We began this journey with a vague notion of what lay ahead. A junior Senator for Illinois with a strange-sounding name decided to run for the highest office in the land. No one gave him much of a chance. He was running against the vaunted Clinton machine. And when he won the nomination, he was running against a grizzled war hero. Yet he beat the machine. And the war hero had the frailest feet of clay. And suddenly, on January 20, 2009, a man named Barack Hussein Obama took the oath of office, and an unfolding began.
It wasn't solely an unfolding of possibilities. His election ripped the festering scab of racial animus from the American body politic. It was a scab thought long healed—especially with his improbable election. But it wasn't. The healing was only cosmetic, and the forces of reaction responded to his assumption of power in a way that they wouldn't have even for their bete noir Hillary Clinton. Even Newt Gingrich came to an accommodation with Bill Clinton; no such modus vivendi was to be had between the GOP and Obama. It was, frankly, a death match, no quarter to be given, and none expected, at least on the GOP side.
But that's the funny thing about Americans. We can be justly criticized as apathetic, uninterested in the grinding drudgery of politics, focused solely on the spectacle, the gladiatorial combat bruited about by the mainstream media. The media promotes the horse race narrative because it's the only way it knows to keep eyeballs trained on it and delivered to its advertisers.
But most Americans—most—are tired. They're sickened by the partisan gridlock. And they know, as poll after poll shows, that the gridlock is one-sided. Democrats have extended the hand of cooperation to the GOP numerous times. But this isn't even the GOP of Newt Gingrich. Not even the GOP of George W. Bush. This GOP is an anomaly in American politics. The denizens of the dark, fevered swamps of the US right have taken over one of the two major political parties in the country. When its candidate for President feels he doesn't have the security to stand against his party's most crazed elements, but instead twists this way and that to satisfy both the country's broad middle and his party's crazed base, that indicates a party which doesn't have much of a future, but which can do much damage as its death throes play out.
Most Americans want the parties to cooperate for the greater good. Even many of those who will vote for Mitt Romney want roads to be maintained, infrastructure to be repaired, police and firefighters on the job, and decent educations for their children. What some of those who vote for Romney don't realize is that the party of their preference no longer exists; it's a cauldron of paranoia and resentment, the plaything of billionaires seeking to assume power over the country, of radicals who want to destroy any notion of an American commonwealth, where we owe each other and stand together as citizens and human beings. The Party of Lincoln is dying, eaten up by the cancer of its growing hatred for anything which and anyone who doesn't fit its narrow definition of what it is to be "American". It is a parasite, feeding off of the fears of its hosts, encouraging them, telling them that they will be left out of the new America envisioned by those "other" people, that they and their children will have no future. It is the height of cynicism. It borders on evil.
And yet, in the face of this opposition, Obama soldiered on. More than any politician for the past 50 years, he had a vision, and everything he has done has been in the service of that vision. Both strategy and tactics have been means to further the goal: of justice, of fairness, of security, of peace. Remember the outcry over the jettisoning of the "pubic option" during the health care debate? That secured the groundwork for healthcare reform. And just this week it was announced that the government would enter into the healthcare market, providing an insurance plan to compete with the private insurance companies, doing more good than the vaunted pubic option would have.
And now we stand on the brink of his re-election. This is what his re-election means in real terms: he will shape the Supreme Court for the coming generation. John Roberts will still be Chief Justice; but unless he decides to throw his lot in with Obama appointees, it will be known as the Obama Court.
What his re-election means is that the Democratic Party will be shaped by those who came of age under Obama: pragmatic, progressive, not afraid of a fight, intellectually equipped to fight against a GOP bankrupt of ideas.
What his re-election means is that he will have four more years for his reforms to take root, until they become part of the commonwealth, and removed at great peril to those who oppose them.
What his re-election means is that a generation will come of age aware of its own power, of its own ability to shape its world, hopeful, not jaundiced, raised in a world where it's expected that we help each other as a community, rather than looking solely after the main chance.
This is what change feels like. This is what victory feels like. This is what a better world feels like. This is what justice and compassion feel like. This is what people, ordinary people, banding together to fight the powers of the world feels like. America is choosing, and unless every statistic is a lie, it’s choosing for hope, for justice, for fairness, for equality.
Sit in that still center. Savor it. And then get back to work. It's not over, not as long as we draw breath.