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At the November meeting of the West County Dems, Dr. Terrence Jones, political science professor at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, deconstructed Obama’s win. It wasn’t as if we hadn’t heard the reasons for Obama’s success before, but Jones offered a succinct summary of the contributing factors, complete with just enough stats to cinch his points.

Dr. Jones moved beyond an analysis of election day and offered some thoughts about what happens after the changing of the guard. Of course, as he pointed out, having the White House is wonderful, but there are two other branches of government. He took a brief look at them.

In the legislative branch, the gains were impressive, but not overwhelming. Enough Republicans–more than enough– still hold office, especially in the Senate, to gum up the works unless Obama can manage compromises and find consensus. Jones did not mention the tough time Pelosi can expect from Blue Dog Democrats, but we all know that they’ll present problems for the leadership.

As for the courts, the Supremes are split four and four so that wherever Kennedy falls on an issue, that’s where the Court goes. But beyond SCOTUS, consider the circuit courts where the atmosphere is not congenial on issues we progressives care about. Upwards of 2,000 cases are decided each year in circuit courts, as opposed to fewer than 100 in the Supreme Court; and ten of the thirteen circuit courts are controlled by Bush appointees (either Bush 41 or Bush 43) or Reagan appointees. Dealing with such courts will present a challenge for Obama.  

As will dealing with the expectations of the youthful voters who helped elect him. Jones figures that their idealism is likely to be unrealistic and that Obama will have to temper their expectations without disillusioning them.

But despite these difficulties and despite the current financial crisis, one can look upon these trying times as an opportunity. As Rahm Emanuel pointed out: “Never let a good crisis go to waste; it’s an opportunity to do important things that you would otherwise avoid.” Congress and the president will surely be changing the tax code to something fairer and investing in our neglected infrastructure, as well as getting us out of Iraq sooner than Bush would have.

And although, in one sense, it makes no difference whether our president happens to be white or happens to be black, the fact that we elected an African-American has already made a huge difference in how the rest of the world views us.

The rest of Jones’ comments dealt with state politics, and I’ll summarize those in the next posting.