(Written between 1:00 am and 4:00 am Wednesday morning Nov. 7th)
Can't sleep. Don't want to sleep. I want to remember. It's Tuesday night, November 6th and I just felt the ground move. This election is one you will want to remember, to save. It is pivotal. It is the first one I have really cared about in decades. For a political junkie this is not so good. My vacation from politics started in the 80s when Ronald Reagan of all people became the hero and savior of the Republican Party. Let me back that up four years though to 1976. Jimmy Carter was the first candidate and winner I ever voted for in a Presidential election. I actually got to speak to the man about a year earlier when he was just a nobody ex-governor from Georgia going around to college campuses introducing himself as "Hi, I'm Jimmy Carter and I'm running for President." That was about the extent of our conversation, but I remembered the friendly way he explained himself to a small crowd of college students and thinking, "I'm gonna vote for this guy." Why not, he got to me first. Well this simple Georgia peanut farmer sailed under the radar to the Presidency with the campaign slogan, "I'll never lie to you," very appealing in the post-Watergate era. While he was there he brokered the first Arab/Israeli peace agreement and officially recognized China.
Let's back up four more years. It's 1972 and a much younger political junkie gets hooked on the campaign of George McGovern. I've been thinking about George lately. If you don't know, he just passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 90. He is another of my father's generation that grew up in the Depression (nobody called it Great), served in war, got married and raised a family. They are about mainstream as you can get. Tom Brokaw called them The Greatest Generation, but they didn't think of themselves in terms like that. They just dealt with the world they were given and didn't complain about the cards they were given. If you asked them today, and you still can, they would tell you they had it pretty good. Families were strong. They had brothers and sisters to keep them company in life. Mothers were strong-willed and everpresent and Fathers performed as benevolent dictators and divorce was almost non-existent. I could go on, but you get the picture. Think Norman Rockwell and you won't be far off.
Where was I? Oh yeah, politics. My family were New Deal Democrats. Franklin Roosevelt was the only president my parents ever knew growing up. From 1932 to 1945 and four presidential elections Roosevelt helped redefine America. People who grew up in that era, well people who weren't Republican, never questioned their party affiliation. Of course you would be a Democrat. In a parallel to our current President, Barack Obama, Roosevelt saw us through the worst economic crisis in our nation's history. He saw us through a war that threatened the survival of the Western world. Why would you be anything else? Of course there were those other guys, God help me if I knew who they were, but there were a bunch of them just chafing at the bit (think Mitt Romney) at the chance to dethrone President Truman and restore the republic. The salvation of the Nation was at stake and Truman was considered a light-weight nobody who accidentally got to be President. They had just the candidate to do it, another governor, Thomas Dewey of New York. Dewey was an old-line Republican insider and was considered a shoo-in. Truman, one of the feistiest campaigners ever (Give him hell, Harry), began a cross-country whistle stop trip campaign that caught the public's imagination. Crowds grew daily and so did his momentum. Truman ended up pulling out the Presidential upset of the (last) century.
