Because I believe as a historian that history is not always immediately understood as it happens. Traditionally, historians have said that it takes perhaps 25 years for historical events to be viewed in perspective. Times are changing, however, and we know that things happen much more rapidly than they used to because of the advent of the Internet and social media. I would also point out that historians are still rediscovering truths about events that happened decades or even centuries ago. Historians are still writing about the American Revolution, the Civil War, the two world wars, and so on. Historians who cover the rest of the world still write about everything from the Greeks to the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages and on down to more recent times. So I am not going to attempt to comment upon things that have happened in the past few years. I will say that the era in which we find ourselves is unprecedented.

posterThe Bush-Gore Election of 2000. That said, I am going to use a cutoff date of approximately 2010 to discuss some of the political events of the century, starting with the election of 2000. The election was very close, and it resulted in a controversy focused on the votes in the state of Florida. George W. Bush won the election in the electoral college by one vote, even though he lost the popular vote by a very small margin. The controversy began when the networks declared Bush the winner on election night but had to reverse that call when the results in Florida were contested. The controversy continued when a recount was ordered in Florida that eventually determined that Bush had won by a margin of about 500 votes. But the contest was taken to the Supreme Court, which ruled in a 5 to 4 decision that Bush had won. The vote was assessed as being partisan, even though the Supreme Court is supposed to be non partisan. It is generally known, however, that the most of the justices are viewed as liberal or conservative. In the aftermath of the controversy, charges of voter suppression and other issues continued to be debated, but once the electoral college had voted, the issue was for all practical purposes decided.

As has frequently happened following close elections, concerns were raised about the efficacy of the electoral college, and some people have called for the election to be decided solely on the popular vote. In a very close election, a national popular vote that was decided by a tiny margin would almost certainly call for a recount, and that could raise new issues. For a lengthy discussion of this matter see my page on the electoral college.

The Bush-Kerry Election, 2004. Another sign of the growing tension between the two major parties involved the 2004 election campaigns. Each side attack the opposing candidate for issues that proved to be spacious. On one side, John Kerry's Vietnam service, for which he earned several honors, including a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star. On the other side, charges were made that President Bush had used his time in the National Guard to avoid service in Vietnam, and that his attendance at required drills had been spotty.The election was close, the difference in the popular vote being about 2%. Bush's victory was attributed in large part to the fact that he had promised to be tough on terrorism following the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

The Election of 2008. The 2008 presidential election marked a milestone in American history, the first time that a Black man was elected President of the United States. Other African-Americans had been candidates for the presidency, but none had come close to getting so much as a nomination by their party. Barack Obama's chief opposition in the Democratic nomination process came from Senator Hillary Clinton. The primaries were close fought, with both Obama and Clinton winning significant victories. Toward the end of the primary season in June, however, Obama received some important endorsements that seem to guarantee him the nomination, and Senator Clinton bowed out.

The Republican side, eleven candidates competed for the nomination, with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani taking the lead over Sen. John McCain. Other formidable candidates were Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee. Although no clear winner emerged early, over time Sen. McCain picked up more more votes and finally secured the nomination well before the party convention. Two factors worked against McCain in the general election. The first was the growing unpopularity of President Bush because of the unpopularity of the second Iraq war. Sen. McCain had seemed to side with Bush on a number of important issues, and Sen. Obama pointed that out in his campaign. The second factor was McCain's choice of Sarah Palin for Vice President. Although she was young and healthy, in contrast to the 72-year-old McCain who suffered from injuries during his captivity in Vietnam, and her public appearances she seemed to lack a full understanding of the issues facing the nation.

In the end, the victory of African-American Sen. Barack Obama was seen by many as an important milestone in the political evolution of the country. On the other side, there was no question that latent racism was still evident among many who would not vote for a Black man. (One comment that was sometimes heard was, "There's a reason they call it the White House."

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