5 Reasons Why Obama Won the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election

Empathy and Genuine Help for Middle-Class Americans

Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008
Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Barack Obama decisively won the presidential election due to many factors, including weaknesses of his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain.

His own strengths also helped propel him to victory in the 2008 race to become the 44th President of the United States.

Empathy and Genuine Help for Middle-Class Americans

Barack Obama "gets" what it means for a family to worry financially, to work hard simply to make it, and to do without essentials.

Obama was born to a teenage mother, abandoned by his father at age 2, and raised largely in a small apartment by his middle-class grandparents. At one point, Obama, his mother, and younger sister relied on food stamps to put meals on the family table.

Michelle Obama, close counselor and best friend to her husband, and her brother were similarly raised in modest circumstances in a one-bedroom apartment on the South Side of Chicago.

Both Barack and Michelle Obama speak frequently about what it means for middle-class Americans to be at a disadvantage financially and otherwise.

Because they "get" it, both Obamas referred with heartfelt eloquence to middle-class fears during the campaign and early years of the Obama presidency, including:

  • The climbing unemployment rate
  • The staggering home foreclosure rate gripping the nation
  • Crashing 401(k) and pension plans, leaving retirements in limbo
  • 48 million Americans without healthcare insurance
  • High percentages of public schools failing our children
  • The continuing struggle of middle-class families to balance work and parenting demands

In vivid contrast, John and particularly Cindy McCain exuded an aura of financial insularity and well-heeled elegance. Both were born wealthy and were quite wealthy for their entire lives.

When cornered by Pastor Rick Warren during the campaign, John McCain defined "rich" as " I think if you're just talking about income, how about $5 million."

Middle-class anger was palpable about economic fairness during those tough financial times and came after what many viewed as then-President George W. Bush's $700 billion bailout of rich Wall Streeters.

Obama offered actual, understandable policy solutions to help middle-class Americans, including:

  • A detailed 12-point program to repair the economy for middle-class families, including a $1,000 tax cut, creation of 5 million new jobs, protection of family homes from foreclosure, and reform of unfair bankruptcy laws.
  • A Small Business Emergency Rescue Plan which included emergency lending for small and family-owned businesses, special tax incentives, and tax cuts, and expansion of Small Business Administration support and services.
  • A specific plan to reform Wall Street practices, including new regulation of the financial markets, to blunt the greedy influence of special interests, crackdown on manipulation of financial markets, and more.

John McCain's tin ear on middle-class financial woes was evident in his prescription for the economy: more tax-cuts for major corporations, and continuation of the Bush tax cuts for U.S. millionaires. And this McCain stance was consistent with his stated desire to slash Medicare and privatize Social Security.

The American public was fed-up with failed Bush/McCain economics, which claimed that prosperity would eventually "trickle down" to everyone else.

Obama won the presidential race largely because voters perceived that he, and not John McCain, cared about and would address middle-class economic struggles and inequities.

Steady Leadership, Calm Temperament

Barack Obama earned at least 407 newspaper endorsements, versus 212 for John McCain.

Without exception, every Obama endorsement referred to his presidential-like personal and leadership qualities. And all echo the same basics about Obama's calm, steady, thoughtful nature, versus McCain's impetuousness and unpredictability.

Explained The Salt Lake Tribune, which has rarely endorsed a Democrat for president:

"Under the most intense scrutiny and attacks from both parties, Obama has shown the temperament, judgment, intellect and political acumen that are essential in a president that would lead the United States out of the crises created by President Bush, a complicit Congress and our own apathy."

The Los Angeles Times noted:

"We need a leader who demonstrates thoughtful calm and grace under pressure, one not prone to volatile gesture or capricious pronouncement ... as the presidential race draws to its conclusion, it is Obama's character and temperament that come to the fore. It is his steadiness. His maturity."

And from the Chicago Tribune, founded in 1847, which had never before endorsed a Democrat for the presidency:

"We have tremendous confidence in his intellectual rigor, his moral compass and his ability to make sound, thoughtful, careful decisions. He is ready...
"Obama is deeply grounded in the best aspirations of this country, and we need to return to those aspirations. ... He has risen with his honor, grace and civility intact. He has the intelligence to understand the grave economic and national security risks that face us, to listen to good advice and make careful decisions."

In contrast, during the past two months of the '08 presidential campaign, John McCain acted (and overreacted) inconsistently, unpredictably, and without forethought. Two examples of McCain's unsteady leadership were his erratic behavior during the financial markets meltdown, and in his poorly-vetted pick of Sarah Palin as his running mate.

