Being part of history

My son, a nominal Republican, called from the West Coast to inform me that he had just voted for Barack Obama.

"I just felt l had to be a part of history," he said excitedly. "I wanted to be able to say that I helped elect the first African American president of the United States."

That sentiment clearly influenced the decision of millions of young Americans who helped put the Illinois senator in the White House on a near landslide vote. While it is an enormously healthy sign in a nation that has struggled throughout its existence to overcome the stigma of racism, it has to be underpinned by a much deeper motivation — one that believes this half black, half white young man carries inside him the best possible hope of unifying Americans and leading them into better days.

For Obama the next months until inauguration day are bound to include a period of self-examination and how to meet the enormous challenges that lie before him. First among his priorities must be a realization of the large part the unpopularity of President Bush and his policies contributed to the Democrats’ victory and to set a course that will not lose sight of this fact. To regard his mandate in any other light would be disastrous.

If he truly wishes to reach out to all and to be inclusive regardless of party, and there is no reason to believe he is not sincere in this, he must put together an agenda that strives to meet the needs and desires of the most disparate citizenry on earth. It is a monumental task and one that is best suited for a young man with the kind of energy and determination Obama has shown during the last two years of non-stop campaigning. He comes to the job without a great deal of experience but with a mind that is clear and first rate and focused on what Abraham Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature."

The divisiveness in this capital city has grown exponentially throughout the last two decades. It is often a place of nasty partisanship and incivility on both sides of the aisle in both houses of the Congress. With two wars and eight years of turmoil at home and abroad under Bush, it has become almost anarchical at times.

Obama’s promise of healing on what may be among the Republic’s most historic occasions certainly gives one hope that a reversal of partisan anger and a calming of the national soul may be in the offing. That is bolstered by the eloquent concession delivered by Sen. John McCain, whose understanding of the importance of what has occurred, his urging of support for the new president in this time of peril, and his own pledge to help to keep political differences in perspective set a bipartisan tone not often heard around here. It would be hard to find two more masterful performances than those that came from the victor and the vanquished on election night.

While it probably would not have been enough given the burden of the Bush legacy, had the war hero senator from Arizona conducted his entire campaign in this fashion, it would have been closer. After months of bitter accusations and angry denunciations appealing to the worst instincts of voters, McCain showed himself to be the principled, decent man most of us thought he was. In the end, he was worthy of carrying his party’s banner, despite the doubts of some Republicans who thought him too much out of tune with their conservative goals.

The displays of enthusiasm for Obama in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. were unprecedented not only in scope but for their civility and equanimity. For young men and women, including my son, this show of solidarity reflected a desire to put the past aside.



(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)