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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The rout of the Republican Party, and the accompanying gains by Democrats in Congress, mean that Barack Obama will assume office with vastly more influence in the nation’s capital than most of his recent predecessors have wielded.

The only exceptions suggest the magnitude of the moment. Power flowed in unprecedented ways to George W. Bush in the year after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It flowed likewise to Lyndon B. Johnson after his landslide in 1964.

Beyond those fleeting moments, every president for more than two generations has confronted divided government or hobbling internal divisions within his own party.

The Democrats’ moment with Obama, as a brilliant campaigner confronts the challenges of governance, could also prove fleeting. For now, the results — in their breadth across a continent — suggest seismic change that goes far beyond Obama's 4 percent margin in the popular vote.

The evening recalled what activist Eldridge Cleaver observed of the instant when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus and a movement followed: “Somewhere in the universe a gear in the machinery shifted.”