Arguably the most nauseating development during Election 2008 (which, thankfully and so unlike Election 2000, actually ended when it was supposed to, on Election Day) was the rise to ubiquity of the term game-changer, a phrase that, as far as I can tell (and I admittedly haven't really called my secret contacts at the Oxford English Dictionary on this one), hit the big time only when applied to the creation of even more types of toothpaste coming out of consumer-products giant Procter & Gamble.
Was Sarah Palin a game-changer (yes, definitely, maybe even a double game-changer, first by putting McCain back in the race and then by dragging him down like a sorefooted sled dog in a Jack London short story turned real-life tragedy)? Was the final presidential debate a game-changer (no, though nobody can remember a damn thing about it)? Was something CNN yapped about at some point or another a game-changer (no)? Was the economic crisis a game-changer? The bailout package? The initial failure to pass the bailout? The unanticipated but thoroughly convincing equation of John McCain with the Penquin from the old Batman TV show? Game-changer, game-changer, game-changer, not a game-changer (but should have been one). At times, it seemed as if Election 2008 was, I don't know, nothing less than a perfect storm of game-changers. Or not.
But now that's all over with and we must ask the question: Will President Obama be a, coff-coff, game-changer?
His fans certainly believe so, attributing to the junior senator from the Land of Lincoln all manner of supernatural powers. He will, we can rest assured, singlehandedly make Iran, whose president literally exhausted himself hating on the Great Satan, and every other country in the world, bless these United States once again. He will raise average wages, either through passing pro-union legislation such as "Card Check" or through sheer force of personality. He'll make a beer that really does taste great and is less filling. He'll resolve that great epistemological conundrum that haunted Dr. Johnson and Bishop Berkeley's correspondence: Is Razzles a gum or a candy?
Barack Obama's foes—excuse me, Barack Hussein Obama's foes—ascribe to him the same Superduperman-like abilities but worry that the guy will be kryptonite to the American nation, the American Dream, the American economy, and more. In Obama's America, they fret, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright will be the official chaplain of the United States and married gay men will be aborting late-term fetuses with the same abandon they once displayed in the bath houses of pre-AIDS San Francisco. The banks will be even more nationalized and we'll stop nation-building in oil-rich parts of the ancient world and instead send our boys to keep the peace in Darfur and the Congo.
So what's it gonna be? We'll find out soon enough. In the meantime, here are three predictions for life in Obama's America:
1. America's political and pundit class will go through a clinical bout of ideological amnesia that will be dizzying and appalling for those of us with memories of life before January 2009.
This happens virtually every time a new president, and certainly a new party, takes unified control of the government. On a host of issues—including government spending, regulation, and especially foreign policy—you can expect to see Republican officeholders and their champions in the press rediscover their inner-small-government souls and rail about how Obama and the Democrats are budget-busting socialists desperate to start what vice-presidential candidate Bob Dole once declaimed as "Democrat wars."
On the flip side, expect Democrats to start rattling sabers like the did under the Mad-Bomber-in-Chief Bill Clinton, who was quite happy to dispatch planes and bombs wherever and whenever he felt necessary or threatened by a domestic situation. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is the template here of what reason's Matt Welch identified as "temporary doves," that is, folks whose taste for war is highly dependent on party affiliation.
Obama, who is certainly something of a "stealth candidate" (to use an election-night phrase from Fox News' and NPR's Juan Williams), has never been shy about asserting his bellicosity. He's against "stupid" wars, don't you know, which gives him plenty of latitude to prosecute what he considers smart ones (and conflicts necessary to prove that he's no George McGovern). And here's a Canadian dollar that says that Obama's withdrawal plan from Iraq is precisely the one recommended by Gen. Petraeus.
Similarly, he will almost certainly follow the domestic policy trajectory of one George W. Bush by increasing spending (he's already promised that today we spend, tomorrow we scrimp), increasing regulation, and increasing interventions large and small into the economy. The main difference will be that all this new stuff comes at the end of the Bush bender. And that Obama and his defenders will swear that they are radically changing course from the past eight years when in fact they will continue in the same grim direction, full speed ahead, Mr. Emanuel.
Obama's conservative and Republican Party detractors will animate the corpse of Ronald Reagan and weep many crocodile tears about the end of the free enterprise system that they somehow missed out on during the GOP turn at the helm. Bailouts that were "reluctantly and sadly" necessary under Bush, to use Newt Gingrich's phrase (hilariously uttered mere hours before the House GOP scuttled the plan), will be unendurable socialist slights under Obama. At least the second half of that statement will be true.
Oh, and all that liberal fretting over the singular abuse of executive power, domestic surveillance, and the like, under Bush-Cheney? That's going to disappear faster than the Lackawanna Six, regardless of what Obama does (and don't expect him to renounce any of Bush's power grabs once he's sworn into office). If the topic resurfaces (and it will), look for conservatives to have their knickers in a twist this time around.
2. The Culture Wars will be reignited and, as always, the main casualties will be children, the truth, gays, and that evilest excresence of capitalism since novels, nickelodeons, and comic books: video games. And Obama, like Bill Clinton, will be far more conservative on this sort of thing than anybody on either side wants to admit.
I'd say Sarah Palin's smartest public moment came during the vice-presidential debate when she and Joe Biden wrassled over gay marriage. Biden ducked and weaved and talked a long-winded game about equality and fairness and all that sort of crap—and then he had to admit that he doesn't support allowing gays and lesbians to get married like the rest of us: