An election almost fulfilling my wildest dreams! I may have doubts about President Obama, but I had no doubt about my enthusiasm at seeing him elected president. Not just elected, but winning by the biggest majority since LBJ. That a mixed race American could achieve that kind of victory reminds me of what is actually good and decent in this country. Of course, many tens of millions voted against Obama. That so many Americans could somehow think that John McCain would end CheneyBush’s policies of “borrow, spend, attach and kill” is disturbing. But at least they are on the wrong side of events these days, not the other way around as has been the case these past eight years.
Cynic that I am, even I felt a sense of hope Tuesday night watching the returns. Early on, there was some suspense; McCain actually had more electoral votes, Virginia was close. That didn’t last long, especially for us Left Coast viewers. Trends were moving toward Obama toward 8:00 pm but no sooner had polls closed in Washington, Oregon and California than all the networks called the election. In almost no time, John McCain was giving a concession speech. Parties broke out across the nation. Olympia closed several downtown streets for Democratic revelers. Fireworks. I’ve never seen anything like it.
From then on everything about the evening was hope and pride. Hope that this one man can actually salvage something from the wreckage of the past eight years. Perhaps he will reverse the past 30 years of social Darwinist, anti-government Republican ideology (abetted by Democrats all along the way, I will add). In my dream world, President Obama will dismantle the National Security State has ruled this nation for six decades. For all the blather about America’s strength and willingness to take on any foe, we live in fear of the world. A truly confident America would engage the world with the strength of her ideas and the dynamism of her people. On Tuesday night, I felt hope that this will come to pass.
The evening reminded me of John Kennedy’s election in many ways. I was barely into adolescence and only marginally aware of issues but the sense of change was palpable, especially to a Catholic, seeing his co-religionist break a longstanding electoral barrier. Eight years of Eisenhower left the nation ready for something dramatic. During the 50’s we feared the Commies, who not only wanted to invade our homes and shut our churches but now had more missiles (an early version of Iraq’s WMD’s) and whose satellites mocked us from outer space. Maybe adults took a more measured view of Kennedy who, after all, barely won the election (my nominally Protestant father and Catholic mother canceled each other’s vote) but for a young American, all things seemed possible.
How all that turned out serves as my cautionary tale for this week’s events. All the good intentions and lofty ideals, all the brains and all of the power at America’s command at the zenith of her power crashed and burned in the jungles of South Vietnam. The wound was hardly a fatal one but it has festered ever since, with many Americans still wanting to avenge a stolen victory. The vengeance has poisoned our politics with divisive rhetoric, wedge issues and scorched earth campaigns while it also distorts our foreign policy toward some redeeming “victory”. The first Bush president thought he accomplished that mission when he claimed to have “kicked the Vietnam syndrome”. Apparently, premature declarations of accomplishment run in the family). That’s a long way to say that for all the hope and joy on Tuesday night, actual results may vary.
That’s where we—anyone who believes that America should be a nation the uses its wealth and resources to promote social justice and peace—come in. If we ever hope to accomplish that, we need to keep on speaking out. We need to make it impossible for President Obama and the Democratic congress to continue the policies of the past. Franklin Roosevelt said something to that effect; if you want it, make me do it. For now I have the hope that we might just be able to pull it off. The battle is already joined. Today’s Washington Post carries an article about the foreign policy choices President Obama must make, choices between continuing or abandoning CheneyBush’s policies. That the latter option even exists tells me that the possibilities for change are already contracting. So too do photos of Obama surrounded by the Democratic version of the Usual Suspects on economic and foreign policies. The Owning Class and National Security Democrats are well organized and connected. We must do no less.
The increased turnout, especially among voters under 30, also gives me great hope. These new voters must live with the world we leave them so It’s heartening to see them passionately involved. I saw them in person at the February caucuses and was impressed with their enthusiasm. I’m damn happy to see that continue. Last night, turnout for our weekly vigil was 30 to 40 (compared to our usual 10-15; this on a dark, wet evening, no less). The increase was mostly young people. More reason to hope.
Seeing Virginia go for Obama was especially pleasing. I felt proud of my former home state, if for no other reason than I know many people who made that happen. Virginia may also be rid of one of the most odious Republican congressmen—Virgil Goode from my old congressional district—in favor of an intelligent representative. Last I saw was the challenger leading by 700 votes. My current home state, Washington went big time Obama and handily re-elected a well-regarded Democratic governor when all the polls showed a too-close-to-call election.
Possibilities? Hope? Change? Yes. But only if we make it happen. One election does not alone do anything other than open the door. But at least the door did not slam shut in my face.