Reflections on Election Night, 2008

By: Roger Sheppard
By: Roger Sheppard

Wishing Pres. Obama, and the rest of us, luck

Well, it certainly was exhilarating, wasn't it!

I admit that I was one of those people who voted for John McCain to be President (despite his less-the-ideal selection for VP). I voted for his experience over a perceived lack-of-experience in the Top Job.

But I must tell you that it created a strange and vicarious deja-vu for me. As Election Night wore on, I realized what it must have been like to have voted for Richard Nixon in 1960. All the experience anyone could ask for being trumped by a brash, young Democrat who had never held national office.

The parallels between JFK's victory in 1960 and BHO's victory in 2008 are many, even if the initials don't evoke the same kind of magic. But we must remember this about the Kennedy presidency, as much as I was then and remain now a JFK fan. The Bay of Pigs debacle was due largely to his inexperience. His Inaugural Address commitment to "go anywhere, oppose any foe" to secure liberty for our allies, helped get us entangled in Vietnam, and sounds an awful lot like George W. Bush's reasoning for the invasion (liberation?) of Iraq. JFK's alleged philandering (and the cover-up that might have accompanied it, if the media had been so inclined to pursue it at the time) could have triggered impeachment proceedings, much as they did for BIll Clinton.

But JFK grew in the Oval Office and most historians agree that his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a year after the Bay of Pigs invasion, was masterful and may have saved the world from all-out nuclear war.

So what of the election of Barack Obama? As I have written previously, it holds much promise for a healing along America's racial divide. Being the son of a white mother and an African father, he stands uniquely astride that divide. He can truly speak from both sides of it.

One of the things that I have thought a lot about since his election is this. Who elected Barack Obama as our next President? Yes, the polls say that 96% of African-American voters went for Obama. But even if 100% of those voters and 100% of all of the registered Hispanic or other "non-white" voters joined them in voting for Barack Obama, that would still not have given him the victory. It took the votes of millions of people who would refer to themselves as "Caucasian" to give Senator Obama his historic win. And that, my friends, says it all.

Bill Cosby has been calling on all African-Americans to stand up and be counted and to take responsibility for themselves and to stop blaming white America for everything that is wrong in the African-American community. And now, an African-American man has been elected to the Presidency, with millions of votes from white Americans. The time for claiming victimhood status among some in the African-American community is over. If a young man, raised as he was, with no silver spoon in his mouth, who put his talents to work and seized the opportunities available to him, can become President, then how is this nation as a whole still prejudiced?

 Are there still pockets of prejudice? You bet. There always will be prejudice as long as there are people who look or speak or dress or act differently than one another. And some of those pockets are as deep as they are invisible. But millions of whites in this country, faced with a choice between what many saw as four more years of failed Republican policies, and given the alternative of a well-spoken young man preaching "change," went for him despite, or in some cases because of the fact that he is "black."

All of the good will that is flowing toward the Obama presidency is like a breath of fresh air, one that the nation gets about once every generation. I am old enough and have watched enough presidential politics to know that it won't last. The breath of fresh air that came into the White House in 1977 with Jimmy Carter, wiping away the stigma of Watergate, evaporated with the scandal that surrounded his good friend Bert Lance, the OPEC-induced energy crisis, the take-over of the American Embassy in Tehran, and the holding of U.S. hostages there for 444 days.

As hard to believe as it may be, in 2000, there were millions of people who were thrilled to see Bill Clinton and his scandal-ridden presidency come to an end, and who were happy to see George W. Bush move to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And you may remember that shortly after 9-11, President Bush's popularity was extraordinarily high.

So what of the Obama presidency? A majority of the U.S. Senate is Democratic and a majority of the House is Democratic, too. But what we will all see in the months and years that follow Feb. 20, 2009, is that not all Democrats want the same things. Parties that seem so monolithic and stolid during a national campaign, fracture along a thousand fault lines in the battles that follow.

President Obama will have to move quickly and decisively, and with considerable skill and a healthy dose of luck, to use his national and global good will to his advantage. Because when people wake up to the (obvious) fact that righting the wrongs and fixing the complex problems will take longer than they hoped, many who were quick to jump on his bandwagon, will just as quickly jump off. And the millions who opposed him will certainly make their voices heard. I can almost see the "Don't Blame Me, I Voted for McCain (or Hillary)" bumper stickers now.

I wish President Obama all the success in the world. His success will be our success. I will be happy to add his name to the list of great American Presidents if he deserves that. But American presidents are seldom truly held to be "great" within their own terms of office or sometimes, within their own lifetimes. That, as they say, is something that is left to history to decide. Editorialists called Lincoln a "baboon" and worse while he was in office. Harry Truman was de-rided as a little man who was in way over his head when he took over for the legendary FDR. Most historians now hail them both as excellent Presidents.

But I do know one thing. Somewhere, Abraham Lincoln is cheering for Barack Obama and wondering why it took 150 years for his Emancipation Proclamation to bring the results he dreamed of. President Obama -- I wish you, and all of us, all the best. We sure need it.

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