CHICAGO — Minutes after a Jumbotron in Grant Park revealed that Sen. Barack Obama had edged Sen. John McCain in Virginia, more than 125,000 people emitted a deafening roar, and that roar was even louder when it was pro- jected that Obama was the 44th and the first Black President of the United States. “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” Obama began in his victory speech. People in the park rushed to embrace each other, flags waved, horns blew, and a young man, bedecked with Obama buttons, at the corner of Roosevelt and Michigan Avenue, did a backflip.
Obama, 47, had warned his supporters to hold off their celebration until the race was over, but now it was time for jubilation and if is hometown was indicative of the nation’s cheer, then the party may gone for days. “This is our victory,” Obama continued, a semicircle of 27 Old Glory flags behind him and six beams of light joining a crescent moon in an almost mild evening sky. And then, echoing one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches about getting to the promised land, he said, “We as a people will get there.” Further in his speech, he once again invoked Dr. King without mentioning his name, saying, “We Shall Overcome,” which was interspersed with a repetition of “Yes, we can.” Forty years ago, Robert Kennedy predicted that there would come a time when an African-American would seek the country’s highest office, and it was forty years ago that Chicago was the scene of a violent civic disturbance during the Democratic National Convention. Kennedy’s prophecy was realized and the uproar in the Windy City was one of joy, not like the contention of the past. The contention this time took place in the voting booth and Obama–at least as we go to press–soundly trounced McCain, winning 349 electoral votes to McCain’s 159,with two states still to close to call, including Missouri who hasn’t missed calling the victor but once in century.
During his concession speech, McCain’s words were a mixture of resignation and gratitude, thanking Obama for the privilege of allowing him to compete in a historic race. “I wish him Godspeed,” McCain said to Obama, and added, “Americans never quit. We never surrender…We make history.” Making history was left to Obama and he basically changed the nation’s political map, for example, taking the traditional red states of Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico. Obama was a decisive victor over McCain among young voters, with a margin of 66 percent to 31 percent. And these were the same numbers Obama had over McCain on the Hispanic vote. Obama, as expected, defeated McCain overwhelmingly in attracting the Black vote,95 to 4 percent. Among new voters, Obama once again trumped McCain, earning 69 percent to McCain’s 30 percent. It was with the white vote and seniors that McCain was able to exceed Obama’s numbers. It is still too early to say if the total voter turnout exceeded the 64 percent of the electorate of 1960 or that more than 140 million voters exercised their franchise. But, it is notable that he got more white male votes than either John Kerry or Al Gore in previous presidential elections. “This is something that I thought I’d never live to see,” a man on the Green Line told his friends. He then passed them a bottle of champagne that was already half empty. Obama’s victory may have also impacted the general election, where the Democrats gained several seats in the Senate, though it’s too early to say for certain since a couple of contests are still up for grabs. But, there may be four to five new seats, which would not be the 61 desired to bring about cloture and overcome filibustering. All along, the pundits were pondering if Obama’s victory would signal the beginning of a post-racial society. Certainly, this achievement raises a major question about the status of race relations, particularly in the political arena, and, as Obama stated to the enthusiastic throng in Grant Park, “It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen, by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference,” he said. “It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, Black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled–Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of red states and blue states: We are, and always will be, the United States of America.
“It’s the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day,” Obama said, once again making an allusion to Dr. King. After nearly two years of bitter infighting with Sen. Hillary Clinton and often-brutal mudslinging with McCain, Obama can finally exhale, but now comes the challenge of dealing with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and an economy in shambles. “I think we need to give him at least one administration to straighten out this mess,” said one political pundit. “After eight years of Bush’s butchering, I think we need to cut the new president some slack.” There is also the concern of race haters, who have already demonstrated the extent to which they will go to intimidate Obama. “I can’t think about that,” Obama said. “There’s so much work to do.” The world has been watching, and will continue to watch, as a Black man has once more been called on to salvage a country spiraling perilously out of control and in desperate need of a messenger of hope and promise.