12/07/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011


Well, he did it! We did it. They did it, Obama's extraordinary campaign staff and millions of those who, like my daughter, were inspired to work their hearts out to assure that stunning victory last night. Our neighborhood down here in Laguna Beach, in the heart of conservative Orange County, California, exploded at eight o'clock when the election was called by the chattering media. The sight of the Obama family on stage at the time of the acceptance speech was stirring beyond words. Most moving, perhaps, was the face of Jesse Jackson, tears streaming down, recalling all those years it took to make this happen.

The media commentary this morning -- as did the gracious Bush speech outside the White House -- made the story of Obama's victory to be about race, extolling the fact that a black American could win the presidency and the proof it offered that America is the place of unlimited opportunity. While this is true, I think the historical shift if greater and more important than this interpretation allows. The paradigm shift has more to do with the evidence it offers of a deep cultural tectonic event; it's a repudiation of that mean side of the American character that has been manifest these past thirty years and more, the smallness that has promoted the whole me-first mentality that was reflected first, in my opinion, in the so-called tax revolt of the 1970s. It's a repudiation of Ronald Reagan as much as George W. Bush, of the trickle-down theory of economics that made a travesty of the American notion of fairness and opportunity. It's a repudiation of the politics of division that has pitted Republican against Democrat, right against left, liberal against conservative. It's Barack Obama's appeal that he has insisted throughout on transcending these divisions.

The much-touted change is only partly about these things. But the relief that was tangible in the air last night was not just an American relief. You could almost feel the entire world taking a new breath. Obama's election is also about the realization that America must now take its place again in the community of nations, and that the world at large has much at stake in America's change of heart. I have heard it said that voting for the American President should not be restricted to Americans, since the choice affects the lives of people everywhere. There's truth to that. The world has become so small, so "flat" -- to use New York Times columnist Tom Friedman's term, that we can no longer hope to survive as a species if we cling to our old notion of a collection of competitive nation states. As a man whose very humanity is a complex blend of national and racial identity, Obama has the look of a person who transcends the old categories we must now discard.

I am convinced that the new President will make good on his promise to reach across the ideological divides. I hope that he will find a source of support in the new "old McCain" who made a reappearance last night in his gracious concession speech -- a man of generosity and courage and dedication. I fully expect to see and hear more from him. I trust that the same is not true of the biggest mistake he made in the course of his campaign, the mistake that undermined the trust he had worked so hard to build in the American electorate. I refer, of course, to the Governor of Alaska, whose hysterical and pusillanimous campaign rhetoric did so much to discredit the ideology for which she stood.

Needless to say, we in this household are overjoyed to enjoy the prospect of a President Obama, and are prepared to do what we may need to do and make the sacrifices we may be called on to make in order to put this country back on track to fulfill its promise to itself and to the world.

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