The seemingly interminable Presidential campaign has at last been terminated. Barack Obama will be our next president. With the day upon us, my wife and I breathed a collective sigh of relief. The relief only grew as drew on and the final results came in.
I was impressed by McCain’s concession speech. While it included many obligatory lines, I felt McCain made some very genuine, gracious statements. They recalled the man whom I admired in the 2000 campaign, for whom I voted in the primaries in 1999, and who has been absent far too often in the intervening years. I’m glad to have sighted him again. Hopefully he will reemerge in the new Senate.
I was rather confident that Obama would win this election, and I’m grateful that my confidence was not misplaced. I chose to vote for Nader as the best possible choice. But while I believe McCain would have been an improvement over the current administration (his choice for Vice President notwithstanding), Obama is the mainstream candidate under whom I have the most hope for a more progressive direction to our government.
Race is no reason to elect a President, but last night race certainly was a reason to celebrate a President. The ugly stains of bigotry were still dark and widespread in the fabric of our country not so long ago (it is within my lifetime that the LDS Church finally surrendered its own racist policies). Nor has racism been expunged from the republic. Yet this election is an enormous symbolic step for blacks and other minorities. We should relish that step and the jubilation of our minority sisters and brothers who feel empowered, inspired, and validated by this moment.
Obama’s acceptance speech was brilliant. I was moved by the humility, by the solemn tone, by the broader perspective of the task ahead. Of course, being a marvelous speaker does not make one a great president. I’ve been somewhat skeptical of the number of Obamaniacs who seem smitten solely based on his oratorical skills. Obama obviously has intelligence and incredible poise, but only time will tell whether he has the virtue, wisdom, and the fortitude to be a truly great president. We will see whether he has the character to bring people together to change course, or whether “Change” was merely a cynical political slogan. We will learn if he can make the honest political compromises necessary in government without being compromised.
But no matter how Obama turns out, we should take inspiration from his beautiful address last night. The focus of the speech was not “Yes I will,” but “Yes we can.” No matter how magnificent a president he may turn out to be, he cannot solve all of our problems. His wisecracks at the recent charity dinner aside, Obama is not Superman. Conversely, no matter how inept or unprincipled he might reveal himself to be, we are neither powerless nor incapable of reforming our nation from the grassroots up. As Obama pointed out, this nation has made remarkable steps towards overcoming its flaws—not without stumbles and serious deviations from time to time; but improvement nonetheless. That progress, slow as it may be, has only occurred through the determined effort of people throughout society.
In this period in which we face many serious challenges, we can and must harness the energy catalyzed by the Obama campaign before it fizzles out. We can mobilize the youth who supported Obama in such numbers to continue to follow the liberal impulses which drew them in. We can recognize that, despite what Palin and those of her persuasion believe, community activism and organizing are noble and meaningful pursuits. We can put aside the self-interest which has played such a dominant part of the nation’s ideology to instead focus on sustaining the community; looking to care for the earth which supports us all, as well as for the needy, the downtrodden, and “the least of these.”
Yes we can.