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“What Now?” by Clark Judge

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Throughout the general election, Clark Judge has been contributing a Monday morning column on the campaign. Though this is his last offering for a while, I hope he will be back in the future.

What Now?
By Clark S. Judge

For those tuning in late, I was no supporter of Barack Obama’s candidacy. But the election is over. Senator Obama is now President-elect Obama. Here are some thoughts on what now:

  • Yes, I remain (as I was during the campaign) worried that President Obama and the Democratic Congress will raise taxes on entrepreneurs and investors, move towards protectionism and impose effectively deflationary regulation on the financial system-in other words follow Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt down the road to Depression at the worst possible moment, which would be anytime in the next four years.
  • Yes, I am worried that the new president will abandon Iraq just as we are poised to prevail, thereby signaling to every hostile force in the world that the US can be intimidated out of any stand at any moment, even a stand that was pursued in response to a direct attack on our soil.
  • So, yes, I wouldn’t go back on my vote.
  • But that doesn’t make it any less true that the election of an African-American-a man of high ability — to the presidency is a great moment for the United States.
  • It marks a turning point. Marks it-not creates it. For politics lags culture and the changes that opened the way for this achievement were almost certainly incorporated in our national norms a decade or more ago.
  • But marking this change is in itself a high achievement-and brings its own benefits.
  • For the past quarter century, the alienation of so many African-Americas from so much about the nation has been, I believe, our country’s single biggest structural weakness. Mr. Obama’s election will not end alienation among all who have felt it, but it has clearly spoken to many-and that can only be for the good.
  • Similarly, among publics throughout the world, President-elect Obama has become an emblem of America as a land of openness and opportunity for all. Renewing that recently faded national brand can only be for the good, too.
  • In other words, for millions the breadth of Mr. Obama’s victory has affirmed something about the United States and that confirmation will stand us in good stead at home and abroad for many, many years to come.
  • Meanwhile, back at the Republican ranch, the party’s problems are deeper and of longer standing than most commentators have acknowledged.
  • Consider this simple fact: There have been five presidential elections since Ronald Reagan left Washington in 1989-and the GOP has won the popular vote in only one of them.
  • It is not enough to say that this president or that candidate messed up. Such a record of electoral shortfall combined with the embarrassing performance of the GOP majority in its last two Congresses surely requires an across the board reassessment.
  • Among other things, we might ask:
  • Why has our team repeatedly fumbled the ball on tax and spending cuts? Those failures cost the party the presidency in 1992 and the Congress in 2006. What’s going on here?
  • Why have we been so late to identify emerging issues like energy and the environment and late to ask what besides a government check and a new or bigger agency will address them?
  • In such areas as health care, housing and Social Security, decades of demographic, technological and economic changes are overwhelming and unraveling programs introduced in the 1930s and 40s. Why have we failed to sell the American people on any of our fixes to these failures of government?
  • Walt Whitman heard American singing, but do we? Have we lost touch with the American narrative, with the nuances of the nation’s culture, with the fabric of its life?
  • These are questions. They do not imply answers. But in campaign-consultant speak, the GOP has underperformed at the polls for sometime now. Why?

Today ends Hugh’s agreement to run my column each Monday. It has been a great thing to have a day and a slot. I can’t tell you how much I’ve appreciated Hugh’s generosity and support.

I want to also say a word of thanks to those who have commented on my pieces. Well, sort of commented. In week one, the initial couple of reaction-section entries were complimentary. Then someone said, of me, he’s an idiot. Then someone replied, he’s not an idiot, you’re an idiot. Then John Belushi stood up in the middle of the room and shouted, “Food fight.” Chaos followed.

After about three weeks, the comments settled down. The atmosphere became less like the Animal House cafeteria, more like Starbuck’s. Judging from names and references to past weeks, the same group started gathering each Monday morning. They’d pick up their coffee (that is, read my piece), nod to the server (me) and then talk about whatever was on their minds, sometimes having to do with my article, often not. I didn’t feel I should interrupt, but now, as I close up this coffeehouse, I want to give a shout out and thank them for stopping by.

That goes for everyone who has come around. Thank you. See you at another time, in another place, I’m sure.

Clark S. Judge is managing director of the White House Writers Group, a policy and communications consulting firm in Washington. He was special assistant and speechwriter to President Reagan.


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