The Triumph of Hope
It has been several days now. In the euphoria following Obama's election, I find myself wondering -- what was that pent-up feeling that exploded from me on Election Night, causing me to scream until I lost my voice and tears to flow to the point that I no longer felt the wetness of my cheeks?
It was not the mere happiness of a victory - this emanated from a much deeper place. Yet mine were not the tears of Jesse Jackson. Obama's election did not represent for me personally the summit of my people's march that began with slavery, passing through lynching,
discrimination, and incarceration. For my part, Obama didn't cleave to every one of my progressive issues. What then was driving me to such jubilation, and, for that matter, others to spontaneous outpourings in the streets of our cities, tens of thousands in Grant Park, and the echoes of celebration throughout the world?
Were we all suffering a massive hope deficit disorder that was miraculously cured? If so, how did we all come down with this disease together?
Four years ago we were introduced to Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention. I liked his speech, but his talk of no blue states, no red states, just the United States, left me thinking he was as naïve as his young eager face. Even before Swift Boating and the other Rove brand politics that were to come once again, I dismissed Obama's talk as not being pointed enough to survive.
After all, I had lived through Willie Horton, Al Gore's "invention of the internet", and Howard Dean's scream, enough to know that in ruthless hands, a seemingly inconsequential moment can lead to the demise of even the most qualified candidate.
That's what Presidential politics had devolved to, thanks in large measure to Lee Atwater, Karl Rove, and a compliant press, who, rather than dismissing or rebutting these charges, gave them endless unchallenged airplay until we all thought they were important enough to be the basis of our votes. So when Reverend Wright, Bill Ayers and charges of socialism arose, I feared that once again, my fellow citizens would opt for the sound bite and jerk the red lever out of fear.
But something different was happening this election. It was palpable long before Sarah Palin tried to separate real Americans from the phony ones. You could sense it starting in the Primaries, where anywhere you went - public parks, PTA meetings, the laundromat, you could overhear conversations weighing the merits of candidates. People were thinking, they were discussing - they were tuned in. There was no better indication of this than the fact that the television viewership for both party conventions topped that of the final for American Idol. Americans, for once in a very long time, were giving more thought to their vote than to their choice of chewing gum in the check-out line.
Even when the Republicans shouted elitism and celebrity at Obama's insightful explanations (about race and international relations) and Palin came on with her "you betcha's" and run-on sentences, voters didn't turn to the guy they'd most like to have a beer with. Instead they listened carefully and in overwhelming numbers to the debates, turning down the dials each time McCain tried hurling labels.
The media for their part rose to the occasion. Rather than the mindless repetition of each campaign's latest talking points or inflating the misstep or stumble of any candidate, they did better at filtering out what was relevant to the job of President and what wasn't. There were fact checkers exposing the truth, in-depth issue analysis, and holding the center from swinging to the hate jocks, there was MSNBC and others willing to espouse the contradicting position. Still bruised from selling the American public an illegal war, I believe members of the press didn't want to the responsibility for selling Americans the political party that took us there.
Obama capitalized brilliantly on this new public appetite to go deeper into politics than into a reality television show. He spoke thoughtfully, calmly, in complex sentences. He appealed to our intelligence and compassion and not to our fear. He didn't force us to commit to one separate issue box but invited us to come together in one common box. He exhorted us to think beyond our narrow self-interest and instead consider what was best for the common good.
The triumph of hope as a message was its encouragement to cast aside our fears and reach across the divide of our country to grasp the hands of others - like and unlike us.
And the crowning magnificence of this coming together was the fact that it was embodied in one whose name is not James or John but Barack; whose Black wife is whip smart, genuine and compassionate, and whose two beautiful young daughters will animate the White House along with their new puppy. I still cry to think of that image of the four of them striding out on the stage that Tuesday night. Yes, we can.
The powerful force screaming out of me Election Night was the relief that after so many years of feeling estranged from my countrymen, my faith and allegiance in American voters were redeemed. We didn't turn from our next President because of his race; we turned to him because of his intellectual superiority, his ability to inspire and lead, and because of his appeal to our better nature. Our collective
willingness to treat this election with the seriousness it deserved; to make extraordinary commitments organizing communities and waiting
hours to vote before Election Day; and to join together on behalf of the real middle-class and not the Joe the Plumber fat cat wannabes - this was the catharsis of November 4 for me and millions more.
Those tears were my hope, blossoming.