not for him," I will,' Bush said in a joke that became something of a strategy. . . .

"[L]ongtime Bush observer Bruce Buchanan, a University of Texas government professor . . . read Tuesday's result as a rebuke of the Iraq war and Bush's 'attitude of belligerence toward the world.'

"'And that part of it might be the most personal,' Buchanan said."

Michael Hirsh writes for Newsweek: "Obama led a nationwide resurgence of Democrats in the Senate and House in what was widely perceived as a broad repudiation of the Bush administration and the Republican Party. With the Democrats picking up additional seats in the Senate and the House, the Democratic Party will now control Washington's agenda in a way that has not been seen since Ronald Reagan declared the era of 'big government' to be over in 1981. 'His presidency is probably going to mark the end of the Reagan era -- this whole conservative impulse that has dominated the country's politics for the last generation,' says presidential historian Robert Dallek. 'I think you're going to see a whole new era of federal progressive activism.'"

Peter Canellos writes in a Boston Globe news analysis that "the biggest change of all - the one that the hundreds of thousands of supporters who came to Grant Park are expecting - will be intangible: The change of tone in the country. . . .

"In the months and years following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Bush invoked some of the most resonant words and images from American history to justify his policies. In his 'axis of evil' speech that laid the groundwork for the Iraq war, Bush spoke of freedom as a value Americans must fight to protect by taking on 'evil-doers' abroad. He also talked of exporting American good will and compassion, but framed the coming battle in militaristic terms. . . .

"Yet growing numbers of people came to see Bush's policies as being at odds with American values. Where once Americans prided themselves on never starting wars, but rather accepting them if no other option were available, Bush seemed too eager to fight in Iraq.

"Where Americans prided themselves on their defense of religious freedom, Bush seemed too willing to advertise his Christianity. Where Americans valued their civil liberties, Bush believed people would accept electronic surveillance as a means to root out terrorists. And where Americans prided themselves on their humanity, Bush seemed too willing to excuse alleged torture of prisoners in American custody.

"All of the Democrats who lined up to run for president in 2008 were forceful in their denunciations of Bush's policies. Yet only Obama seemed to answer Bush on his own terms, invoking freedom and history and destiny to oppose the very actions that Bush claimed were in defense of freedom."

Obama's Speech

Here's the full text of Obama's victory speech, which was rich in "re-" words -- like renew, repair, restore, and reaffirm.

"There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can't solve every problem," Obama said.

"But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand. . . .

"So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other. . . .

"This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can."

The Bush Drag

Robert Barnes and Michael D. Shear write in The Washington Post: "The election was in many respects a referendum on the two-term president, whose popularity has plunged to the lowest levels since the 1930s, because of his administration's handling of the economy, Hurricane Katrina, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush has not been seen with McCain since May, and the president has made no public appearances since late last week."

Alec MacGillis and Jon Cohen look at the exit polls for The Washington Post and write: "In building his sweeping electoral majority yesterday, Sen. Barack Obama capitalized on a tidal wave of disenchantment with President Bush, deep worry about the economy, and seismic demographic shifts away from the Republican Party among young people, Hispanics and college-educated voters."

Also at work: "a rejection of the Republican brand of the last eight years and a desire for change. Thirty-two percent of voters in last night's preliminary exit poll results described themselves as Republicans, compared with 40 percent who identified themselves as Democrats. Four years ago, the numbers for the two parties were equal." (See yesterday's column, The End of Rove's Dream.)

The Associated Press reports: "As much as President Bush tried to stay out of this year's presidential race, his gravitational pull was huge.

"Voters were split about evenly over whether McCain would follow Bush's policies. Those who said McCain would follow Bush gave nine in 10 of their votes to Obama. Nearly nine in 10 of those saying McCain would carve his own path voted for the Arizona Republican.

"A look inside those numbers shows the damage plainly. Nearly half of independents said McCain would continue Bush policies, and about nine in 10 of them voted for Obama. Even one in seven Republicans thought McCain would follow Bush. Of them, more than four in 10 voted for Obama."

Juliet Eilperin quotes senior McCain aide Steve Schmidt acknowledging yesterday: "The president's approval numbers, you know, were not helpful in the race but the party as a whole is unpopular with the American people and that was a big albatross."

Gracious in Defeat

Bush today briefly emerged from the Oval Office with gracious words, promising a smooth transition and no let-up in American vigilance.

"Last night, I had a warm conversation with President-elect Barack Obama," Bush said. "I congratulated him and Senator Biden on their impressive victory. I told the President-elect he can count on complete cooperation from my administration as he makes the transition to the White House. . . .

