There is a scene at the very end of "The Candidate," a 1972 film starring Robert Redford as Bill McKay, a dark horse Senate candidate, in which, moments after being declared the winner, McKay pulls his campaign manager, Marvin Lucas aside and genuinely and plainly asks him, "Marvin ... What do we do now?" That's how I expected to feel today. What do we do now? After it became clearer and clearer in the last few days and weeks that an Obama victory yesterday was inevitable, I felt an impending sense of joy and dread. The joy part is self-explanatory: I was voting for Obama and wanted him to win. The dread part, though was what seemed to prevail in my mind.
You see, I never win anything. The professional sports teams I root for always lose, often in tragic fashion, and I have spent my entire adult life supporting, canvassing, and working on behalf of a political party that seemed like it could never get out of its own way. So I suppose I had gotten used to the role of the lovable loser and the bitter underdog, and came to expect that that's how things would always be. And frankly, being the angry minority is a much easier role than being in control. It's much easier to point fingers at others than have them point theirs at you. So that's how I expected to feel today: happy that Obama had won, but nervous about what the next four years would do to my psyche, as I would now be sitting front and center as the roles in the "blame game" of life would be squarely reversed.
But then last night happened. It's important to understand that I was never a huge Obama guy. I supported Hillary in the primaries and I never really fell in love with him as a candidate to the same degree that I saw others do. Still, he was a far better alternative to what the Republicans were offering, and I threw my support behind him. Unlike 2004 though, when I was mentally devastated by Bush's re-election, I promised myself to stay emotionally detached this time, a decision that resulted in a sense of negativity and cynicism about politics that I had never felt before. I found myself throwing around phrases like "they're all the same" and "lesser of two evils," like a jaded old man who had simply seen too much to really care. I anticipated that November 4 could be filled with a range of emotions: drama, joy, vindication, disappointment, anger, frustration, and countless others. "Transcendence" never made my list.
But then last night happened. Last night, my roommate and I hosted an election party in our apartment for Obama supporters. The room was filled all night with a combination of passion and nerves, although admittedly, the nerves started to wane with each state that went our way. As we counted down the last 10 seconds to the 11:00pm mark, when the west coast polls would close, I felt the chills begin to run down my spine and my eyes begin to well up with tears. As the clock struck 11, in an abrupt moment that I will never forget as long as I live, the words "Barack Obama Elected President" appeared on our screen, and for the first time in my life, I had won. I looked around the room and saw a dozen or so other faces with wet, red eyes and ear-to-ear smiles. For the first time in my life, I truly and sincerely felt like I was a part of something that mattered. As I watched the reactions of thousands of African-Americans, the oldest of whom remember the Jim Crow south and the pre-civil rights era, for the first time in my life I got a glimpse into what it must have felt like for my grandparents (who had just recently escaped from the fire of Auschwitz) and Jews worldwide in 1948: to witness with their own eyes the realization of an impossible dream.
I have never experienced a moment that was simultaneously so predictable, yet so spontaneous and surreal. I think I had so much time to contemplate and digest Obama's potential (and at the end, inevitable) election that I desensitized myself to its significance. But when it actually happened, the importance of the moment was not lost on me and it served as a tool to erase whatever sense of dread or doom I was expecting to feel. Because even though we are stuck in two wars that have no end in sight and the economy is hanging by a thread, I know everything will be alright. Because last night, the impossible happened; and if the impossible can happen, surely the unlikely can happen.
Obama's campaign and victory is an extended validation of the American Dream, but more so, it confirms the notion that the dream can be reality. So as millions of Americans go back to their lives and lose interest in the political landscape because, let's be honest, campaigns and elections are sexier than governing, I feel reborn with a sense of passion and vigor that I haven't felt in years. Last night restored my faith in America, a faith that had been decimated by an administration that for eight years suspended the facts, the truth, the rule of law, and the Constitution in order to achieve their political aims, and worst of all, by governing through fear, almost convinced us that it was ok. But last night, Americans nationwide stood up united and declared "enough is enough," demonstrating that in the long run, hope will always prevail over fear. I have never been so proud. So, what do we do now?