Thursday, November 06, 2008

What Unity Feels Like

An interesting phenomenon happened yesterday. No less than four conservative friends and family contacted me, expressing either congratulations or satisfaction at how the election went, even though they voted for McCain.

First, my sister emailed me to say congratulations and that she wishes Obama good luck and blessings on the tough job ahead. Then my conservative neighbor, who believes wholeheartedly that Obama is a socialist, said he wasn’t too upset by it. He thought the financial crisis was going to make it tough for everyone, and he hopes Obama can find a way to address it. My brother-in-law, who is more libertarian than conservative, called and said how happy he was for us, especially for our kids. He is temporarily living in Boston, and I found out his congressional representatives are Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and Barney Frank, so he's about as underrepresented in Congress as is mathematically possible. Finally, Jill’s conservative Christian cousin sent email to the whole family that said it brought tears to her eyes to see the “First” black family walk out on stage together, even though she voted for McCain.

Have other Obama supporters gotten this reaction from their conservative friends? Or am I just special because I’m such a vocal Obama supporter?

One possible explanation to this is that conservatives are just better sports than liberals. After all, liberals generally lambasted their conservative friends after Bush was re-elected. But I doubt we would have gotten those calls if Hillary Clinton had been elected, nor would liberals have been so upset if John McCain had beaten John Kerry in 2004. The anger after 2004 was specifically about handing power back over to Bush for four more years. There’s a difference between being a poor sport and being upset that the country is going down in flames. (Although I suppose it could be both -- country going down in flames and poor sportsmanship).

I think the difference this time around is the historic nature of electing an African American as president. I think we all shared a powerful and moving national experience when Barack, Michelle, Malia, and Sasha walked out onto that stage and Barack gracefully accepted the presidency.

“To those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.”
The images and the cathartic language combined to make a statement about what is possible in our country.

After all the mud slung at Obama during the election, I was worried that it would cause reasonable people to remain afraid of him as a ... well, pick one: dangerous radical, Muslim, terrorist-lover, socialist, unAmerican, yadda, yadda.

That so many people are embracing this event as an historic triumph for our country, regardless of support for or against Obama's potential policy direction, says something very positive about us as a people. We can come together and agree that it is good that a black man can be the image our country presents to the world. And it is good not just for African Americans, but for everyone. Every so often, when the conditions are just right, our ideals can outstrip our ideologies, and our collective post-election reaction appears to be one of those times.

No doubt all this unity will dissipate as policy decisions run into serious opposition. That’s to be expected. No doubt there are still plenty of outright racists seething about the election. They will always be among us. But it feels good to know that among mainstream Americans, there is still room in political discourse for us to be our best selves.


brownie said...

Well, well. It's nice to know that after all my harping about not being a conservative that you finally excluded me from your "conservative friends" (who were concillitory) list. Though it does feel a little like like wearing a new pair of shoes for the first time.

But I'm not sure if I should be grateful or not. It was always a little easier to get your hackle up when you were convinced otherwise. I'll just have to make a more concerted effort next time I play the devil's advocate.

Dan S said...

I think what finally convinced me that you are an independent is that you voted for Obama. :)

(Can I say that here?)

Fingtree said...

I have known you both for a very long time, when was it that these shallow labels came into play?
These red States vs blue States, Liberal vs Conservative, Crusades vs Jihad *#%& needs to go away. Were all much more than that.

PG said...

I just learned that my arch-conservative uncle and aunt decided (apparently at the last minute) to vote for Obama. My mom voted for Obama. This is a family with deep roots of racial antagonism.

I hope I stop crying soon.

brownie said...


True, so true. But shallow labels work so well when trying to raise the ire of a good friend. It's all in good fun.