Now that Barack Obama has finally won the election, it seems to be an appropriate time to think about what this election means. In my mind, there are three distinct meanings to draw from this.
First, this is a historic moment in America's history. John McCain said that it was a great moment for African Americans, but that's not entirely accurate. It is a great moment for all Americans, symbolizing how far this country has come to overcome racism and reach equality. My friend, Jonathan Blanks, a former Koch Summer Fellow with me/Cato employee, who is African-American, wept at Obama's election last night, and explains why. Irregardless of Obama's policies, being the first African American elected to the presidency is a monumental accomplishment for both Obama and America. We should all be proud of the growth that our country has undergone to reach this point.
Second, the election of Obama is not a mandate for larger government, socialist policies, or nanny-state solutions. In my mind, Obama's election is a clear repudiation of the Bush administration, and nothing more than a demand for change. Michael Tanner lays this out well. The lesson that the Republican Party should learn from this is that they lost because they have strayed from their once small-government origins (or at least small government rhetoric). If they want to have any chance at reclaiming Congress in 2010, they should do like they did after Clinton's election in 1992 and create a new Contract with America. Will they do so? I'm not optimistic. I'm worried that Republicans will interpret their failure as due to not being progressive enough to keep up with Obama and so sink even deeper into the big government conservatism camp than before. But I hope I'm wrong.
Third, the cause of liberty in politics requires a unifying force, and without that unifying force, there is little that can be done. The Ron Paul movement was a huge boost in the cause of liberty, bringing people out of the woodworks to finally support a candidate who called for a non-interventionist foreign policy, decreasing the size of government, and a host of other small government policies. When it became clear that Ron Paul did not win the Republican nomination, others tried to step up and ride his coattails. Bob Barr from the Libertarian Party is the clearest example, along with Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party who got Ron Paul's endorsement in the end. But no one could unify people the way Ron Paul did. The lesson in my mind for advocates of liberty is that any success in the short term will rely on some figure or some specific issue that unifies people in some way like how Ron Paul unified people. (To fully report, though, the Libertarian Party initially sent a letter to Ron Paul inviting him to be their Presidential nominee without any election process back in 2007, and then Bob Barr invited Ron Paul to be his running mate in 2008.)