America’s Cycles of Change

2008: The Significance of Obama’s Victory

Tue, 17 November 2015

Extracted from Cycles of Change: The Three Great Cycles of American History & the Coming Crisis That Will Lead to the Fourth by Martin Sieff. Available from

The election of 2008 was no cliffhanger like 2000, 1976, 1968 or 1960. Obama did not win a record landslide. But he won the most decisive Democratic victory in 44 years since Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 landslide over Sen. Barry Goldwater, another Arizona Republican. Goldwater was the prophet of the long Sixth Era of Republican-conservative dominance. McCain’s defeat was its death knell.

It was the first time since 1964 that the Democrats won more than 50 percent of the total vote. Virginia, the Old Dominion, went Democrat for the first time since 1964.

Like his hero, President John F. Kennedy, Obama was cool, intellectual and reflective in his strategizing. His victory was epochal.

Obama was America’s first black president. His election was acclaimed as a watershed moment in the long, painful history of American race relations. He symbolized resolution of the contradiction between the ideals of American freedom and the centuries of slavery and segregation.

Second, Obama rewrote the electoral handbook. He redrew the electoral map. He turned red Republican states blue in the Mountain West –Colorado,New Mexico and Nevada. He even made inroads into the old Confederacy. He won Virginia and North Carolina. He redrew the political map of America as no one has done since Ronald Reagan. Only Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt in the past century achieved such far-reaching political realignments.

Third, Obama won more votes than any other individual in American history. He exposed Karl Rove’s Permanent Republican Majority as a fantasy. Obama took the election into counties dyed deep red.

Fourth, world interest in the 2008 election was very high Obama started his term widely seen as already a global leader. Before he had any real achievement to justify it, he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Fifth, for the first time in history, a freshman U.S. senator won the presidency during his first Senate term. The only other freshman senator ever to win the presidency was Warren G. Harding in 1920. And he had completed his first six year term. Harding therefore had 50 percent more experience than Obama when he won the presidency. For 90 years liberal Democrats have despised the underrated Harding as a hopeless naïf who lacked the experience to be president. But Obama had less.

Obama was elected 40 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He represented a new generation of African-Americans too young to remember the Civil Rights Movement. He was the first black national presidential candidate whose appeal was not limited to black voters. He appealed beyond race. Yet he made his own racial origins a central part of what he stood for.

George W. Bush chose his trusted confidante Karen Hughes to run a public diplomacy program to boost U.S. standing around the world. Hughes toiled with no visible results. But Obama instantaneously reversed popular international perception of the United States. This was obviously a honeymoon effect. But it gave him a good start.

Finally, Obama tapped into something inspirational in the American psyche. It didn’t have a lot to do with policy positions. But it had a great deal to do with the’ idealized vision of what Americans wanted themselves to be.

A handful of great U.S. leaders, from Abraham Lincoln through Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ronald Reagan, have enjoyed this rare gift. Obama inherited the opportunity. During his campaign he came up with few, if any memorable phrases. But Americans liked the sound of his voice.