12/01/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Referendum on Uncertain Times

I have absolutely no desire to join the clubs of the hyperbolic. That said, I think it is reasonable to assume that the presidential election on Tuesday has the potential to become a referendum on our country's past, present, and future.

As a nation we stand not at a crossroads but at an enormous intersection.

There are some obvious ways in which this year's campaign has been historic. Having a black man running on a major party ticket is of undeniable significance to the history of the United States, as was having a black man and a woman compete for a major party's nomination. It's also only the second time a woman has run for vice president. But now that the campaign chapter of the story is almost written, it's time to think about what the election could mean for the country in the future, and how it relates to the many narratives through which the history of the United States has been told.

While, for example, the cause of states' rights today beats rather weakly in American hearts, the issue of race relations has lost none of its saliency. Would an Obama presidency usher in a new era of improved race relations? Surely one can speculate, but none can be certain. Or an Obama defeat - how would that affect race relations in America? Again, it's impossible to tell. In either case, one can be absolutely certain that there is some kind of change on the horizon, even if the specific direction of that change is unknowable.

And what of our civil liberties and our foreign policies? Will one continue to encroach upon the other? Will the next president close Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, or will our Special Forces continue to carry out raids in Pakistan in search of terrorists? Both could happen, or we could finally find Osama bin Laden hiding somewhere in Waziristan and then stick him in a cell in Cuba. How will the next president approach the enormous task of repairing our reputation and credibility abroad? Alternatively, will the myopic character of our foreign policies during the last eight years serve as a taste of what is to come? Will we live with laws that say the government can spy on us and arrest us and torture us, or with legal paradigms which imply that if the president does it then it's not illegal?

My answer is unsurprising: no one knows. Of course the same response is also true for the future of our rollercoaster ride of an economy. But the sheer fact that all of these possibilities, which have never been real before, appear to be on the table in this election means, to me at least, that my vote on Tuesday will be one of and perhaps the single most important action of my entire life to date. From a fair appraisal of the current moment, one cannot help but arrive at the conclusion that on Tuesday the full weight of the world will rest on the shoulders of the American electorate.