Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Watershed Moment

I first learned what a "watershed event" was, I believe, in my 8th grade social studies class. As I recall, my teacher, Mrs. Beebe, actually drew a little picture of a shed on the chalkboard. I didn't think the illustration helped her point all that much, but I did get the point - though I don't remember what historical event she was giving as a example.

There's been arguably more than one watershed event in my own lifetime. The fall of the Berlin Wall. 9/11. Others whose impact has been more subtle. But none filled me with such hope as the one that occurred last night: the election of Barack Obama as our next President.

Those who know me - indeed, those who read this blog earlier in the year - know that I haven't always fully backed Obama. I got behind him late, being first an Edwards supporter and then a Hillary supporter. While I always admired Obama's charisma and his abilities, I was largely unmoved by his campaign rhetoric and disenchanted with the media coverage of the primaries, which (perhaps unfairly) colored my view of him as a candidate. Still, I always knew that if he were nominated I would vote for him, and in the homestretch of his campaign I developed a much deeper respect for him. In particular for his temperament - steady, cool, unruffled, just what we all need in a time of crisis. I volunteered for him. And when he gave his acceptance speech last night, I wept for joy. For the first time, I thrilled to his promise that change would come to America - because it was no longer a merely rhetorical promise; it was a promise fulfilled. Not just by him, but by America itself, despite all its suspicions, misgivings, and pockets of seemingly intransigent resistance.

Will he be a great President? Honestly, I don't know. The challenges facing him are almost unimaginable. Even now, I'm not one of those willing to take on faith that as President Obama will change the face of politics or the way things are done in Washington. Nor do I envy him the herculean task of cleaning up the truly gross Augean stables that 8 years of Republican (mis)rule are leaving behind. I do, however, believe he has the smarts, the patience, and above all, the resolution to set about repairing the damage and see the job through - if we give him the chance. And so I hope those who still see him with stars in their eyes aren't expecting him to move heaven and earth immediately. He has extraordinary qualities but, as his own wife once said, he's still just a man. He will have to compromise. He will have to prioritize. And he will make mistakes. We need to recognize and brace for that.

And we need to be mindful that even as we collectively overcame any lingering prejudices to elect our first President of color, too many of us simultaneously clung to other prejudices in denying another minority the right to marry. As a society, we still have a long way to go.

But today, we should rejoice in the moment. This watershed moment.

Somewhere, Mrs. Beebe has got to be smiling.