Tuesday proved that sometimes we can

Friday, November 7, 2008 | 6:00 a.m. CST

The false parallel is one peril of punditry, so I offer this personal note with some trepidation: My first vote for president, like Tuesday's, went against a Republican senator from Arizona.

Fellow senior citizens and students of history will recall the result in 1964 turned out to be a mixed blessing. President Lyndon Johnson passed the nation's most important civil rights legislation and launched a war on poverty. However, his refusal to end a war he knew we couldn't win tarnished his legacy forever.

The bet more than 64 million of us made Tuesday is that Barack Obama can match Johnson's commitment to heal the country's wounds while having the judgment or the courage Johnson lacked to end another war we never should have started.

To paraphrase the day's most popular slogan, Tuesday showed that yes, we could. Whether our new leader, and we, can keep the promises we made to each other with our electoral decision remains to be seen.

I said on Tuesday night's webcast from the Reynolds JournalismInstitute that we'd also see whether Jay Nixon had coattails of sufficient length to pull along the Democrats above and below him on the Missouri ballot. Once again, we Show-Me Staters showed ourselves to be contrarians — and maybe a little confused.

As we were sending Kenny Hulshof back to his family farm, we also sent the Democrat running for lieutenant governor — what was his name, anyway? — back to his medical practice. So don't expect Gov. Nixon to be taking any extended trips out of the state.

For attorney general, we preferred the Republican-turned-Democrat to the real Republican. Loyalty, like chastity, modesty and a few others, must be one of those virtues we honor in the abstract.

We continued the Carnahan tradition in Jeff City. I can imagine the politics junkies already savoring the prospect of Robin Carnahan versus Hulshof for the U.S. Senate seat Kit Bond will surely give up someday.

Some outcomes made less sense. We allowed ourselves to be lured by the misleading promise of free money for schools when we overwhelmingly supported what was really the Casino Protection Initiative. What we've unintentionally done, along with increasing casino profits, was allow the legislature (still controlled by Republicans, in case you haven't noticed) more freedom to shift general revenue from the schools to other priorities.

Some other outcomes remind us, again, that life isn't fair. Judy Baker ran a strong and honorable campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. Her Republican opponent spent a ton of money, much of it from outside the district, on an advertising campaign that distorted her record and besmirched her character. The good guys don't always win.

But some of them do. Next to President-elect Obama, my second-favorite winner was Chris Kelly. He returns to a job he performed with rare skill and humor for 12 years. He deserved to win, and Ed Robb deserved to lose. You'll seldom see a nastier campaign than the one Robb ran, especially his mean-spirited and misleading ads. That worked two years ago. This time, the better man won.

All in all, Tuesday was a good day for America. Yes, sometimes we can.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.


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