Monday, November 10, 2008
Louder than a cannon’s thunder, the announcement was made shortly after 11 p.m. Eastern time that Barack Hussein Obama had won the state of Virginia and thus, the American presidency. I was asked by our local Fox station to appear at their studio and make a few comments about young people and the election; I told them, “I am so proud to be a young college voter in this era, it’s unbelievable.”
But standing there, it was clear that this euphoria wasn’t just a phenomenon of youth. The African-American cameraman I was standing next to dropped to his knees in a rapture-like moment. The crazed bustle of the studio had temporarily stopped.
Failing to resist, I told a Bill Maher joke to this elated cameraman: “Who would have thought that seven years after September 11, Americans would go to the polling booth and say, ‘I think it’s time to elect a black man with a Muslim name.’” I saw tears of joy through his laughter.
So America, the land of an indigenous holocaust and slavery, a place where African-Americans suffered some of the worst forms of brutality and subservience that ever existed, finally got a reparation worthy of mending the past: proof of equality. But what makes America great is not a nationalistic dogma of we-do-no-wrong rhetoric, as we saw in some campaigns, but the ability for a leader to admit that America has lost its way.
Remembering the more defining moments in American history, we have seen that times of peril can lead to opportunity. It’s as Harvard University’s political philosopher Michael Sadel said, “Taking office at a time of crisis doesn’t guarantee greatness, but it can be an occasion for it.” And America has been fortunate to have such leaders.
General Washington’s leadership proved that a democratic America was possible. Lincoln, in a textbook example of prerogative power, ended the Civil War and freed the southern slaves. And F.D.R. gave us the New Deal. So who is this Obama guy? Sure he has proven that an African-American president can be elected, but is he prepared to mend our nation’s ills? Is he ready to challenge the status quo that for the past eight years has so recklessly steered our country into a ditch?
It is without doubt that President-Elect Obama has a historic opportunity. But it won’t be easy. And when he starts to make tough decisions, his savior-like personality cult will surely suffer. Reality will set in; he is not the lamb.
Sitting in that Fox studio, coming off the high of an Obama victory, I realized that this same yearning for progressive justice that brought the youth out to vote is again being trampled upon—but this time in California.
From the darkest shadows of California’s history, we cannot forget that F.D.R., despite his New Deal, gave us Manzanar, our very own Japanese internment camp. Or, from the genocidal spoils of the Ottoman Empire, Armenian refugees who legally immigrated to America were banned, by state law, from settling in the central valley of California in the 1920s. And now, with the slim passing of Proposition 8, our constitution discriminates against homosexuals.
A president Obama is a start; well, it could be a really good start. But this election has proven that America still has issues of injustice. I insist that as young people, college students and believers of the slogan “yes we can,” we not let up for a second. If we believe that it is our generation who will carry the torch to a more just America, then we must believe, beyond all doubt, that we are the agents of change.
Originally published in The Vista, a publication of the University of San Diego
Scribed By Jesse Aizenstat at 9:01 PM