This is going to take some getting used to. For me, winning has been neither "everything" nor "the only thing." It has been a very rare thing.
This is the eleventh presidential election in which I have voted since I came of age in 1968. It's only the fourth in which the candidate for whom I voted won.
But, for me, the 2008 victory goes FAR beyond those of 1976, 1992, and 1996. In those years, I voted for candidates that I believed to be clearly preferable to their opponents. But neither Jimmy Carter nor Bill Clinton had been my first choice for the Democratic nomination.
Indeed, Barack Obama is the first candidate I ever supported from the start who even managed to win the Democratic nomination.
In fact, I have been supporting Barack Obama for president since long before he was supporting himself for president (unless you believe that he has planning this presidential run since he was in kindergarten). I began pushing him for president when I first met him in 2004, before he had even been elected to the United States Senate.
In 2006, I wrote an op ed piece calling on Sen. Obama to run for president in 2008. Three days later, he said for the first time that he would consider running.
But here's what's really different for me this year from every other election year in my adult life: In every one of those elections, the candidate for whom I was voting had declined in my estimation by the time I cast my vote. Each of them--although Bill Clinton less than the others--had disappointed me before Election Day.
Most past Democratic nominees had, in my mind, become turkeys by the time I voted for them, although each was clearly better than the alternative. So many elections, so many times when it was a matter of the evil of two lessers.
Not this time. Barack Obama has done nothing to disappoint me. I like him more all the time. I voted for him, not simply against the Republican.
It feels really good. It's a great time to be alive.
Historian Robert S. McElvaine is Elizabeth Chisholm Professor of Arts & Letters at Millsaps College and the author of The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941 (Random House). His latest book is Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion in America (Crown).