Finally it's over. No more debates, commercials, endless campaign speeches and subsequent news reports. No more talking heads and spinning. No more polls. The only poll that counts was the one from Tuesday night. And thank goodness the best man won. Now that it is over, after a week or so of post election analysis and celebration (at least for the Democratic side) and whining on the losing side, we can go back to being one, clearly divided nation.
President Obama's victory is not going to end the very ugly partisan bickering we witnessed during this campaign. In fact, I predict the divide is only going to widen in the next four years. Indeed I think history will record that the election of 2012 was a major turning point for our nation. This election was not only about different visions of how we see our country, but it also drew out into the open what divides us, and made clear that the path America is taking going forward is very different from that she has been on. Our changing demographics are the key.
President Obama's election and reelection were important not just because I think he is on the the best side of most issues, not just because I think he was the most intelligent of the two candidates, and not just because I did not want those espousing ignorance and hatred on the other side to feel they could win with such ugly rhetoric. Obama's stay in the White House was important because of the significance of symbols. His place in the White House, his standing on that stage in victory four years ago, and Tuesday night, is arguably one of the most important and enduring symbols our country, no the world, will ever have. And the power of that symbol goes well beyond politics and one election.
America has long stood for freedom and justice. Even at the same time we had legal slavery. Even when women could not vote. And the contradiction of our words and deeds were not lost on the world, nor on most of its citizens, even those that benefited from the dichotomy. Yet our country has always been a work in progress and built into its foundation was the principle of equality. So we always moved forward even though the place from which we started was not nearly where we should have been.
But here we are in 2012, having reelected a man that symbolizes what America stands for more in his bones and history than most. Obama, as is so documented, is part African and part white Kansan. He is definitely a product of that melting pot we Americans like to talk about so much. Seeing him, and his family, at the White House, allows us to soak in an image that personifies a country that may well live up to its billing as a place for that freedom and equality. It certainly means a lot just to know that when our kids, and kids in the future, look at the succession of presidents, they will see a different colored face smiling back at them compared to all the similarly complexioned men that came before in our many years of existence as a nation. And that is not a knock on white men, many of whom have been in the forefront of bringing about the change that we undergoing. What it is about, is truth meeting words.
We Americans have always said to our youth that they could be anything they wanted, even president. And until Obama, let's face it, we never really believed that was possible for every one. And I hope soon enough we will be looking at a female face in that line of photos (Hillary 2016 anyone?).
But as a father of two teenagers, Obama's victory was especially important because I do want them to believe they really can be anything they want regardless of skin color or gender. And yes sometimes that consideration is as important as other factors. I always found it odd how some people acted like it was so wrong that such a large number of blacks and Latinos would be so in Obama's corner. Anyone wondering that just doesn't understand the importance of symbols. Which is not to say that I or any other minority didn't also think he was the most qualified, because he was. But yes there is nothing wrong with also saying and voting for a man that also allowed our country to put its money where its mouth is as the saying goes. Enough talk about equality and fairness, the time had come to live up to it.
I think what Obama exemplified is also why so many foreigners have sided with him and given America much more praise than in year's past. Who can forget the enormous crowds that stood before him when he went on trips overseas in 2008? And recent polls show overwhelmingly that Obama is still immensely popular in foreign countries, including Europe. Personally I think it is because other countries tire of being lectured to by America on democracy and freedom when here in our own country we are by no means perfect in those areas. At least now they see that America really is the home of a multi-cultured mix that is making serious strides to get to that place where we really do live what we espouse.
Last week, our kids' high school held their own mock presidential election. Obama won handily. It wasn't even close. While a Los Angeles area school, with a solid mix of whites, Latinos, Asians, blacks and international students might not be particularly representative of other high schools in other parts of the country, it was incredibly refreshing to see that to those kids, those 15 to 18 year olds, there was nothing to think about when it came to voting in favor of a mixed black man. And in that there is great hope. And that is also the power of this election and the symbolism that is Obama. These kids and others all around the country can see normalcy in having a black Fist Lady and black kids in the White House. That is powerful stuff. And that is why symbolism was as important an issue in this election as some of the other, more straight political ones.
Anti-Obama people will shrug off this talk as silliness. But when they do they will be pretending that symbols do not matter, at least in this case of course. These same people go crazy when someone burns an American flag because it is a symbol of our nation. But they can't understand the symbolism of Obama. Or maybe they do. Do I think Obama was perfect in his first term? Of course not. But no President before him was either. We have swayed back and forth from left to right in our politics and in who occupied the White House for as long as we have been around as a nation. But the symbolism of the White House and our presidency has endured, as has our nation.
We are a better nation because of Obama. But Obama would not be where he is if we as Americans were not better. We are evolving and while we are not fully where we hope to be, we can smile a bit wider when we look at our president because the America we see in him is the America we expect. At least it is much much closer.
Symbols matter. A lot.