America has spoken. Barack Obama will take the oath of office as 44th President of the United States on January 20, 2009. This is one of those rare days where We The People will remember where we were and what we did to be part of this moment in history. While Senator Obama’s victory has appeared likely for weeks, the real proof of the People’s will was etched on the faces of those millions of voters who went out before dawn to stand patiently in long, tedious lines to exercise their fundamental right of citizenship in this democracy. 62 million voted for Obama, 52% of all voters in the largest voter turnout in American history. This historic victory for the nation’s first African American president is equally a great victory for the citizens of this nation, no matter which candidate received their votes. Record numbers of citizens participated at each moment in the campaign, and the passionate engagement of so many bodes well for the future of our nation.
As I write this, Senator John McCain is giving a truly gracious and large-spirited concession address. He is leaving the stage as a class act, which is also a good thing for the nation. President-elect Obama will need the wholehearted cooperation of Senator McCain’s followers and members of the Republican party as much as Democrats. Once the election is past, we should be known only as Americans.
It’s quite moving to watch the crowd gathered in Grant Park in Chicago — enormous, cheering, crying, dancing, elated. There’s a camera shot of Jesse Jackson with tear streaming down his cheeks. On one network, the great Congressman John Lewis, a true hero of the Civil Rights Movement, speaks to the overwhelming emotion of this moment for African Americans in an age when millions can still remember the horror of the bombings in Birmingham, the devastation of Martin Luther King’s assassination, the shame of still-prevalent segregated and underfunded schools. A gathering sense of vindication, even redemption flows across the split screens of joyful crowds around the country.
Senator Obama is now giving an eloquent acceptance speech. He calls for unity, hope and humility. The text will be oratory for the ages.
Barack Obama will need the memory of this day to buoy him through the hard times that most certainly will come quickly in his presidency. He inherits two wars, global economic catastrophe, profoundly impaired international relations, ongoing severe threats of terrorism, and a long list of domestic priorities largely ignored or abandoned by the Bush administration. With $10 billion in tax dollars supporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq each month, and $700 billion more pledged to the bailout of failed financial institutions, and a federal deficit approaching $500 billion annually, the Obama administration will have immediate fiscal challenges. His ability to achieve his agenda will surely be tested and tempered by the realities of the economy. Perhaps part of the “change we need” that President Obama signifies is a more patient and prudent view of what any president can actually accomplish in the first 100 or 200 days in office.
For now, congratulations to President-elect Obama, and to the citizens of the United States.