By Tom Scully
The election of Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois marks a watershed moment in the history of American politics. For the first time in history, an African-American person has been elected president of the United States.
One of the main facets of Obama’s brilliance during the campaign season was his new vision for America: an attempt to transcend the divides of the petty left-versus-right dichotomy that has poisoned American politics for the past few decades. He brought a dynamic vision of a post-culture war, post-racial America. Obama stressed putting aside the politics of division fear for a new kind of politics, that of hope. It quickly became the centerpiece of his primary season campaign, which saw him emerge victorious over the seemingly undefeatable Hillary Rodham Clinton, a former first lady and outstanding public servant. A hallmark of Obama’s vision is to bring the country together while adhering to his own personal convictions and ability to compromise. These were the convictions that led him to work as a community organizer in Chicago when the Harvard graduate could have accepted a lucrative job on Wall Street, the same convictions that led him to oppose the 2002 U.N. Resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq, citing the conflict as an irresponsible war.
Obama was not immune to the same political mudslinging that has engulfed past presidential contests. He was lambasted for everything a candidate could be buffeted with. Some from the opposing side attacked his religion, name, experience and most abhorrently, but not surprisingly, his race.
Since his final primary victories on June 3 in South Dakota and Montana, conservatives attempted to paint Obama in the same caricature that overshadowed George McGovern when he ran as the Democratic candidate in 1972. Obama was accused of having amassed one of the most liberal voting records of the United States Senate, being strongly pro-choice, against NAFTA and too inexperienced to have good judgment. Obama was even accused of having ties to political radicals such as Bill Ayers of the Weather Underground, having merely been on the same board of an anti-poverty group in Chicago as him. Yet Obama stayed above the fray, refusing to engage in political attacks antithetical to the very premise of his presidential campaign.
Obama won because he had a good sense of where our country was. He understood the doubts and frustrations of ordinary citizens faced with two wars, an economy in freefall because of a lack of regulation and looming climate problems. This same understanding of our union compelled him, on a cold February morning in Illinois in front of the Capitol Building, to announce his candidacy for president of the United States. At the same time, he assumed an aura of idealism that inspired millions of young Americans to get involved in public service to a degree the likes of which has not been seen in 40 years. Obama appealed to us through stressing that our country actually could do better, and we could bring change to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. if we put muscle behind our words. With that, we knew this wasn’t just another election.
Now our country goes forward with a new leader. There is little time for celebration amidst the challenges our nation faces. Obama must quickly send out filings for Cabinet selections and assemble an economic agenda, among other things. Obama will also be our first post-baby boomer president. This is a fact that in itself is significant. Tantamount to Obama’s vision of a more perfect union is that he was born a generation beyond those who became entangled in the divisive ideological battles cemented in the dramatic cultural changes of the 1960s. Many of Obama’s beliefs are rooted in the same framework by which all of our beliefs are formulated. We are all products of our time. What we can draw from Obama’s historic campaign, and the way in which he won a landslide election on Nov. 4, is that he has been judged by the American people, beyond the shadow of a doubt, as a man for our times. He’s a man who, against all the odds, came out of virtual obscurity to ascend to the stature of president-elect of the United States of America. His rise has proven to be a testament to what once was, and after all these years still is, the true American Dream.