As I write this, it’s nearly midnight on Tuesday, November 3, 2009, the end of a day during which elections were held in several states around America (including New York, New Jersey and Virginia), largely for governors and mayors and other local officials, an off-year election – not to be confused with mid-term races held half-way through a President’s term and, as a rule, it’s senators and Congressional representatives whose careers are on the line.
In today’s elections, the Democrats won some, the Republicans won some, and the media and press pundits are already blathering about what it all means: was this a referendum on President Obama and is he winning or losing?, what does this posit for 2010 and 2012?, all the political horse race shit that has nothing to do with people’s real lives, and which, for decades, has pushed millions out of the arena of civic and political concern.
But tonight was also the debut of HBO’s new documentary, By the People: The Election of Barack Obama, about his historic campaign for the presidency and his election as the first African-American President in 2008. Although, I’m sad to say, it doesn’t tell us anything about him that we don’t already know, it is a well-crafted, important reminder of the sense of energy, faith, optimism, racial dignity, Liberal decency, and immeasurable enthusiasm that accompanied Obama’s campaign and its milestone victory.
With a combination of old-school, beat-the-bushes campaigning and an unprecedentedly sophisticated use of new and established media, Barack Obama succeeded in bringing millions of previously disenchanted, disinterested youth into the political fold, and he gave aging Lefties a sense of we-the-people-déjà vu that we had long ago stopped waiting for.
Of course, the campaign nearly exploded the heads of numerous Republicans, Conservatives, and Vehemently White Americans (you’ll notice I didn’t say racist, because heaven forbid that I or anyone should imply that race was an issue in the campaign and continues to be an issue in Mr. Obama’s presidency…). But Obama’s campaign battle cries: “Change You Can Believe In,” “Yes We Can,” “The Audacity of Hope,” “We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For” and, quoting Martin Luther King Jr., “The Urgency of Now,” drowned out the Doubting Bubbas, as well as the frightened, the reserved, the complacent. He won. And those of us who supported him believed that he and we would change the world. So how did we go from “hepped up and ready to go” to hemmed in and not doing much?
Before I say any more, I want to state that right up until Hillary Clinton conceded the Democratic nomination to Obama and gave him her full-throated support, she was my candidate. I didn’t adore her. She didn’t inspire me. I believed she was a true politician (with many of the negative implications that word often carries) who knew how to play with the Big Boys on their turf and give them a run for their money. I believed her balls were as big as theirs, and that her moxie, that “woman element” which set her apart from the pack, added the thrill of another kind of history-making election to what was an essentially pragmatic choice.