All the strained comparisons of Obama to Franklin Roosevelt were a tipoff that many were talking themselves into the idea that 2008 represented a substantial leftward realignment. Yet the election of 2008 was manifestly not like the 1932 contest. Similarly, it wasn’t like ’52, ’56, ’64, ’72, ’80, ’84, or even ’88. Obama’s election was narrower than all of these. FDR won 42 of 48 states. Eisenhower won 39, then 41. Johnson won 44 of 50. Nixon won 49. Reagan won 44, then 49. George H.W. Bush won 40. Obama won 28, three fewer than George W. Bush in his narrow 2004 reelection.
This makes a crucial difference when it comes to implementing policy. Our system of government depends not only on how many votes you win, but how broadly distributed those votes are. The Framers designed it this way intentionally to prevent one section or faction from imposing its will on another. Breadth matters just as much as depth in our system. This is evident in the Electoral College and the House, but above all in the Senate, where 44 senators come from states that voted against Obama last year. That’s a consequence of the fact that Obama’s election – while historic in many respects, and the largest we have seen in 20 years – was still not as broad-based as many would like to believe. Bully for Obama and the Democrats that they have 60 Senate seats, but the fact remains that fourteen of those Democrats come from McCain states, indicating that the liberals don’t get a full run of the show.