Consider this: since Andrew Jackson - the father of the modern Democratic Party - left the White House, only two other Democrats (Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson) have convinced at least 51 percent of the country to back them for president. Being the party of change is never easy, but if the polls are to be believed then tonight Barack Obama may win a historic majority.
I worked for both Al Gore and John Kerry and watched both men fall short of victory. Two days after the 2004 election, I wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that concluded:
Long after midnight in November 2000, I stood in the rain in Nashville and listened to the Gore campaign chairman, William Daley, tell us there would be no victory speech. On Wednesday, long after midnight, I stood in the rain in Boston listening to John Edwards tell us the same thing. I'm sick of standing in the rain.
Tonight, the forecast is clear skies in Chicago and all over the country.
If we do win, the victory will be historic not only for the margin but for the meaning. As Bill Clinton rightly pointed out this morning, Obama's election is not just about one man but about a fundamental philosophical shift. In this decade, for the first time since the 1920's, the Republicans controlled all the levers of power in Washington. They were able to put into place their big ideas - supply-side tax cuts, reckless deregulation, and neo-conservative foreign policy - exactly as they wanted to. The results from the economy to Katrina to Iraq are plain to see.
The challenge for Democrats is to be more than a clean up crew picking up after the Republican elephant. It is offer a better alternative that fits the times and America's values.
The work will not be easy. We've had more dangerous moments around the world in our history before this one. We've been in worse shape economically. But never before in our history has the combination of our situation at home and around the world been as bad as it now. Never before has America needed the kind of leadership that the Democratic Party provides more than it does now.
The problem is that we are at a time when America is facing three huge challenges - each of which on its own is as big as those confronting any previous generation and each connected to the others. These challenges are bigger than the momentary questions of the financial meltdown or Iraq. The first is to rethink our economy and our government for the 21st century high-tech, globalized world. When we moved from the Agricultural Age to the Industrial Age, we had leaders who created the public school system and Social Security. We simply do not have leaders who are offering ambitious plans along those lines as we are moving from the Industrial Age to the Information Age. Second, we need to fundamentally rethink our foreign policy for a time we are facing threats not simply from other nations but from threats that know no boundaries such as international terrorism, global warming, and pandemic diseases. When we faced the new threat of communism in the late 1940s and in the aftermath of World War II, we created NATO, the Marshall Plan, the IMF, the World Bank, and GATT. Where is that kind of leadership today? Third, the need to transform how we receive our energy touches both our economy and our security -- as well as presenting a threat to our very future. We have never needed leadership that is willing to think big and be bold more than now -- and never received less of it.
This Thursday, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas will be bringing together a group of America's brightest thinkers to present a first take on what it all means for the new administration's policies, the Democratic Party's trajectory, and the future of progressive governance. We'll share with you what they say.
Inaugurations have their pomp and majesty, State of the Union addresses are solemn and meaningful, a Fourth of July parade brings joy to us all. But no occasion in our democracy is as moving as Election Day. Standing in line to vote, rich and poor, black and white and brown, all rub shoulders with each other, all are equal, all have the same say, all get to turn their individual voices into a common command that on a single day changes the course of history. There has been a lot of handwringing among some in these past few years about the fear that in these days of Patriot Acts and wiretaps our democracy is at risk. But those fears are silenced today.
Nearly fifty years ago, a young Senator was elected president, overcoming prejudice and inspiring a new generation to believe in the possibilities of America and in the duty to serve. Theodore H. White captured the moment and his words are worth remembering:
It is a mystery in which millions of people each fit one fragment of a total secret together, none of them knowing the shape of the whole. What results from the fitting together of these secrets is, of course, the most awesome transfer of power in the world -- the power to marshal and mobilize, the power to send men to kill or be killed, the power to tax and destroy, the power to create and the responsibility to do so, the power to guide and the responsibility to heal -- all committed into the hands of one man. Heroes and philosophers, brave men and vile, have since Rome and Athens tried to make this particular manner of transfer of power work effectively; no people has succeeded at it better, or over a longer period of time, than the Americans. Yet as the transfer of this power takes place, there is nothing to be seen except an occasional line outside a church or a school, or a file of people fidgeting in the rain, waiting to enter the booths. No bands play on election day, no troops march, no guns are readied, no conspirators gather in secret headquarters. The noise and the blare, the bands and the screaming, the pageantry and the oratory of the long fall campaign, fade on election day. All the planning is over, all effort spent. Now the candidates must wait.
For nearly four years, Americans have disapproved of the direction their government has been taking the country. Today, they get to change it. The wait is over.