"No matter how they cast their ballots, all Americans can be proud of the history that was made yesterday. Across the country, citizens voted in large numbers. They showed a watching world the vitality of America's democracy, and the strides we have made toward a more perfect union. They chose a President whose journey represents a triumph of the American story -- a testament to hard work, optimism, and faith in the enduring promise of our nation. . . .

"The United States government will stay vigilant in meeting its most important responsibility -- protecting the American people. And the world can be certain this commitment will remain steadfast under our next Commander-in-Chief."

And Bush recognized the powerful imagery of the next first family: "It will be a stirring sight to watch President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their beautiful girls step through the doors of the White House. I know millions of Americans will be overcome with pride at this inspiring moment that so many have awaited so long."

James Gerstenzang blogs for the Los Angeles Times about Bush's congratulatory phone call last night, relayed via press secretary Dana Perino: "Mr. President-elect, congratulations to you. What an awesome night for you, your family and your supporters. Laura and I called to congratulate you and your good bride.

"I promise to make this a smooth transition. You are about to go on one of the great journeys of life. Congratulations and go enjoy yourself."

Bush also invited Obama and his family to visit the White House soon, at their convenience.

What He Inherits

Terence Hunt writes for the Associated Press: "His name etched in history as America's first black president, Barack Obama turned from the jubilation of victory to the sobering challenge of leading a nation worried about economic crisis, two unfinished wars and global uncertainty."

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post: "After a victory of historic significance, Barack Obama will inherit problems of historic proportions. Not since Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated at the depths of the Great Depression in 1933 has a new president been confronted with the challenges Obama will face as he starts his presidency.

"At home, Obama must revive an economy experiencing some of the worst shocks in more than half a century. Abroad, he has pledged to end the war in Iraq and defeat al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He ran on a platform to change the country and its politics. Now he must begin to spell out exactly how.

"Obama's winning percentage appears likely to be the largest of any Democrat since Lyndon Johnson's 1964 landslide and makes him the first since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to garner more than 50.1 percent. Like Johnson, he will govern with sizable congressional majorities. Democrats gained at least five seats in the Senate and looked to add significantly to their strength in the House.

"But with those advantages come hard choices. Among them will be deciding how much he owes his victory to a popular rejection of President Bush and the Republicans and how much it represents an embrace of Democratic governance. Interpreting his mandate will be only one of several critical decisions Obama must make as he prepares to assume the presidency. Others include transforming his campaign promises on taxes, health care, energy and education into a set of legislative priorities for his first two years in office."

Peter Baker writes in the New York Times: "No president since before Barack Obama was born has ascended to the Oval Office confronted by the accumulation of seismic challenges awaiting him. . . .

"Mr. Obama represents the end of the Bush era in the long term. Yet he will find himself dealing with the Bush legacy for years to come. He promised on the campaign trail to close the detention facility at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, but analysts in both parties expect that to be more difficult than he imagines. He will inherit a deficit that could approach $1 trillion next year, which could curtail his ambitions, like expanding health care coverage. . . .

"Mr. Obama starts with powerful advantages at home and abroad. His election will be welcomed by many around the world disaffected with the Bush administration. And Mr. Obama will have a Congress even more decisively controlled by Democrats after the sweep on Tuesday night. . . .

"But the task awaiting Mr. Obama arguably transcends this economic program or that foreign crisis. He takes over a nation weary of the past and wary of the future, gloomy about its place in the world, cynical about its government and desperate for some sense of deliverance."

Transition Watch

Shailagh Murray writes in The Washington Post: "Barack Obama will take office in 76 days, but the moves he begins making today will immediately begin to define his presidency.

"He is expected to name a White House chief of staff in the next day or two, and the clear front-runner is Rep. Rahm Emanuel, his longtime friend and ally from Chicago. He will officially begin a transition operation under the direction of another Clinton administration official, former White House chief of staff John D. Podesta. Those and other prominent Democrats, many of them veterans of his two-year quest for the presidency, will be charged with assembling an administration that draws from the innovations of Obama's campaign and sets in motion a system to deliver on the promises that got him elected. . . .

"A game plan for moving forward will become clear by Friday, Obama sources said, and Cabinet announcements may start to trickle out next week. . . .

"Aides will move quickly to begin monitoring the government's various departments and agencies, obtain the necessary security clearances, and keep a close eye on any last-minute attempts by current administration officials to leave a mark on policy after President Bush's term ends."

The View From Abroad

Ethan Bronner writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Obama's election offers most non-Americans a sense that the imperial power capable of doing such good and such harm -- a country that, they complain, preached justice but tortured its captives, launched a disastrous war in Iraq, turned its back on the environment and greedily dragged the world into economic chaos -- saw the errors of its ways over the past eight years and shifted course.

