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By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

POLITICS IS PERSONAL. Your political understanding reflects everything about you. You can ignore it, as many of us have done, but eventually it asks you to step up. Often enough, it takes a mighty load of trouble to get our attention; The Onion nailed it on Wednesday with an article entitled Nation Finally Shitty Enough To Make Social Progress.

With a slippery shift of powerful astrological energy influencing our every movement, and collective anger at the eight years of radical Republican coup that has changed our nation in fundamental ways, we stepped up this week to do something remarkable.

It seems to me a heart-expanding moment that this nation has looked into its collective mirror and glimpsed the face of equality and idealism, service and hope. It's hard to wrap our arms around all that we feel at this moment; even verbose Michael Moore could only offer the obvious. Wow!

This isn't just a four-year political victory, nor an eight. Not just a changing of the guard, a shifting of political parties. A sobbing friend called on election night to say it was two hundred years coming -- I would suggest even longer than that. This was an unprecedented silencing of tribal drums.

The schism that has divided our nation in this latest flurry of culture war was born in the hippy era, the Vietnam days. John McCain ran his campaign on that thread of energy. His buzzwords -- socialism, wealth-sharing, terrorist -- didn't find a niche in the majority's consciousness. Those words were potent in the past; but the collective was ready to step into the future. You can literally scare some people to death, but we get tired of having our adrenal glands overloaded eventually. McCain's rhetoric was about four years too late; we were finally ready for change.

Reality won a big victory but it came to us wrapped in echoes of the past; after such a review, perhaps now we won't be destined to repeat it. This was an election season of firsts in too many ways to count: a man of color, powerful women, the oldest candidate and more money spent than seems reasonable to a world now eyeing its dwindling resources. It spoke to hope for the future, yet it was woven through with threads from the 60s: not just the 1960s but the 1860s as well.

Politics, being a reflection of our personal attitudes, is our mirror. Those candidates we support reflect us. Sarah Palin, for instance, is a reflection of the Republican base; that is why she was selected and in my opinion, was one of the major fault lines in McCain's thought process. Moderate Republicans turned their backs on her radicalism.

Now Palin is, say the Righty pundits, a contender for 2012 and the new 'face' of Republicanism. The conservatives, as Obama has mentioned before, don't get it -- that ship has sailed, and with it the echoes of generations of slaves held in chains below deck, the fading demands of colonialists and empiricists.

In this election, the South did not support Obama. That may seem obvious, but it was more dramatic than we might have expected. In 2000, Al Gore got more votes in the South than did our new president-elect; in 2004, John Kerry got more votes as well. It's impossible not to read racism into those numbers.

A presidential winner in the Pea Patch Missouri is still too close to call at this writing, splitting out its vote by a percentage of a percentile; that means my absentee vote, mailed in weeks ago, will count. Not considered the deep South, during the Civil War Missouri was split just so, with half supporting the North and an equal number the Confederacy. Evidently the older generation of Missourians cannot let go of that past. North Carolina, firmly in the Southern belt, is similarly split, awaiting a recount.

Yet despite the Southern block, Obama received enough votes to enjoy a national mandate for progressive change; the Congressional votes indicate it is not enough of one to move ahead unimpeded. Change is here but it has some wrinkles; probably a good thing. We are looking for restoration and balance, ultimately -- we have seen what one-party, all the time, gets us.

Don't get me wrong. I'd like to see every corrupt, narrow-minded and criminal decision of the last eight years reversed now -- today. But there is a truism that we can see in our mirror, if we study the shadows behind our image: you can't go back.

Social conservatives are certainly trying to go back to more repressive eras, and it is to their shame that California's Proposition 8 has won, defying the constitutionality of gay marriage and flooding the state with Mormon money and fundamentalist scare tactics. Militarists are trying to stay in the corridors of the past, keeping us in wars, aggressions and weapons sales; feeding the Military-Industrial Complex the money that would better be spent feeding the needy. Wall Street is trying to turn back the clock, scrambling like mad to put themselves back into position to roll the ball on other people's money like a drunk at a roulette table.

