“.... did I ever dream, dear family and friends, that I would pull a lever tomorrow to vote for the president of these United States, Commonwealths and Territories and my candidate looks like one of my children!” These were the opening words of an email from my dear friend Toni Tyson on Monday. Watching the results last night I found myself mostly speechless. The enormity of the moment so transcended simply the election of a new President. I thought of my father who shared the podium with Martin King before the Lincoln Memorial, but also of my mother and others who worked for this day and did not live to see it. Our family came to this country from Nazi Germany, Jews who had to build a new life in a country that was at once welcoming and daunting. My parents, even as new Americans trying to adjust to a new home instantly saw the connection between the long and often lonely struggle of Jews and that of African Americans. In his autobiography my father tells of inviting a Black professor to his hotel room in Atlanta while there for a speech in the late 1930s. His White Jewish hosts were mortified; he, an escapee from the Hitler regime, appalled at their reaction. If he needed any prodding, that experience alone sealed forever his life long commitment to Civil Rights, and ours.
My response to Toni Tyson is, the new President looks like my children as well – he looks like the children of America, the one we thought never possible but the one that now is. Those who have read these posts over the past two years know that I was convinced early on that Obama would win the nomination and this election, that he would be the 44th President of the United States. I never had a moment of doubt – for historic reasons definitely, but mostly because of who he is and what we need at this time. Never in American history have we kept the party in power in the face of an unpopular war or bad economy. To say we have both is an understatement. In that sense, Obama’s victory was inevitable. But in the end what we have done is to elect an extraordinary man for an extraordinary time. If he can be a Lincoln or a Roosevelt only time will tell. He is certainly being provided the canvas on which to paint that kind of legacy.
The road ahead is not going to be easy. Extricating ourselves from Iraq will be more difficult than any of us would hope. Escalating our involvement in Afghanistan is fraught with danger – the record of outsiders prevailing there not encouraging. Al Qaeda is stronger than ever and remains a real threat, as is the poisoning undercurrent of anti-Moslem prejudice that has come in its wake. Israel and Palestine remain far apart. All this and we haven’t gotten to the economy which not only has to be revived but whose ground rules have to be redrawn. It’s likely to suck up much of his time, especially in those critical early days. Healthcare needs fixing and whether we have the will to take it on, finally, remains uncertain. And last, perhaps ultimately most, is the environment made even more fragile by eight years of official denial and what can only described as criminal neglect. Time is running out.
President-elect of Obama speaks of hope, something which has eluded us in the nearly eight dark years since a partisan Supreme Court decision brought us the most divisive and inept administration in any of our memories, perhaps in the nation’s history. He affirms that, in the face of all behind and ahead us, “yes we can”. Let’s hope we and he can. Of course, we have not choice but to prevail. Not to do so is both unthinkable and unacceptable.