Barack Obama's Election Gives Us a Rarity: a Positive Instantly Historical Moment

Savor it while it lasts, for reality will impose itself upon us soon enough.


Historical moments—where were you were when you heard?—come rarely and are almost always negative. My father's generation could tell you with precision where they were when they heard about Pearl Harbor and about FDR dying; a younger generation can recall the moment they learned of JFK's death, and RFK's and MLK's; I was in grade school when the Challenger exploded and can remember the crisp clarity of the air as I walked to work on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Instantly historical moments are almost invariably defined by searing tragedy (exception: the fall of the Berlin Wall).

We have experienced this evening such an exception: We will all always remember this evening (some more blurrily than others, depending on the nature and duration of one's celebration or commiseration), when the United States elected its first African-American president.

The election of Barack Obama does not absolve the United States of its original sin, racism, but it is a marker in the long national process of reconciliation and healing. It is a moment of which we should all be proud, even those who worry that Obama is everything from too inexperienced to dangerously socialist or Muslim or mysterious or radical or all of the above.

Savor it, because before too long (like starting Wednesday) the realities of politics and governing will assert themselves.

Republicans will bring into the open the civil war whose fault lines had already found expression in blind quotes focused on Sarah Palin (She's an ignorant prima donna; she's the only thing that went right for the McCain campaign). Was the GOP too conservative, insufficiently conservative? Was the party's political dismantling in 2006 and 2008 the fault of George W. Bush, of John McCain, or was there a deeper fault at work?

Democrats, too, will argue about lessons learned. Do Barack Obama and the Democrats have a mandate, or were they fortunate enough to catch an anti-GOP wave? In other words, has the country lurched left, or will it recoil if (when?) the unified Democratic government overreaches? This may be a unified Democratic Party, but it is not one without fault lines, and nothing brings such fissures to the fore like power.

One other thing. Look closely at Barack Obama, his mostly black hair and his unlined face. Know that when we reconvene in four years, his hair will be grayed and his face lined. When we see replays of his victory speech, we'll be amazed at how very young he was.

Hell, for one night we're all young—in a sense reborn as a nation. Relish it.

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