As I sat at home Tuesday night, I made sure my family was with me, watching as history unfolded before our eyes. When my daughters are older and talk about this election with their children and grand-children, I want them to recall this night and what it means to be an American.
We watched the polls close one by one. Being the teacher I am, I explained what was going on as we flipped back and forth between channels. We talked about how networks can predict state victories even though a single vote hadn't been counted. Red and blue, closing times, electoral college, 270...my kids were old enough to understand what happening, and were interested enough to pay attention and ask questions of their own. I suppose it was a reward for all the episodes of 'Hannah Montana' I have endured.
I explained that the first major test was going to be Pennsylvania, and that we would probably know at that point who was going to be the next President. When the networks flipped it blue, I knew it was over...one daughter started cheering, while the other stared at the television as her eyes started to tear up. We watched as the commentators started shifting their talk from possible McCain winning scenarios, to the significance of what was happening and what it meant.
The election was not so much a mandate for change to a liberal agenda, it was really a combination of several factors that, ultimately, had little to do with policy
- a personal rejection of President Bush and the perception of what has happened over the past eight years
- the economy faltering over the past several months, and the recent crisis/bailout
- the imagery of a candidate exuding Kennedyesque charisma and rhetoric versus another old white guy perceived to be grumpy and out of touch
In his own right, Ronald Reagan spawned an economic evolution and political revolution. Reagan's victory came at a time where the country was looking to put their problems behind them. Instead of inflation, lines at the gas pumps and hostages in Iran, the nation chose someone who was optimistic about the country and that we could be great again.
This year was similar to 1980 in many ways. With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an economy that hasn't been doing well, gas prices at all-time highs and international opinion of us at all-time lows, the country yearned for a new start. Once again, the people chose to go with a candidate full of optimistic enthusiasm; someone who wrote of hope, preached change and became a symbol of equality and unlimited potential.
As we move through the next days, weeks and months, time will tell whether Obama is the transformational figure he was elected to be. Washington has a way of dampening idealistic intentions, but with a Democratic Congress to partner with, there should be no excuses as to why meaningful action can no longer be taken. Despite what you may be hearing from some individuals across the country, I don't think this election fell into the category of 'choosing between the lesser of two evils'.
A lot has been said the past few days in our homes and offices, through our newspapers and on the Internet, through phone calls and chats across a backyard fence. I want to encourage people to not use a victory as an opportunity to look down on others and disparage them for their beliefs. My daughter did not want to go to school yesterday because she feared of the way she was going to be treated. She came home upset that boys who supported Obama were making fun of others. I realize that middle school boys are crazy (I should know, I used to belong to the club), and that bad times come with the good. I just want everyone to realize that the call for change should include the desire to make things better for everyone, not just those who wore a campaign button with the Obama 'O'.
In that same spirit, if you think that Obama is going to be a poor President and do things that will harm the country, you have every right to believe that and share your opinion with others. Instead of being resentful, mean-spirited or full of anger, I would encourage you to channel that passion and to use it to better yourselves and the community. If you don't want redistribution of wealth, when is the last time you volunteered at a community center or food pantry? If you do not want universal health care, when is the last time you wrote your Congressman or wrote a letter to the editor? Instead of using words that can be hurtful or misinterpreted, get involved and make your voice heard through constructive action.
Whether the victor was Obama or Palin, one of the two was going to follow in the footsteps of other individuals who broke through barriers. Election night was more than a celebration of one political party, one candidate or one race. It was a moment to reflect on the maturation of our nation. Despite your personal ideology, you cannot deny that this election was a defining moment for our nation. How Obama ultimately is judged is a matter for future generations and historians; for now, however, we are a nation that has taken action toward eliminating racial and gender boundaries, and proving to the world that despite out young age, we just grew up a little.