Wow. What can there be to say about this election now that our president-elect, Barack Obama, has not already said? The struggle to bring our hopes to fruition, the need for humility from victors, the need for consensus solutions to common problems, can--after eight long years of nothing good this way coming--at last begin. That's my synopsis.
But you know, as amazing as this historic election was--and Jesse Jackson was not the only one with misty eyes as Obama made his victory speech--there was something else I learned last night that struck me even more, really dumbfounded me with gratitude and awe.
Matt, my friend from college days of yore, a longtime moderate conservative and Republican who voted for Bush in 2004, admitted to me that he had voted for Obama this time around, and two other college friends I had always considered moderate-to-moderate conservative had done so as well. He wanted me to know that Obama had support among young Republicans.
Now, I knew that for some time my friend had been becoming more and more centrist. I think living amid the natural beauty of Washington state helped him to realize an interest in the preservation of America's natural wonders. But I also recalled (and in the post somewhere below) that we had liked both McCain and Obama, some years past. I had figured he'd support McCain as the bipartisan change-maker from the side of the political aisle he felt more comfortable with. Boy was I wrong, and for a number of reasons.
The first reason is that even moderate Republicans and conservatives had become displeased with Bush's imperial presidency, expansion of government, and excessive kowtowing to business lobbies. Matt was not a happy camper, last we had spoken about Bush some two years ago, because of Bush's habit of adding his own opinions onto the ending of legislation crossing his desk--a clear attempt to unilaterally alter legislation he didn't like, and break the checks and balances our forefather's had intended to safeguard our democracy from would-be Caesars. No, despite having voted for Bush in 2004, there were clearly some second thoughts appearing in thoughtful voters' minds by late 2005, including that of my friend.
The second reason was entirely McCain's own fault. Despite beginning the election (notably the primaries) as a solid maverick, independent spirit, and bipartisan consensus maker, he betrayed his own principles in a huge way during the general election by moving to abjectly appease the rightwing conservative fringe that had never approved of him. Conservative culture warriors who still didn't really like him gave McCain the nod, and we all got to see something that not even the communist Vietnamese had managed: a once proud veteran, broken.
This choice defied strategic common sense (move right/left in primaries, move to the center for the general election), not boding well for McCain's performance under pressure. Many have noted that he really didn't seem to be himself for the past four or five months, and only seemed to wake up again when it came time to deliver his concession speech. Picking a pitbull for wannabe VP was just the last straw, and things went worse from there.
Perhaps my friend was concerned that the ill-mannered *cough* female dog *cough* would chew up the linens in the Lincoln bedroom or shit all over the Oval Office rug. Or perhaps it was just the internal illogic of choosing a particularly divisive VP ("pro-American parts of America") when McCain was claiming he would bring a new bipartisan spirit in his leadership. This was the last straw, and my formerly Republican friend donated money to the Obama campaign the very next week after McCain made his VP pick.
Lastly, McCain really didn't stand too much chance with a candidate like Obama. For young people such as ourselves, Obama knows how to speak as one of us--a smart and confident, but also very approachable, very accessible guy. For African Americans, minorities, and even many in the white plurality, Obama also represents a reconciliation of our greatest humanitarian tragedy. He doesn't stand, like other activists have, with an accusatory finger; he stands with self-confidence and offers his partnership with all Americans on equal and respectful terms. Unlike Kerry or Bush, he's not a blue blood. I think the conservative pundits didn't quite understand that making 'liberal elite' labels stick would not be so easy when it came to a guy who worked his way up the ladder like any other hard-working American, and spoke clear, logical English.
In any case, I really think the most important component of the election was not the Democratic return to power, but the mandate for bi-partisan progress that is the basis for such enthusiasm from people who wouldn't have been receptive to it if we were all running around like beheaded chickens in the imposed "culture wars".
I'd like to finish with some of my friend's own words on Obama: "Obama stayed himself. It means a lot to me. Obama always spoke clearly to me, like a normal guy. He stood by his morals, and you know what he stands for. It's the little stuff. People who don't watch as closely don't see it. He's the real deal. The next great president.
I have never liked a candidate more. He is the first person in my lifetime that has moved me big time, as a major public figure."
So there you have it. Matt has spelled out one of the essential reasons I have supported Obama's campaign since the primaries, even against all that the Clintons stood for. Because it is important that our president be capable of inspiring all Americans, not just half of them. I believe Barack Obama will do just that.