Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Content Of His Character

I confess a certain impatience, on this poignant day, with all the earnest talk about how America achieved something remarkable yesterday by electing our first African-American president, as if the choice has been about race all along. I do not mean to diminish an historic first, like electing a Catholic in 1960; I, too, choked-up when John Lewis spoke. But relief today is not about Americans choosing an obviously black man over a white man, which proves we can come to terms with our past. It is about our choosing an obviously brilliant, reciprocal man over a thick, cynical one--a man who articulates a coherent vision of global commonwealth over someone advancing vague, military patriotism--which proves we can come to terms with our future.

Racism, it is true, did not confound the choice, as some predicted it would. But racism has not confounded mainstream admiration for The Cosby Show or Orprah or Tiger Woods--and hasn't for some time. Most of the 46% who voted for John McCain feel deeply anxious about a world in transition, where erudition, open-mindedness and intellectual discipline matter more and more, and their own sheer willingness to labor hard matters less and less. I bet they are more skittish about Obama's supremely elegant mind, his worldliness, than his dark skin; more drawn to the repudiation of "elitism" than to the rejection of "welfare."

Hillary (of all people) tried to unleash anti-intellectual, etc., demons and failed. It was she, remember, who tried to tell us that Obama's sincere compassion for people who, with their world collapsing, cling to God and guns, was a form of betrayal. Anyway, that McCain and his "strategists" failed, too, in spite of economic collapse, a failing war, and a sensational press, is a testament to Obama's steadiness and America's common sense.

Under similar circumstances, not so long ago, some European democracies turned to fascism--something Sarah Palin embodies, but doesn't begin to understand (though she can no doubt see the Wasilla library from her home). Her crypto-fascism is about all that's left to the Republican Party just now. It is also a relief that our kids--who get it, and get Obama, by a 2 to 1 margin--will slowly take command.