It's still pretty amazing. From out out of obscurity, a dark horse candidate rose to become the most powerful man in the world. A lawyer who came from a humble background built his campaign on bridging divides and challenging Americans to dig deep and think about the promise of the future. A nation sharply polarized on key issues--racial equality, rights, taxation, education. He had incredibly well-written speeches that could turn a crowd silent.
You might think I was talking about the 2008 election. But I could just as easily have been talking about the election of 1860 that put Abraham Lincoln into office.
A backwoods boy who taught himself law, Lincoln struggled through failures and backbiting in his own party to become one of the most influential and greatest presidents in our history. Might we see the same from Barack Obama, whose dad left when he was two and was raised by his mother and grandmother?
As I said in a post yesterday, I've heard several historians talk about shifts that happen over time in party issues. They start off very polarized, work their way towards their middle, and gradually, switch sides. And on other issues, they start off polarized, and one party moves closer to the other party, so that there isn't really any distinction between them. "Climate change" is a good example of this phenomenon. 15 years ago, you'd never hear a Republican say anything about the environment, except that there were some tree-huggers getting in the way of business. Now, it seems like they're at least conscious of the issue. I expect that by the next election cycle, Democrats and Republicans will be trying to out-green each other.
Something that immediately impressed me was the language that Obama uses to talk about the country. He doesn't talk about "us and them," but just "us." Leaders give us a vision. Good leaders instill the vision in us. Great leaders inspire us to accomplish the vision.
I was working last night while watching his speech. At one point, I had to actually typing and pay attention:
This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight's about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing: Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.
She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons -- because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.
And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America -- the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.
At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.
When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.
When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.
She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that "We Shall Overcome." Yes we can.
A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination.
And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.
Yes we can.
A tear trickled down my face. If you are not moved by the magnitude of that thought, you might want to make sure you are alive.
I was reading the Facebook comments of a lot of my friends last night and this morning. People expressing disgust and fear, calling us foolish for believing a smooth talker, buying into this liberal idealism.
To those people, I ask:
What if it's not as bad as you think?
What if Obama is this generation's Abraham Lincoln?
What if everything you thought was wrong?
Are you willing to let down your wall and listen?
God gave us one mouth and two ears; besides being more aesthetically pleasing, I think there's something implied there: listen twice as much as you speak.
Not to get all Biblical on you, but James says:
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
Give the man a chance. He has earned it. Whether you voted for him or not, he is your president. Lest you forget, the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord.
Maybe that's what we need--a little idealism. A little optimism that we can make a difference. That if we work together, we can build something great.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Yes we can.