Historic High Stakes
to Election 2008-]
Mark Brewer, Assistant Professor of Political Science
The 2008 presidential election promises to be historic in a wide variety
of ways. In perhaps the most obvious example of historical
significance, the victory of any of the three remaining viable
presidential hopefuls will represent some form of presidential first or
record. A win by Illinois Senator Barack Obama will of course result in
the first African American president in American history, no small
matter in a nation with such a ignominious history on issues of race.
If New York Senator Hillary Clinton should somehow manage to claim the
Democratic presidential nomination and then emerge victorious in the
November general election the United States will have its first female
president. This too is an historic development in a country that
prevented women in most states from even voting until 1920. While the
most attention has been focused on Obama and Clinton, we should not
forget that a win by Arizona Senator John McCain would be historic as
well. He would be the oldest person ever inaugurated as President of
the United States, a development that may tell us something about the
changing nature of age in American society. The 2008 presidential will
also be by far the most expensive race in American history, and there is
a strong possibility that we will see voter turnout higher than it has
been in decades.
The stakes are high in the 2008 presidential election. Unlike some
elections where it seems that it might not matter much who wins (1952
perhaps), there is a good deal riding on the outcome of the 2008
contest. Whoever takes the oath of office in January 2009 will be
facing some incredibly important and complicated issues. The American
economy is facing some difficult times, and this likely will continue.
The new president will be expected to act. American military actions
continue in both Iraq and Afghanistan, with the former extremely
unpopular among the American public. The nation is in the midst of an
energy crisis the likes of which we have never seen, and short term
solutions are unlikely to be an option for the new chief executive.
Environmental concerns seemingly mount be the day, and immigration did
not go away as an important issue just because the current Congress and
President Bush could not agree on proper public policy. Americans have
been clamoring for health care reform seemingly for decades, and the
explosion in health care costs combined with the rapidly accelerating
graying of American society means the time is soon approaching when the
American healthcare system will have to change whether we like it or
not. And finally, somewhere on the far backburner but capable of taking
center stage at a moment's notice is the issue of terrorism. September
11, 2001 is not that long ago.
So how will the 2008 presidential election play out? There are simply too
many variables involved to make a solid prediction. If, as appears now
to be all but a done deal, Barack Obama gets the Democratic nomination,
will he be able to maintain his mobilization of perhaps millions of new
voters through until Election Day? How many votes will Obama because of
his race? We know he will lose some votes here, but I suspect that the
figure will be much higher than we would like to believe. And what if
Hillary Clinton somehow manages to claim the Democratic nomination?
Will she be able to convince Obama's supporters to back her campaign?
The same question, of course, can be asked of Obama's campaign in terms
of Clinton's supporters. And let's not forget John McCain's questions.
McCain is not terribly popular among a key element of the Republican
baseóreligious conservatives. How he does among these voters will
likely go a long way toward determining his fate on Election Day.
Elections that dramatically change American politics, and thus American
society, are few and far between. The 1932 presidential election was
one such election, and the 1980 contest was another. One gets the
feeling that the 2008 contest could join that exclusive club.