The Shock of the New: Obama in Iowa

05/25/2011 12:20 pm ET
  • Jon Robin Baitz Playwright, screenwriter, creator of ABC's Brothers & Sisters

Last night we saw it, the American Dream -- shared, not deferred, at least for a moment. Barack Obama soared. A stunning win. His glorious speech was cause for pride, for tears of joy, and yes, for even more hope. When was the last time you could say that?

Something lifted: the national anhedonia that has descended on so many despairing Americans under Bush has ever so slightly lessened this morning. And one noticed the despair all the more because of how novel it feels to have hope. The gray and weighed cloud of shame and disappointment in our leadership lifted. Just a bit. And the quiet, deeply scarring, utterly exhausting seven-year burden of being disgusted by a ruinous and corrupt administration quieted briefly last night in Iowa. Because one man, Barack Obama, dared to presume that he had could change the country. And told us that there was nothing we could not do. And so many people agreed.

Maybe this is a little like 1968. The war has finally dragged our youth back into politics. About time. And watching those exhilarated supporters at the inscrutable bit of political theater that is the Iowa caucuses, watching the crowd gathered behind Obama when he spoke, one could sense the unmistakable emergence of a people awakening from a dream. To a dream. A dream that insists on change.

It is very early. But I think there is an exhaustion with the Clinton premise, and indeed, even the Clinton promise. Her negativity felt stale and out of joint, out of sync with what was going on in our hearts and minds. She still may be the Democratic candidate, she still may be the president, but deep down, what she offers feels familiar, dynastic, stale, and so very hard to trust. Last night, many people agreed with that assessment, and said "Not so fast. Not yet. Not you. Not now. Barack Obama. Maybe it is his time."

And as for me -- after my joy and shock had quieted down -- all I could think of was that the rest of the world was watching this moment too, amazed and surprised just like us. In Paris and London, Berlin and Rio, and Montreal. Let alone in Africa, Aisa, and in the Middle East. Were they, like me, also remembering how very much they used to admire about this country and all that it stands for? Were they watching, and feeling the wild, romantic populist streak that -- shock of shocks - still lives on here in this almost ruined nation? I think so.