As Congressman John Lewis observed, tonight America decided to "lay down the burden of race and move ahead" in a profoundly nonviolent revolution, and once again America reclaimed its place as the true leader of the world, for in no other country on earth would Obama's story be possible, such is the reality of racial hatred, religious intolerance, and class divisions that define even the best of European nations. Make no mistake about it, tonight we all witnessed the most important day in U.S. history in at least a generation, and in one seminal event America did more to realize Martin Luther King's dream than in the forty years of struggle since his death, as now every child born in this country can honestly aspire to the highest office in the land. It is no longer a line teachers try to sell kids in rundown classrooms but a real, tangible reality: Yes, you can achieve, and no, despite our heartbreaking legacy of injustice, we are not a country that is unwilling to transcend our past. Indeed, we are a country that will judge people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, and despite the many challenges that we still must confront, we are, in essence, a nation that believes in our ideals of social justice and equality for all. I have never been more proud to be an American than I am tonight, as I looked my 2 month old daughter in the eyes and told her that she will never live in a country that is dominated by racist or sexist values: That is the message this nation sent tonight with the election of Barack Obama.
So how did Obama overcome enormous, unprecedented challenges to win this election. Here are the six most important aspects of Obama's victory:
1. He should call Bush to thank him for being the worst president in U.S. history. Bush's complete and utter incompetence opened the door to radical change in much the same way that an Indian-American--Bobby Jindal--was elected in the Deep South after Hurricane Katrina when Louisiana's residents were so fed up with the corrupt state leaders that they essentially said, "this 36-year-old kid seems young and smart, so let's give him a shot at running this state." That's basically what many conservative Americans said as they voted for Obama: Yes, he's a black man, but he's Harvard-educated, level-headed, and seems to know his stuff, so let's give him a shot, for it can't be any worse than this idiot Bush.
2. Obama had the most impressive campaign organization in U.S. history. Starting in the primaries, they left Clinton behind, utilizing the Internet not just to solicit funds but to put together a 50 state machine that mobilized voters and got people to the polls, especially in the caucus states that gave Obama the delegate lead that enabled him to hold off Clinton. Obama wisely rejected public financing and buried the GOP in advertising dollars, even as they cried about how unfair it was that the Dems finally had their chance to have more money. He knew the public didn't care much about the public financing issue, so he absorbed the flip-flop blow back and overwhelmed McCain in the battleground states and put him on the defensive in red states, which made the difference in the end in states such as Florida and especially Virginia. It is a model that will be studied for generations, and Obama did his part by running a literally flawless campaign. Except for a few stumbles in the primaries he made no mistakes.
3. On August 29th, McCain made blunder number one: The selection of Palin was a disaster, as it solidified his base in an election where needed to appeal to the center. Palin scared the hell out of reasonable independents and Democrats whom McCain had to have. Palin reinforced the perception that the GOP was a party of disgruntled white people, and all she brought to the ticket were a bunch of racists who were either going to sit it out or vote for McCain anyway. Look at the composition of those rallies in the final weeks: Angry rural white people calling for Obama's death, that's the crowd she cultivated, and it became painfully clear to open-minded Americans that she was more of a grand wizard of the KKK than a viable president of the United States. After her pathetic debate performance she was relegated to SNL skits and not taken seriously by most of America. As the results made painfully clear, she did much more harm than good simply because people had no confidence that she could take over if the 72-year-old man with a 1000 page medical history were to die in office. That's the bottom line; she failed the only test a VP has to pass--can this person be trusted as president?
4. On September 15, as the stock market was literally crashing, McCain made blunder number two when he repeated the idiotic observation that "the fundamentals of the economy are strong." Even the most simplistic investors who simply have a 401K knew that their nest egg was disappearing everyday, so to hear the cognitive dissonance of a man who wants to be president make such a ridiculous statement was alarming and caused a dramatic shift in the polls. It was clear at that point that McCain was indeed as out of touch as his seven houses and dozen cars suggested. He was reduced to a typical rich, old, white Republican who has no sense of the challenges average Americans struggle with on a monthly basis. It was a devastating mistake.
5. McCain inexplicably dug himself in deeper on the economic issue when he played his little "suspend the campaign" game--and then failed to get anything done because the GOP rejected him. It was a humiliating defeat that led him to arrive at the debate with his tail between his legs and reduced to having to support the bailout package that Bush demanded and that the GOP helped pass. Obama survived the bad decision to vote for the bailout only because he waited to be certain that McCain would vote yes before he did.
6. In all three debates Obama reassured the nation that he was cool, calm, and competent, as he destroyed "Forrest Grump" McCain on the issues and left him looking flustered and angry. The debates were the first time most Americans saw Obama, and they liked what they saw: He was forceful and astute, as well as refined and respectful, certainly not some Angry Black Man. The debates had a huge impact in terms of convincing Americans that it was OK to vote for this guy, that he cared about the country, knew the issues, had a vision, and seemed much more skilled than Bush. The debates sealed the deal, as McCain never was able to catch up in the polls.
Now, thankfully, Joe the plumber can get back to the very real and very important work of unplugging toilets, and Palin can fade into Alaska oblivion: Their 15 minutes are up. John McCain has served this country well and Obama should seek his counsel, as he is an honorable man at heart. He is not the first person whose ambition cost him his soul, but McCain could have run a much more dishonorable campaign than he did, and he deserves respect for that choice. He made a deal with the devil, those "agents of intolerance" he rejected in 2000, and the GOP needs to have a good, old-fashioned war for the soul of the party. The right wing, bigoted evangelicals need to be cut loose to form their own party so that moderates can regain control in case Obama does not live up to the promise of his potential. Obama has a monumental task ahead of him, but he also has no excuses, with large majorities in both houses. As he seemed to indicate in his acceptance speech, he knows it's time to get to work, to try to save this great but fading nation.
He will indeed be judged by the content of his character, not the color of his skin, in these next four years, and all Americans should wish him the best of luck. He will need it.