Stuart Carlson cartoon
"Lord, we ain't what we want to be; we ain't what we ought to be; we ain't what we gonna be, but, thank God, we ain't what we was."
Martin Luther King quoting the prayer of a preacher who had been a slave

| The sense of relief and hope following the election of Barack Obama to the presidency is almost palpable. For the past eight years America has taken a scary walk on "the dark side" where the ideals that America has long aspired to were abandoned and words lost their meaning: where torture became "enhanced interrogation techniques"; where abducting people without a trace became "extraordinary rendition"; where war became a choice, not a necessity; where promoting "the general Welfare" became every one for himself; where the moral high ground was replaced by amorality and immorality.

Roger Cohen, writing in the New York Times, described the consequences this way:

You can't proclaim freedom as you torture. You can't promote democracy as you disappear people. You can't stand for the rule of law and strip prisoners of basic rights. You can't dispense with the transparency and regulation essential to modern capital markets and hope still to be the beacon of free enterprise.

Or rather, you can do all these things, but then you find yourself alone.

Perfecting the Union, NYTimes, Nov 6, 2008

For all of us, there is a fervent hope that America can get back on the right track. And the world seems relieved and jubilant about the prospect. Even President Bush seemed to get beyond the overwhelming repudiation of his presidency that Obama's election represents to pay tribute to the monumental significance of this event:

No matter how they cast their ballots, all Americans can be proud of the history that was made yesterday. Across the country, citizens voted in large numbers. They showed a watching world the vitality of America's democracy, and the strides we have made toward a more perfect union. They chose a President whose journey represents a triumph of the American story -- a testament to hard work, optimism, and faith in the enduring promise of our nation.

Many of our citizens thought they would never live to see that day. This moment is especially uplifting for a generation of Americans who witnessed the struggle for civil rights with their own eyes -- and four decades later see a dream fulfilled.

President Obama, Remarks in the Rose Garden

But for African-Americans this has to be an absolutely earth-shaking, ceiling-shattering moment. In today's Washington Post, Eugene Robinson describes his own feelings, and I suspect he may be speaking in a common voice:

For African Americans, though, this is personal.

I can't help but experience Obama's election as a gesture of recognition and acceptance -- which is patently absurd, if you think about it. The labor of black people made this great nation possible. Black people planted and tended the tobacco, indigo and cotton on which America's first great fortunes were built. Black people fought and died in every one of the nation's wars. Black people fought and died to secure our fundamental rights under the Constitution. We don't have to ask for anything from anybody.

Yet something changed on Tuesday when Americans -- white, black, Latino, Asian -- entrusted a black man with the power and responsibility of the presidency. I always meant it when I said the Pledge of Allegiance in school. I always meant it when I sang the national anthem at ball games and shot off fireworks on the Fourth of July. But now there's more meaning in my expressions of patriotism, because there's more meaning in the stirring ideals that the pledge and the anthem and the fireworks represent.

It's not that I would have felt less love of country if voters had chosen John McCain. And this reaction I'm trying to describe isn't really about Obama's policies. I'll disagree with some of his decisions, I'll consider some of his public statements mere double talk and I'll criticize his questionable appointments. My job will be to hold him accountable, just like any president, and I intend to do my job.

For me, the emotion of this moment has less to do with Obama than with the nation. Now I know how some people must have felt when they heard Ronald Reagan say "it's morning again in America." The new sunshine feels warm on my face.

Morning in America, Washington Post, Nov 5, 2008
Tom Toles cartoon
Tom Toles

Last updated on Sep 10, 2016

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