Tears of Joy
Do you really need to hear one more person tell you that November 4 was a historic night? I think not. But I'm going to say it anyway. How else can you describe such a monumental event as seeing a black man elected as president of the United States just 40 short years after civil rights workers were being beaten, tortured, and murdered down in the Deep South?
I can tell you right now that I've never before shed tears while watching an election result. I did, most certainly, cry tears of joy when Nelson Mandela was finally freed from prison back in 1990 but I've never cried for some regular event like an election. Not until November 4. This, obviously, wasn't an ordinary election.
No, it wasn't the speech, it was the dogs. As in, police dogs.
As the television cameras scanned the huge crowds celebrating in Chicago, they occasionally zoomed in on some elderly African Americans with tears streaming down their faces. The sight of these people sent my mind racing to those horrific iconic images of the police sicking attack dogs on the freedom riders and other civil rights workers, both black and white, down in Alabama, Mississippi and other such places back in the 1960s and it really hit me just how far America has come in such a relatively short time. People died and people had their bodies ripped apart, all for the simple idea of racial equality. And here was a black man elected to the highest office in the land.
Then there were the shots of a weeping Reverend Jesse Jackson standing in the same crowd and I thought of how he was there that day back in 1968, when Martin Luther King was shot at that motel–a motel I visited myself a few years back while I was in Memphis.
It was a combination of all these images and thoughts that finally moved me to tears. And the thought of my friend's mother–not much older than my own–who was born in North Carolina and grew up in a world where she couldn't take a drink from the same water fountain, couldn't sit at the front of the bus, and couldn't sit in the same seats at the movie theater as "normal" (i.e. white) folks. I thought of how amazing this moment must have felt for her.
So, hell yeah, I can be as cynical as the next guy and I'm sure some extra-cynical, world-weary people out there will scoff at my supposed naivety. But I have no problem admitting that I most certainly did cry a few tears on the night of November 4.
A Wild Celebration
Aside from those few teary moments, however, it was a night of wild celebration, with the drinks flowin' for the entire eight hours of election results, including a great one-hour special of a combined Daily Show/Colbert Report. I'm not a big TV guy and I'm definitely not a big drinker, but, like I said, this was no ordinary night.
Literate, thoughtful, incredibly intelligent, and the best orator of his entire generation, Barack Obama isn't just a great choice because he's everything George W. Bush is not. Nor is he simply a great choice because he's obviously more up to the job than John McCain. No, I'd say Obama would be a great choice at any time. The man is a natural leader and, after eight years of horrific leadership, America needs someone this good. The whole world could see it, even if there were many Americans who could not.
A Real Mandate
In his victory speech, Obama stated that "change has come to America" and I'm hoping he'll realize that he has a real mandate to shake things up and not worry too much about making the Republicans happy by compromising on everything they oppose (which will be almost everything). The Republicans have done things their way for eight long years and it's been a disaster. Now is the time for some real change.
I'm sure Obama will disappoint many of his followers who are expecting so much from him. With the financial mess he's been left, Obama simply won't have much money to undertake many new programs. But I still think he can achieve a lot. Whatever he does, it's going to seem like heaven compared to the past eight years.
Cynics say nothing much will change, but they also said that there was no real difference between Dubya and Al Gore back in 2000... and, man, were they ever wrong.
Last Acceptable Form of Bigotry
It wasn't all good news on November 4, however. It turned out to be a great day for gay-haters nationwide. Discrimination towards homosexuals, clearly, is the last acceptable form of bigotry in America.
In Florida, Arizona and, most shockingly, California, initiatives were passed banning same-sex marriage. California is the most startling case not only because Californians are supposedly tolerant and progressive people but because gay marriage has already been legal there for the past five months and thousands of couples have already wed.
Even more openly-hateful are the people of Arkansas, who voted to make it illegal for gays to adopt children.
While they're at it, why not ban left-handed people from adopting as well? If children are unsafe being raised by gays, how can we allow them to be raised by "abnormal", left-handed people like myself? And what about redheads?
So bigotry lives on in America, as it does elsewhere. But, still, it was one hell of an inspirational night.
What Could Have Been
And not only for what was achieved, but also for what was avoided. Can you imagine if McCain had won? Joe the Plumber as secretary of state? Arnold Schwarzenegger running defense? Hank Williams Jr. at the U.N.? Joe Lieberman running the Middle East peace process? And Dick Cheney brought back as VP by President Sarah Palin after McCain kicked the bucket? My God, it'd be worse than those Saw movies!
It certainly would have been great for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's ratings. But aside from that, it would have been an incredible nightmare for the whole world.
But, thankfully, the nightmare is over.
Postscript: It was definitely a great night. However, after reading Ralph Nader's "Open Letter To Barack Obama" this morning, I was brought back down to earth a bit since I basically agree with just about everything Nader is saying, particularly regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hopefully, Obama will actually be much better than he's seemed so far when it comes to this issue and here's hoping his actions and words during the campaign were just a cynical part of trying to get elected. We'll see.
Mike Cowie is a writer currently embarked on a book about his three-year trip across Asia with his wife, Sonoko. Read more of Mike’s views on his Web site.