Last night, I witnessed one of the seminal events of my lifetime. When CNN called the vote at 9 pm my local time, I did a double take. Could it really be that easy? I sat numbly for a moment, silently staring at the screen in front of me- afraid to blink lest it all disappear into the mist of another lost hope.
The footage suddenly cut to the mass of humanity pumping their fists and jumping up and down in unison; the colossal roar jarred me out of my stupor. After eight years of alienation in my own land, I felt surreally elated as I witnessed the physical manifestation of my joy playing out on the vast fields of Grant Park in Chicago.
It's really happened. I sat back on the couch, my legs tucked into my chest under a blanket, positioned like the awed child I now felt myself to be. A child witnessing history, beginning to hope again for the first time since I was in high school in the late nineties.
Scores of emotions poured out of me at once, the hundreds of hopes and dreams that I'd felt quashed year after year as the country had become increasingly anti-intellectual, regressive, hostile, and intractable. How many months had I been holding my breath, anxiously awaiting the result of this litmus test on the future of the nation?
As a 26 year old, I feel an immense sense of hope and promise that my next decade of adulthood will be better than my first. Not because Obama is a magical prophet who possesses some omnipotent ability to right all wrongs of the past, not because the nation will never suffer an economic depression again, and not because a great beautiful tomorrow free of social cleavages and corruption is guaranteed with this victory.
No, my unabated joy springs from a different font. I celebrate because we have closed the door on the blatant criminality and abject incompetence of the past eight years. While not a resounding mandate for the broad panoply of liberal values that I personally espouse, there is no denying that this election result is a solid "guilty verdict" on the Bush administration's conduct.
The elements that swelled into a perfect storm thrusting Bush into office both times still exist in our society, and they may re-emerge again. Conservatism, populism, ruralism and evangelical religious passion have long histories in this nation, and will not disappear overnight. You could even argue that they should not disappear, for they have contributed in often unappreciated ways to the progressive movement itself. Society will always be engaged in the push and pull of conflicting interests; tonight I am thankful that the flexibility still exists in our nation to permit us to correct our past mistakes.
The election of Obama is not just a referendum on the past, but a lighting of the torch for the future. It threatens to become a cliche, but there is no arguing against the reality that the under-30 voters have announced their generation's claim on the future of the nation. This generation is more tolerant, multi-racial, worldly and open to new ideas than the outgoing "Greatest Generation." The youth of the last depression and the Second World War was idealistic like us once; like them, we too will one day become outdated and calcified in our fears. For now, the moment belongs to us, and those who have dared to believe in the possibilities of change.
Certainly, Obama's victory is a fitting and long overdue milestone in the march for civil rights. Who could hold back their own tears while seeing the ones in Jesse Jackson's eyes? But it goes beyond this. Obama represents not only African Americans, but all of the multi-racial Americans, first-generation Americans, and Americans with Middle Eastern and African names. He is the face of the America I have always known.
My childhood best friend was half Slovenian, half Mexican. My best friend since high school is half German, half Filipino. My husband is half Korean, and a quarter each German and Irish. My brother's best friend in high school was half Jewish, half Japanese. My cousin's best friend is Indonesian. One of my sister's best friends is Iranian, and her two college roommates were Black-French from Louisiana and a recent immigrant from Peru. My other friends range from Polish and Norwegian to Indian and Chinese. My husband's best friend is African American; his other good friend is Navajo.
I list out these examples of diversity not because they are shining beacons in a dark night of white bread and Velveeta cheese, but because they are the new reality. This has, actually, been the reality for my entire life, and the lives of my generation. It just took us awhile to get to the polls, to form the groundswell with the sense of purpose demonstrated one night ago. For too many years, Americans like Sarah Palin and John McCain have been able to carry on as usual, operating under the great myth that American was still White Anglo Saxon Protestant. Taking a favorite line from McCain, "My friends, it's just not that simple anymore."
Simply put, I prayed for Obama to win because he represents the diversity and complexity of our nation, the promise foretold by the tremendous efforts of our ancestors. But at least as importantly, he is a man of dignity and intelligence, with a critical mind and a strong educational if limited political background. He stands erect behind the podium, poised, alert, and calm. He has the capacity to deal with the immense trials of our time, to understand nuance and navigate the shades of gray. He is a man that I trust to be able to take in and synthesize an impossible amount of information every day, a man that I trust to select qualified advisers instead of campaign contributor cronies. And fortunately for him, on the heels of the worst president ever to walk the corridors of the White House, he really can't mess things up any more than they already are.
The election of Barack Obama is a clear signal to the rest of the world that America desires a fresh start, that we are separating ourselves from the disastrous legacy of George Bush- and by voting this way, we are also taking responsibility for the shortsightedness we'd demonstrated during the past decade. We are standing for accountability, for our Constitution and the Bill of Rights, for the maligned middle class, and for the ultimate American Dream. Even if Obama accomplishes nothing, he has allowed the nation to begin to heal. And for that, I am grateful.