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12/06/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

America's New President and the Mountain We've Climbed

It's beginning to sink in -- Barack Obama is the President-elect. The electoral votes tell me the facts. Still, I am slowly absorbing the reality that this is a new day for our country.

During these last few days of the campaign, I had been afraid to let myself imagine this night for fear of jinxing the results. Now I want to hug whoever is standing next to me, call up old friends and throw out a huge shout to the world, "This is America."

As I watched President-elect Obama give his acceptance speech in Grant Park in Chicago, I saw people wiping away tears, and then, I felt my own eyes well up with tears of disbelief, tears of happiness and gratitude that I had the opportunity to witness this moment.

As I try to comprehend the dimensions of this extraordinary achievement, I ask myself, "What would Abraham Lincoln think?" He might conclude that our country has been touched "by the better angels of our nature," the concluding words of his first inaugural address when he struggled to hold the fragile union together which stood on the brink of war.

While Lincoln could not have imagined this night, I am certain he would approve of what the American people have achieved by electing a black President. It is, in a sense, the culmination of Lincoln's quest -- a more perfect union.

The Civil War wrenched us apart; Barack Obama's election has brought us together. The healing process has been long and violent. Even Obama's election, miraculous as it is, has not brought it to an end.

But we have climbed a mountain and reached the other side.

The country will never be the same. Obama has succeeded in bringing out our better nature, in appealing to our better selves. In his acceptance speech tonight, he asked us to sacrifice, he asked us to reach across the divides that separate us.

He said, if anyone doubted that anything was possible in America, they received their answer tonight. Yes, we can!

Just a year ago, few Americans believed that this young Senator from Chicago, with a white mother and an African father could be elected President of the United States. He is, as Colin Powell said, a transformative figure. He embodies within himself, black and white America. He has not only transformed himself into a powerful leader, he has transformed this country.

This was originally posted at Chelsea Green.

Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.

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