Yet, I remain, as I always do during a recognized “historical event” or game changer, strangely unmoved and un-awed in the moment. The Contrarian , on the other hand, felt that he was “making history.” I felt no tightening of my stomach as I blackened in the oval next to Senator Obama’s name, nor as I fed my completed ballot into the counting machine.
Oh, sure, I had heard for weeks, and increasing as the days dwindled down, that we were on the verge of something extraordinary, and life changing. Yet I felt none of it, truthfully. I can say the same about any number of events that were “history making” from the past. From assassinations, to the crumbling of the USSR and the Wall between East and West Germany, to 9/11, I have reacted with anger, fear, joy, pain, but I have not recognized that I stood in the vortex of change. I felt no special importance or awe in the moment.
I feel that this is normal really. After all, even on such days, we brush our teeth, fix meals, and attend to many of the usual daily exercises. That alone tends to normalize the event somewhat. More importantly, the significance of any event needs time, time for the consequences, both foreseen and unforeseen, to play out and define change for us.
It is truthfully, one of the few things George W. Bush got right, if only partially. He continuously says that historians cannot judge his presidency now, it will require decades before judgments can truly be made. He is partially right, although what he misses is that we can truly judge that his presidency was an unmitigated disaster. What we cannot yet know, is how deeply the destruction will end up taking us.
But the significance of what happened in America began to hit home last night, as we watched the crowds at Grant Park in Chicago grow, both in size and in diversity. As the crowds grew across college campuses, and major city streets, and tens of thousands gathered outside the White House in utter pure joy. As Gerald Ford remarked at the pardoning of Richard M. Nixon, “Our national nightmare has ended.” Indeed, that is what I felt last night.
But more, indeed happened. Who can forget the tear streaked face of Jesse Jackson? Who can not tear up at the stories and photographs of elderly black women casting their vote, women who were born when they were doubly barred from voting, both as African Americans and as women. I began to think of the hundreds of black friends I have had over the years, intimate and casual, and I cannot truly imagine what this night meant to them. But I could get some inkling from the faces, the faces of joy, tear lined as they were that crowded my TV screen.
And we would do well, each of us who are white, to do our best to imagine what it must be like to be African American at this moment in time. Chris Matthews was overwhelmed with how things had changed. How this moment changed everything for the psyche of children, black, white, yellow, and brown. They will grow up in a land with possibilities unlike the ones I grew up with. And that is enormous.
Yet, do not dwell on this blackness thing too long. Remember, as I do, that something deeper and more profound was also at work here. Steven Colbert may be famous among other things for saying that “I do not see race,” but in truth, many of us have come to that place ourselves. And we owe it to Barack Obama.
He came forth and campaigned in a dignified, adult, inclusive way that transcended all ethnic and racial distinctions. In no time at all, we were backing Barack not as a black man running for president, but as a gifted orator, a brilliant mind, a compassionate man of character. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., indeed, we judged him not by the color of his skin but for the content of his mind. And we adjudged him aright. We saw in him a magnificence that transcended such a trivial thing as skin tone.
I cannot, truthfully say when Barack ceased to be black and became only a candidate. It occurred before I gave my allegiance to him, that I am sure of. Long before Hillary dropped out, I no longer saw Mr. Obama as the African American candidate. And i dare say, to millions, he has become simply and importantly the man we felt best could carry forward America’s agenda.
I am starting to see President-elect Obama as awesome now. It’s just beginning, but I know it will grow. Superficially, he indeed represents a huge step forward for African Americans, one much overdue. I am beginning to get a sense, that indeed, he will be noted for so very much more. I do believe this man has the temperament, the mind, and the philosophy to stand and unite a world. No I don’t mean Obama will herald in a new world order. But I believe that he will indeed make us all view ourselves and our planet differently.
Barack Obama shows us by his example that we are one people. He refuses to play into the game of revenge so prevalent in Washington. He refused to ever suggest that McCain was anything other than honorable, though some in McCain’s campaign were acting most dishonorably. He shamed us, and he in the end I think shamed McCain. McCain gave one of the best speeches of his life last night in concession. He could do nothing less if he wished to salvage his personal honor.
The world rejoiced last night. Common people from Kenya to Pakistan rejoiced that a new page had been turned. We in America sighed in relief that we had finally gotten it right. Finally, no more apologies to the world for our insane politics which rewarded pretended folksiness instead of true intellectual fitness. Finally, finally, we can be proud.
Those of you who read this blog regularly, know that I seldom express much in the way of admiration for this country. I have learned too much, read too much, and find from beginning to end, that we built an empire the old fashioned way, one slave, one injustice after another. We support reprehensible regimes across the world because they offer us support, goods, resources or bases. We too often talk what we do not do. We are woefully behind dozens of countries on issues of health care, education, poverty, and a whole host of others. We are more unhappy as people than tens of other countries.
I have often mused that I take no especial pleasure in being born here. I suspect I would have had as good a life in many countries in Europe, and other portions of the globe. I have often felt uneasy that others across the map know that their lives are deeply effected by what we do. We do so much so imperfectly. I often felt shame and disgust.
Last night, I felt pride, pride in a nation that finally got it right. I am proud of America, and hopeful for the future of both the nation and the world. President-elect Obama is that figure, poised at the apex of history, reaching out, asking us to view the world through a new paradigm. We are unsure, we are a bit nervous, we are being asked to leave our comfort zone. But we have hope, and we, with his gentle prodding, are willing to step off that cliff, sure that we will indeed be provided either a hard surface to step onto, or wings.
For you see, we are breathing, and thus we have hope. It is our natural heritage from being human beings. Indeed, Barack has given us back our humanness, asking us to set aside our prejudices and our personal selfish desires in favor of the common good. I am convinced that indeed that is our true human likeness. That is the image that reflects the Spirit of God within each of us. Barack has illuminated our destiny for us once again. We are asked to head down that path. Not alone, but hand in hand, together. That is his gift to us. I for one am grateful.