Smile Politely

An Historic Election

Obama Family.jpgWell, he did it. After all the fretting over accuracy of polls, possible Election Day shenanigans and fears about deep-seated racism lingering in America, it all came to naught. Barack Obama won and he won big.

And suddenly, it seems that everyone wants to talk about race, which has been the donkey in the room for over a year now. Obama didn’t campaign on it, and the McCain campaign had to talk about it obliquely, by whispering about terrorists and Muslims and real Americans. But as soon as Obama won, the floodgates were opened up, and the historic nature of electing a black man to the most powerful position in the world demand that we all finally acknowledge it.

There’s John McCain, congratulating Barack on breaking through the color barrier, making me happy that the old McCain version 2000 was still in there somewhere. There’s Brian Williams, pulling out a grade school picture of all the presidents, saying finally there will be a non-white one on it. There’s Oprah cheering. There’s Jesse Jackson crying.

And there’s me, looking at my adopted son, who looks enough like Obama that he went trick-or-treating as Obama on Halloween a few times to score a lot of extra candy in my neighborhood. I told him tonight that he could be president one day, and finally it was not just some wild-eyed fantasy. Or my daughters, who are just as cute as the Obama daughters, and now have a strong black woman role model in Michelle to aspire to. These things matter.

But let’s not kid ourselves that racism has been solved. What we proved tonight is that we’ve finally tipped the scale enough that even race won’t keep the best man from winning anymore. And yet we are always one YouTube click away from the vile underbelly that we rejected yesterday.

After hearing Obama’s victory speech, I am struck by how well he wears the hopes and dreams of others. He knows he’s a symbol and he embraces it. Whereas most people seem to reject such a burden as too heavy or too much responsibility, he seems supremely comfortable with it. It seems to keep him humble, since he knows that change and hope are not about him, but about what he represents.

Of course, now the real work starts. There’s a bittersweetness to this election, in that the mess of the last 8 years is not going to be easy to clean up. It feels like we’ve had an abusive uncle in the house for eight years, and carting him off to a nursing home doesn’t fix the holes in the wall or the flooding in the basement or the damage he’s done to our standing in the neighborhood.

But, the work has to be done. In his victory speech, Obama said “Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope”

Amen, brother.

We’ve now given him the power act on those ideals, and to start the cleanup. But with the power, the corruption clock is now ticking, and not just for Obama, but for the Democratic Party too. We’ll need to clean up the mess of the last eight years quickly before the corruption sets in.

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