On November 7th, 1860, in the still dark hours of the morning, President Elect Abraham Lincoln excused himself from the Telegraph Office in Springfield, Illinois to walk home and wake his sleeping wife with the news. Lincoln was “gently touching her shoulder” and received no reply when he whispered her name. He later recalled, “I spoke again, a little louder, ‘Mary, Mary! We are elected!‘”
The celebrations had begun hours prior as the returns poured in from around the Nation by wire. Despite the air of elation around him, it’s clear that the burdens of the Presidency weighed heavily on Lincoln’s mind. Only a matter of minutes before he woke Mary, Lincoln uttered to friends, “God help me, God help me”.
John G. Nicolay, who would later become Lincoln’s personal secretary, recalled that even in that moment of assured victory, Lincoln appeared to suffer the “appalling shadow of his mighty task and responsibility”, and witnessed “the pleasure and pride at the completeness of his success” turn to a deep sadness.
Some 146 years after the first issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, the son of a black man from Kenya may find himself grappling with the same feelings. If current polling trends are reflected at the ballot boxes of this country, Barack Obama, the lanky Senator from Illinois so oft compared to Lincoln himself, will become the 44th President of the United States.
I ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders.
Just as Lincoln “took up the crushing burden of his country’s troubles, and traced out the path of future duties”, so must Barack Obama. For those of us who supported him, whether enthusiastically or reluctantly, his election is cause for celebration. Should it come to pass, we will have finally and decisively repudiated the disastrous leadership of George W. Bush. Come January 20th, 2009, Obama must begin the arduous task of setting things right. This burden is not his alone, but ours to share.
Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.
— Thomas A. Edison
There is much to be done. An Obama Administration will need our support, our guidance, perhaps even our admonitions and protest. He has asked for our voices, and it is our duty as American citizens to provide them.
Outside our borders, we have a reputation to restore, among ally and enemy alike. We have wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that must be brought to conclusion. The injustices of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, self-inflicted wounds that still fester, must be healed. We must seek peace in the Middle East. Russian aggression must be held in check. Unspeakable poverty and oppression at the hands of a tyrant in North Korea must not stand. A nuclear weaponized Iran must be deterred. Genocide in Darfur, an atrocity still largely ignored, must be attended to.
This world owes all its forward impulses to people ill at ease.
— Nathaniel Hawthorn
Within, we face an economic crisis unlike any we’ve ever seen. The middle class, the backbone of our Nation, is suffering and ever shrinking. People are losing their homes. Millions upon millions have inadequate healthcare, or worse, none at all. The care and benefits for the mentally, physically, and spiritually wounded returning from battlefields half a world away is unsatisfactory. Support for those families-widows, orphans, siblings, and parents–who have paid the ultimate price for a fool’s errand, must be provided.
Many of our best and brightest languish in poorly funded and insufficiently staffed public schools. Many students that excel can’t afford college. At long last, a program to unfetter ourselves from the clutches of foreign oil, and encourages us to become good stewards to the environment that we depend on for our very survival need be enacted. Our political discourse has been stultified for decades, our discourse a battle over race, religion, and basic equality for all. The damage done to the Constitution must be repaired. Habeas Corpus.
I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.
— Abraham Lincoln
Here in the progressive blogosphere, we are likely to see a precipitous drop in post-election activism as people, weary from the long election and even longer Primary season, slide into complacency. We must do all that we can with, for, and (should it become necessary), against our elected officials, regardless of party affiliation, to ensure a better future for those who come after us.
Let us use this forum to find ways to best advance those progressive values that we care about most–those that embody the notion that all of us, diverse as we might be, have every opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
What do you care about most? What are the issues that affect your life, or the lives of those you hold dear? What will you do, once this election is over? For my part, I intend to be here-talking, yelling, laughing, and crying. Will you join me?