John McCain served as the perfect foil to highlight Obama's solidly grounded leadership skills.

Obama's even-keel temperament made him seem well-suited to be president for the troubled, turbulent times.

And the mere image of ultra-volatile, careless John McCain in the White House was enough to scare the majority of the electorate into supporting Obama.

Health Care Insurance

Americans were finally fed-up enough with the unfairness of health care delivery in this country to be ready to make the issue a priority in selecting a president.

The United States is the only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not have a universal health care system. As a result, in 2008, more than 48 million U.S. men, women, and children had no health care insurance.

Despite being ranked No. 1 in health care spending by the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. was ranked 72nd among 191 nations in 2000 in overall level of health of its citizens. And the state of U.S. health care deteriorated further under the Bush administration.

Obama set for a health care plan and policies that would fairly ensure that every American will have access to good quality medical care services.

McCain's health care plan was a stunningly radical scheme that would:

  • Still exclude millions of the uninsured
  • Raise income taxes for most American families
  • In the opinion of most experts, cause millions of employers to drop health care policies for their employees

And unbelievably, McCain wanted to "deregulate" the health care insurance industry, much as Republicans disastrously deregulated U.S. financial markets under President George Bush.

Obama's Health Care Plan

Obama's plan intended to make available a new plan to all Americans, including the self-employed and small businesses, to buy affordable health coverage that is similar to the plan available to members of Congress. The new plan was to include:

  • Guaranteed eligibility
  • No one would be turned away from any insurance plan because of illness or pre-existing conditions
  • Comprehensive benefits
  • Affordable premiums, co-pays, and deductibles
  • Easy enrollment
  • Portability and choice

Employers that did not offer or make a significant contribution to the cost of quality health coverage for their employees would be required to contribute a percentage of payroll toward the costs of this plan. Most small businesses would be exempt from this mandate.

The Obama plan required only that all children have health care coverage.

McCain's Health Care Plan

John McCain's health care plan was designed to control health care costs and to deregulate, and thus enrich, the healthcare industry, and was not necessarily designed to offer health care coverage to the uninsured.

For consumers, the McCain plan:

  • Required that insurance policies from employers be included in employees' taxable income, along with salary and bonuses, thereby causing employees' income taxes to increase;
  • Then provided a $5,000 tax credit to partially offset increased income taxes
  • Deleted the employee health care insurance income tax deduction for all employers

Innumerable experts predicted that these massive McCain changes would:

  • Cause the taxable income of the average family of four to rise by about $7,000
  • Cause employers to drop health care insurance for employees
  • Cause an increase, not decrease, in Americans without health care coverage

McCain's plan was intended to push millions of Americans into the market to buy their own individual health care policies, which will be offered by a newly deregulated health care insurance industry.

Newsweek reported,

"The Tax Policy Center estimates that 20 million workers will leave the employer-based system, not always voluntarily. Midsize and smaller companies are likely to drop their plans ... "

CNN/Money added,

"McCain sorely lacks a plan for people in their 50s without corporate benefits, and Americans with pre-existing conditions, who would be brutally stripped of coverage if insurance crosses state lines."

Observed blogger Jim MacDonald:

"The result ... won’t be healthy competition that will lower costs for everyone. It’ll be higher costs and fewer options for the poor, the old, and the sick. That is, the people who need health care. Young, healthy, rich people won’t be affected ... "

Obama's Plan: The Only Viable Choice

Obama's plan fairly and inexpensively ensured that all Americans have access to quality health care services, but without the government providing those services.

McCain's health care plan was intended to free the business community from providing for its employees, to enrich the health care insurance industry, and increase income taxes for all Americans. But not to provide health care services for the uninsured.

For anyone who valued their health care insurance, Barack Obama was the only viable choice for president.

Withdrawal of Combat Troops from Iraq

Barack Obama bested Hillary Clinton by a small margin for the '08 Democratic presidential nomination due mainly to their differing positions on the Iraq War, especially at the war's inception in 2002.

Sen. Hillary Clinton voted yes in 2002 to give the Bush administration authorization to attack and invade Iraq. Sen. Clinton rightfully believes that Congress was misled by Bush, and after a while, she admitted her regret for her vote.

But Clinton's 2002 support for the unpopular war was brutal fact.

In contrast, Barack Obama famously spoke out in late 2002 against the Iraq War before Congress voted, declaring:

"I don't oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt ... to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.
"What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income, to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression."

