"My heart is filled with love for this country."
I've used that phrase in this blog before. That was the final sentence of President-Elect Barack Obama's book The Audacity of Hope, the beautiful pronunciation of ideas and beliefs for a new America laid out before he announced his run for the presidency. I used it when he came through the most difficult primary season ever to become the first black major party nominee for president.
Now, Obama is only 10 weeks away from his historic inauguration as the 44th President of the United States, finally removing the "whites only" sign from the Oval Office. His decisive victory in tonight's election has implications so far reaching that I can't begin to even grasp all of them three hours after capturing the election.
The election took an irreversible turn in Obama's favor around 9:30 tonight when Ohio was called in his favor. That made the McCain path to victory even more narrow than it already had been. It would only be a matter of time before Obama's victory of improbability would be declared. It happened at 11, and after expressions of adulation my thoughts turned to this nation's long suffering black community.
I thought about how the first slave ships touched American shores in 1619. I thought about how this country was founded as a slave-holding republic, and how a compromise was rendered in our original Constitution counting every black man as three-fifths of a person. I thought about how debate over the "peculiar institution" of slavery tore America asunder over the 40 years between the Missouri Compromise and Abraham Lincoln's election. I thought about Elijah Parish Lovejoy, William Lloyd Garrison, Dred Scott, and Frederick Douglass. I thought about how a war was fought in this country over the right to enslave a race. I thought about the racially-charged stories by William Faulkner I've been reading this semester, taught to me by the great-grandson of a slave and the first black professor at my school. I thought about the idiocy of Plessy v. Ferguson and the fight for Brown v. Board of Education. I thought about Jim Crow, the Selma marches, "I have a dream," polling tests, Rosa Parks, and the Voting and Civil Rights Acts.
I thought about all the work done by the millions and millions of nameless, faceless individuals across the races who worked tirelessly through the decades to bring racial equality to a country purporting a belief "that all men are created equal."
And then, at midnight, I watched a black man with a black wife and black children speak to 100,000 onlookers in Chicago as the next man to be President of the United States. The only thought running through my mind at that point was: "My heart is filled with love for this country."
I was overcome with a feeling of community. Earlier in the night Chris Matthews mentioned a "secular communion" we have in this country when it comes to voting, how it's something we as a nation do together. When Obama was declared the victor tonight, it didn't feel like something Obama had done. It felt like something we had done. We had rejected the politics of fear and distraction for the politics of hope and progress. We had told the rest of the world that we were ready for change, turning our place and opinion in the world 180 degrees from where it was yesterday. We, as a people and a democracy, had done this amazing thing.
That might be the thing that has separated Obama from all recent presidential candidates. He wants all of us to take responsibility for what happens in our country, and he made several calls to that effect in his speech tonight, which may have been his best thus far (and that's REALLY saying something). Bush never asked us to do anything except to go shopping after 9/11. I can tell things will be different from Obama. Americans need to feel uplifted, and not embarrassed, by their leaders again. Obama is just what we need in that regard.
It's late, it's been a very emotional day, and I'll have more feelings about what has just transpired very soon. But for now, I feel so privileged to be alive in this country to see this. This is a night that will live in my heart until it stops beating. I'm so excited to see where we'll go as a nation with Obama guiding us. I'm ready to do my part. I'm ready to believe again in the power of good America possesses.
My heart is filled with love for this country. And it always will be.