05 November, 2008

What It Means to Me

I have a good friend in Istanbul, a great Englishman with a keen mind and big heart. The type you can really tangle with intellectually over a beer or two. Certainly no fan of the McCain/Palin ticket, he's been sending me links to articles critical of Obama, calling them "reality checks". I love them because amidst all the jubilation they remind me of things I and others have to keep pushing for and will have to hold our new president to. For now, like most - literally - of this country, I am enjoying the moment. It doesn't mean I have forgotten that the world keeps turning, bombs keep falling, people people keep losing their lives, the planet keeps dying...

The landslide election of Barrack Hussein Obama - yeah, pause on that one and smile - to the office of the presidency will have great ramifications for the rest of the world, I suspect in ways small, large and surprising. Watching people around the world celebrate with us - the students at President-Elect Obama's former elementary school in Indonesia, his extended family in Kenya, the citizens of (no joke) Obama, Japan - has brought a tear or two to my eyes today. But, I am not sure they - you - quite understand what this election means to us.

It does not mean we are post-racial. I don't believe human beings will ever be post-racial; I think we'll always have those in our midst who are only capable of that pathetic, narrow mindset. But it does mean that the phrase, "Any little boy or girl can grow up to be president," now has new meaning.

It means that after seven years, we have a new, positive collective memory. "Where were you when...?" Until now, those three words have been reflexively followed by "on 9/11". It doesn't mean we forget that day, but it does mean that after seven years we can begin rebuilding our relationships with the rest of the world and try to proactively, diplomatically and practically alleviate the things that led to that day. Schools, clinics and functioning economies are far more powerful than guns, bombs and hate.

It means that we can start pushing back against the losses of the divisive politics of the last few decades. It means that we can start trying to bring people back together who were torn apart by lies, hate and fear. It shows that we're tired of the old ideologies and definitions. It shows that most of us aren't just desperately hungry for change, but that we want to get our hands dirty bringing about that change, we want a role in making this the country we know it can be, the "more perfect union". It means this generation has elected their JFK. I agree with Chris Matthews that public service will become cool again.

It means that the Democratic Party is now the big tent party - able to pull in African-American, Hispanic and other non-white voters while managing to improve their numbers with white voters. Footage of McCain/Palin rallies simply did not reflect the diversity of this country and the party's rhetoric certainly doesn't either. I hope this election means the moderates in that party will fight to take it back from the frightening, reactionary forces of the far right. This election means the Democrats are no longer the bracket party - clinging to the northeast and west coast. It's the start of a true nationwide party and seeds were laid in places where they are sure to grow.

It means enfranchisement is not merely a word. It means that people who never before saw their commonalities can, with a little help, find them and work together to attain shared goals. That so many of the divisions plaguing this country are mere paper tigers. It means their is hope for the idea of community in this country; that we may actually live up to the word united. It means that if all this hope and energy can be sustained and channeled, the results will be stunning.

It means that despite the fear mongering - "If he wins they'll riot!", "If he loses they'll riot!", "They'll take their revenge on us!", "He's a Muslim!", "He's friends with terrorists!" - this country did the right thing anyway. Fair weather "patriots" be damned. It means 527s and their money may not be as powerful as they thought they were. It means you can run a positive campaign and win.

It means we'll have a thinker, listener and consensus-builder running the country. It means science, reason and diplomacy can come in from the cold. It means new ideas will be elicited, not feared. I hope it means we're coming out of our low cycle of anti-intellectualism and xenophobia.

It means I am back in the U.S. and will likely dig in and stay a while; that there's fight left in this country yet.

One criticism of Obama supporters and all this is that all of us believe he can turn water to wine, walk on water, balance the budget in his first hundred days and bring about world peace in the next hundred. While there are, as with any candidate, followers with unrealistic expectations, I and most I know are thrilled to be able to follow a leader we respect, but are well-aware he's not of divine or extraterrestrial origin. We haven't drunk the Kool Aid, so to speak. I mean, we all know world peace will take six months at least. (I jest.) Is he perfect, God, the Messiah, the chosen one? No, but he is our president. And for the first time in a long time I'm very proud to say that. Will that change? We'll see.

So, give us some time to revel in this. In many ways, it has been a long time coming.


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