Yesterday was a milestone in American history, the emotion felt in homes, and public gatherings around the country, and broadcast across the airwaves was palpable as a country founded on the backs of slaves elected its first African-American president. We saw an affirmation by a majority of American voters that we, as a people, have the ability, integrity, and moral fortitude, to move beyond archaic, ignorant tribal values, and institutional prejudices to recognize and accept that we are all simply human beings, with equal human potential and value.
It was also an affirmation that the democracy that was conceived by our founders is still strong, and that we, the American people, unlike so many less fortunate people throughout the world, have the privilege and ability to shape our national destiny. We also have a responsibility to not squander our liberty, our rights, our opportunities, to work together for the greater good of all. There is much to be done, and despite what seems to be a mandate by the majority of the voters to change what has been thrust upon us during the past eight years, change will not come easy. Repairing the damage that has been done to our economy, to our military, to our constitutional protections, to our place as a respected leader of nations will not come easily nor quickly.
Robert Reich, writing in his blog yesterday said it better than I can:
When the Real Contest Begins
Today will determine whether Barack Obama will be President of the United States beginning 12:00 noon, eastern standard time, on January 20, 2009. The next question is what he can accomplish thereafter.
Each of Obama’s major initiatives – affordable health care, high-quality schools along with early-childhood education, an end to oil dependence along with a cap-and-trade system that reduces carbon emissions, a more equitable tax system, and a withdrawal from Iraq – would be difficult to achieve on its own. Together they comprise one of the most ambitious presidential agendas in living memory.
Is it achievable? Not even a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress – not even sixty Democratic votes in the Senate – can easily overcome the obstacles.
First are the corporate and financial interest groups that will lobby intensely to preserve the status quo or get a disproportionate share of whatever the government is handing out. Pharmaceutical companies, insurers, and giant hospital chains will seek control over any health-care initiative. Teachers unions, textbook publishers, and state and local education interests will want to take over any educational reform. Producers of coal, ethanol, and nuclear power will try to dominate the energy and environment agenda. Military contractors will want a say over defense policy.
Wall Street will seek to retain control over its massive bailout.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff will demand that defense expenditures remain high, however quickly the Iraq War winds down.
Fiscal conservatives – including a newly-enlarged group of “blue-dog” Democrats – will fret over the ballooning budget deficit brought on by slower growth and the enormous expense of bailing out Wall Street. They’ll want to put any new spending initiatives on hold.
Business groups, Republicans, libertarians, talk-radio hosts, and the Wall Street Journal and Fox News will emit a constant and consistent cacophony of bilious rage over anything resembling a tax hike on the rich or big corporations.
Obama’s agenda may survive all this – if a deepening economic crisis focuses the public’s attention and mobilizes its support; if Obama communicates to the public clearly and compellingly why his agenda is necessary to the future; and if his vast campaign network of volunteers and Netroots transforms itself into a movement to take back politics from the lobbyists, naysayers, pork peddlars, and moneyed interests that normally run things in Washington.
In other words, if Obama wins today, the real contest begins tomorrow.
The only logical conclusion that we as rational thinking people can come to in regard to all of the above is that the Change that was a slogan of the Obama campaign, the Change that we want, the Change that we need is not a foregone conclusion. Even an Obama presidency, even a majority in the House of Representatives, and even a majority in the Senate are no guarantee that anything will Change. Change will not come without work and sacrifice, argument and compromise, research and education, advice and consent, strong principals and open minds, trial and error, public awareness and engagement.
This is not a time for us drop the ball, but to keep our eye on the ball, as our work has just begun.