On Tuesday, we watched from early in the evening, as the first results came in.
With very few exceptions, it seemed that all the news coming in was…good news. Everything seemed to be unfolding in the way it was supposed to unfold, the way we wanted it.
The Electoral Map was on the screen. Already, “The Blue” was spreading faster than “The Red”. I had been studying that map pretty closely for quite some time, and watching how the polls were moving along from day to day. Two months ago I was at a Barack fundraiser in the Lower Eastside –everybody there was nervous; it was that period when everybody –myself included– was saying “Barack has to “come out”….he has to respond more forcefully…”
It has since become clear to me that Barack had indeed been “responding” all the time –he had showed his self-confidence, his intelligence and his power and his class at every turn, and let it stand there for everyone to compare with…how John McCain chose to present himself.
[In a campaign that was heavy on lip-stuck pigs and light on back-and-forth serious debate, it was perhaps inevitable that it was the different ways the two candidates presented themselves on-stage, on-debate, and in news-events –such as McCain’s “suspension” of his
campaign– that the nation used to compare them and weigh them up. It’s quite possible that John McCain simply was unaware that his “negative body-language” in this was so telling.]
This simple comparison was, I believe, essentially what won Barack Obama the Election.
John McCain –for example– drew extraordinary attention to himself when he announced that he was halting his campaign and postponing the Debate, to go to Washington to TAKE CARE of the financial crisis, and then SAID NOTHING at the big meeting when he got there.
The gimmickyness of McCain’s move emerged over the next days.
Meanwhile the cool, serious, intelligent style of Barack was on display to all, especially those who still hadn’t come to a decision. They were finding out a lot about these two men.
That Lower Eastside fundraiser that I attended in September had probably been the lowpoint, the most-nervous point, for the Barack camp. But I could see from all the information that was coming in even then, that there was a good basis for a quiet confidence –a growing confidence– that Barack was indeed going to pull it off.
[There was of course, one last dread for Dems –Dirty Tricks! But the Poverty of Ideation that plagued the Republicans even more so this campaign seemed especially to strike down the possibility of them coming-up with a Toxically-October-surprising, Rovean-Atwaterian-SwiftBoatian Illegitimate Baby to throw at Barack. (Back to the Drawing(water)board, guys.)]
So, yes, there was that period where we wanted Barack to strike back. Then it seemed to evaporate: perhaps his own confidence in himself was radiating out to us all, subliminally, but more and more each day….
Whenever I told my friends of my own “quiet confidence” in Barack’s campaign, they tried to shut me up, told me either that they didn’t believe me, or to shut up and not jinx it.
They made THE JINX sound more powerful than any of the many positive indications that we were getting.
***** ***** ***** *****
And now, here we were –our group of about 15 or so over at Westbeth in the West Village– watching the mounting BLUE evidence of a Barack victory in progress.
Cheering. Applauding. But still shaking our heads in disbelief.
The significant stages approached –those difficult, all-important states.
Florida was big (I had done a lot of “work” on Florida, shoring up the spirits of my friend Joe the Philosophy Prof. who was going down to Florida, and updating him several times a week on favorable developments for “Our Side”. Joe’s condo was full of retired, comfortable old Jews –like Joe himself, except that all the rest of them were McCain supporters, fearful and misinformed of Barack’s ideas about Israel, and apparently not open to any change….
But Joe had gone to work on them –those “sour-pusses” as he had termed them.
We didn’t need to change all their minds. A few would do…
And when I looked at the beautiful NYT Election Map of the County-by-County vote counts the next day, I derived enormous (and probably shamelessly inflated) satisfaction from noticing that Broward County –Joe’s county– had indeed….gone BLUE.
Well-done, Joe! We pulled it off. (Well, OK, maybe Sara Silverman played a part in it…)
So –back to our gathering. Florida was looking good; Barack was ahead. Florida (27 votes) was a BIG BIG Tossup state, and now it had come over for Barack.
So was Virginia looking good….
And as the evening wore on, and the wave of poll-closings swept slowly across the nation, our spirits rose.
A Barack Victory was approaching, would soon be upon us. As the tossup states fell one by one –almost all for Barack– I came to realize that I and a few others of our group had reached and passed, without really realizing it, an indefinable “Its all over bar the shouting” stage.
There is, somewhere on the 2008 Electoral Map, a Meridian –my own personal “Malachi” Meridien– which is my “Its all over bar the shouting” meridien.
We relaxed, poured ourselves another glass of wine, grabbed a slice of cheese or an olive. But the nervous ones were still glued to the TV screen, biting their collective lower lip…
Now there began to be more and more shots on the TV of the expectant crowd at Grants Field. Their murmur became a hum. The hum increased in pitch, became more animated. As the crowd itself became more animated, more expectant.
Now, people were coming out intermittently on the stage and performing little stage-preparatory tasks, and scurrying off again…..
Then –that proverbial hush descended….
And then, finally, there he was.
Barack, striding out across the stage, with Michelle and the lovely girls. And the others. Barack raises his arm, waves….
The Very First Thing that takes my attention is –the complete absence of Triumphalism. In this land of high-five and “USA! USA!”, Barack’s wave, full but brief, was quickly over. Anything more would –I guessed– be too much for our new man, Barack Obama.
A brief wave. A glowing smile. But, the man was still quiet.
What? — not more? An intense and endless and twisting-turning, up- and-down Two Year Campaign. An extraordinary intensity, that we all felt and shared in. And before that, the Unannounced Part of his campaign –however many years that was. And before that, the years of local politics in Chicago; and before that, the years of rigorous application at Columbia and Harvard. The hard but loving years before that with his….odd collection of wonderful individuals who made up his loving family that played such a powerful part in preparing this person who now has become our President Elect, and presenting him to us….
All of that was packed into that walk across the stage at Grant’s Field.
And that full but brief wave.
I can tell you –this man is different. But you already had discovered that in your own way.
We are now in a different time, entering a new phase.
Our gathering watched his speech. I noticed how many lines of that speech were lines of poetry. This is an elegant man, a man without pretence, a man of lightness-but-seriousness, and the words in his lines of poetry reflect the thought he already has invested in his observations and musings, and the discriminate choice of words.
I apologize for bringing in our current president in here –its just for a brief comparison.
On the one hand, there is Barack –from single-parented, food-stamped beginnings to Harvard and now The White House.
On the other hand, there is Bush. Ah yes, The Cigarette Boats of Kennebunkport! One family could hardly have more privilege…
In our land of opportunity, the one follows on the heels of the other.
Is this not a parable for the ages!
***** ***** ***** *****
It was all over. As Barack spoke, from that Chicage stage, we sat fixated. We all responded to him and to the extraordinary moment in our lives, with tears –those slow unselfconscious tears of realization and reflection and deep gratitude, that manifest themselves on momentous occasions such as Tuesday night –but, surely, very very few times in a lifetime.
I have no doubt that Barack Obama will achieve great things in his Presidency. But I do doubt –very much– that he will give us anything that matches the extraordinary, transforming gift that he has already given us, given the nation, that he gave on Tuesday night.