What a great day.
I woke up, turned on the TV at about 7 this morning to MSNBC (official cable news station of the Obama administration) and saw an already large crowd gathered as the sun rose on the National Mall between the Capitol and Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. Impressive, considering the temperature was in the teens and wind chill in the single digits. I started watching, got myself ready for a couple of early morning court hearings and began to revel in the glow of the dawning day.
I truly feel the past eight years has been an almost unending nightmare since election day in 2000. I was teaching US History at Florida State at the time, and initially, it seemed the day had turned on a number of votes roughly equivalent to double the size of the freshman class I was teaching at the time. I didn't make my leanings known to the students but I did try to encourage registration as much as I could. My best student that semester came to me before class the day before the election asking about absentee ballots. Of course it was way too late at that point for an absentee ballot and I told him as much. He was very upset about missing out on his first presidential election. On Wednesday, he came up to me looking horrible and I asked why. Turns out as soon as class ended on Monday, he got in his car and drove home to Miami just to vote. For those of you not familiar with Florida geography, it's about a 7 hour drive from Tallahassee to Miami (unless my mom is driving in which case it's a 5 hour drive). He took his vote seriously enough to make that commitment, unfortunately in a losing effort.
In the weeks following, Tallahassee became the center for the farce of the 2000 recount and I got to see some of it first hand. It seemed clear to me that Gore had probably won the state but it was also clear to me that he was engaged in a legal fight with poor tactics. He asked for recounts in specific counties assured to go Democratic instead of recounting the whole state. Although that was allowable under Florida's ridiculous voting statutes, I knew it would end up going to the Supreme Court, meaning it would be analyzed by 14th Amendment standards. To me that meant Gore was doomed to failure because Gore made some votes (the ones in the counties he chose) more important than the ones in the rest of the state. Seemed like an easy loss on equal protection grounds and I ended up right. Gore lost because he didn't have enough confidence in his possible victory to challenge the whole state. Such was the piecemeal thinking of the Democratic party until my friend Barry went for everyone's vote.
Nevertheless, I started my lecture the day after the election by saying to my class, "for the rest of your lives, if anyone ever tells you your vote doesn't matter, you can tell them you know better, because you were in Florida in 2000." And I could tell the 1/3 of the class, approximately 50 kids, who hadn't voted, knew they messed up (as did the ones who voted for Nader).
At that point though, we didn't know what to expect. GW Bush was an enigma. The apparently not too bright older brother of our governor at the time and the son of the former one term president. The economy seemed solid and the world at relative peace so maybe he would just be a caretaker who would throw some bones at members of his own class but otherwise bring a little quiet to American government after the final tumult of the Clinton impeachment years. And then Gore could try again in '04 and take what was rightfully his in the first place.
And then came the storms...
I scarcely recognize the country I love since that night over 8 years ago now. My life has certainly changed in ways I could never have conceived of at the time either. But here we are, and the result has now been another world changing event but I think for the first time in a long time, a positive one. Maybe one of the greatest in all modern history, not just US History. We have managed to make the most powerful man in the world out of a astoundingly smart kid from Hawaii with a background and experience unlike anything ever seen in a president before, but common enough in this country to be considered All-American. And by the way, he's black (even though he's equally white and was raised by his white family).
This country has been through it. Born in blood with high ideals as well as the stain of slavery, expanded by the genocide of the natives, civil war over human racial bondage, built into an economic giant on the backs of the poor and the eager but unknowing immigrant, made a world power by sending men to war while the women stayed home and built the ships, planes, and bombs, we have incrementally continued to strive towards building a more perfect union.
By 1980, unchallenged as the mightiest and richest nation human history has ever known, a conservative economic philosophy gradually started to chip away at the engine of this country, the vast middle class, sold to us by fear with mythologies of a world that never existed except in the unformed experience of children, with a purpose to hoard or steal what had taken generations to build and share. Finally with a falsely won election under its belt, GW Bush had his suit filled with this ideology, concocted by members of his class of noblesse oblige, and married it to the shallow militaristic ideology of the intellectual heirs of a cadre of disgruntled Stalinist sympathizers re-labelled as neo-conservatives and essentially brought this country and in some sense much of the western world, to the brink of self-destruction.
It is indeed time to lay aside childish things. Thank you America for coming to your senses and giving this man, my friend Barry, Barack Hussein Obama, the chance to guide us through whatever other storms are surely to come.
What a great day indeed!