Change Has Come to America

November 5, 2008 · 1 Comment


I first saw President Obama at the Los Angeles Democratic primary debate with Hillary Clinton.  I went in neutral and left an Obama supporter.

The single thing that struck me then and has stayed with me ever since was his consistency in never making this election about himself, but about restoring the hopes and dreams of the people.

I attended the debate because it was being sponsored by and broadcast on CNN, and I run marketing for a company that spends a lot of money advertising on CNN and Headline News.  A colleague was with me whose brother-in-law is an ex-Republican turned Obama ward captain.  I thought that Obama held his own in the debate, and displayed a trait that in the end helped him win the Presidency more than any position or talking point – his cool but engaged temperament.   Hillary was also very impressive, and her candidacy was historic in so many ways.  But in the end the Clintons had, to my mind, simply done too much to win the nomination at all costs and they used up all of the good will they had built up with me, and then some.

My colleague’s brother-in-law waded down to the front afterward where Obama stayed for quite some time interacting with anyone who waiting around long enough.  He shouted out to Obama “I believe in you,” and Obama said something back that he has repeated time and time again to supporters – “No, I believe in you! This is about you.”

Obama has inspired the hopes of a new generation.  While Obama won the support of most of the identifiable groups used for polling, there is no denying that symbolically this contest was about race.  While Obama never made race the main thrust of the campaign, if anything his campaign was the anti-identity politics, because of our nations history the campaign was about the ability of an African-American man to become President in a country that continues to struggle with a legacy of racism.  His nearly monolithic support in the black community (over 90%) and his very strong showing with Hispanic voters (70%) were most certainly deciding factors.   While the Obama win is undoubtedly about race, it is equally about the passing of the torch to a new generation.  Obama won in the 30 and under age groups by a huge margin (in most states well over 65%).  In addition to his lopsided support, Obama energized new voters – especially among racial minorities and younger voters.  A few times every century leadership passes from one generation to the next.  We have witnessed that hand-off.

Race continues to be an entrenched and horribly difficult issue (just look at the vote tallies in the South), and racism continues to block millions of Americans from equal opportunity.  We must not fall victim to the naive belief that the election of Obama means that racism has been defeated.  But neither should we underestimate the enormity of this achievement and of this moment.

And yet all is not rosy.  Virtually every anti-gay ballot measure on State ballots across the nation passed.  Most denied gays and lesbians the right to marry, by defining marriage as between a man and a woman.  Some denied the right of single people to adopt as a way to discriminate against gay people.  While one barrier to equality has fallen, others are being reinforced by the small-mindedness of the self-righteous.  Anti-gay discrimination is now on the front lines of ensuring equality of civil rights.

One telling contrast struck me last night.  McCain’s concession speech was gracious; the reaction of his audience was as ugly and petty as the campaign had been, booing at the mention of Obama.  By contrast the crowd in Chicago’s Grant Park listening to Obama’s declaration of victory applauded the mention of McCain.  It’s always easier, I suppose, to be gracious in victory than in defeat, but I was struck again by how rhetoric and tactics reveal character and are replicated in the reaction of supporters.  One seeks to unite and break the politics of division and rancor.  The other sees only its own loss.  Let us hope that we all seize this historic moment as a time to renew our commitment to stay involved, to improve our nation and our communities, and to unlock the potential of all of our citizens by providing the basics of a society of opportunity:  education, health care, and economic mobility – especially if it means self-sacrifice.

Obama has a steep hill to climb.  Two wars going badly and a military overstretched.  An economy in decline.  Nationalized mortgage institutions.  Huge amounts of public money pumped into a failing banking system.  An equity market that has lost over 35% of its value.  A world of disappointed allies and emboldened adversaries.  And yet climb we must.  And hope is the one thing that can bring us through this tough time.

Congratulations to Obama-Biden and their steady, disciplined campaign.  The hard work is over, now comes the even harder work.

Categories: McCain · Palin · Politics
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1 response so far ↓

  • colleague // November 5, 2008 at 12:36 am | Reply

    Fab post. I’m very emotional tonight. I feel like I could be walking around France or Germany or Mexico or Canada and proudly say I’m an American. Slight correction…my brother in law was never a republican (to my knowledge)…he’s always been at odds with his hawk brother who is currently in Iraq.

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