"They say the country that weakened democratic forces abroad through a tireless but often ineffective campaign for democracy -- dismissing results it found unsavory, cutting deals with dictators it needed as allies in its other battles -- was now shining a transformative beacon with its own democratic exercise.

"It would be hard to overstate how fervently vast stretches of the globe wanted the election to turn out as it did to repudiate the Bush administration and its policies."

Tim Johnson, Tyler Bridges and Dion Nissenbaum write for McClatchy Newspapers: "With U.S.-led wars grinding away in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a financial meltdown shaking the pillars of economies worldwide, many foreigners seemed to associate the Bush presidency with a spate of ill fortune and global uncertainty linked to a never-ending war on terrorism. They are eager for more reassuring signs."

Opinion Watch

The New York Times editorial board writes that Obama's "triumph was decisive and sweeping, because he saw what is wrong with this country: the utter failure of government to protect its citizens. He offered a government that does not try to solve every problem but will do those things beyond the power of individual citizens: to regulate the economy fairly, keep the air clean and the food safe, ensure that the sick have access to health care, and educate children to compete in a globalized world.

"Mr. Obama spoke candidly of the failure of Republican economic policies that promised to lift all Americans but left so many millions far behind. He committed himself to ending a bloody and pointless war. He promised to restore Americans' civil liberties and their tattered reputation around the world."

The Washington Post editorial board writes: "Mr. Obama cannot erase Mr. Bush's legacy, but he has a chance to improve America's standing in the world, ending such noxious practices as torture and indefinite detention with minimal review that have diminished this country in the eyes of its allies. He has the opportunity finally to set the country on a path to help reduce global warming. He has far-reaching plans on energy, health care and education, but also a realistic understanding that the state of the economy will delimit his ambitions."

The Los Angeles Times editorial board writes that Obama "has the opportunity to be the leader that our current president, too often, has not been. He must surmount the partisanship of the campaign, bridging the divides of party, as George W. Bush pledged to do but did not. He must repair the United States' international relations and renew our ties to the multilateral organizations that President Bush neglected. He must repair the damage inflicted by the so-called war on terror, which has alienated the United States from many friends. . . .

"Obama will assume a presidency made vastly more powerful by Bush, and he must cede that new authority to restore legitimacy to the position. Where the Bush administration used signing statements to make law and circumvent it at the same time, Obama must not. Where Bush authorized surveillance of Americans without warrants, Obama must not. Where Bush condoned the use of torture and the detention of suspected terrorists without trial or recourse to the courts, Obama must not. With his imperial presidency, Bush diminished Congress and the courts; it is time for a restoration of balance to our governing institutions.

"Humility and modesty are guiding principles that befit a great power and a great leader. Bush has paid lip service to those ideals; Obama must honor them in fact, not merely in word."

E. J. Dionne Jr. writes in his Washington Post Opinion column: "In choosing Obama and a strongly Democratic Congress, the country put a definitive end to a conservative era rooted in three myths: that a party could govern successfully while constantly denigrating government's role; that Americans were divided in an irrepressible moral conflict pitting a 'real America' against some pale imitation; and that market capitalism could succeed without an active government regulating it in the public interest and modestly redistributing income to temper inequalities."

Ezra Klein writes for the American Prospect that "it's the end of the 9/11 era in our politics, the decisive repudiation of a politics in which fear was the dominant force."

Michael Goodwin writes in his New York Daily News opinion column: "Bush leaves his own party defeated and demoralized. Not since Jimmy Carter's election in 1976 have Dems enjoyed such a smashing victory. Bush's impact on the GOP was nearly as bad as Richard Nixon's was after Watergate. . . .

"Bush ultimately has no one to blame but himself. Even before the financial meltdown revealed weak controls, I argued that 'incompetence' was the nondenominational argument against him.

"Name the problem and the first MBA President - Harvard Business School, no less - failed to roll up his sleeves and get to the bottom of it. Bush was a big picture, Uncurious George, despite the fact that it's in the details where government fails or succeeds, and where ordinary people live and work. . . .

"[T]he American people, circa 2008, seem poised to give a clear verdict on his tenure and his party. They want Democrats to run the country. That's George Bush's legacy."

Economist Brad DeLong blogs: "For the first time since the end of 1994, we can have normal politics and policymaking -- can discuss what policies are best for America, and what America should be.

"You see, from the end of 1994 to the end of 2000, the Republican congressional majority's single fixed idea was that nothing should happen that could be portrayed as a success for Bill Clinton. And from the end of 2000 to today, the executive branch was controlled by a gang of malevolent, immoral, and destructive thugs that have disgraced the United States of America."

Dead Enders Watch

Michael Gerson writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "Many liberals refuse to concede Bush's humanity, much less his achievements.