But I digress. My political memory is littered with milestones and tombstones. My earliest memory is the death of President John Kennedy. I just vaguely remember him, but I do remember how he was idolized and the speeches that are still talked about today. The death of his brother Robert 4 1/2 years later cemented the Kennedy name as a symbol of sacrifice and courage. They represented the new postwar generation of Democrats, a strange mix of nationalism, optimism and progressivism. My mother, like mothers everywhere looked to Jackie Kennedy as an American ideal. Hair styles were changed and babies were named. George McGovern was that same kind of Democrat, baptized in war and committed to social justice. As a 16 year old kid, he captured my imagination. The fact that he was tilting at windmills only added to the attraction. My life from August through November was consumed with posters, politics, telephones and donuts, the fuel on which volunteer campaign workers lived on. Almost no one, including myself, believed McGovern had a snowball's chance in hell of winning, but it didn't seem to matter. We were involved with something bigger than ourselves for the first time in our lives. If we didn't have close friends before, we had them then. We had stuff to do, older people who were looking out for us and absolutely no time on our hands. It was great. Well, you know the end of that story. Richard Nixon went on to win one of the greatest landslides in American history and we moved onto other things, college, first girlfriends, and the political haze of the 70s and 80s. It was an interesting run, but as the politics of bitterness descended (Democrats hated Reagan and Republicans never forgave the Watergate trials) I just quit caring. I just couldn't get angry or hateful enough to get involved and I went through a long string of picking losers. Let's see, Carter in '80, Walter Mondale in '84, Dukakis in '88, George H. Bush, yes Bush in '92. I voted for Clinton in '96 then Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004 and much to my chagrin John McCain in 2008. In my defense, I was tired of amateurs and I knew that Obama was going to win anyway. So I wasn't part of history then, but history has overtaken us all since. A first black President (one of the tiredest phases in the American lexicon) took office amidst some of the greatest hopes and fears of a generation. There was blood in the water at the time. In my lifetime I'd never seen the kind of fear we felt then, the fear of economic chaos and collapse. Like Europe now, no one knew if or how disaster could be avoided. I knew it wouldn't take a Black President to save us, but a courageous one and in one of the miracles of history, that is what we got. Barack Obama became the right man in the right place. He put his entire political career on the line by signing and implementing the TARP, the auto bailout and bringing in a bipartisan economic team to steer us away from the fiscal cliff, steps that were started by the previous President. He did this in the face of a united Republican Party that opposed at every move. They were horrified that a young, black, savvy politician from Illinois could sweep them from power. With virtually no support from the opposition, he took the steps needed restore faith in the American economy. The numbers WERE staggering, an 800 billion dollar stimulus plan, the auto bailout, millions of people losing their homes, their jobs. Then he took the last bit of his capital and spent it on a landmark healthcare bill which the Republicans had vowed to repeal. He and his party paid the price the following year when the Tea Party swept the elections and laid siege on the Obama Presidency. In a cynical and unpatriotic move the Republicans decide to take the economy down and Obama along with it. All the while he kept his spirit and laid the question at the feet of the American voters, "Shall we reward those whose only motivation is revenge, whose only goal is power?" When the dust settled and the smoke cleared we saw an historic rejection of bitter partisanship. The American people said, "Look, if you are going to serve you have to govern and that means compromise. If you don't, we will punish you." And they did. In the face of the worst economic climate in generations, the President has triumphed with victories in both the popular and Electoral College vote. It was a Gettysburg moment. The Republican nearly took the summit but were swept back. Will they go kindly into that good night? No, but they have been chastised, demoralized and confused. Watch as they start to eat their own and new moderate voices emerge. The President on the other hand is on a roll. Business will come to terms with he new political reality and start investing and hiring. I think there is more hope for the future now than there has been in years. In a dangerous world we have a President who hates war and will work to prevent one. The Republicans can only step back and let him govern. The American People have spoken. So as far as I am concerned Obama did deliver on his promise of hope and change.
I've been up about 18 hours now. Much as I hate missing sleep, I didn't want to miss this either. This will be a night I remember, Obama won, Tim Kaine won, a close personal friend, Charles Samuels defended his City Council seat and City Council's loudest mouth, Marty Jewell got voted out of office. It feels like the country is moving in sync. It feels like the country is moving in sync. My job is going to change, the city will, maybe even the country.
When I heard that the national election had been called, I said "screw sleep, screw work, I'm gonna be part of it, and I hit the streets of Richmond, started violating the City's new noise ordinance. The streets were full of dancing, chanting VCU students and by virtue of my Chinese-made OBAMA hat I led them in cheers and posed for pictures. I told one group of bewildered students to be happy, "your future just got brighter." There nothing like optimism to make a body politic feel better. If Obama can tap into some of that optimism he has created, the hope and change he hoped for, may just become a reality. You don't want to get in front of an America full of spit and vinegar. You just get on board or get out of the way.