Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What Victory Means

It's a blessing this morning to wake up with Barack Obama as the President-Elect, and with all five senate and house seats in New Mexico in the hands of Democrats. I was worried about Heinrich for a while, but coattails buoyed him quite nicely. I certainly can't complain about that - almost everything has gone my way so far (Prop 8 and a few others being the outstanding examples).

What is strange is realizing that I don't know what to do about victory.

My first instinct, of course, is to tell the many people who I've seen long suffering in the face of American politics going against them that the good days are here. For my late grandfather Roy (and for Terry Arnold), part of my special appreciation of tonight is for you - we're going to have a sane Foreign Policy again, where we treat other nations like humans and not like playthings. At Roy's funeral I swore, in my idealistic 13 year old way, that I'd do everything within my power to fix the system, take the expanded Presidential powers under Bush and do everything to undo the harm he'd caused. It was a naive, idealistic statement, but it was also aimed at something in 2024. I had no idea that we'd have step one to repairing the damage of the last eight years elected immediately after Bush. I underestimated the nation, and it's reassuring to know that I was wrong.

While I wanted to share the joy of last night with almost everyone I know, the person I singled out to call was my dad. He's never before had an election where he voted for someone a) that he genuinely liked as a candidate, and b) had them win. Or at least, he hadn't before. And this is someone who grew up as a quasi-international citizen, with a wealth of experience in the universality of humans. To consistently have that understanding undermined and thwarted in the name of American interests must have hurt, and election season (starting in 2000) became very much a process of finding silver linings and proof that humans are basically good if misguided. So it's especially nice that my idealism was able to converge with my father's on my first election. There is a real potential for things to get better, and this isn't just the luxury of youth (where time for things to get better is more or less infinite) speaking. This is every failed promise to the baby boomers, and this is a passing of the torch. Things can get better, and they very likely will.

A special nod towards Nora's excellent post about coming of age politically in the Bush Years. She touches on a very important point, and one I want to elaborate on here. She says:

So knowing all that– understanding the only America I’ve known– you know the gravity that comes with the following statement:

I am proud to be an American tonight.

And it's a profound statement. It's not a statement I can really dispute, and it's not a personal experience I want to challenge.

But I'm not sure I feel identically. I've always identified very strongly as American. Well, not so much American as an Albuquerqueno and as a New Mexican. But also as an American - I can't go back a few generations and have relatives who came over by boat. Athertons and Coopers seem to have been rather perpetually American, if New Englanders. And despite being a bit of an anglophile (in the loving england way, not the other one), I really can't imagine any state of being that isn't as an American.

So the last eight years have been interesting. I politically came of age with Bush as President, with the War of Terror on, and with my diplomat grandfather's death, but I also came of age politically in the New Mexico under Richardson, and in a Unitarian Church, and with the changing of the guard in the democratic party. Not that the last eight years were fertile ground for unquestioing patriotism, but they were a challenge we grew into. The brilliance of Barack Obama is not that he's a democrat who won, and not that he's someone on the left who won. The brilliance of Barack Obama is that, for good or bad, he reimagined the left as a concept with mass appeal, and he reimagined the democratic party not as the Clinton's did (where it was the center + the left), but as an ideologically strong unifiying force. Democrats may have been the party of Obama, and they were certainly the people on the ground for him, but his message isn't exclusively for them, and it's never been.

Back to patriotism and the Bush Years. While I never felt like I wasn't a patriot, for those eight years I perpetually felt that my patriotism, which was real, didn't count. As though it was the wrong kind of patriotism, as though caring about the nation enough to see some of what it did was wrong was something like a sin. The Bush Years were, to understate things, devisive. And throughout those years, I felt that active democrats were the scrappy few, pursuing a vision of the nation that was different from the current course of action. And every time we failed, or ran into any obstacle, it felt as though we were through, as though our nation had been co-opted. And it felt as thoguh caring about the nation was a losign battle, one that would have us all drained, spent, and finished, without any real progress.

Waking up today with Barack Obama as the President-elect means that our struggle wasn't in vain, that our vision of America is a valid one, and that our kind of patriotism counts as well. It's a tremendous burden that has been lessened (if not lifted entirely), and that's something we can all be happy about.

I woke up this morning amid the feeling of resignation from those who had backed McCain. And McCain, despite the flaws of his campaign, was incredibly gracious in defeat. We can never forget that, and it is folly to imagine that he did anything but care about his country as best he knew how. His dedication to this country is remarkable, and it is unfortunate that he was the one to carry the republican banner to defeat this year. More importantly than the man himself, however, is the fact that in this nation, in this blue tide (as it were), 55+ million people voted for him. That's one in six americans, and that's 46% of people who voted.

One more detour before concluding. On twitter, some young parent friends of mine:
Last night, in bed, Eck turns to me and says, "Goodnight, my love. Just think - this is our last night as downtrodden liberals." :)
And part of that means that we're vindicated. Part of this is everything we've been waiting for, since, well, ever. And part of that is realizing that there are real people who are now, for the first time in eight years (and, depending on how you see it, for the first time since 1994) on the outs. And partially, this is because their vision isn't the one that fits the present America. But that doesn't entitle us to inflict any of the same bullshit on the losers that we've had to suffer through. Because if we do that, then it's all for not. We crawled through shit, through years of having our loyalty questioned, our values ridiculed, and our sense of patriotism deemed un-American so that no one has to put up with that.

Let's be gracious in victory. And with that, let's be one people again - a people who disagree, but a people. Two armed camps is a terrible stage of existence.

Epilogue: Two Readings

Take courage friends.
The way is often hard, the path is never clear,
and the stakes are very high.
Take courage.
For deep down, there is another truth:
you are not alone
-Wayne B Arnason

If we agree in love, there is no disagreement that can do us an injury, but if we do not, no other agreement can do us any good.

Let us endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace.
-Hosea Ballou

No comments: