Like many others, I’ve been remarkably emotional about the election of Barack Obama. It doesn’t take much to bring tears to my eyes as we approach the inauguration. Just show me another one of those stories of a three-generation African-American family making their way from New Orleans to D.C. for Tuesday, and I’m a wreck. Normally I’d (at best) ignore those human-interest stories, so why is this such a big deal for me, for America and for the whole world?
I’m a Baby Boomer, born in the late 1940s, and in my life I haven’t experienced the kinds of victory celebrations that my parents and their parents did after World Wars I and II. There was no celebration at the end of the Korean, Vietnam or Cold wars. They just sort of went away or didn’t. That’s left us to celebrate much lesser events like men walking on the moon, a World Series, playoff and Super Bowl victories, Olympic Men’s hockey and Women’s soccer gold medals, etc. But none of these victories came out of despair such as a prolonged war. Sure there are lots of things to celebrate all the time, even daily, but nothing like VE Day at the end of WWII.
I’ve lived through the election of 11 U.S. presidents, and while any election victory is always a cause célèbre for at least half the country, this one is clearly a much bigger deal than any of those previous. The most obvious difference is that it’s our first black president. But would this really have been such an event if it had happened in 2000/2001 after the Clinton presidency? For that matter, could Obama even have been elected in 2000? I don’t think so.
No, I think Obama’s win and the incredible sense of victory is just that. Like the end of a major war, we’re as much celebrating the end of something bad as we’re celebrating a new beginning. And what is it that’s ending? It’s primarily the Bush era. It’s Iraq, it’s the bungling of Katrina, it’s Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, it’s being embarrassed to be an American while traveling abroad, it’s Enron and WorldCom, it’s having the whole rest of the world looking at us and wondering what went wrong with our great country. And now it’s an economy in shambles. That’s what ultimately clinched the election for Obama.
January 20, 2009 is the celebration of a victory. At the very least it’s a celebration of the end of the Bush era and all it represents. It’s a celebration that the civil-rights movement of the 1960s — one of the defining issues for baby boomers — has ultimately succeeded. Put it all together, and it’s the largest victory this country has seen in more than 65 years. And that’s why I, like hundreds of millions of people around the planet, are very emotional about Tuesday and what it means for our country and the world.