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How We Will Feel if Obama Wins

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On the morning of Nov. 5, if Sen. Barack Obama is the president-elect, I think most people -- regardless of their party or ideology -- will take pride in the fact that America is a purple nation, not a red vs. blue one, and will feel good about their country and government again.

Of course, there will be many angry and disappointed John McCain supporters and Republican conservatives. But I believe that most people, even some of the most disappointed Republicans, will experience a "holy mackerel" moment.

"Holy mackerel! Look what America has just done. We have just elected an African-American president of the United States!"

To appreciate the reason why that reaction is likely to be widespread, a brief review of American history is in order.

It was in 1620 -- 388 years ago -- when the first Africans arrived in chains at or near Jamestown, Va., and became the first group of America's slaves. Since then, we can trace an unbroken string of moral failures by many of our nation's leaders and by most Americans in dealing with slavery, racism and racial discrimination over the years.

For example, our esteemed founders -- Washington, Jefferson, even Benjamin Franklin -- knew and said that slavery was morally evil. But they also owned slaves. As a political compromise, they agreed to guarantee the continuance of slavery by not outlawing it in the Constitution. They even agreed to write into the Constitution that a slave would be counted as 60 percent of a free American.

Even the greatest president of all, Abraham Lincoln, who saved the Union and opposed slavery as immoral, never openly supported the abolition of slavery, only its containment in the Southern states.

He supported fugitive-slave laws that returned escaped slaves to their masters, though he knew they would face certain brutality or even death.

And his great executive act of emancipation in 1863 was hardly that at all. As we know, the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves only in the rebellious Confederate states (where he could do little to liberate them) and continued slavery in the Union's Northern and border states (where he had the power to free them).

Even amending the Constitution to free all slaves and guarantee their due process and equal-protection rights as U.S. citizens -- through passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments immediately after the Civil War -- became just another broken promise for former slaves.

The substitute for actual slavery was de facto economic and social slavery, as white America looked away. For the next hundred years or more, blacks continued to suffer the humiliation of "Jim Crow" laws in the South, the violence and lynchings of the KKK, and the deprivation of racial segregation in public schools, the workplace, public accommodations, even on the playing fields of our great national pastime.

Then came Jackie Robinson in 1947 -- the first black to be permitted to break the color barrier and play major league baseball. His mentor and sponsor, Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, made Robinson promise to suffer in silence the racial hatred and abuse that would be expected, and courageously suffer he did.

But there was one day and one gesture that made a difference, even for a brief moment. Early in the 1947 season, during pre-game warm-ups when the Dodgers took their first road trip to Cincinnati, Robinson was the object of an especially hateful torrent of epithets and threats from fans. His teammates, as had become their custom, ignored what was happening -- but one did not, the team captain. His name was Harold Reese, a small-statured shortstop, otherwise known as "Pee Wee," from Louisville, KY.

Reese, a product of a segregated society who had never shaken a black man's hand before he met Robinson and hadn't done anything to help Robinson when he arrived, listened to the vitriol and invective from the stands and made a decision. He slowly and conspicuously walked over to Robinson and put his arm around him.

Those who witnessed the moment reported that the stands suddenly fell silent. That dramatic gesture, at least for that day, sent a message of hope (perhaps it could be called the audacity of hope) that some day in the far distant future, America would lose its moral stain of racism.

So now, after all this painful U.S. history of mistreatment of blacks in the land of the free, most of us will be grateful at how far we have come as a country if Mr. Obama is elected president.

That does not change the fact that people of good will oppose his candidacy for a variety of valid reasons and believe that Mr. McCain would make a better president.

And they will not change their minds or find their concerns alleviated on Nov. 5 just because Mr. Obama is the first black to be elected president, nor should they.

But I am betting they will feel proud to be an American and know the rest of the world will be marveling, too, at what America has just done.

They might even think a thought similar to the closing of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities -- it is a far, far better thing that we do than we have ever done.

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Lanny Davis is a prominent Washington lawyer and a political analyst. From 1996 to 1998, he served as special counsel to President Clinton. From 2005 to 2006, he served on President Bush's five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. This article appeared in the Washington Times on Monday, October 27, 2008.