I've spent the last days processing the Presidential election.
I've mostly stayed out of politics in my adult life. I have too many friends across the political spectrum who are sincere, compassionate, thoughtful, intelligent and good people who want with all their hearts to make the world a better place for me to say that my poltical way is the only way. In fact, I've found that regardless of political orientation, most of us have almost identical goals --peace, strong families, prosperity, social justice, caring communities -- but simply believe different paths will get us there faster and more fully. When I understood that, I could no longer hang on to a "my way or no way" political partisanship. (As an aside, it's interesting to note that some of the people I know who are the fiercest advocates of all religions representing different paths up the same mountain would never, ever extend that tolerance or inclusive point of view to people of a different political party or persuasion.)
Despite my apolitical predilection, I got involved in this election, working as a volunteer for the Obama campaign even though I disagreed with him on several issues. I attended training sessions, made phone calls and knocked on doors, asking people to vote for Obama. This is everything I don't like to do. I also don't like to be identified with one politcial party or the other, because I dislike the stereotypes that are associated with party affiliation. I'd rather not be hated or misunderstood over something, that in the end, isn't that important. (Again, this makes me the flip side of people I know who militantly identify with one poltical party but don't want to alienate anybody by adopting a religious affiliation.)
I was not an Obama supporter initially. But even before the economic meltdown, this election seemed to matter more than most. Perhaps, for me, it was simply moving to Ohio that made the difference.
I was grateful when Obama won the election. And when Obama won Ohio, the people I was watching the returns with burst into applause.
I stayed up late to watch Obama's speech, because, as so many have pointed out, this was a historic moment.
I was a bit surprised, however, when the next day all the papers played up the election of the first black President. I'd almost forgotten Obama was black. For me, what made the election historic was the message from the voters that our country needs to head in a whole new direction.
As I watched the election drama, I was struck by the contrast between Obama's acceptance of the Presidency and Clinton's in 1992. I remember the Clintons and the Gores lined up on a makeshift stage together, smiling, holding up their arms and seeming overjoyed and connected to each other as "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow" played in the background. The atmosphere was festive, triumphant and delighted.
In contrast, Obama seemed alone, even when his family was with him. And despite the much larger crowd, Obama appeared more somber than Clinton. Maybe it's the weight of the times we live in, and how bad things are, but Obama seemed on a different plane than other politicians, less frivolous, more conscious of the enormity of the task at hand. For that moment at least, he seemed like a great President, a transcendent President, a Lincoln, a Washington, a messianic figure who could lead us out of Egypt.
That's a lot of weight to carry. He's not a messiah, but how many Americans are pinning those kinds of hopes on him?
When, alerted by the newspapers I turned my attention to him as the first black President, I began to realize what a weight that is to bear, in and of itself. He and Michelle and their daughters already seem to be replacing Martin Luther King Jr. and his family as mythic figures in the black community. When I recognized the levels of reverence towards Obama and his family, I began to fear for him. I hope he will do everything he can do to protect himself.
And while I am trying not to expect too much, I hope he can rise to the occasion and become a great leader. And I continue to be glad to have borne witness to a joyful moment around the world. But what about you? Did you vote for Obama? Do you think Obama can bring the change we need?