I felt nothing but national pride, genuine happiness, and even hope (!) watching President-elect Barack Obama’s acceptance speech last Tuesday night. “From now on,” I thought, “people will remember this as the last great racial hurdle in America, and we can continue to work to form a more perfect union.”
Even McCain’s concession speech confirmed it as the limping, sad grandpa quieted his rabid crowd of fanatics and praised Obama’s remarkable achievement in “inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president.” Gracious words.
And in that moment, all seemed well. I tucked myself into bed happily surprised with the American people, my faith in the progression of humanity temporarily reinforced.
Then my mind wandered a bit, considering the unlikely possibility that Ohio and California went red and the entire Northeast pulled an overnight 180. How would I have felt about the less-likely alternative occurring, especially considering that I voted (knowing full well that he would lose all 77 counties in my Midwestern deep-red state) for the skinny, 47-year-old black man with big ears?
The answer: I speculate I would feel less hopeful (don’t confuse my hope for society with Obama’s “Hope”) though not in the least disappointed in the American people, at least not in the way the blindly partisan people booing Obama at McCain’s concession speech were. Had McCain been elected, I’d forever consider America the timid eight-year-old, whiffing at a softball primed on a tee. McCain, in all likelihood, would do a good job leading the country he loves (a lot) but I would find no joy or solace in the fact that a debilitated old man with questionable judgment (see: Palin) governed my home, particularly when this year’s model is slyer, sleeker, and far more appealing as a leader.
But is this happiness only temporary? I suspect it is. The novelty of “America’s First Black President” will wear off in time, and Obama will probably return to the stock presidential position as “Somebody I Never See in Person or Talk To, Yet Gently Mock Via the Internet.” What happens then? This may eventually come back to bite America in the ass if Obama suddenly finds that his community organizer days and paltry few years in the Senate weren’t enough to prepare him for dealing with foreign heads of state, national energy crises, and international terrorism.
And then there is the daily reminder of the political color of my state and school. Bill Maher once asked this question lampooning college Republicans: “Usually you have to be older and married before you start hating life so much you try to blame the Mexicans for all your problems, don't you?”
I want so badly to agree with him. You know who I’m talking about, right? The ones who ate up The Reagan Diaries like Harry Potter and say all kinds of sweet things about the kids their age in Iraq. Today, their beloved grandpa comatose, they moped all over campus wondering how the West Coast and Northeast could be so stupid, and proud of every individual Oklahoma county decisively proclaiming its collective hots for Sarah Palin. Those kids won’t so much as sniff enough capital in the next four years to justify the feared “socialist” commander-in-chief taxing it.
But the worst is the assassination thing. They all “just know” that somebody’s going to make a stab at it. I think they’re secretly hoping it’ll happen, and the more they talk about it, the more feasible and even likely it seems. How could you wish the death of a president? The whole buzz-kill thought forces me to wonder why I got so jazzed up about mankind in the first place.
These are the myriad thoughts that have been tangling up my mind for the last month, compounded by the last few days. Frankly, I’m just glad the election is over and we have a solid chunk of time to relax while Bush ambles his way back home to Texas. Hopefully the army of conservative white kids I know (who seemed borderline apolitical until Obama captured Ohio) will ease up and cancel those knee-jerk booked flights to Quebec and Paris (I hear they’re pretty liberal over there, too) and everything will return to normal.
All in all, I've found the wave of fanaticism over the last month overwhelming. It very nearly soured a great victory for democracy, one prophesied more than 40 years ago on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by a man who knew too well the disgusting power of racism. He spoke with holy conviction that stifling August afternoon, saying “now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.” Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream is now a reality. That a black man will become president of the United States in less than two months is wonderful, exciting, and inspirational. It’s unfortunate that some people can’t seem to find joy in it.