The country that Barack Obama will take over is vastly different from the one that George W. Bush inherited eight years ago (I don't need to enumerate the differences, because we all know what they are.)
Nevertheless, the operative word here is hope. Our new President-elect is an enormously talented man, and the way he was able to balance calmness with measured action during the economic crisis a few weeks ago should give us confidence-- I know it gives me confidence.
Nationally, the election was historic, not only for the election of the first black President (those who would never vote for a black man are becoming older and less influential as time goes on, and they are now clearly themselves in a minority.) It was also historic because it is a mandate for the changes that Obama has laid out-- increased regulation, a return to the Clinton tax rates and a government that is prepared to take an activist role in everything from health care to energy independence. More than sixty-three million Americans cast votes for Barack Obama, more than have ever voted for any Presidential candidate in history. States like Virginia and Indiana, Republican strongholds for decades, voted for Obama last night. Even North Carolina, the home state of Jesse Helms, remains too close to call today.
Beyond that, it was historic for the gains that Democrats made in Congress. There are those on the right (like Bob Novak, today) who are trying to spin it as a failure because Democrats won't have sixty seats in the Senate. But the truth is, that was always a tall order and if you'd suggested at the start of the election cycle that Democrats could gain five seats in the Senate, that would have sounded pretty good. And five is a floor; right now there are still two Senate races being counted, one headed for a recount and a fourth headed to a December runoff. Likewise, some on the right are trying to spin the pickup of about 20 seats in the house as some kind of a diminishment, pointing out that it is near the low end of the latest pre-election estimates of some pundits. However, that kind of analysis conveniently omits the fact that only a few weeks ago those same pundits were predicting a Democratic gain in the single digits in the House. Ultimately it isn't the pundits who elect members of Congress, it is the voters. And the voters made a historic choice in Congress as well. Adding this year's gains to those of 2006, you see a swing of fifty seats in the house and at least eleven in the Senate. The timing of two consecutive wave elections is extraordinarily rare, most recently occurring in 1930-1932, when Democrats were the beneficiaries, and 1950-1952 when it benefitted Republicans. What it really is is one wave which hit over a period of time when it was divided into two parts. So yes, the mandate is clearly here.