As people wake up after celebrations both in America and around the world, the fact remains: Barack Obama is the president-elect of the United States of America. Slightly more than 50 years ago blacks and whites could not sit down at the same lunch counter together, and today the next president of this nation will be black. It is truly an historic moment, and one to appreciate no matter who you voted for. But Obama's acendency to the presidency does not solve all of our problems; the Red Sea has not been parted and we still have severe issues to deal with when it comes to America.
To begin with, I want to address the media's coverage post-election results. Nearly every video feed or interview was that of a minority. Very rarely did I look at the television and see a white person (unless they showed McCain's concession speech or the newscasters). While I understand and appreciate the historic moment of Obama's trailblazing, I also consider Obama's campaign to be predicated not on race or physicalities like that, but a togetherness and a united front moving forward. By highlighting only the minorities celebrating Obama's win it only increases the racial dichotomy that has plagued this country and goes against Obama's creed of one country united. I want to stress that there is nothing wrong with discussing the historic significance of this election because of the victor's race, but we also have to understand that Obama's victory is not ONLY a victory for minorities in this country, but a win for the country as a whole as well and an excellent example of how people came together to vote for Obama (because his victory cannot be attributed to one race or one group of people, but a diverse mix of the electorate).
Secondly, it is important to note that Obama's victory does not solve any of the problems this country is facing. We are still hemohrraging money with a $10 billion a year war overseas in a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, a financial mess that stretches from the most obese of the fat cats on Wall Street to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who has a mortgage on a home declining in value, and a health care system in tatters. These problems will not be easy to solve. I am also relieved that the Democrats did not get the 60+ Senate seats needed for a filibuster-proof majority. One of the tenets of this country is checks and balances, and while my vote was on the issues and not whether or not the Democrats would get that magic number of 60 Senate seats, I was a bit relieved to know that the executive would not have an extremely strong majority in the legislative branch of his same party (because we saw what it did from 2000-2006). And if, for whatever reason, Congress becomes a rubber stamp for Obama, 2010 will see a lot of Democratic seats upended (like in 1994).
The problems facing Obama are very serious. Iraq is officially a quagmire. Thanks to the severity of the situation caused by the Bush Administration, we cannot leave just yet. We have to turn things over to an Iraqi government that is a few assassinations away from civil war. Unfortunately we have to participate in nation building there, which will be difficult because no other nations want to help because of the way the war was begun (i.e. bold-faced lies). I think Obama plans to get out by the end of his first term, and this is possible, but everything must go well and no unknown variables can arise. Again, it is certainly possible, but I will not be surprised if we still have a large troop presence (50,000+ with numerous bases) in 2012.
Then there is the health care system. Obama's plan is ambitious, and will probably be passed as a watered-down version. In any event, if Obama does not make a significant amount of headway (in lowering premiums and insuring a large amount of currently uninsured folks), his popularity will severely wane. While we are in a state of euphoria right after the election, we have to remember that a lot has been promised to the American people. I feel Obama can fulfill a good amount of these promises (if I did not, I would not have waited two and a half hours to cast a vote in this election), but it will take a lot of hard work and dedication.
One promising thing that is not getting a lot of press time is McCain's concession speech. I thought it was a great speech and emblematic of the pre-election McCain who reached across party lines, had a pragmatic approach to politics, and was willing to work with others who were willing to work with him. One thing I was dissapointed to see (and I think McCain was dissapointed to have done) was the attacks on Obama when it came to Ayers and Wright and socialism. That's not the John McCain I knew a year or two ago. The John McCain I knew a year or two ago popped up at certain points in the campaign (the Alfred E. Smith dinner, for one), and certainly made an appearance last night in a very good concession speech:
It was dissapointing to hear the crowd boo and cat call when Obama's name was mentioned (especially because the event was invitation only), but McCain handled it well and his classiness showed during the speech. An important thing to remember in this campaign is that John McCain is one of the only Republicans who could have done as well as he did with, in Chris Shays' words, the "tsunami" of Democratic support following a disastrous Republican presidential administration. You put any other Republican up there (Giuliani, Romney, Thompson) and we're looking at a Nixon-McGovern situation (with Democrats winning). While McCain's campaign has been marred by the last few months and the attacks, he still did well given the circumstances.
No one knows what the next four years have in store for us. We are an anxious country right now (and would be no matter who was elected). While Obama certainly did very well in the electoral college, his mandate is not as large as the ridiculous numbers system assigned to states would let on. Obama won 52% of the vote, with McCain gaining 46%. This is a large victory, but not a landslide. If Obama wants to make government work, he is going to have to work with both parties (something I am confident he will do). At the end of the day, while Obama's election does not solve our problems, it is a good first step, in my opinion, to fixing them. Given his campaign promises, Obama has a lot to live up to and hopefully he can. I am confident he will make a good president and will do this nation proud. Congratulations, Barack Obama.
Photos - Obama giving his acceptance speech in Chicago (Bloomberg),