Finally, on Wednesday night after the election, I got it: Barack Obama won the presidency, and I felt my first wave of euphoria. I have learned to shun that particular feeling when involving myself with politics, perhaps wanting to avoid disappointment or, maybe, as a kind of warrior, refusing to let my guard down even for a moment. But we stand in the midst of an unusual, indeed, a special time. Those of us who put our energy into this know that we have guided our country down a different branch of the road.
Barack Obama means many things to many people, and I want to first give a voice to the anger and suspicion. This includes the longtime reader who wrote to me and said, “I can see you not liking McCain. But how can you be so blinded by Obama?” Well, I trust my senses, my intuition and my knowledge of history. On the single issue most important to me—the composition of the Supreme Court—he was the obvious choice.
There are those who are outraged or incredulous that a black man is going to be president; for a significant number of people, that one fact marks the end of their particular United States of America. This is our nation’s racial shadow rising to greet us. Anyone claiming Obama is a Muslim terrorist is having this particular issue.
We all know what was done to the Africans when they were brought here. We know that there has been no recompense, no apology, and that in some places life is no better than it was 100 or 150 years ago. Those who believe that white people should be perpetually in power are afraid that if and when the anger they suppose African-Americans feel is released and the tables are turned, they will be the ones getting lynched. This may seem like an overstatement; I contend that, if anything, I’m understating the situation because of how insidious the problem is.
To my father, Obama represents someone who is going to bankrupt the country with his healthcare plan. He seems completely incapable of viewing the larger issues in context of the Bush administration. The professor gets excellent state health insurance; he says he wishes everyone could have that, but he doesn’t want any part in paying the bill. He was unreflective about this apparent hypocrisy.
My mother is one of those people who doesn’t trust Obama. A member of MoveOn and a longtime contributor to Planned Parenthood, she’s someone who has developed a social conscience over the years; but she seems to be in the “pretty cover, blank pages” camp.
To African-Americans, I think the message here is too profound and subtle, and, to some, too stunning to even summarize. We live in a country where there are more than two million black men in prison.
As of 2003, about 10.4 percent of the African-American male population in the United States aged 25 to 29 was incarcerated. We live in a country where being black means you might get executed for something for which a white person gets paroled or acquitted. Obama winning the presidency on a groundswell of authentic love of the people is proof that maybe we’re not all a bunch of seething racists.
To those who have poured their resources, time, energy, and creativity into social justice movements during the past 20 or 30 years, Barack Obama represents a social and political miracle of the highest order. He represents the potential for national healing after a seemingly endless—I personally thought it would never end, because I could not see how, or where—train of abuses of conscience.
It is true, as my friend Tracy pointed out and as everyone who has worked in politics knows, that your candidate sometimes disappoints you. She noted that for the UK, Tony Blair represented the end of the Margaret Thatcher/John Major era of history, and people were elated that the left finally got a voice.
Then Mr. Blair turned out to be more interested in playing Little Big Man than leader of a nation, selling out wholesale to Cheney/Bush and the Neocon movement. He supported the Iraq war, knowing it was a fraud; knowing that the alleged British intelligence about that yellowcake uranium was forged; knowing he was playing along. France, which did not support the war (remember “freedom fries”?) and spent years ridiculing Bush and the stupidity of Americans for allowing him to be their leader, elected Nicolas Sarkozy, Bush’s clone and Dick Cheney’s disciple, to be its president.