09 November 2008

Thoughts on the Election

I said I would write more once the election passed, so here I go. I can't, however, let the election pass without saying anything about it. I voted for Barack Obama, so needless to say I was very pleased with the results. What I didn't expect was such a personal, emotional response. Maybe I didn't want to think forward to what an Obama victory would mean as a way of shielding myself from the possibility of a letdown. Obviously that didn't happen.

I watched the election results at home with Rachel. A friend of mine had mentioned the possibility of an election party, and for awhile I thought that could be fun, but in the end I was more than happy to be at home with Rachel. The emotional response of watching normally composed pundits transition into giddy, rosy-goggled rhetoric, the tears of Jesse Jackson, and the concession speech/return of the real John McCain who I wish had shown up at the beginning of the campaign run, it seemed that with these and all the other images and words of election night, and the crescendo of Obama's victory speech, made me and everyone else feel their emotions more acutely. After thinking about the multiple meanings behind Obama's election (I say thinking because I'd be lying if I said I have fully realized or understood what this all means), I was sure that I wanted to be nowhere else than with her.

Tears have been everywhere following the election. They showed up in the giant Grant Park victory party, on the TV screens, in living rooms, on the trains to work. As I said, I can't begin to explain what this all really means, but I can say that Obama's election has forced me to imagine a different world. While there may not be any tangible change yet - George Bush is still president, our economy still sucks, plus a never-ending list - there has been an emotional shift. Possibility is a reality. Yes, children will probably believe they can become anything they want. Yes, people working off student loans (like myself) might fully understand what they are working for.

I look forward to a Barack Obama presidency not with rosy-eyes or believing that he'll fix the whole world. I do however, believe he will be a good president and a great role model. What we have in him is a man who doesn't conform to stereotypes. A wonderful role model as a father, husband, and person. My complaint about the talking heads' discussions of Obama is that they too often jumped to the importance of electing a black man while neglecting to note that America elected a man that just happens to be black. For all the people for whom the issues trumped Obama's race, there are all the other people for whom Obama's race never entered the discussion.

I look forward to a Barack Obama presidency because to me, he has proven his ability to be a leader through his writing, his thinking, and his understanding of the law. During the debates with Hillary Clinton and John McCain, his willingness to say "That's the right answer" to Clinton and "John is absolutely correct" illustrates a simple, seemingly overlooked fact: that he was listening. Speaking of why his skill as a writer/orator are important, Michael Chabon said it best:

Ultimately words were all we had; that writing and oratory, argument and persuasion, were the root of democracy; that words can kill, or save us; something along those lines. "You can only say what you can first imagine," as I heard Tobias Wolff (the short-story master, not the Obama campaign adviser) explain to a group of people at an Obama fund-raiser. It was a mark of Obama's fitness to lead, to me at least, that he possessed sufficient natural reserves of imagination to kick oratorical ass.

I believe in him simply because of his speech, "A More Perfect Union," regarding Jeremiah Wright and racism in America. I have listened to this speech over and over for the past few days or weeks, and it is impressive in so many ways. For everyone who says he's all style and no substance, I suggest listening to the speech again and notice the style is the substance. Unlike most politicians, he took that opportunity to raise the dialogue about racism in the country, asking people to recognize truths they may have been reluctant to face. He didn't force you to do anything, he asked you, the same thing he's been doing throughout his run and in his victory speech. It also showed his status as a constitutional scholar. He understands the law, its changes, and its legal and social ramifications. Listen to the speech here.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, I believe in him because of of the campaign infrastructure he built. His campaign resembles a more modern, glorified version of the grassroots NAACP structure, a structure that relied on people getting involved, being selfless, and caring about a greater good. This carried Barack Obama to victory the same way it carried the civil rights movement. This is important because it gave power to the people, and now he must serve the people because, should he fuck up, the people have the power to tear him down as quickly as they built him up.

All of this hope for a new future of possibility is unfortunately tainted by the fact that three states voted to ban gay-marriage, and another state passed a law banning unmarried couples from adopting children under the knowledge that same-sex couple cannot marry. That's right, in 2008, on the same day a country elected a black man, some of those same people voted to revoke rights from a group of people.

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