Nicholas Kristof published this the other day in the NY Times. I have been avoiding the symbolic aspect of an Obama victory partly because I don't like the idea of voting for a candidate because of the symbolism or historical importance of his (or her) "difference." I want to vote for a candidate because he (or she) merits my vote.
Having concluded that Senator Obama merited my vote and cast my (early) ballot for him, now I can look at the other part of this election: the symbolism and the historical import of what We The People of the United States of America may be doing in this election.
Part of my reluctance to think about that aspect of this particular election is that it still stings that America is willing to elect a black man before a woman. [Call me a racist or a female chauvinist and you'd probably be right on both couts, but that's how I feel. And I didn't even much care for Senator Clinton.] Now that I'm over that little hissy fit, I have to admit that it was cool to cast my vote for Obama partly for the reason that this IS a historic vote. My assistant has been making that point for months, but I was not ready to have that discussion. My assistant is a minority. I am white. That makes a difference. She was willing to call it what it was long before I could bring myself to do so.
So, America may (please God!) elect a black man as its next president.... perhaps better, we may be about to elect a person of mixed race, mixed nationality, mixed religious backgrounds. He is virtually a mongrel, to be honest. Barack Obama is exactly the kind of person you would expect a "Melting Pot" country to produce. I have been denying for years that America really is a Melting Pot. I think I may have been wrong. How cool is that?!
What is more, he is the living embodiment of the American Dream (the one that a lot of people don't even believe is possible any more): from humble roots, he was educated at America's finest institutions, he was a grass roots activist who got elected to the United States Senate. The symbolic import of his election is mind-blowing: Barack Hussein Obama, president of the United States of America.
How many American parents have told their kids, "You can be anything and do anything you set your mind to do and work hard for"? How many black (or poor or brown) kids looked around at their world and replied, "Yeah, right!" If Obama wins, the parents of America can point to the man in the White House and say, "See!" The hopelessness that seems to pervade our inner cities might be alleviated if children could look up at the picture of the president in their class rooms and see someone who is not a rich white guy with family connections, but someone who got ahead by being smart and working really hard.
How many times has American thumbed its nose at the rest of the world in recent years (er, decades ... er, centuries)? The post-modern world is a world where all nations have to cooperate. George Bush pissed away the good-will the rest of the world was prepared to grant us following 9/11. Clinton and his predecessors didn't do a lot to make the world love us, but Bush seems to have been hell-bent on making everybody in the world hate our guts. Bush has been Al-Quaeda's best suicide bomber recruiting tool. If Mr. Kristof is right, President Obama, sitting in the White House doing absolutely positively NOTHING will go a long way toward regaining a lot of the world's good will. That is worth considering.
The symbolic and historical import of this election is huge. We can't say that too loud because, um, ... why is that??
Oh, I know: because a lot of Americans don't give a damn about symbolism or history, or the rest of the world for that matter. I hope those folks stay home, complacently believing that McCain will win by a landslide.