[I beg your pardon if this seems a bit over the top. They don’t let me out of my cage very much . . . and how often do we get a chance like this?]
What a time to be an American!
After so long in a dark age, we can finally see the light. It has been said thousands of times in the last weeks and months that this is an historic election — that is not just media hyperbole. Who would have dreamed even two or three years ago that a black man — and one with a so clearly foreign name — would be the next President of the United States? Who could have guessed that we would arrive so soon at a time when “the race card” — one of the central boogeyman of politics and of America’s ambivalent soul for centuries — essentially evaporated? Who would have imagined that in 2008 we could have a national political discussion (to use a charitable word for the usual public discourse on politics) about two candidates for the highest office in the nation — many would say in the world — that had so little mention of the issue that has so often in the past been the elephant in the room? I personally doubt that it is possible to truly reach the oft-mentioned ideal of a “color-blind society” — some degree of prejudice is probably hard-wired into our genes, in the sense of inherent distrust of the unfamiliar or different. But it can be overcome. This election proves as nothing else could that this country has made a quantum leap in that direction.
I have felt repeatedly in the last two days like a sudden flood of sunshine has come into a dank cave that we’ve been in for so long, a hole that the idealogues of the current administration, through a combination of criminal ineptitude, arrogance, and paranoia, have dug us into and from which we’d begun to despair we would ever get out. I am not so naive to think that it will all be sweetness and light from here on out. President-elect Obama inherits a catastrophe on nearly every front — military, economic, geopolitical, environmental — and it will surely get worse before it gets better, at least financially. We are all in for a rough ride. But even with all that, the mere fact that this nation, which had devolved in the eyes of the rest of the planet to a bunch of myopic, superstitious bullies, could come together and elect a black man as President — by a two to one margin — that alone can only cause a sea change of almost unprecedented proportions in our image in the world. And the news and reactions I see here in Portugal amply bears that out.
Yet, despite its far-ranging significance, even the historic election of an African-American is in some sense almost a side issue. The most important thing is that we have elected not another cookie-cutter political product buoyed along by slogans and spin machine but an actual thoughtful statesman who successfully avoided the toxic culture of personal destruction that has increasingly consumed American politics in recent decades. Living in Virginia, where for the first time in decades we actually saw campaign ads for President, I can attest to this: Obama focused on his opponent’s voting record. Not on ties to ancient scandals (though McCain has some), nor on his choice of running mate (shockingly irresponsible as it was), not on convoluted claims of financial connections to alleged terrorists. Not even on McCain’s apparent uncertainty about the USA’s alliance with Spain. Obama refused to stoop to the level of is opponents. He rose above it all. Against all odds, and no doubt against the judgment of many seasoned advisors, he kept the focus on real issues. And it worked. In addition to everything else that’s been said about him, Obama made some small but important progress back in the direction of a civil society. Democracy is working again.
Hail to the Chief.
[And: You go, Judith Warner!]