It’s been a week since the election, and it’s taken me all this time to fully digest the event and its significance. It seems like it happened just yesterday and yet so long ago, but the truth is that it hasn’t even begun, and I cannot wait to see how it goes from there.
My road to Obama was not an easy one. I am a registered independent in Florida, which means I had to sit out the entire primary season. During that time, however, I fully supported Hilary Clinton to be the Democratic nominee. I felt that her prior experience at the White House and the experience brought in by her husband put her above the newcomer from Illinois, Barack Obama. Obama, with his eloquence and florid language, rubbed me the wrong way. When he kept winning primary after primary, I grew annoyed at the way more and more people joined in the growing adoration of Obama. By the time Clinton dropped out and Obama became the de facto nominee, I was very much not a fan. I foresaw a very difficult road ahead, having to choose between two candidates that I did not believe in.
I had decided before the primaries began, and certainly realized how essential it would be for me after the nominations had been set, that I would be very diligent about researching the candidates’ stance on the various important issues before making my decision. Though I’m an independent that skews Democratic, I very much believe in voting for people, not for parties. As I remember telling my wife once Obama was the de facto nominee, he now has these months to convince me.
And he did. Even when McCain kept making blunder after blunder, outlining policies that I simply did not agree with, I continued to give him the proper consideration in regards to my decision. But the simple truth was that Obama just made much better arguments and outlined policies that matched my own views a lot closer. His oratory kept being an issue for me; because I was trained in the art of words and arguments, I always remained a bit skeptical of the speeches, knowing full well how those can be used to hide and sway. As much as I appreciated there being a candidate that was so eloquent, I was always mindful that it was just talk, specifically constructed meant to evoke certain feelings and reactions. Then came the Democratic National Convention.
I saw McCain’s speech at the RNC and thought it a good one, but Obama’s was just fantastic, moving and (dare I say it) inspirational. I got goosebumps at times, and when it was done I remember thinking, I want to believe in this man, I want to believe those aren’t just empty words but a true commitment. I wasn’t swayed completely, but my wall had been breached. Over the next few weeks, especially over the three debates, Obama came through with explanations of his policies, his stance on the issues, his ideas for the new government. McCain just floundered. He had a couple of good moments here and there, but overall he simply could not lay down arguments that seemed as solid as those of his opponent, and the arguments he did lay down did not sit well with me at all. And there was Sarah Palin.
I don’t have anything against her, but against what she represented. McCain’s original choice for VP was Joe Lieberman (and let me say a McCain-Lieberman ticket would have been something I would have considered a lot more seriously) but the hardcore Republican base vetoed that choice. The choice of Palin was an outright kow-towing to the same Republican power base that has held court for the last eight years, and if McCain folded to them so early in the process, I worried what would happen if he achieved the White House. More than anything, that was the point where I knew I could not vote for McCain. Yet, I did not want to cast a vote for Obama simply because he wasn’t McCain, so that meant I had to do my research.
By the week before the election I had already made my choice. I kept it quiet because being an Orthodox Jew in Miami surrounded by Cubans, my choice of Obama was not a popular one and I did not feel like getting into arguments. (In fact, I practice a very strict “No Politics” doctrine with friends and family, because even people who agree on the same candidate may have vastly different ideas of why they do and as a rule I am the type to avoid confrontation.) Of course, that meant silently enduring the accusations of Obama being a terrorist, a Muslim, a socialist, a communist, a new Castro, the Antichrist, etc. The worse ones were the socialist/communist accusations, because those came from Cubans (including my extended family) who lived through the Revolution and who could not help seeing a new Castro: a young elocuent liberal preaching change and the good of the common people. If you merely look at facts on a sheet of paper and know nothing of Castro and Obama, yeah, I can see how you could get to that conclusion, but the fact is all these people were (and are) reacting out of trauma, and I cannot blame them. I also cannot argue because I’m not going to win, so we simply wait for time to run its course.
When I cast my vote on Nov. 4 I did so fully confident that I had chosen the right man for the job. His skin color never was an issue for me either way: I was choosing our next president, not a color. That said, I was well aware of the historic moment looming in the near horizon, and it was with that in mind I sat down to watch the news that night.
As states started to be called for the candidates, I forced myself to be rational and grounded, even if, with every blue splotch on the map, my imagination wanted to fly. At ten-fifty-something NBC went to a commercial break with Obama pretty much in the lead, but when they came back at 11 pm, once the West Coast was done voting, Obama was declared the winner and the next President of the United States of America. It took my wife and I a few minutes to realize what was happening. The ghosts of the 2000 election lingered in the room: Had they called this too early? Would they be retracting? Was it really over? It was, it really was, especially once McCain conceded with a fantastic speech that returned to this world the good ole maverick that had been lost in time and space during the campaign.
I was stunned and unable to think. I was amazed and elated. I was incredulous. That is until Obama made his victory speech. That’s when it hit me: I was now living in a brand new world. It was these lines in particular that did it for me, that even now, a week later, I reread and still make me tear up:
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”
– Barack Obama
I was happy that the candidate I supported was elected. I was happy that the candidate I believed was the best man for the job was elected. But more than anything, I was happy that my nation had been colorblind and elected a man who happened to be black, not a black man. Above all, I was, and still am, immensely proud because I witnessed the moment my country proved once and for all, without the shadow of a doubt, that anyone, ANYONE, can make it.
As a member of two minority groups, Hispanics and Jews, I had never felt that I had a place in the greater machinery of this nation, that our representation was limited to the Senate at most, that my voice and vote was much sought after but ultimately inconsequential. That all changed on Nov. 4; that was the night I knew I mattered, I made a difference, and I could achieve anything. That was the night my apathy at the system and the government melted away.
I truly feel this is a new world; it looks like the old one, but there’s something different in the air. I don’t believe Obama is any sort of superman who will fix everything that is wrong in America. Heck, I think he will screw up royally at some point as every single president has before. But I do believe that his election has signaled a shift that is impossible to ignore. I also believe that he is fully aware of that fact, and that if nothing else, his administration will be one in which this new world (including everything from the ubiquitous use of the Internet to the multi-cultural/multi-ethnic new American) will be well represented. There’s a bit of faith and hope in that belief, I admit, but I am allowing myself to be idealistic once more, even if I also remain vigilant of the government, as any good citizen should be. We all need checks and balances, after all.
I cannot wait for January 20, 2009 to witness this awesome moment in history, and for this new world to finally bloom.