… and by a huge victory, at that.
People are chanting “Obama! Obama!”, honking their horns, pounding drums and clapping in unison outside my window in Ann Arbor tonight, and it’s 2:40 a.m. This is louder than any Michigan game and is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Even when I discount partisanship, the tone feels so much different than the Bush wins of 2000 and 2004 — when I look at the victorious mood I saw back then, it felt that the tone of the celebrations was more, “We won and you didn’t; we proved our ideas right and defeated yours.” Yet today the nature of the happiness seems different, like a huge sense of relief that things really can be what we hoped they could be. Maybe that’s just because it’s been so many years of the other side winning, and so the left side doesn’t know how to gloat; maybe not. But it seems like the difference between a fan who watches his favorite team trounce the visitors versus a guy passing a test that he studied for and still worried he’d fail.
Even up until the last minute, I just didn’t believe Obama would win. It’s not so much that I thought America was racist, but that it was too set in its ways to make such a historic shift in such tumultuous times. People cling to the familiar, I thought. We rally round the known. Yet tonight I saw that so much of the country was so desperate to better things after eight years of the worst un-American leadership it has ever seen that it moved beyond any familiar model and was ready to listen to new ideas.
- The old, heroic American John McCain made a reappearance tonight, just as I thought he would under winning circumstances. That he did so even while losing is a testament to Sen. John McCain. Maybe if he had stayed in his own personality earlier and avoided handing his campaign over to the worst of his party, things would have gone differently. But I don’t know that Republican circumstances could have allowed him to avoid running the campaign he did — there are too many influentials in the Republican Party who continue to bay for liberal blood even after eight years of government dominance, and getting past that obstacle to win the nomination is all but impossible. No matter what the worst of Democratic partisans say, we all saw that McCain never warmed to the ugliest of the attack-dog nastiness that was demanded of him by the party poo-bahs, and that’s why he was ultimately ineffective at it. Perhaps another scored-earth partisan like Bush or the oily Rudy Giuliani would have been able to exploit the nation’s worst attitudes enough to take down Obama, but McCain just seems incapable of that — and that’s a compliment.
I really did feel a great sadness watching him concede tonight, because the entire nation knew that this was the end for a guy who gave his body and so many years of his life to his country. The fact that McCain never would have been able to run the campaign that he probably wanted to run is what has made me so cynical about our political system, because it chews up positive and pure ideals as the barrier for entry into the public forum. Yet watching McCain return to the Senate to ultimately fade from the scene, even with all of his failings — there’s something sad about it all.
- What will make the victory easier to accept for the nation is that there’s no question of the winner — Obama won not only Ohio, but Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Michigan, New Mexico, Colorado and potentially even Indiana and North Carolina. (As of now.) Seismic, indeed.
- I keep my emotions in check over political events, but I almost teared up watching Jesse Jackson, Oprah and Obama’s other black supporters weeping with joy at the Grant Park rally. My grandpa who emigrated from Ireland greatly admired John F. Kennedy, and in the Irish admiration for Kennedy and the parallel black support for Obama on dispay tonight there’s something really profound: no matter how awful the things history has done to your race or your nationality, with time and human spirit it’s possible to rise above it and get to a better place. Even if it takes generations, it really can be done. To finally get to witness the end triumph is something very special indeed, and no matter your political leanings, that was special to see tonight.
- As I looked at the McCain rally’s audience today, I wondered more than ever just how the Republican party is going to move into the demographics of the 21st century. While Grant Park was a total mishmash, I couldn’t find any non-white faces in all the Arizona crowd shots and panning shots that I saw. No matter what you consider the “real America”, when that America has to share space with demographic reality, you had better find a way to move towards positive integration.
- Sarah Palin will be back for sure. She won’t stay the national joke many would hope she is.
- I’d like to end on one strange political note, and to acknowledge a historical man who has indirectly led to the greatest racial advance this country has ever seen. You probably won’t guess his name.
He is George W. Bush.
Bush is that reviled type of historical figure who inherits a bad situation, then complicates it and makes it worse to a degree far beyond its original nature. As the worst president in American history, he has in fact done such a poor job for the nation that many of those older voters in Ohio or Virginia who would have otherwise been far too focused on Obama’s race likely said to themselves today, “Race used to be a directly negative factor in a politician, but after the incompetence this country has endured in the past eight years and how angry it has made me, I will vote for anybody the opposition party can offer who represents a break from the present situation.” Obama has a funny name, he’s not white, and he has liberal ideas, but he is something new and became a vessel for hope about a different and better future. That won him the election tonight, and strangely George W. Bush did a lot to open the door.