Last night Obama secured his place as the 44th President of the United States of America. For twenty-two months I have followed his campaign with ever increasing vigor and intensity. For almost as long as I've lived in Texas this election has been at the center of my attention. It is over, and yet everything is just now beginning.
As I remember this election the chain of memories flows back years ago when my mother first uttered the name Barack Obama. She was reading, if I recall correctly, Obama's book Dreams my Father and said in her direct no-nonsense style "he makes a lot of sense, I'd like to see him run for President someday". I was in high school at the time, blissfully ignorant of politics, but the conversation we had that day stuck with me for reasons I couldn't possibly have understood at the time. My mother talked of how he represented a new generation of politicians, and how all the "old farts" in the system now needed to move aside. We needed people with a new perspective, young people who understood the new age and the generations that with which it would come. My mother's uncanny insight is now almost prophecy.
Barack Obama gave his speech announcing candidacy for the Democratic nomination nearly a decade later. By coincidence I turned my radio on as I drove to work and caught snippets. With just the fleeting glance the program provided I was overwhelmed by the ideals and goals it presented. Moments before I had given politics a disinterested and disaffected cold shoulder, but despite my cynicism I quickly pulled up the entire speech at work and listened with rapt attention as this candidate, now my candidate, made his first case. The resonance I felt was strong enough to break crystal.
It wasn't until much later that I made the connection. By then he had already won Iowa, lost New Hampshire, and recieved my first $25 donation. In viewing for the first time his famous 2004 speech at the Democratic National convention I remembered my mother's words and hope that he or someone like him would ascend into and transcend our politics. Even as the other candidates began to disappoint, both practically and in timbre, Obama continually defied my cynical eye I developed from being sandwiched between my adamanty republic college roomates and my sister's passionately democratic circle of close friends. In situations where another politicians would weasel their way around giving a definitive answer, Obama stood his ground and staked a claim. He gave clear, if non-Manichean, answers to the issues of Abortion, gay marriage and race. Each passing week reinforced my feeling that he was a democrat because of his positions, rather than holding those positions because he was a democrat. "Messianic" was used to describe him, an image that has a certain appeal in these troubling times.
His messianic purity is, of course, a myth. Obama would eventually disappoint me in how his campaign spun the various metrics used to measure success in the primaries, and his less than honest excuses for backing out of public financing. The former became moot eventually, though I really wish he'd simply said, "I'm backing out of public financing because I feel it best allows me to compete with the republican financial machine" in regards to the latter. These sins I have forgiven, though I will certainly pounce upon him should he fall short again. Still, two black marks in twenty-two months is an almost unreachable bar for politicians, it was uplifting to find one who could clear it.
And so, hundreds of gaffes, stump speechs, sound bites, polls and policies later we've come to the end. It's ephemereal and unbelievable, but the election is over. I don't have to mention John McCain, save for if he truly goes maverick and decides to thwart any Republican attempt at a filibuster. I don't have to read polls, demographic turnouts, projects and pundit analyses. The paradigm of these last years is over, and I am left in bewilderment.
In a way it's back to square one. In the past I paid as little attention to what happens after an election as I did to what happens before. Just as watching the primaries with intent was a new experience for me, so too is this period of transition. Yet for the time being a quiet elation wells within me as I think about how my support played a role in this outcome.
I pose a final question, one I think is entirely pertinent: Why does Kenya get to have a day of celebration and we don't?