I wept with joy on Tuesday night. I expected President-elect Obama to win, yet I was surprised at how much emotion I felt when, finally, the minute the polls closed here in California I heard Jim Lehrer call the election. Expecting it all night, I was prepared to shout my joy aloud.
Instead, and to my surprise, as the words "Obama wins" scrolled across the screen, I sat down and found myself out of breath, dizzy, overcome with emotion that I did not expect to feel. "It really just happened" I kept saying to myself. My wife was popping champagne, but I had to take a moment first.
Thanks to Phil Carter for making it possible for me to play a small part in this defining moment in history. And thanks to him for continuing to serve the Republic with his work on the most impressive and professional campaign in a generation, possibly in history. But the joy I felt was not partisan. It was more than that. It was not about red versus blue, or even defeating the movement that gave us George W. Bush, the most despised president in our history. It was not even about the majesty of a nation founded upon slavery electing a black man as our leader in a time of crisis. It was all of those things, yes. But it was even more than that. It was about, as the campaign slogan said, HOPE.
I have been reading about FDR and the Great Depression recently, from William Manchester's The Glory and the Dream. As an employment attorney I knew the market crash was coming for some time. Many of my peers knew it too. We began to use the phrase "over the cliff" last year when referring to the economy. We knew the house of cards was coming down.
We face the very real possibility of the Second Great Depression. There is sure to be much more pain to come. Even with the hyperbole of the 24-hour cable networks, the true extent of the economic disaster is not yet fully understood by most. It will be worse than most people fear.
But with smart, honest, dedicated and idealistic people working to make America better, we will come through this challenge stronger, and with more freedom, than before. It will not be easy. All of us will sacrifice. But I am confident in the United States of America. I have hope.
Nobody knows what the future will bring. We face economic catastrophe, xenophobia, isolationism, famine, global climate change, resultant mass migrations on a scale never seen in human history, and the age-old scourge of war. Not the "war on terror." WAR. War between nation-states. Not because we want it. Not because others want it. Because when resources become scarce and people become afraid and xenophobic, when people are hungry and angry, they tend to fight. It is a flaw in human nature - an evolutionary survival mechanism gone awry in our modern industrialized world. There will be war - hopefully not involving us, but probably it will. World War I appeared to many at the time to have put an end to war. Europeans, people knew, had learned how horrible war was and were determined to avoid such disaster in the future. As the "Lost Generation" came to power they knew better than others how terrible war truly is, and they would not repeat the mistakes of the past. And then came the Great Depression. And then came xenophobia, instability, revolution, nationalism, and eventually the bloodiest conflict in the history of man. And only a generation after the previous bloodiest conflict in the history of man.
Now we face the Second Great Depression, global climate change, the end of the age of oil, and most of all, fear. Fear in third world nations. Fear in modernized, western nations. Hatred of the "other." Changing climate patterns resulting in famines in some areas, bounty in others. And a power vacuum left over by the end of the Cold War that has yet to be filled. And America herself, the "hyper-power," is facing the same scale of economic crisis that led to the demise of the Soviet Union.
But given the tears of joy on November 4th as our system gave voice to a people choosing hope over fear, I expect we will remain true to the ideals of our Revolution. As we did on Tuesday, as we did in 1941, as we did in 1932, and in 1860, and in 1776, the People of the United States will choose the hard right over the easy wrong. We just did so again. We will address the many challenges we face and we will come out stronger. Better. Of course not all of us. In 1860 many of us chose the path of tyranny. But as a People we will choose to reform ourselves and to do what must be done. Democracies don't necessarily make better decisions than other forms of government. Our strength is that we can change without blood in the streets. We can experiment. We can change our minds. We can replace our most powerful leaders simply by choosing to do so. And on Tuesday, the 4th of November, 2008, we did just that. Our Revolution again impressed all of humanity. We changed.
Shortly before the economic crisis became news I decided to re-read Manchester and see what we did right, and what we did wrong, the last time we faced a crisis similar to what we face now. And it was exactly on point. And scary. And yet, with the election of Barack Hussein Obama, comforting. He is not FDR, but he may be in the same league. And he needs to be. And I think he can do it. But if not, we will be ok. Because if he can not be transformative figure that FDR was, if he can not do what FDR did, we will simply get somebody who can. That is the magic of democracy. It is not about any one person. It is about the power of all of us.
If George Washington had fallen in battle, our Revolution would simply have replaced him. The People fought our Revolution, not just General Washington. He had only the power we gave him to do what we were ordering be done. WE can. Not just president-elect Obama. All of us, the American People, can and will do what we need to do. We recognize the greatness in our greatest presidents, but all power comes from the People, and if presidents, or Congress, fail us, we replace them. Our nation has decided on a different path, and we have chosen president-elect Obama to lead us there. And he will lead us there. Or we will get somebody who can. Yes we can.
In 1932 FDR was the president-elect of a bankrupt nation. As he took office the foes of freedom gathered enormous strength and prepared to attack. And we were attacked. The entire world went up in flames and evil appeared to triumph. Democracy was seen as weak and inept - because some democracies were weak and inept. Yet by the time he died in office in 1945 our nation was the richest, most powerful nation in human history - and for the most part we held true to our ideals in the midst of the worst crisis since the threat of the traitorous Confederacy. We came out better than before. We defeated Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan - and the Depression. We had the New Deal rewrite the social contract and improve the lives of the average American. The cost was staggering, in pain and in blood and in money, but we came out better than before. Yes we did.
This current crisis, while certainly the worst in our lifetimes, is not on a par with what FDR faced, nor Lincoln, and certainly not George Washington. The next few years will be terrible in many ways - many of them unforeseen and horrible - but we will come out of this crisis better than before. We will hold true to our ideals. The nation spoke on Tuesday, and our experiment with self-government passed yet another test. There will be more to come, and we shall pass those tests as well - and with flying colors.
With flying colors.
I put out the American flag today. I haven't done that for a while. Too many people attempted to make that flag stand for something I did not believe in - hate, fear, jingoistic nationalism, xenophobia. I became reluctant to fly that flag I love because it appeared to send a message I was not in agreement with.
But today it seemed to stand for only what I always thought it should stand for all along: the Republic, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
I am flying that flag today. Long may she wave.