Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama Won for All the Right Reasons

Posted by Stephen Hart
I begin this post at 2:23 a.m., a little less than two hours after the conclusion of President-Elect Barack Obama's victory speech. Actually, "victory" doesn't do it justice; the word seems too much linked to a mere contest, even if the prize is leader of the free world.

His message to the American people and to all countries whose fate and fortune is intertwined with the United States (which is basically most of the globe) -- and the promise that he will bring to the White House -- transcends the term "victory." Because, as Obama himself said, the real winners tonight are us. I have been voting in elections for 25 years and have never felt that way about a candidate.

We won because Obama, whether you voted for him or not (or even like him or not ... and after his words at Grant Park in Chicago, you'd have to be completely stubborn or without a pulse not to feel even the slightest bit of hope), made us care about the process again. All you have to do is take a gander at voter turnout, and the videotape of lines wrapping around polling centers, to see that.

Of course, some people voted simply to try and prevent an African-American from becoming president.You didn't hear words of blatant racism from those people, just the usual read-between-the-lines catch phrases. Or they hid behind GOP talking points that were so old, you needed a can of Pledge to dust them off. I witnessed such conversations between like-minded voters while I was on line this morning. And I live in New York, not Alabama.

And yes, I'm sure some African-Americans were guilty of voting for Obama simply because of his ethnicity. Is that any better? Not really. Do they have more of an excuse? Well ... yes. After all, it's not like African-Americans have won a lot of these battles -- whether those battles were at the voting booth or in the court room or in any situation where African-Americans have been made to feel afraid or powerless.

I watched the night's election coverage in a small Obama headquarters on Staten Island, the most conservative of New York City's five boroughs. I watched it with a predominantly African-American audience that rejoiced every time a state was called for Obama. And I celebrated right alongside ... and the last time I looked, I wasn't black. (Although, to be honest, I truly couldn't appreciate the victory quite like my African-American colleagues; it's only natural, I don't have their perspective.)

Which got me thinking: Maybe the reason why we were all rooting so hard for Barack Obama is because his life reflects ours a lot more than John McCain's and his seven houses (or is it eight, I keep losing track), or George W. Bush and his silver-spoon, Air-National-Guard upbringing. If you don't think that's the case, then why did Obama win over more working-class white voters than McCain (or past Democrat nominees John Kerry and Al Gore)?

It's true that part of the reason I voted for Obama is because of his dynamic personality. I gave money (the little that I could afford) to the past campaigns of Gore and Kerry, but I didn't get off my butt and do anything else on their behalf. Obama, through his words and actions, motivated me to the point where I felt compelled to get involved. It was the essence of a grassroots campaign, and the organization and execution of Team Obama was the political equivalent of Vince Lombardi's Green Bay power sweep. It started when the campaign simply asked for small online donations ... $5, $10, $20. They made you feel that even such a small contribution was making a difference. After that, you were hooked. You started emailing and phoning the campaign asking what you could do. And when you volunteered, they couldn't have been more welcoming and encouraging.
I have been voting in elections for 25 years and I never felt like that about any candidate.

You felt that way because the man simply exudes grace and class. He isn't the elite snob as he was portrayed by both Republican and Democratic rivals. But he also doesn't play to the least common denominator. He's smart and doesn't feel guilty about it, and he shouldn't. He doesn't flaunt his intelligence, but he also doesn't "dumb it down" for the masses. He gives well, thought-out responses and not just some five-second sound bytes that play well on the nightly news. I don't want a president who I can picture having a beer with. I don't think Barack Obama will be caught chewing his food with his mouth open at state dinners or giving back rubs to female world leaders.

The international community quickly and loudly weighed in with an overwhelmingly positive response for Obama. The 200,000 or so people who showed up to hear him speak in Berlin this summer had already told you that. And guess what ... the world's opinion of us matters. George W. Bush doesn't think so, and look at our current standing amongst our allies. This country will need global friends to help fight our battles -- whether they're in Middle Eastern deserts or on Wall Street.

But more than Obama's cult of personality, the bottom line in voting for a candidate is because you agree with his policies more than the other guy's. I believe Obama's economic plan is better for me; that he's more concerned with providing health care for all Americans; that he's more concerned with education. And, for all the hawks out there, Obama will make the military decision to concentrate our troops in Afghanistan rather than Iraq-- because wasn't the original war goal after 9/11 to capture Bin Laden?

Political talk shows can bring on all the analysts they want, and come up with all kinds of factors for McCain's loss (to me, he lost it the day he tabbed Palin as his VP). But throw out all the pie charts and graphs and exit polls and demographic numbers -- the bottom line at 4:21 a.m. on a Wednesday morning is that most Americans believed in Obama more than McCain.

It's change we can believe in. Here's hoping, and praying, that it comes to fruition.

Stephen Hart is a veteran reporter for the STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE and a regular contributor to BarkBackNews.END OF POST

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