"But that humanity is precisely what I will remember. I have seen President Bush show more loyalty than he has been given, more generosity than he has received. I have seen his buoyancy under the weight of malice and his forgiveness of faithless friends. Again and again, I have seen the natural tug of his pride swiftly overcome by a deeper decency -- a decency that is privately engaging and publicly consequential."

Gerson also writes: "Election Day 2008 must have been filled with rueful paradoxes for the sitting president. Iraq -- the issue that dominated George W. Bush's presidency for 5 1/2 bitter, controversial years -- is on the verge of a miraculous peace. And yet this accomplishment did little to revive Bush's political standing -- or to prevent his party from relegating him to a silent role. . . .

"Initial failures in Iraq acted like a solar eclipse, blocking the light on every other achievement. But those achievements, with the eclipse finally passing, are considerable by the measure of any presidency. Because of the passage of Medicare Part D, nearly 10 million low-income seniors are receiving prescription drugs at little or no cost. No Child Left Behind education reform has helped raise the average reading scores of fourth-graders to their highest level in 15 years, and narrowed the achievement gap between white and African American children. The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has helped provide treatment for more than 1.7 million people and compassionate care for at least 2.7 million orphans and vulnerable children. And the decision to pursue the surge in Iraq will be studied as a model of presidential leadership."

Jeffrey Scott Shapiro writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: "It seems that no matter what Mr. Bush does, he is blamed for everything. He remains despised by the left while continuously disappointing the right.

"Yet it should seem obvious that many of our country's current problems either existed long before Mr. Bush ever came to office, or are beyond his control. Perhaps if Americans stopped being so divisive, and congressional leaders came together to work with the president on some of these problems, he would actually have had a fighting chance of solving them. . . .

"The treatment President Bush has received from this country is nothing less than a disgrace. The attacks launched against him have been cruel and slanderous, proving to the world what little character and resolve we have. The president is not to blame for all these problems. He never lost faith in America or her people, and has tried his hardest to continue leading our nation during a very difficult time.

"Our failure to stand by the one person who continued to stand by us has not gone unnoticed by our enemies. It has shown to the world how disloyal we can be when our president needed loyalty -- a shameful display of arrogance and weakness that will haunt this nation long after Mr. Bush has left the White House."

Not Dead Yet

Daniel Dombey writes in the Financial Times: "Now the election is over . . . Mr Bush is set to re-emerge in a high profile way, hosting the international financial summit in Washington DC on November 14 and 15.

"His administration is also preparing to take a momentous step on relations with Iran, and is in the final stages of deciding on plans to send diplomats to Tehran to run a consular department that would manage US interests in the Islamic Republic."

Outside the White House

Bill Turque writes for The Washington Post: "In a heavy drizzle shortly after midnight, several thousand people filled the barricaded segment of Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th streets in front of the White House dancing and chanting 'O-ba-ma!' and 'Whose house? Obama's house!' Some sang 'America the Beautiful' and 'Star Spangled Banner.' . . .

"Under the watchful eye of the Secret Service and the Park Police, a predominantly young crowd waved huge American flags and sported signs that said 'Yes we did!' Some climbed fences around the construction site where inaugural reviewing stands are going up. . . .

"As late as 2:30 a.m., revelers were streaming south on 16th St. by car and foot. In front of the darkened White House, chants of every stripe continued. . . .

"On a chain link fence erected by inaugural construction crews, someone hung the sign: 'Welcome Home Malia and Sasha!'"

AFP reports on "strangers greeting each other with high-fives and chanting Obama's name in a carnival atmosphere resembling the end of a sporting match.

"'La, la, la, La, la, la -- Hey, hey, hey -- goodbye' a crowd sung in several languages outside the White House, where President George W. Bush will officially hand over power to Obama on January 20."

CNN reported: "Uniformed Secret Service officers were overheard, saying they'd never seen anything like it."

Here's some video shot by The Post's Hamil Harris, and more from YouTube.

Sewage Watch

The Associated Press reports that "San Francisco voters didn't think naming a local sewage plant after President Bush was a fitting tribute to the president -- or the plant.

"Voters on Tuesday rejected Measure R, which would have changed the name of the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant to the George W. Bush Sewage Plant. More than 69 percent had voted against the idea. . . .

"[S]ome critics had pointed out the name switch would have been unfair -- to the hardworking sewage plant."

Live Online

I'm Live Online today at 1 p.m. ET. Come join the conversation!

Cartoon Watch

Ann Telnaes on Bush and Cheney sent packing, Tom Toles and David Horsey on coming home, Lee Judge on what awaits, Bob Englehart on a sense of urgency, and Amjad Rasmi on a necessary extraction.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive