Years from now, when we’ve (hopefully) had time to reflect on the good and bad done by the Obama Administration, I’ll be able to tell my son Arlo that he helped usher in a new era of politics.
I’ll tell him the story of how his parents took him to the polls on Newkirk Avenue in Brooklyn, and all around them were the faces of America: elderly Jewish holdouts from an earlier era of Flatbush, recent immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh, African Americans, West Indians, and, of course, white folks like me and Nicole who were attracted by the low apartment prices and easy community of our neighborhood.
We’ll tell him that we voted for a candidate who believed in the same progressive politics we believed in, and that his running mate held them too. We’ll tell him that the night before, the presidential candidate had spoken to crowds of up to 90,000 people in states like Virginia. I’ll then explain that Virginia had once been a Republican stronghold.
I’ll explain how I used Twitter and my iPhone not to play games, but to send a brief message describing the situation at the polling station, a message about the wait time and whether I’d run into any trouble. I’ll explain that across the country, people had banded together to reclaim the power of their democracy using tools like this, and in doing so had rediscovered the strength of communities, the true foundations of citizenship.
I’ll remind him that we were emerging from one of the darkest periods in our country’s history, a period in which our nation had been attacked by terrorists, an act that, rather than uniting us, inspired our leaders to lie to us, to offer false comfort, and to enact grave misdeeds that endangered not only our own physical safety, but the future of our democracy.
I’ll remind him that no individual could possibly dig us out of this mess alone, that it was up to all of us to rebuild our country, like a city rebuilds after a storm. But if any one person could act as a figurehead, as a symbol of who we were in 2008 and what we could be in the future, it was Barack Obama.
And then, I’ll point out that this man — a man with a Muslim, foreign-sounding name, a man with brown skin, a man who ate arugula — was the man who inspired white, black, hispanic, Asian, rich, middle-class, and poor Americans alike. Most of us voted for him not because of his skin color or his background, but because of his policies and ideals, and because we could truly see him as a transformative leader. That, I’ll explain, was change.
Was it the unique combination of his own traits that made us believe? Maybe. But it was also, I’ll tell him, the resounding sense that enough was enough. It was time to move on and rebuild. And this was the man for the job.
Hopefully Arlo will understand the importance of this day. But in all likelihood, he’ll grow up thinking this election was normal, that it’s normal to have a black president named Barack Hussein Obama who talks about things like universal health care and middle-class job growth and building international respect. What a sweet normalcy that would be.