But you can't go back. And isn't that a fine, fine thing! We must restore this nation not by turning back to some prior glory, but entering into a new contract with one another and the international community. We must put forward our best ideas, our brightest hopes, and hold out our hand to a rejoicing world. We must prove ourselves now. But first, we must acknowledge how far we've come and the enormity of what we've put behind us.

When I joined arms with my comrades back in the 60s to sing -- and certainly, in my youthful enthusiasm, mean -- "We shall overcome," I didn't know it would take forty years to do it. I didn't know that Bobby would fall beside his brother, or that Martin's dream would not march straight ahead but run a parallel path that found its eventual growth in generational change and paradigm shift. I didn't know we'd all face not just racism and sexism, but militarism and elitism and cronyism and dozens of other isms before we could be proud of our nation again. More -- proud of ourselves, again.

We paid a heavy price for our awakening. Barack Obama, since shortly before his grandmother's death last week, has taken on a somber tone. He smiles less now. It reminds me of what a friend of his said about him, months ago -- he loses sleep, not anticipating a loss, but a win. Where George Bush came into power like Captain DumDum, waving his mandate, eyeing the nation's fat bank account and looking for trouble, Barack Obama has inherited more national woes than Job.

It shows on him. After two years of full-on campaigning, his hair has turned salt and pepper. He can anticipate no 'honeymoon' period between now and his inauguration in January. He has no time to grieve his personal losses or celebrate his personal achievements.

Obama is confident but not giddy, as are so many contenders when they grab such a win. He has already put a transition plan into place, and brings to the table a steady temperament and self-discipline that prompted long-time political commentator David Gergen to call him "the most emotionally healthy candidate in decades." If his is the face we see in our national mirror, our mental health has done a miraculous turnaround.

His acceptance speech gave us the heads up that service and sacrifice would be required of us: no smoke blown up our skirts, there. A friend said he became aware of how thin Obama's shoulders were as he stood before an enthralled sea of weeping faces in Chicago. Thin, yes. For such a burden, it would be helpful if they were stouter.

But it isn't just him, carrying this burden -- it's all of us. Newly awakened, invigorated and determined, we dare not sink into apathy now. We've come awake; we need to stay that way. Obama gave a nod to that movement when he told us that this was our victory even more than his:
It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation's apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory.
He warned us the future wouldn't be easy, but that, together, restoring the nation would be an accomplishment worth working toward.
The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for two hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.
Jack Kennedy made me feel that proud of my nation, that determined to help her into the future -- I don't remember anyone in between. So, with the past echoing around us and showing us just how far we've come, perhaps we could take a moment to get giddy, to go joyful about the possibilities, to allow glee to seize us up in its arms and squeeze us until we gasp, laughing and snorting? Maybe we could wrap ourselves in optimism and exuberance, just for a moment, before we roll up our sleeves and get to work on the restoration of our limping nation?

No, Obama can't bear this burden alone. Nor should he; democracy is a process. This nation is a Republic, and we can keep it only as long as we infuse it with our participation. This process of overcoming...of enlightenment...is a journey, and we took a leap this week, all together -- arm in arm. It will take all of us to get where we're going.

So let's celebrate a bit, acknowledge our sheer exhaustion and incredible relief at this win; let's relax into the possibilities before we start biting at the new administration, shall we?

I will guarantee that you Lefties out there won't like some of what comes next. You won't like his appointments, you'll frown with worry over his associations. This man is a real, authentic unifier; that means he'll draw in those we've worked so hard to defeat in these last years. His vision of America is not as polarized as ours has had to be in order to get this far. Obama is a Kool Aid free zone -- he's a man for his time. Before we judge what anything means, we must make sure we've properly exorcised our past and gazed deeply into the future.

And let's take that necessary moment to celebrate and to consider this new space in which we find ourselves. Meanwhile, keep your memory of this moment bright; future generations will want to hear the story. Today, you see, anything is possible. That was always America's promise -- now, that's her reality.

The future's finally here. The world has been waiting for us, and we took our sweet time getting here, didn't we? It couldn't be helped; we had a few centuries to overcome.

Welcome to the 21st Century. It all begins now.

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