Wednesday, November 5, 2008

During one of the most memorable nights in my lifetime, a night reminiscent of the hours before the birth of my daughter, I anxiously watched America choose its 44th President, Barack Hussein Obama. His skin color was not a deal breaker. His middle name was not a deterrent. Over the next days, weeks and years historians, political scientists and folks sitting in diners with coffee in hand will be debating the factors that lead to Democrat Obama being selected over Republican John McCain. The significance cannot be debated.

My personal elation was threefold:
~ I intensely believed that Obama was the better choice to lead America at this critical and complex period fraught with dangers and challenges. Our country requires a dramatic change in emphasis as to whose interests it serves domestically and, of equal importance, the direction of foreign policy.
~ This election demonstrated that a national political campaign can be successful that does not base its strategy on negativity and divisiveness, accusation and innuendo. One can only hope that the Republican Party, which continued to utilize the Atwater and Rove political tools of shlock and awe in this election, will abandon the strategies that the American people in 2008 emphatically rejected.
~ Pride that the United States of America took a huge step toward being a more inclusive society.

At 11:00 PM on November 4, 2008 it was announced that Obama had surpassed the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. I saw the tears on the face of Jesse Jackson, a leader of the African American community who, in recent years, was characterized as attacking and divisive. Few of us could stand in the shoes of Mr. Jackson and understand the dangers and challenges he faced as a leader in the civil rights movement that began in the 1960s to break the stranglehold that communities, particularly in the South, had over Black citizens. Over a two-hour period this night, each time that the camera focused on Mr. Jackson’s face, tears continue to flow from a depth that I imagine is beyond my comprehension.

I listened to another pillar of the civil rights movement, long-serving Georgia congressman John Lewis. He discussed what it meant to him and the African American community for a Black man to be elected to the nation’s highest office. It is certain that many viewers, even the majority of us that did not directly experience his history, shared his pride, emotion, and moist eyes.

Eugene Robinson is an African American and columnist for the Washington Post. I have listened to him during many of his appearances on political talk shows, his commentary always impersonal and analytical. Following the announcement that Obama won the election Mr. Robinson offered observations about what Obama’s success meant to him on a movingly personal level and the joy and pride he shared with his aging parents in a telephone conversation minutes before.

Channel surfing to ABC I listened to an interview between a White seasoned newsman and a younger Black reporter speaking from his hometown area of Lynchburg, VA. The older reporter commented about an assignment early in his career when he was sent from the North to cover a story in Lynchburg. He described his shock to find restrooms labeled Men, Women and Colored.

This morning I made my usual stop for a bagel and coffee. As I entered the store I saw a White customer high-fiving with an African American employee. Although the employee knew me we had never discussed politics. When I commented that last night was very special she offered me her hand in a high-five gesture.

The Obama election will not automatically eradicate what is a dwindling but still existing degree of racial prejudice in our country. It seems to be a characteristic of human nature to distrust that which is different. The candidacy of Barack Obama did make a major contribution toward the understanding that as Americans we have a common interest and a common bond. The election of Barack Obama, supported by a very significant electoral vote majority, is a threshold moment for human relations in America we can share and admire and celebrate.

* The Bush effect
One wonders if the Democrat Obama could have won this election if not for the damaging effect the Republican Bush administration has had on our country. The Republican candidate McCain was seen as a strong supporter of Bush doctrine and policy - no matter how consistently the McCain campaign attempted to distance itself from Bush. The country was desperately ready for change.

Although I have been a very vocal critic of George W. Bush I believe he did have a positive influence on the positive public perception of African Americans serving in high-level federal positions. Among the Bush appointments of African Americans to very significant positions in his administration were Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. These appointments, in no small way, helped pave the road for Obama’s journey to the White House.

* The Howard Dean effect – Not to be forgotten in the Democratic success this election cycle is the wisdom and influence of the former governor of Vermont and current Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, the central organization of the Democratic Party. It was during his unsuccessful presidential candidacy 4 years ago that a 50-state strategy for the Democratic Party was conceived. For many years prior to that time Democrats ignored states it deemed unfavorable to its success. Mr. Dean changed that strategy and it was a building block diligently implemented by the Obama campaign.

An excerpt from the Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Continental Congress July 4, 1776.


Sue Katz said...

With my sleep-deprivation hangover and my eyes raw from two days of teariness, it was wonderful to read your piece. As someone who came to age inside the civil rights movement, last night was an intense experience. Once Obama is actually in office, I'll go back to the opposition - pressuring around his lack of support for gay marriage and his talk about increasing the violence in Afghanistan & Pakistan. But for now, I'm elated. Thanks for this heartfelt message.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Stephen (and Sue, too) we finally elected the right man for the top job in the world. As the TV commentators noted, in a generation or two, no one will remember how tough it was to elect a black man to the presidency.

I bought a NY Times newspaper to savor his victory even more. Who would have imagined 2 years ago, this dark horse would become our 44th president!

Nice coverage, Stephen!


Sherril said...

Hi Stephen,
I found you via an old email sent to me by a mutual friend, Maddy Rosenberg. You put into words beautifully many of my thoughts, reactions and emotions from election night. I too blog and welcome you to visit. I suppose you've heard this quote that's been going around...."Rosa Parks sat in order that Martin Luther King could stand, in order that Barack Obama could run in order that the American people could fly!