Getty Images/Joe Raedle
The Promised Land
Obama Triumphs, and We Are Freed
By Edward Shanahan
“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
That powerful coda to Martin Luther King’s soaring “ I Have A Dream” speech in Washington in 1963 seems altogether fitting to describe the feelings many of us share about Barack Obama’s lopsided election to be the next President of the United States.
We suddenly feel liberated from the prison of the eight-year Bush Administration—its wars, its deceits, its right-wing ideology.
In this single election, we have unshackled ourselves from a Republican dominance that virtually extends all the way back to Ronald Reagan in 1980 and his defeat of the admirable Jimmy Carter. Almost three decades of conservative, pro-corporate, anti-government rule, including the Clinton centrist inter-regnum, have been finally, and decisively rejected by a huge majority of American voters. We have shaken off our torpor and come to our senses.
And it took a young, African American with little political experience, to make the iron-clad case for change, for upending the old regimes by appealing to our better instincts with his message of candor, optimism, hope and unity.
How hard he worked, how loudly and passionately he spoke to us. What incredible resolve and discipline he displayed in a bruising, marathon campaign that spanned nearly two years. And in the process we could not help but become engaged. He gained our interest, then earned our support, financial and tactical, and eventually won our votes and trust.
Surprisingly, it did not take very long on election night for the outcome to become clear, which it turns out was precisely because Obama had framed the issues facing the country, and his positions so starkly and with such clarity. No opportunity for miscounts, challenged ballots, other electoral hi-jinks. The case for Obama and the Democratic party was just too strong, too incontrovertible.
So it is not only African Americans who are newly freed with the breaking down of this final barrier—their ability to become president of this incredibly diverse but in many ways deeply troubled nation. Obama brought into the political process legions and legions of Americans from all segments of society who had previously felt shut out of our democratic system.
I invoke the memory of Dr. King and his ringing words because I was standing not 10 feet from him on that August day in 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I was not the only one moved by his words, its cadences, its meaning. About 200,000 other people felt as I did.
That is the power that words have. And so it was in the summer of 2004 when Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic convention in Boston. His was another voice that would be remembered over time and whose words might be translated into a new change in the direction of the country.
And that is absolutely what happened a mere four years later.
downstreet.net©2001. All rights reserved.