None of us who gathered in my library yesterday to watch the outcome of the US election could dispute that we were bearing witness to history. Barack Obama promises, as Colin Powell noted, to be a Transformative Figure. His platform of optimism, of Change We Can Believe In, and of Hope, were a powerful elixir for an American electorate exhausted by suspicion, fear, and violence.
I was fortunate to be able to share yesterday’s triumph with family and friends. As Obama spoke, as he spun the story of centenarian Ann Nixon Cooper and the history she bore witness to in the last century, as he exorted America to construct a similar arc of progress for the coming century, tears rolled down my cheeks. No Greek columns to mock. No empty slogans to keep in frame. No red white and blue bunting, or confetti, or balloons to clean up when the speech was over. A bare stage, a simple lectern, and a man whose only embellishments were the power of his ideas and depth of his conviction.
Change has come to America.
I told my sons to “Remember this night,” this historic night when a parent can tell his child that anything is possible, and actually believe it. It was on this night that more Americans than ever had voted, that a higher proportion of Americans had voted than at any time in a hundred years to first elevate a non-white to the White House.
French journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy described Barack Obama as the living embodiment of John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr, a conflation of their ideals, their gifted oratory, and their promise. Some watching with me yesterday had the appallingly poor taste to wonder aloud when, “Obama’s number would be up.” How long would it take for some fucked up American white trash hillbilly zealot to put a bullet in Obama’s head? In just a five year span, JFK, MLKjr, and RFK were all assassinated. This is the reality check on our hope. All of us present yesterday wished that Obama would become President, yet most of us were afraid to believe that his election would truly come to pass. Now that he has been elected, we temper our hope and optimism with the fear that Obama will be taken from us, just as those other great men were taken from us.
I cannot help but believe that Obama’s leadership will be more empathetic to those who struggle at society’s fringes, more constructive on the world stage, and more dedicated to the American ideals of democracy, liberty, and justice for all. There will be litmus tests of his effectiveness, on the promise he embodies.
I, too, have never felt more hopeful for America than I do now. In crisis, as the worn-out business-speak turn of phrase goes, there is opportunity. America is at a crossroads, and while I hope Obama can lead them on a path of inclusiveness, multilaterality, sustainability, and prudence, I am also mindful that Obama is not only a product of his humble beginnings but also of his recent success. I am sure he is already strategizing for the 2012 campaign. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a candidate recently elected to President must be in want of a second term. How will his intentions be corrupted by the process? How has the process already corrupted his intentions?
He is saying all the right things. Now is his time to act. Now we will measure this man by his deeds.
"...to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our 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. For that is the true genius of America – that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow."