It was closer than you think

So that was a decent night for the Democrats. Sort of. I know, I know, Barack Obama "will electrify the world."

He's a "supernova." Of course now the press are also saying he faces difficult challenges and is something of an unknown and we'd all better lower our expectations. But hey, when change has come to America, who wants to quibble?

Me, actually. I agree that the election of a black president is a historic triumph of America's open society and Americans' fundamental decency. I'm too right-wing to support John McCain and I think it's amazingly great that such a thing could happen. Only in America, folks. At least, it hasn't happened in Canada, Germany, France or Britain where they like to sneer at American prejudice.

Some people claim a substantial hidden bigoted vote reduced Barack Obama's vote total. In fact he got more of the white vote (around 43 per cent) than the Democratic average in the previous 10 elections (39 per cent). But in any event, if some voters secretly voted against Mr. Obama because of his race, millions openly voted for him because of it, so it doesn't explain the narrowness of his victory.

Yes, narrowness. And here I must poke many journalists in the eye for covering what they wanted to happen, not what did. The Globe and Mail declared Barack Obama the victor "in a landslide triumph, winning more than 335 of the 538 Electoral College votes, in striking contrast to the wafer-thin victories that sent George W. Bush to Washington in 2000 and again four years later." Pfui. A landslide is Reagan in 1984, with 525 of 535 Electoral College votes and 58.8 per cent of the popular vote, or Nixon in 1972 (520 and 60.7), LBJ in 1964 (486 and 61), or FDR in 1936 (523 and 61).

I don't care how much you hate Republicans. Three-sixty-four and 52.5 is not a landslide. Statistically this election resembles 1968 or 1992 ... except both those campaigns featured strong third-party candidates.

It's also hard to argue that John McCain, or Sarah Palin, alienated moderates. If final turnout is around 125 million, Barack Obama gets seven million more votes than John Kerry in 2004 including 70 per cent of new voters, a galvanized Democratic base and working Joes and Janes concerned about the economy. If it's much higher, John McCain approaches George Bush's 2004 total despite losing the Joes and Janes and core Republicans who never trusted him. Either way there's no room for a wave of defecting moderates. You don't have to approve of it. It's still true.

One normally sensible Canadian pundit warned the GOP that "many of its remaining moderates ... were brought down, leaving the party weakened and prey to the radical evangelicals and talk show hosts who dominate its right wing. If the GOP clings to that base, perhaps with Ms. Palin as its champion, the party has no future." Yeah. They'll end up running right-wing losers like Reagan instead of moderate winners like Bush Sr. and John McCain.

Margaret Wente, also normally sensible, wrote on election day that Mr. Obama "has made me proud of America again" because Americans "are turning out in record numbers to repudiate the leaders who disgraced and failed them." A fine explanation of the record turnout Obama landslide ... if it had happened.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]