These were two good men in this race–two men whom I would have been proud to call my President. Yes, I had my issues with John McCain. Mostly, though, they were of the "scratching my head and wondering where the hell the John McCain I thought I knew went" variety. But I knew in my heart that both of these good men truly put "Country First."
So…first off, thank you, John McCain. Thank you for everything you have given to this nation–so much–and thank you for your continued service in its name.
Last night, monkeys tumbled off our great nation’s back in droves. So much history was made last night–I love the way David Gergen on CNN kept saying, "The significance of this night cannot be overstated." Certainly, it is going to take this country, its citizens, and the world years to understand and then live into that significance. It sure feels good, however, to be here today.
I am excited. Strangely enough, it’s not because we’ve just elected our first black president. I clearly pay homage to this amazing milestone, but what truly excites me is how President-Elect Obama brought something back to many, many of us that it felt like we’d lost. How, above all, he embodies this.
I feel like an American again.
When Michelle Obama said at the beginning of the year, "for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback," she took a lot of heat. Of course, what those who seized on that comment didn’t mention was that her remark was a follow up to this statement: "People in this country are ready for change and hungry for a different kind of politics."
How folks could misconstrue her comment as somehow un-American, was beyond me. In fact, I took it as one of the most American statements of the election year. I mean, since when did questioning our leaders and our political landscape demonstrate a lack of patriotism in this country? Questioning authority is, after all, the foundation upon which this country was built.
More to the point, Ms. Obama’s comment, In a sentence, it summed it all up. I don’t know if I could put myself as squarely in the "not proud of my country my adult life" as she was. I felt pretty damned skippy voting for Bill Clinton in ’92 and ’96. I felt like our country was moving in the right direction. But these past eight years…
I had, myself, begun to lose hope. How we could allow an election to be stolen. How we could buy into politics of divisiveness and ideology. How we could be at each others’ throats. How we could, in eight short years, become the "bad guy" in the rest of the world’s eyes. How we could move from relative prosperity to the brink of economic ruin. And how, as Rome was burning, we were fiddling–still arguing and bickering as flaming pieces of our society fell charred and broken at our feet.
I felt like an alien in this place. Or like I’d somehow waken up in a parallel dimension, in some strange Shadow America. Like the evil Star Trek Universe: American Political Landscape Edition.
I woke up again last night. Finally at home. And my hope returned last night. Not in the feeling of having bet on the right horse, but in Obama’s first words as President-Elect where he told the nation:
So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it’s that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers – in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.
Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House – a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We are not enemies, but friends…though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection." And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn – I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.
I was and am proud of our resiliency as a nation and as a people. Of our ability to learn from our mistakes. Of the renewed sense of purpose that seems to be taking root in our hearts and, more importantly, in our actions.
For the first time in a long time I stand on the road and look down it thinking, come what may we might just be okay. Not because Barack Obama was elected President, but because of how he was elected President. By people of all ages, colors, and creeds coming together under the cause of reclaiming our unity while celebrating the diversity this nation–a nation of immigrants–was created to celebrate. Because for the the first time in a long time, it seems not about how "I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m good and you’re bad." Rather, it seems to be about "how can we lift each other up."
I can get behind that.
That said, I woke up this morning feeling only mostly good. The world didn’t suddenly change over night, though we would like to think it somehow did so magically. We face the same problems waking up this morning that we faced yesterday and the day before–and not just the tangible ones, like the economy or the war in Iraq.
I am talking here about the harder to peg, much less resolve, issue of defining ourselves and each other by our differences as opposed to our similarities. I’m talking about the thing that gives us permission to de-humanize each other and knock each other down. The thing that puts me and my agenda above you–sometimes at any cost.
That didn’t go away last night. Truth be told, in some ways, the potential for it to raise its ugly head even higher was kicked up a notch or two. That makes this time one of great potential, but as I’ve told my kids time and time again, potential is a double-edged sword. Because from this vantage point, I can see how we can go either way, folks. This could lead to our darkest hour as easily as it could lead to our brightest one.
Achieving our potential as a nation won’t just happen; it requires great vigilance and patience and sensitivity and action on all our parts. It requires each of us reaching across the divide. Graciously and humbly. Everyone…no matter who you voted for.
Yes…I want a healed economy and a healed international landscape, but even more I want a healed country. A country of healed hearts and spirits–across the spectrum. If we’re ever going to live up to our claim of "one nation under God", we need that. All of us.
So, President-Elect Obama, I congratulate you. And I call upon you…to be your word. To be the leader we all pray you are. To really be President to all of us, as you promised. And to lead us not merely to the top of the mountain, where the view is great. Yessiree. But also to the other side, where, as Martin Luther King envisioned, "all of God’s children, black men and white
men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands
and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last!
thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’"
Can we do that?
This I believe: Yes, we can.