I am watching the sun rise over Lake Michigan in the land of Lincoln on this new day in America. This is the morning after a great divide in the biography of the United States. As a nation, we have come of age.
I flew to Chicago on Tuesday afternoon to witness history as the United States of America went to the polls on Election Day, 2008. Hours later, as President-Elect Barack Obama spoke in Grant Park to claim his victory before a great throng of supporters and an eagerly listening world–almost exactly 40 years after the chaos of 1968–I felt myself in the flow of time, a minor participant in a great saga punctuated by events that shaped my life, as it shaped the lives of so many others.
The year 1968 was, for me and most of my friends, a year of tragedy and disillusion. Through the years that followed, years punctuated by Watergate and Vietnam and by decades of political polarization and paralysis, politics was the game that disappointed. Yesterday it was the game that delivered. The work of governing lies ahead, but the sun is rising and the challenges we face–in reconstructing a broken economy, restoring a threatened constitution, ending a misguided war and waging a necessary one, starting to heal a wounded planet–look from here like opportunities to be seized, not obstacles to be feared.
How different this feels from the crazy election of 2000, brought to an abrupt and puzzling end by the Supreme Court’s ill-starred decision to stop counting the ballots, when another new president was installed to preside over a nearly dysfunctional country. Having served as counsel before the court to the losing candidate during that sad chapter in our democratic trajectory, I returned to ordinary life but wondered when, if ever, I could fully believe in the process again.
As the decade progressed, the most impressive student I had ever taught was quietly pursuing his own political trajectory. In 1989, I had met Barack Obama and hired him as my research assistant while he was still just a first-year Harvard law student. His stunning combination of analytical brilliance and personal charisma, openness and maturity, vision and pragmatism, was unmistakable from my very first encounter with the future president.
I thought about that encounter as he and his wife Michelle each gave me a hug in one of the off-stage tents in Grant Park last night. I recalled it as I found myself unable to express in words my sense of gratitude and of possibility. The president-elect and the first lady-designate both thanked me for the part I had played in Barack Obama’s education and his rise to power, but it was I, of course, who owed thanks to them, thanks for the journey on which they had embarked to reclaim America for all who dare to hope.
Continue reading “Morning-after pride.”