Nov. 4, 2008 – Tonight, I dared to believe.
On this night of history, with its narrative drawn straight out of fiction, I could – just for this moment – believe.
On the night of his election to the presidency of the United States, Barack Obama did not just speak of change; he was change itself. He did not seize the moment. He was in it, and of it.
Watching, this is what I saw: a man standing in the spotlight of history, allowing it to wash over him, and then giving voice to its full measure. Aware that he was speaking to several hundred thousand people standing in the chill Chicago air, but also speaking to the nation, to world leaders and to millions in the “forgotten corners of the world.”
He said: “Change has come to America.” And he said: “This is your victory.”And he said: “A new dawn of American leadership is at hand.”
A few dozen electoral votes, and already we were different.
We looked different. No one could fail to notice that the somber, subdued crowd in Arizona awaiting John McCain was a sea of white faces, with blonde hair and patriotic lapel pins. The crowd in Chicago was white, grinning college students and sobbing teenaged black girls. Businessmen in suits, little old ladies, a big church mama, two attractive, dark-haired 40-somethings and Oprah leaning on a white dude with glasses, beside Jesse Jackson.
It’s the same country, just a different perspective. We didn’t need to squint to see it. We needed, instead, to believe that we could “bend the arc of history” to our will. Yes we could.
This moment “belongs to you,” Obama told the crowd. “This is our time to reclaim the American dream.” “Our union can be perfected.” "I will listen to you, especially when we disagree."
He said the words we wanted to hear. He evoked our highest achievements, from stepping on the moon, to giving women the vote, to conjuring “a world connected by science and imagination.” We did those things already.
So what can we accomplish as a nation and a world, if we believe? New worlds, new heights. We can surprise ourselves. It is up to us to fill in the blanks of Obama’s call to our higher angels.
Most of the time, I will not go there. But the thing about hope: it’s contagious. For myself, and my husband – who did not vote, at the end of the day, even though it is his first election as a naturalized American – I have wished the end of cynicism..
As I watched, I suddenly remembered: this poised man on the world stage, rising to his destiny as if it were pre-ordained, is an orphan. His mother and father are gone; he just lost his last link to his childhood in the passing of his grandmother.
Yet he stands strong in this unlikely moment — an African-American rising from obscurity to conquer the highest office in the land. If he could believe his way to this moment, I could believe. On this night of history, I could not resist.