After this election day, even the losers win
I feel especially proud today to be an American.
Not because my candidate won.
I voted for John McCain, and he lost.
His defeat disappoints me because I think McCain would be a better president than Barack Obama.
But I’m hardly inconsolable, because I also believe that Obama could be a pretty good president.
And I hope he fulfills his immense promise.
All of this is, necessarily, pure conjecture.
One thing I’m sure about, though, is that Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, ranks high on the list of significant days in America’s 232-year history.
It cracks the top 10, probably.
The day will be remembered always as the one on which Americans, for the first time, elected as their leader a black man.
This event was inconceivable for at least the first 180 or so years of our republic, and improbable for most of the rest.
Yet it has happened.
And so America begins its new era; for Obama’s victory, it seems to me, divides our common history into the before and the after as distinctly as did, for instance, Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001.
I don’t mean to imply, though, that I believe race was the decisive factor in this year’s election.
I don’t think Obama won because voters felt compelled to assuage their guilt, or to right the wrongs of long ago.
No American alive today is responsible in any way for our country’s shameful legacy of slavery, and to suggest that Obama’s triumph is some form of belated restitution seems to me an insult to the man, and to the millions who voted for him.
Obama won because a majority of voters decided he’s better suited than McCain to lead our country.
That said, Obama’s racial heritage — his father of African descent, his mother of Caucasian — matters because it makes his achievement unique in American history.
It wasn’t until 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, that blacks in many states truly gained the legal right to vote free (or mostly free) from the segregationists’ sinister machinations.
Yet even then, 43 years ago, it was reasonable to dismiss as folly the notion that a black man could become a legitimate candidate for president.
And none did, until Obama.
His election won’t, of course, immediately transform America.
One campaign, even a presidential campaign, can’t get rid of racism. I doubt anything can — hatred, like love, is a powerful force, and one too ingrained in the human psyche to be easily excised.
Yet it wasn’t some ephemeral theory of psychology that I was thinking about Tuesday night as I watched the returns tell the tale.
I was thinking that this is real.
I was thinking that the very essence of what America has always strived for, that idyllic vision described with such rare eloquence in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Emancipation Proclamation, was in fact no mirage, beautiful to gaze upon but forever beyond our grasp.
America cannot erase the ugly blemishes that scar its past.
Yet what happened Tuesday is just as true, just as much a fact of history.
That means a great deal to me — and, I’d wager, to millions of other Americans.
What it means, above all, is that our country, as fine as she is, can still get better after so many decades.
On Tuesday, she proved it.
And so I’m proud, as always, to call myself an American.
And, though I doubt we’ll ever meet, I’d be proud to hail Barack Obama with the salutation he has earned.