Sunday, November 9, 2008

Obama Election - A Rare Moment

Even in the midst of some of the predictable silliness following Barack Obama's election (such as the young woman proclaiming "Obama is Jesus" overheard by my son during a college street celebration), there's something pure about what happened on Nov. 4, 2008 where even the cynic can get a bit misty.

We're not talking if's and when's or "I have a dream" here, but rather that it DID actually happen that a black man was elected president of the country whose Constitution formally endorsed slavery and perpetuated separate-but-equal for nearly another hundred years after slavery was formally abolished. That our constitutional system can allow that to happen (not to mention repudiate the practices of the worst one or two presidencies in our history) is awesome. As Thomas Friedman said in noting that Virginia, the former capitol of the slave-holding South, went for Obama, "The Civil War is over. Let Reconstruction begin."

Even for the cynic the world changed Tuesday - as a white man, I can only imagine what it feels like to be a black person today. I canvassed for Obama on election day in Lansing with a young black woman from Detroit, and her excitement and pride was something to see; and then the day after I was in a meeting with a black colleague (who was also canvassing on election day), and he was just bursting. He said his frail 87 year old mother in Chicago is insisting that he take her to the inauguration in DC on Jan.20.

For those of us who've been eaten up by government malfeasance/tyranny, this, what feels like vindication of sorts, is worth a tear or two. Probably because things have been so bad under Bush (the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, with all the ill that they portended for American government, hit me hard), I didn't know if America had it in it to make such a statement - and it turns out it does. Amazing Grace.

True, there's bound to be disappointment - what comes next is going to be interesting, and there is sure to be plenty of criticism and disillusionment. But there's a difference between disillusionment borne of bad faith (see Bush/Rove/Cheney), and disappointment for good faith efforts that may nonetheless sometimes fall short (Obama, I think). Even if what comes next is just politics as usual (which I doubt), Tuesday alone will always stand as a momentous day for the sheer outpouring of hope and joy that millions (maybe billions) of people around the world experienced. Nothing can ever change that - not even over-the-top people who've drunk the Kool-aid like the "Obama is Jesus" person.