Barack Obama. What an odd name, no? A name that just doesn't seem to ring true in the mind's ear as being the result of natural language evolution, but rather something made up, kind of like all of the intentionally misspelled pseudo-afro-black-pride names inflicted on thousands of mostly poor black American children for decades, names like Shanice, DeShawn, Roshanda, Shaniqua, and so on. It just doesn't sound like a real name, and certainly not the name of a man who is soon to be the most powerful national leader on the planet. For a little while at least, it's going to feel kind of like saying President Wonka
or President Fudd
or President Carter
Accordingly, as the election played out last Tuesday, and it became certain that Senator McCain and Governor Palin were not going to win, I tried out the new President's name on my tongue: President Obama. President Obama
. President Obaaaammma. Fast, slow, or inflected, no matter how many times or how many different ways I said it, I just couldn't seem to find a pronunciation that didn't stick to the roof of my mouth or cause me to think of the banana-fana song, "Bama, Bama, Bo-bama..." All of which means, of course, that we not only have four years of a Democrat liberal insanity circus run amok to look forward to, but also a ringmaster whose name sounds like a board game or a chewing tobacco brand name.
President Obama. Oh boy. I could hardly be less thrilled or inspired.
Which is not to say I am completely unhappy that Senator Obama was elected. In fact, I am more pleased than disappointed, though the difference is only a couple of pips on a 1 to 10 scale, and my focus has necessarily shifted to the silver lining of what is otherwise a very dark cloud. To be honest, I absolutely believe that with President Obama at center ring, there is real good chance that the Democrat-Liberal leadership in congress and its claque of well-heeled special interests is going to do so much damage that it may take a decade of conservative effort to repair it all--assuming our nation can survive the next four years with Ried, Murtha, and Pelosi running the sideshow, the concession stands, and the accounting wagon. On the other hand, as Max Ehrmann's Desiderata
so correctly reminds us,
"Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."
So how does a right-leaning moderate Jewish U.S. Army-veteran find happiness in the election to the Presidency of an inexperienced pink-tinged liberal who has a record of almost no accomplishments of note, has never served in any capacity in any military service, is known for a long-term association with undesirables and a racist anti-American preacher, and is married to a woman who avowedly seems to base her pride in America on distinctions of skin color rather than merit? And how does that same moderate, who is proud of his own record of duty and integrity find cheerfulness in the election of a Vice President who is an arrant egoist, known as much for plagiarism and foot-in-mouth misstatements as for all the good he's done?
I guess the answer to both questions depends on whether or not one is familiar with American and world history and whether one tends to optimism or pessimism. I am not a historian, but I know a good deal of history, and while I tend to think humans will always find new and interesting ways to screw things up, I also believe America and the world overall are better places to live today than when I was young, and that it is far better to be alive—and American—in this century than it was to be alive in any previous century, no matter where you called home. Further, I am convinced the world will be an even better place in the future, as long as the United States exists and we continue to reinvent and reshape ourselves with an eye to the greatest good, not only for Americans but for people everywhere. And therein lies the key to my happiness.
I watched Senator Obama's 'victory' speech on election night. I found nothing wrong with it, and a lot right. Of course, what he'll actually do once in office is another matter (and I am concerned about that) but while watching the President-elect speak, I closed my mind to the future, and focused instead on what had just happened; on the simple fact that Americans had once again shown that our faith in ourselves and our pride at being Americans is neither misplaced nor something to be ashamed of. Truth is, I am not pleased that Obama won, but I am nonetheless absolutely proud to say that we chose a black man to be the President of our country—a country where in my youth in my experience
there were regularly race riots and the worst kind of racial tension, hatred, and violence. I lived in a Philadelphia 'project' for a few years in the early 60s, and I have been the victim of black racial violence and hate, both because I am white and because I am a Jew. I have also experienced both the shuttered neutral facial expressions some southern blacks show to whites they don't know and the unveiled aggressive hatred that many northern blacks used to wear like a badge of pride, but I have always tried to hold to the spirit of equality and justice and race-blindness that I was taught at home, and that I have learned over time is truly the right way of things. Thus it was that on election night, in spite of my experiences and my fear of an unfettered Democrat-controlled government, I was nonetheless genuinely pleased that Barack Obama had been elected.
Of course, I was not alone. I saw people in the crowd at the stadium crying, and I was brought near to tears myself, not by the speech or the man on the stage, but by the joy so evident on the faces of people who, maybe for the first time ever, really do believe that anything is possible, that with a lot of effort and some luck, anything can be accomplished here. I have always believed this to be true, but I understand why some Americans--and not only black people--might have needed to actually see it happen before they could believe it. I was equally pleased to see the stadium was full of a great many non-blacks and lots of young people, all of whom were ecstatic. I've been around long enough now to have good reasons to fear an all-Democrat government, but maybe the juiced-up success feeling will make those young people lifelong believers in the power of free democratic elections, as well as lifelong participants in the process. And that's a good thing, no matter who won this year's election, because it takes both faith and effort to make a system like ours work as well as it does.
We may not have invented democracy, but we have made it work better, longer, than anywhere else, which is especially amazing given our collective fractious nature and the ideological, religious, and cultural diversity of our populace. Once again we have elected a President, new members of Congress, and innumerable state and local officials, all without threats, massive fraud, violence, or fear. Something like 126 million Americans voted. That's just a bit over 41% of our total population—almost the same number of people as the entire population of Japan—and yet, in spite of the number of people, and for all of the emotion and tension bound up in the election, at the end of the day, while Obama's supporters rightly celebrated a historic and hard won victory, McCain's supporters just sighed, packed up their signs and banners, and went home, ready to get back to business as usual. No coups, no major dust-ups, and no National Guard in the streets. What a breathtaking thing to experience and to be part of.
And finally, while I have no doubt that many blacks voted for Obama just because he is black, I don't believe Obama's race was the only reason he won. I am sure many equally ignorant whites voted for McCain only because he is white, but I think most people who voted for Obama probably did so for the same misguided reason that people voted for Carter over Ford. Moreover, as much as I might want to believe otherwise, I know that all of the people who voted for Obama are not universally stupid or uninformed or jackleg blaggards of the self-deifying perverse liberal media. That's not how people get elected in this country, which is one of the many unaccounted benefits of our amazingly well-conceived electoral system. Not only did Obama appeal to a lot of people who were simply not for McCain for any number of legitimate reasons, but also, he was able to build consensus where it mattered, which is exactly what a person has to do to get elected President of the United States. For my part, McCain was only the lesser of two political evils, and had the Democrats nominated anyone who had more authentic moderate-centrist credentials (including Hilary Clinton), I might well have voted for that person, just as I voted for Bill Clinton both times. For now, however, even though I voted against Obama, my strongest prayers are with the new President-elect and his family, and I sincerely hope he will have both a safe and successful tenure.
Peace to all.
1. A Roshanda by Any Other Name
. I didn't make that stuff up. Read the article on Slate.
2. Redrawing the Conservative Roadmap: Part I
. An excellent analysis of the path ahead, with a focus on conservative, vice Republican, efforts.
3. Senator Biden has been in Congress for more than 30 years, during which time he has actually done a fair bit of decent work on behalf of the people of the United States. I don't agree with all of his views, and I do not like that he sometimes seems to make things up as he goes along, but I can't fault him for lack of effort and a record of hard work.
Minor changes were made to this essay on 24 Jan 14.