A dawn to savour, but a tough tomorrow


CHICAGO — Barack Obama’s convincing victory has redefined a fractured, troubled America.

There have been few nights in the annals of this republic to equal the one we are waking from. The first true democracy, which survived its revolution and its civil war, defeated the dictators and reached the moon, last night elected a black president. Suddenly, "historic" seems too small a word.

Historic, also, are the challenges facing the man who will be the 44th president of the United States. The economy teeters on the abyss; foes and competitors test the restless giant on every front. And rarely has a president come to office with so little experience in rising to such challenges.

Yet Mr. Obama confronts this grim agenda with a powerful weapon not available to any of his recent predecessors: While previous presidential elections have revealed the cultural fissures the plagued America, last night was an act of union. The defining question of the coming years is whether he can hold that union together.

Mr. Obama’s victory spanned the nation. He won in the grim cities of the decaying industrial Midwest, and the cockpit of racial segregation, Virginia.

He owned the farm fields of Iowa and the desert and peaks of New Mexico.

He united the Atlantic with the Pacific with the Great Lakes with the Mississippi with the Gulf.

He united passionately enthused African Americans with grudgingly accepting working-class whites; young voters suddenly infused with old-fashioned sixties idealism with grey hairs who never thought they’d live to see such a thing.

They voted in what appeared to be unprecedented numbers, standing in line for hours, sometimes in the rain, to make this day. How many Canadians would endure a six-hour wait to cast a ballot? But people did here, in advance polls and in school gyms, church basements and community centres across the country yesterday.

They knew what the day was about.

"It’s not just what he’s said, it’s what he’s shown," explained Paul Brown, a retired postal worker who is African American, and who came down to Grant Park hours before Mr. Obama was expected to appear at a victory celebration last night.

"He’s shown my grandchildren that they can become the president."

A country that, in elections past, seemed increasingly polarized by race, class and religious commitment voted for reconciliation, for unity of purpose in the face of dangers the nation confronts from within and without.

What we don’t know is whether Mr. Obama can entrench this new Democratic coalition of New Southerners, liberal Northerners, wary blue-collars, African Americans, Latinos and suddenly mobilized youth, or whether it will dissolve as the 44th president struggles to reverse economic decline and financial panic at home and a plethora of challenges and threats abroad.

Americans delivered a message to themselves that the world overheard: The last eight years were a waste. Our leaders drew the country into a war in Iraq that should never have been fought; outraged the Constitution with detention camps and torture, and brought the economy to the edge of the abyss.

Our leaders were wrong, we were wrong, the people decided. We need to start again.

They delivered that verdict in congressional races as well, from Mark Warner’s capture of a formerly Republican Senate seat to the 24th congressional district of Florida - where Suzanne Kosmas added to the Democratic majority - to North Carolina, where Democrat Kay Hagan will sit in the Senate seat once held by Jesse Helms.

That does not mean Mr. Obama has a blank cheque. Many of the new Democrats are fiscally and socially conservative - Blue Dog Democrats, as they’re called. In that respect, the new Democratic coalition resembles the union of Southern conservatives, Northern liberals, African Americans and immigrants that Franklin Roosevelt assembled in the 1930s.

That union endured until Lyndon Johnson lost the South by pushing through civil-rights legislation in the 1960s.

Mr. Obama’s new coalition is freshly minted and fragile. If he underperforms, it could unravel by the midterm election. But if he rises to this difficult occasion, the Democratic Party could enjoy a depth and breadth of support not seen in many decades.

As for the Republicans, it was as bad a night for the party as it was for John McCain. To his credit, the Arizona senator refused to drag Jeremiah Wright, Mr. Obama’s former pastor, into the race, because he feared it would worsen racial tensions. His surrogates were by no means so circumspect.

His choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will be second-guessed forever. Without her, he would never have rallied the base; with her, he lost the centrist independents.

But in the end, he fought the campaign he fought, and will return to the Senate to ponder the results. The bad news in the long term for the Republican Party is that many of its remaining moderates - people such as New Hampshire’s John Sununu - were brought down, leaving the party weakened and prey to the radical evangelicals and talk show hosts who dominate its right wing. If the GOP clings to that base, perhaps with Ms. Palin as its champion, the party has no future.

Never mind all that. This is a dawn to savour for everyone who believes that the future of America is the future of the free world. Its citizens have risen magnificently to a magnificent occasion, demonstrating that the affliction of race resentments can be surmounted. Once again we have learned the lesson we keep forgetting: that entrenched assumptions can be uprooted. Peace can come to Ireland. The Cold War can end. America’s racial wounds can start to heal.

In the best of worlds, it will take half a century to heal them completely. But the nation is now firmly headed in the right direction.

Americans have shown us yet again what a fascinating, frustrating, complicated people they are. They have chosen a young black man with little experience in high office to lead them in a time of danger and complexity.

People of good will everywhere will wish him well.

.:theglobeandmail ->


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Posted: November 5th, 2008
at 5:48am by Koookiecrumbles

Categories: life,too good to be true,politricks,fo' real?,real life news

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