Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Nightmare is Over

As one unknown commentator on CNN put it: "The nightmare that began when Bush stole the election in 2000 is over."

Barack Hussein Obama, the first black man to ever come close to the highest office, is president-elect of the United States.

I was in tears at the end, following the high-tech drama of tallying the votes on CNN, BBC and Democracy Now (courtesy of So was Jesse Jackson, glimpsed beside Oprah in the victory crowd of over 100,000 in a Chicago park, who must have been also thinking of Martin Luther King and and the long night of civil rights protest in America that had been vindicated today. Seeing Obama and his family on stage before his acceptance speech, I could not help but remember watching King's "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington 45 years ago, or hearing of the murders of civil rights workers in the south, the fire hosing of demonstrators in Alabama or the bombing of black churches by segregationists.

In 1964, I was with a few new black friends when they were refused service at a restaurant in Louisiana. We had all been in a train wreck near the Texas border and even though Southern Pacific was paying for our meal, only the white passengers could eat. I will never forget seeing the pain and humiliation they suffered as my wife and I accompanied them back to the bus where they sat, silent and hungry. It was the closest a white man could get to the dreadful experience of segregation.

Even though the vote percentage was relatively close, 51-49%, it was the highest voter turnout since women had been given access to the ballot, and blacks, as well as young people, voted overwhelming for Obama (my age group, to my shame, opted for McCain). Red states crucial to the Republican plan -- Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Florida -- turned blue. Even the central states of Iowa, Colorado and New Mexico went to Obama, leaving a red donut of Republican states unable to see which way the wind is blowing.

McCain's concession and Obama's acceptance speeches were both masterpieces of tact and unity. It was the first time I'd admired the old warrior since he began the benighted campaign that descended into trivia, half-truths and slime at the end, with that no-talent winking manneken at his side. Rather than trumpet his "landslide," the 44th president-to-be held out his hand to the opposition, acknowledging that he hoped to eventually win their trust. It was a gracious moment on both their parts.

For a little while I felt as if John Kennedy lived inside of the black man (why, if he's half-white, do we not call him white?) from Illinois by way of Hawaii, Indonesia, and, on his father's side, Kenya. Yes, we can, keep hope alive, by asking what we can do for our country. But I'm enough of a cynic to realize that the 47-year-old politician from Chicago is an exceptionally talented orator who has yet to be fully tested against his wily peers. The Clintons' attempt to reform health care was soon defeated by the Washington pros. Can Obama hold his own when he reaches the Oval Office? Or has he sold his soul to the devil, corporations and their lobbyists, to finance this dream? Many of his foreign policy positions are too centrist for this old leftist.

The Democrats have expanded a narrow control over Congress, a bit smaller if they kick out that turncoat Senator Lieberman who is still counted in their corner but who followed McCain on his doomed quest. Voting problems in Virginia will probably prompt Republicans to try and achieve something in the courts. The approval of bans against gay marriage in Arizona and Florida, and perhaps even in California where the vote is still to close to call at this writing, show that social conservatism is alive and well. Fox News and the right-wing talk radio shows will not give President Obama a moment's peace.

And the financial crisis, which will probably get worse before it gets better, will prevent the new president from making his constituents happy throughout his first term. Protecting the middle class from foreclosures, lost jobs and bankruptcies may prove to be an impossible task unless he moves away from the center and decides to soak the rich to spread the diminishing pool of wealth. I'd like to see that, just as I'd like to see him repudiate the territorial expansion of Israel. And what about Iraq, a quagmire all but forgotten by the global financial meltdown caused by Reagan's voodoo economics. Criticizing the war was Obama's introduction into presidential politics. Can he bring the troops home and allow the Bush-Cheney cabal to be prosecuted for war crimes? That will test his metal.

But for now, though, let's enjoy the sweet triumph.

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