Getting older has quite a few drawbacks, namely the aches and pains that come from an abused body, but it also has some benefits. One of those benefits is a lifetime of experience and memories. That bank of memories tends to keep older people from getting too excited about the newest fad. If anyone is entitled to co-opt the phrase, “Been there, done that”, it’s older people with lots of life experiences. Perhaps that’s why the only age group that failed to go overwhelmingly for Obama was the older age group.
Because I am a member of that older age group, my political experience goes back quite a bit. The Presidential election of 1964 was my first direct involvement with politics. I was 17 years old that year. Like most young people at the time, I was devastated by JFK’s assassination. Because of that desolation, it was easy to back his party in the ’64 election. It didn’t hurt that LBJ’s opponent seemed like a scary whacko. Politics was in my blood.
We were successful in 1964. Although I was too young to vote in that election, I had great hopes for the future. Today, I can only shake my head at such naivety. Unfortunately, in the 10 elections that were held from 1968 to 2004 I’ve only voted for the winner once – Bill Clinton in 1996. None of the choices I had over the years were what I would call inspiring. In fact, I haven’t felt inspired by a politician since the death of Bobby Kennedy.
It would be easy to assume that someone like me would have a very hard time getting enthused about politics. I’ve seen enough of politicians over the years to know that they all disappoint sooner or later. And yet, despite everything I’ve seen in politics, despite all the disappointments and failures of previous politicians, Barack Obama managed to reach me.
Obama has many fine features – devoted family man, keen intelligence, calm temperament, exceptional academic record, etc… However, what I feel is his strongest asset is his ability to inspire. In this, he is much like JFK. That is no small compliment.
Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I thought through the events of the day. In some ways, it was a less traumatic day than I had expected, because, despite the disappointment of Gore’s and Kerry’s losses, I was sure Obama was going to win. As soon as I saw the early results, I was completely reassured. I didn’t even wait for Pennsylvania to be declared for Obama before I began celebrating. As the evening wore on, my son and I watched the results unfold. It was all confirmation of something I already knew in my heart.
The glow I felt later that night wasn’t from a feeling of relief. It was more like satisfaction. My faith in the American electorate had been restored. In 2004, I despaired for this country after seeing G. W. Bush get elected to a second term. Yet, in the end, Bush has been repudiated. It may have taken longer than I liked for this country to reject Bush and his policies, but it had finally happened.
As I placed my toothbrush in the holder, I thought of what Barack Obama had just achieved. ”A black man has become the President-Elect of the United States of America!” Yeah, yeah, I know he’s only half-black. This was still an astounding feat.
On the walk from the bathroom to the bedroom, I thought of all the things I needed to do the next day. I’m behind on my projects, way behind on doing my part for The Moose, and worried about the future. All of these thoughts weighed on me and took away some of the happy glow that had been present all evening. Then I thought again of what Barack had achieved.
The last thought before I slipped under the covers was, “If a black man can get himself elected President then I can deal with everything I’m facing.”
That brings me back to Barack’s ability to inspire. As soon as I thought of his achievement, three words came to me unbidden.
“Yes, I can.”
There I lay, a 61 year-old white male, warmed and inspired by the achievements of a young (to me), black man from Chicago. This brings me to the final thought that came to me before drifting off. “If he can inspire me like this, how much greater is the effect of his achievement on the youth of this nation and world?”
Only time will tell.