Obama on the Iraq War

Obama's stance on the Iraq War was unambiguous: He planned to immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He promised to remove one to two combat brigades each month and to have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months.

Once in office, however, Obama stuck to the Bush administration timetable of complete withdrawal by December 31, 2011.

Under an Obama administration, the U.S. would not build or maintain any permanent bases in Iraq. He planned to temporarily maintain some noncombat troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats, and to complete the training of Iraq troops and police forces, as necessary.

Also, Obama planned to

"launch the most aggressive diplomatic effort in recent American history to reach a new compact on the stability of Iraq and the Middle East."

This effort would include all of Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria.

McCain on the Iraq War

McCain, a third-generation Naval officer, voted in 2002 to give President Bush full authority to attack and invade Iraq. And he's continually served as supporter and cheerleader for the U.S. War in Iraq, albeit with occasional objections to strategies.

At the '08 Republican Convention and on the campaign trail, McCain and running mate Palin frequently proclaimed a goal of "victory in Iraq" and scoff at withdrawal timetables as foolish and premature.

McCain's website proclaimed,

"... it is strategically and morally essential for the U.S. to support the Government of Iraq to become capable of governing itself and safeguarding its people. He strongly disagrees with those who advocate withdrawing American troops before that has occurred."

McCain took this stance:

  • Despite the $12 billion monthly pricetag to U.S. taxpayers
  • Despite the fact that the Iraqi government had a substantial budgetary surplus
  • Despite mounting deaths and permanent maimings of U.S. soldiers
  • Despite exhaustion of U.S armed forces
  • Despite the crippling effect the Iraq War has on U.S. armed forces' abilities to address other conflicts and emergencies

Gen. Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former secretary of state, disagreed with McCain, as did Gen. Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO, and as did dozens of other retired generals, admirals and other top brass.

The Bush administration also disagreed with John McCain. On November 17, 2008, the Bush administration and the Iraqi government signed a status of forces agreement to begin troop withdrawals.

Even Gen. David Petraeus, often referred to with great reverence by McCain, told the British press that he would never use the word "victory" to describe U.S. involvement in Iraq and commented:

"This is not the sort of struggle where you take a hill, plant the flag and go home to a victory parade ... it's not war with a simple slogan."

The hard truth is that John McCain, Vietnam War POW, was obsessed with the Iraq War. And he couldn't seem to shake his angry, unhealthy obsession despite either reality or exorbitant cost.

Voters Wanted Out of Iraq

Per CNN/Opinion Research Corp. polling from October 17 to 19, 2008, 66% of all Americans disapproved of the Iraq war.

Obama was on the correct side of this issue, according to the voting public, especially per the centrist, swing voters who decide most election outcomes.

Obama won the 2008 presidential election in part because he consistently exhibited wise judgment on the Iraq War, and because he insisted on the correct course of action.

Joe Biden as Running Mate

Sen. Barack Obama won the presidency in part because of his wise selection of highly experienced, well-liked Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware as his vice-presidential running mate.

The first job of the vice president is to assume the presidency should the president become incapacitated. No one doubted that Joe Biden was fully prepared to become President of the United States, should that terrible occasion have arisen.

The second job of the vice president is to be of constant counsel to the president. In his 36 years in the U.S. Senate, Biden was one of the most respected American leaders on foreign policy, the U.S. judiciary, crime, civil liberties, and many other vital areas.

With his gregarious, warm personality, Biden was suited to offer direct, smart counsel to the 44th president, as he has done for many other U.S. presidents.

As an added bonus, the working chemistry and mutual respect between Obama and Biden were excellent.

For Americans concerned about Barack Obama's level of experience, Joe Biden's presence on the ticket added a large dose of gravitas.

Had he selected one of the able, but far less experienced candidates on his short list (Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, to name two top contenders), Barack Obama may have been less likely to reassure a majority of voters that the Democratic ticket was experienced enough to tackle the day's tough issues.

Joe Biden vs. Sarah Palin

Joe Biden's deep grasp of the issues, appreciation of U.S. history and laws, and steady, experienced leadership were in jarring contrast to that of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate.

Republican nominee, 72-year-old John McCain, has wrestled with three episodes of melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer, and had an in-depth skin cancer check every few months.

McCain's serious health challenges greatly increased the risk that he could become incapacitated and/or pass away in office, which would have required his vice president to become president of the United States.

It was widely recognized, even by a plethora of conservative pundits, that Sarah Palin was wholly unprepared to assume the presidency.

In contrast, Joe Biden was widely regarded as well prepared to assume the presidency.