Some events are both joyous and sobering–a call for celebration, but not for gloating. Armistice is one such event. As the guns fall silent, both parties enjoy relief from combat, but also contemplate the reconstruction and difficult reconciliation ahead. This is a bit of the feeling we have at the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States.
On the one hand we feel delirious relief and hope. Barack Obama has rekindled our democratic faith with his idealism, intelligence, and grace. We are all the more inspired by the response of our fellow citizens, choosing hope over fear.
Yet we Americans live among the rubble of a political system that has been heavily shelled. Decades of cynical culture wars, abuses of power, and perversions of the Constitution have left many of us suspicious of our fellow citizens and worried about the future of this nation.
This is a moment that demands greatness. And Obama appears to have the fortitude for the job.
Of course, the election of Barack Obama does not magically transform that landscape. But in this calm, this armistice, we can take a breath and bask in the intangible, yet vital, rays of hope.
And there is no question about how profoundly this election of a son of Kenya and the American heartland reinforces our notion of American as an ideal, not a genetic marker.
It remains to be seen to what extent Barack Obama will transform government, but his serious, focused campaign certainly inspires us.
A few days ago, on Election Day, veteran poll watchers at the Takoma Park Middle precinct marveled at voters who had never before waited this long, one hour, two hours, even longer, to cast a ballot. It was a United Nations kind of crowd that is too rare a sight around here, despite all our rhetoric about local diversity. The mood in the long line was casual and festive as if there was no other place one could possibly want to be on this particular day.
In a tactical sense these votes for President did not matter. An Obama victory in Maryland was a foregone conclusion. Up and down the line, though, strangers struck up conversations and repeated the same sentiment, “I want to be part of history.”
The following morning a woman boarded a local bus and was overheard to say, “The country that I love loves me back!”
It was a bit of appreciative eloquence worthy of Obama himself, and it may best explain why, even before taking office, our next President is being compared to another skinny politician from Illinois who also occupied the White House at a time when there was a need for greatness.