Gerald Ford, on replacing Richard Nixon, declared "our long national nightmare is over." George Bush's administration has been a much longer national nightmare -- but we finally know that it will end on January 20. Barack Obama's transformational victory ended the notion that America is evenly and deeply divided between reactionaries mired in the past and more hopeful Americans looking to a future based on renewable energy, advanced biofuels, efficiency, and low greenhouse-gas-emitting technologies. Obama carried not only the designated "battleground" states of the last eight years but also Virginia, Indiana, Colorado, Nevada, and, as I write, is leading in North Carolina and is almost even in Missouri.
The centerpiece environmental issue in this election was energy -- polling for the Sierra Club on Monday and Tuesday showed that an unprecedented 50 percent of the voters said that energy issues were either the most important or one of the most important factors in determining their votes. Student activists organized 400,000 voters in battleground geographies around a clean-energy pledge. And candidates who argued for new energy solutions like renewables; electric and plug-in cars; and high-performance, low-carbon-use buildings trumped those who clung to coal, oil, and nukes.
Everywhere you looked, "new energy for America" trumped "drill baby drill."
In Utah, desperate efforts to keep a Sevier County grandmother from giving local citizens the final decision to approve or reject new coal-fired power plants failed. Coal proponents desperately tried to knock the measure off the ballot, passing a special bill through the legislature to deny citizens the right to vote. But the Utah Supreme Court stood up for the voters' right to choose, and guess what -- it turned out Sevier County residents are not so hot on having coal plants shoved down their throats.
In Missouri, a renewable-energy portfolio standard passed overwhelmingly by 66 percent. In Washington State, a mass-transit bond passed; only a year ago a combined transit-highway bond that the Sierra Club opposed because it was too heavily weighted towards roads was defeated in a huge upset. In California two renewable-energy ballot measures --opposed by environmentalists because of concerns about possible drafting flaws -- were beaten.
Environmentalists picked up at least five seats in the U.S. Senate and 20 in the House, and prevailed in their highest priority congressional races: electing Mark and Tom Udall and replacing John Sununu with Jeanne Shaheen in the Senate, and defeating global-warming denier Joe Knollenberg in the House.
But as important as the energy and environmental consequences of this election are, watching the nation react to Obama's victory reminded me most intensely of the words carved in marble in the Lincoln Memorial -- a quote from his second inaugural address:
Last night, I felt that perhaps we had finally come to the end of the American Civil War.
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