Obama and America Make History

The contrasting backdrops last night told the story. John McCain appeared before a shocking lime green poster, speaking to a few hundred supporters in Louisiana, unable to find a cadence or turn-of-phrase that might stick in anyone’s memory. Hillary Clinton spoke to her supporters, who unhelpfully chanted "Denver, Denver, Denver," and gave a slightly revised version of her stump speech. She spoke a basement gymnasium that was as dreary as her electoral prospects. Barack Obama drew some 20,000 people to the same hall in which the Republicans will hold their national convention in September. The crowd was boisterous, excited, aware that history was being made. The moment was electric and Obama’s speech captured that mood and channeled it into a fine indictment of politics as usual. McCain spoke of change but embodied more of the same. Clinton was frustrated, even petulant in her inability to grasp the change that had occurred – the dethroning of her family’s claim to leadership of the Democratic Party. Obama looks like change. His words evoke change. He has already succeeded in defining change as the central issue in the campaign. Now, he must fill in for the electorate precisely the kind of change he wants to bring, familiarize swing voters with himself and his plans so that the change does not seem too scary, he must give content to the mantra and illustrate what the content-less noun "change" will mean for average Americans if they choose him as their President. It is a tall order, but defeating Clinton for the nomination was a tall order as well. Obama has been called a phenomenon and America has not had such a candidate since Ronald Reagan won his landslide victory in 1980, a candidate whose message is as much about his persona as it is about his policies. People did not vote for Reagan because he supported the Kemp-Roth tax cuts. They voted for him because the 1970s had been years of drift and decay and Reagan told the nation we could do better, that our best days were ahead of us not behind us, he gave the nation hope. The Democrats have not fielded such a candidate since John F. Kennedy. Americans do not vote for a congeries of policy proposals. They do not vote for judicial philosophies. They vote for a person. In the months ahead, Independent voters especially will get to know the man who was virtually unknown a year ago. They will take his measure. Obama’s disappointing final weeks, in which he ran out the clock but did not inspire, cautions against sitting back and hoping the electorate will see what he sees. He must aggressively introduce himself to those Americans who do not vote in primaries and have been paying little attention, or who have been content to wait until the Democratic dust settles in the seemingly endless nomination fight that, mercifully, ended last night. He was able to inspire a Democratic primary electorate that had held intensely favorable views of the Clintons. John McCain’s advisors should not sleep well at night. Last night was about more than politics. It was history. Clinton was not the only one to lose last night. Bigotry received a mortal blow. Last winter, many of my black friends cautioned that there was no way a black man could win, that anti-black bigotry was still too strong, too deep. That concern lies in rubble today. Obama won his primary battle but America won an even more important battle. Today, we can say that Dr. King’s dream that his children would be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin, that dream has been fulfilled. Facts are better than dreams and the fact is that a black man of talent can become his party’s nominee for the highest office of the land. Whatever your thoughts about Obama, last night was a great night to be alive. Michael Sean Winters
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
10 years 10 months ago
"Americans do not vote for a congeries of policy proposals. They do not vote for judicial philosophies. They vote for a person." That's exactly why there's so little progress.
10 years 10 months ago
Unfortunately most people are unaware of how historic this is and so it will lose a lot of its value in the modern media age.I love it when an article can articulate so well the sense of history that we need more of.I hope that America and Obama heed the words in your article and that we do not let the chance slip
10 years 10 months ago
Truly a great night to be alive.It is also a moment of history and it is interesting to note that Obama intends to create a little bit more history if he becomes president.He has pledged to NARAL that the first thing he will do as President is to enshrine the right to choose.Which may make talk of being a great night to be alive a taunt to the unborn whom Catholics are usually quite supportive of.


The latest from america

Join Kirsten Powers, CNN analyst and USA Today columnist, and Rev. James Martin, S.J., Editor at Large of America Media and New York Times best-selling author, for a live show celebrating the 100th episode of Jesuitical.
America Media EventsApril 24, 2019
Prayers for Our Lady. Photo by Melissa Vida.
The air was still thick with smoke and the ash burnt the eyes of the onlookers, who were relieved to see the cathedral still standing. For many Catholics, the coincidence of the blaze occurring at the start of Holy Week speaks of the greater mysteries of Easter.
Melissa VidaApril 19, 2019
"Hillary and Clinton"
In Hnath’s play, Hillary has put all her bets on competence, while Bill unsurprisingly presses her to show more humanity.
Rob Weinert-KendtApril 19, 2019
The day before this issue went to press, we watched on our newsroom monitors the devastating fire at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris.
Matt Malone, S.J.April 19, 2019